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Showing posts from December, 2010

11 yr wait to buy a house

First-time buyers in Scotland face an 11-year struggle to break into the property market, with many more frozen out by low wages and high house prices, according to new research.
On average, Scots trying to get on to the property ladder will have to find a £21,000 deposit for their starter home, according to the Halifax. It means at least a decade of scrimping and saving to get a foot on the ladder. Someone earning the average Scottish wage of £25,350 and saving one-tenth of their take-home pay would need more than a decade to amass the down payment, while still paying rent.Overall, the average house price paid by a first-time buyer in the UK has more than doubled over the past decade, increasing by 102% from £68,644 in 2000 to £138,682 in 2010 – equivalent to a weekly increase of £135. With such high demands made of those looking to buy, the average age of a first-time buyer in 2010 was 29. But it estimated that the average age of first-time buyers without financial assist…


"Vital support services used by a million vulnerable people will have their budgets cut by as much as two-thirds over the next four years as councils seek sweeping savings. A bleak assessment by the National Housing Federation, which represents 1,200 social housing providers in England, suggests that women fleeing domestic violence, pensioners who rely on support to help them live at home and people with mental health problems are among those who will lose out most as councils allocate their budgets for the next 12 months." (Observer, 26 December) RD


"Patients could die because staffing levels in the NHS are being reduced to dangerously low levels, the leader of Britain's 400,000 nurses has warned. The quality of care received by patients in hospitals is also bound to worsen as tens of thousands of posts are cut, says Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing. He voices alarm that the NHS in England needs to make £20bn of "efficiency savings", which risks the service returning to a situation last seen in the 1990s, when patients faced long waits and some even had to be treated on trolleys." (Observer, 26 December)  RD


"I was a soldier now. I could sleep with one eye open; I knew there were 11 ways to attack a town; how to open, fuse and throw a grenade; how to load and fire an AK-47; how to raise a machete and hack at an enemy... There was nothing to be afraid of." As military memories go, it all seems fairly conventional - the baptism of fire, the euphoria of survival, the bond of comradeship. But there's an ugly twist. The gifted recruit, Emmanuel Jal, was fighting in Sudan in the early 1990s and he was 10 years old. His recollections are quoted in a recent book, They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children, by the human rights campaigner and former UN peacekeeper Romo Dallaire." (Independent, 16 December)  RD

Toys Galore

A STORY FOR GIRLS AND BOYSChristmas Eve was only twenty-seven days away. A thousand feet down beneath the ice and rock of northern Greenland Father Christmas was feeling pleased and rather excited. In his workshops the output of toys and sweets was going almost exactly according to plan.And what a plan! Five years ago he had decided that, old as he was, he must move with the times. And he and his elves had begun to modernise and expand his workshops. It was an immense task and it meant a profound change for all of them. But at last it was finished, and everything was working well. Now the production lines and stores and packing departments spread out under ground for many hundreds of metres, and it was all fully automated and computerised. The elves, who had once been craftsmen in wood and metal and leather and pottery and cloth, now sat at control panels and monitored whole banks of machines and conveyor belts. Now they watched over the manufacture and warehousing of a …

Merry Marxmas


"It is by no means the first time someone has told me of their surprise at seeing so many homeless people in England. People from poor countries tend to assume that rich countries will have solved such social problems. But the reverse is true. According to a survey by York University's centre for housing policy, homelessness was found to be increasing in Sweden, Canada, the US, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic." (Guardian, 14 December) RD


"Leading US economist Nouriel Roubini has bought a $5.5m flat in New York. Mr Roubini, who predicted the global financial crisis, took out a $2.99m mortgage to buy the Manhattan property, according to New York City Department of Finance records. The "sun-blasted" apartment atop a former steel warehouse is a 3,700 sq ft triplex penthouse, according to listings website" (Daily Telegraph, 17 December) RD


"The NHS plans to make 35,000 nurses, cleaners and medical secretaries redundant unless staff accept a pay deal that will see them lose up to several thousands pounds a year, the Observer can reveal. The Department of Health says the losses will happen if NHS staff in England reject a two-year freeze on their pay increments in return for no compulsory redundancies." (Observer, 19 December) RD


"It is set to be the mother of all parties, with about 300 guests enjoying a sumptuous meal prepared by Alain Ducasse, the prestigious French chef, and a demonstration of circus arts by acclaimed entertainers flown across the Atlantic for the occasion. The festivities will cost 5 million Euros (£3.2 million) - a mere snip for Victor Pinchuik, the Ukrainian billionaire philanthropist who has invited his mega-rich friends to Courchevel, the French ski resort, for his 50th birthday today." (Times, 18 December) RD

A real drug problem

More than one in 10 adults in Scotland are taking anti-depressants every day, according to official statistics.

Ten years ago it was estimated that 6% of the Scottish population were regularly taking anti-depressants and this figure has been climbing for a decade. NHS Scotland said: “It is estimated that 10.4% of the Scottish population aged 15 and over make daily use of an anti-depressant drug.”

Billy Watson, chief executive at the Scottish Association for Mental Health, said: “The high numbers of people taking anti-depressants reflects the prevalence of mental health problems generally: one in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in our lives."

The Scottish Government’s goal, to stop the rise in anti-depressant prescribing by 2009-10 and prepare the ground for a 10% reduction in future years, has been abandoned. It has been replaced by a waiting time guarantee for psychological therapies of 18 weeks by 2014.

A survey carried out jointly by the Office of…


"More than 200,000 extra children will be in poverty by 2013 because of cuts in housing benefits and tax credits, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said. Martin Narey, chief executive of Bernardo's said: "Children's life chances are being compromised by putting child poverty targets on hold - affecting the future of our society." (Times, 17 December) RD


We are being told that "Our Resources" are being wasted, we must recycle newspapers glass etc.
A socialist would agree that there is much wasted in a capitalist world, saving newspapers may save the amount of trees felled, but he would no doubt be aware that the ownership of the trees are not his and any savings made would benefit the capitalist owners of trees, not him. However, a socialist agrees recycling is something that would benefit the planet and would certainly be encouraged in a socialist society where the common ownership and control of the world's resources would be used to benefit everyone not the privileged few.An article in the Sunday Herald( 19th December 2010 ) demonstrates once again that the profit motivation of capitalist society throws a spanner into what would appear could never be a problem,"Scotland is aiming for "zero waste" by attempting to increase recycling and reduce the amount of waste created. Over the last five…


"For national organizations trying to eradicate homelessness, Los Angeles with its 48,000 people living on the streets, including 6,000 veterans, according to one count stands as a stubborn anomaly, an outlier at a time when there has been progress, albeit modest and at times fitful, in so many cities. Its designation as the homeless capital of America, a title that people here dislike but do not contest, seems increasingly indisputable. "If we want to end homelessness in this country, we have to do something about L.A.; it is the biggest nut,"said Nan Roman, the president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. It has more homeless people than anyplace else." (New York Times, 12 December)  RD

shooting estates rise

The multimillion-pound Scottish sporting estate market has had an extremely successful year in an otherwise relatively static property market, according to an estate agent.

The average size of estate has increased from 3700 acres to 4467 acres and the average sale price has increased from £.2.6 million to £3.5 million. Offers have risen from an average of 2% over the asking price to 6% over the asking price.

Robert McCulloch, an associate in the Edinburgh office of estate agents Strutt & Parker who specialises in the sale of farms and estates, said:“In short, despite the pessimism which inevitably accompanies the present ‘age of austerity’, the Scottish sporting estate market is in good health and appears set to remain so.”

Okay for some , eh?


"Fire tore through a Bangladesh garment factory, killing at least 25 workers who made clothes for Western retailers including Gap and injuring more than 100. Most of the victims died after jumping from the 11-storey building, witnesses said. Workers said that some of the exits were locked." (Times, 15 December) RD


"Most of the workers at a New Zealand pit where 29 miners were killed last month have been made redundant. The move came after receivers were called in by Pike River Coal's largest shareholder. The workers are entitled to a maximum payout of £9,000. The colliery, where the dead miners remain buried, is still closed but it is hoped that it will reopen." (Times, 15 December) RD

slavery paid

Scottish businessmen collectively received the equivalent of £2 billion for loss of “property”on the outlawing of slavery, according to new research by a network of historians.

During the 1830s, the UK exchequer paid out £400,000 to around 100 Scottish claimants, mostly with Glasgow addresses.

The sums were to compensate for the freeing of their slave labour force. The total amount for the UK was £20 million. If equated to a proportion of national income at that time, the Scottish figure alone is equivalent to around £2bn in today’s terms.

Compensation to slave-owners was achieved largely due to the lobbying efforts of the West India societies, of which Glasgow had one of the most influential. The activities of the society, founded in 1807 and continuing to lobby on behalf of Caribbean sugar interests until the 1960s.


"Vulnerable people are going without food in order to keep the heating on while fuel bills rise and temperatures plummet, a support group claimed yesterday. Citizens Advice Scotland said people have been going to drastic measures such as skipping meals and living, sleeping and eating in a single room to cut their fuel bills. And it warned more people risk being dragged into fuel poverty this Christmas as they struggle to cope with the double whammy of excessively cold weather and high fuel charges. "One third of Scots are now officially living in fuel poverty and that is completely unacceptable," CASS chief executive Lucy McTernan said." (Metro, 17 December) RD


The owning class and its supporters are fond of lecturing the working class on the virtues of honesty but in practice our masters are anything but virtuous. "Weir will today admit making corrupt payments to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. The Glasgow-based engineer, which makes pumps and valves used in the oil and gas industry, will plead guilty to breaching UN sanctions after reaching a plea deal with Scotland's highest prosecutor. As part of the deal with the Crown Office, Weir has agreed to pay back £14 million in profits from contracts secured between 2000 and 2002 as a result of the kickbacks." (Times, 14 December) RD


We all love that time just before midnight when we cuddle our sweethearts and friends and wish each other a happy new year. We ignore reality. For one time in our crazy and apparently pointless life inside capitalism we celebrate just being alive. One of the reasons that we cannot be too joyful is that we remember what a shitty society we all live in.
"Millions of families are struggling to pay their bills- and the number is likely to increase in the new year, according to a new analysis from the Bank of England. The report published today shows that two fifths of households have difficulty from time to time or constantly in meeting their monthly bills, compared with a third last year, and more than a half regard their overdrafts or credit cards as a burden." (Times, 13 December)
Behind the dry statistics we are talking about human misery and anxiety. RD

debt rising

Research contradicts comments made by Lord Young, the Tory peer who resigned as an adviser to David Cameron after saying "the vast majority of people in the country today have never had it so good" since the Bank slashed rates to 0.5pc.A study, conducted by NMG Financial Services Consulting for the Bank of England , shows that almost half of all households are concerned about their debt – largely because soaring credit card rates are eroding savings from lower mortgage costs. Rates on credit cards have risen from 17.8pc in November 2007 to 18.7pc, according to the Bank, despite a cut in base rates from 5.75pc to 0.5pc.

In addition, NMG notes that 48pc of all households are on fixed-rate mortgages, "paying about £680 a month in comparison with about £530 a month for those on trackers or variable rates" for equivalent sized mortgages. Households with high loan-to-value (LTV) mortgages or renting are struggling the most, the survey says, with the proportion resorting t…

A challenge to debate

Harvey Duke, Organiser at Dundee Unemployed Support Centre, said: “Iain Duncan-Smith says he wants to cut all benefits, just as thousands of jobs are to be cut. Dundee Unemployed Support Centre challenges him to come to Dundee, where 24% of families already live in poverty, and debate his cuts in a public meeting. It's one thing to attack the poorest families from the comfort of a London club. It's another thing to look in the eyes of those whose incomes he will slash.Unemployed workers are fed up being told we are all scroungers. Some of us have worked for decades. We don't need threats or slave labour. We need and demand real jobs with a living wage.”

Dundee has the highest levels of poverty in Scotland with 24% of families officially classed as poor.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said; “Iain Duncan-Smith should have the guts to stand up in front of the communities at the sharp end of his welfare cuts, like the people of Dundee. If he refuses to meet with the Unemployed C…


"America's unemployment rate rose to 9.8 per cent in November, dealing a further blow to the recovery of the world's largest economy. Figures published yesterday revealed that the rate rose from 9.6 per cent in October, leaving 15 million people out of work." (Times, 4 December) RD


The notion that the medical world is devoted to the prevention of killer diseases is a widespread one, but often research is devoted more to treatments rather than cures, as can be seen from the following news item. "The pharmaceutical industry will always fund projects when it is in its best interests to do so. Cancer prevention is not currently one of these, and so Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council and the Department of Health have to fund early detection, screening and prevention studies. It is amazing that less than 2 per cent of the total cancer research budget is spent on prevention. We live in a commercial world where nobody is willing to pay very much for vague prevention information - it has to be made more precise and more individual. People value treatment more than prevention, so that's where the profit now lies." (Daily Telegraph, 8 December) Less than 2 per cent of research spent on prevention because treatment is more profitable …


If you are rich you live in a beautiful house, if you are rich you can afford an expensive education and if you are rich you will eat and drink of the best. Ah, that is all very well claim the supporters of capitalist reform but because of the National Health Service even the poor have excellent health care. Recent reports would seem to deny even that modest claim for reformism. "Nineteen hospital trusts are today exposed as having alarmingly high death rates in a major report that also reveals how hundreds of people are dying needlessly because of substandard NHS care. The Dr Foster hospital guide, which the Observer publishes exclusively today, discloses that tens of thousands of patients were harmed in hospital last year when they developed avoidable blood clots, suffered from obstetric tears during childbirth, had objects left inside them after operations or were not given immediate treatment after a stroke." (Observer, 28 November) It would seem that if you …


Capitalist governments are fond of flaunting their concern for the environment and the protection of endangered species but when it comes to making profits all such concerns are forgotten. "An African country (Democratic Republic of Congo) pleading for aid to protect its rainforests has granted licenses to two British-based companies to explore for oil in the forest home of endangered mountain gorillas. ...Soco International and Dominion Petroleum have been given permission to drill for oil inside the park. A UN report said that Virunga had the "greatest biological diversity of any park in Africa". More than half the world population of about 700 mountain gorillas is there." (Times, 4 December) When it comes to a choice between biological diversity and money-making oil there is only one winner as far as the capitalist class is concerned.RD


"Child poverty within working households is rising and now accounts for 58% of all UK cases, a report has found. A Joseph Rowntree Foundation report says there are 2.1 million impoverished youngsters in homes where parents are in work - up slightly on last year. Co-author Tom MacInnes said it showed work alone was not the answer to lifting people above the bread line. The Department for Work and Pensions said it was reforming the welfare system to ensure work always paid. Overall, the number of children living in poverty fell to 3.7 million, the report called Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion found. Mr MacInnes said: "With more than half of all children in poverty belonging to working families, it is simply not possible to base anti-poverty policies on the idea that work alone is a route out of poverty," he said." (BBC News, 5 December) RD


It is said by some historians that the rulers of Ancient Rome kept the lower orders in line by granting them bread and circuses. It could be said that today's rulers keep the lower orders in subjection by giros and day-time television. There are other way to keep the exploited placid - religion and nationalism. As we approach the celebrations of the birth of Robert Burns on 25 January many religious and nationalists people will ignore his internationalism and this magnificent attack on religion. Let us remind you of it. "The fear of hell is a hangman's whip to keep the wretch in order.". Burns saw it in the 18th century, why can't you? RD

Food for Thought

The Chilean miners have learned the lessons of capitalism well. While still trapped underground, they discussed how to make the maximum money their new-found stardom. They made a pact down below to preserve the material and hold back on information for a book or movie deal. Only a few have agreed to interviews and only for money, and giving only general information. One miner who is asking for $30 000 per interview, explained that he's out of a job and must act while the story still has interest. Others have asked for $1 000 per question.( Toronto Star, 13/Nov/2010).

The real cost of war is often hidden from view. We know about 150 Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan because their bodies are paraded down the "Highway of Heroes", otherwise known as the 401 expressway, but we hear nothing of the wounded. Tanya Talga reported in the Toronto Star (7/Nov/2010) that the planes from Afghanistan arrive at Landstuhl, Germany, all day, seven days a week with as …

Food for Thought

Canada has a state-of-the-art ice-breaker in the Arctic Ocean. It is used mainly for assessing the effects of climate change. Frequently it gets loaned out to oil companies to help in their search for oil under that ocean. Incongruous? Yes, but, as the head of the program says, 'at
$50 000 a day rental, it helps to pay the ice-breaker's way! The logic escapes most sane people.
On the poverty front, good news. A House of Commons committee, after three years of study, has put forward solid recommendations to combat the scourge of poverty for three million Canadians. Unfortunately, the fact that it is a supplementary report signals its low priority. In 1989, parliamentarians voted unanimously to eliminate child poverty. They still
haven't. Of course, we know, it's endemic to the profit system.
Nowhere in Canada is poverty more obvious than in First Nations' communities but some chiefs are pulling in large salaries, such as at Peguis First Nation community. Th…


"One of Wallis Simpson's most famous sayings was that "You can never be too rich or too thin," and she could well have extended the aphorism to say ... "or have too much bling." The stylish American for whom King Edward VIII gave up his throne had another epic love affair: with jewellery. Yet her baubles were more than just expensive adornments. Through them, history, fashion and romance are perfectly combined and preserved forever. In the opinion of David Bennett, Chairman of Sotheby's Jewellery in Europe and the Middle East, Simpson's jewels are "the most important jewellery collection put together in the 20th century". When her collection was first sold by Sotheby's in 1987, the year after the Duchess of Windsor died (the sale was announced on 12 December 1986, exactly 50 years after the abdication), the auction held in Geneva caused a huge wave of interest. It eventually raised $50m (£31m) and set a new world record for…


"The nation's workers may be struggling, but American companies just had their best quarter ever. American businesses earned profits at an annual rate of  $1.659 trillion in the third quarter, according to a Commerce Department report released Tuesday. That is the highest figure recorded since the government began keeping track over 60 years ago, at least in nominal or noninflation-adjusted terms." (New York Times, 23 November) RD

Who owns the North Pole - Part 23

"This is our land," said Delice Calcote, a liaison with the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, an advocacy group representing the region's indigenous peoples. "We aren't happy with everyone trying to claim it."

With one fifth of the world's oil and gas at stake, countries are struggling to control the once-frozen Arctic. With global warming, the search for resources have led to a new battle for northern dominance. As the planet warms, as northern sea lanes become accessible to shippers, as countries and companies hungrily eye vast petroleum and mineral deposits below its melting ice, a quiet, almost polite, scramble for control is transpiring in the Arctic

"Countries are setting the chess pieces on the board. There are tremendous resources at stake,"said Rob Huebert, director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary."At this point, everyone is following the rules and say they want cooperation; behind the scene…


"Half a rare German postage stamp which dates back to 1872 has fetched some 261,000 Euros (220,500 pounds) at auction in the southern German town of Bietigheim-Bissingen, a spokeswoman for the auction house told Reuters on Thursday.She said a German collector purchased the well-preserved half stamp, which originates from the northern German town of Syke, despite its hefty price tag because it was so rare. "Stamps were in short supply in Syke between 1872 and 1874 so it was decided that they should be cut in half as a makeshift solution," she said. "But because this was only done for a short period, very few letters actually bear these halved stamps." She said th…

Food for Thought

A New York Times article entitled "Rising Seas and a Looming Catastrophe" (21/Nov/2010) begins, "At great risk and with diminished support, scientists are racing to answer one of the most urgent – and most widely debated – questions facing humanity: How fast is the world's ice going to melt." At great risk and with diminished support? We are talking about the greatest threat to the earth we have known. Apparently the consensus now is that we may well be warming up faster than previously thought. In a sane world, solving this would be the major focus of the world's nations and their international; body, the UN. Obviously, it's getting in the way of making a profit!
Here's an example. As Arnold Schwarzenegger is leaving the governorship of California, he is pushing through an environmental bill against oil industry practices. The oil lobby has introduced Proposition 23 that will mothball the legislation until the economy recovers – read ne…


"Nineteen hospital trusts are today exposed as having alarmingly high death rates in a major report that also reveals how hundreds of people are dying needlessly because of substandard NHS care. The Dr Foster hospital guide, which the Observer publishes exclusively today, discloses that tens of thousands of patients were harmed in hospital last year when they developed avoidable blood clots, suffered from obstetric tears during childbirth, had objects left inside them after operations or were not given immediate treatment after a stroke." (Observer, 28 November) RD


"The Census Bureau recently reported that the poverty rate in the United States rose to 14.3 percent last year, the highest level in more than 50 years. Texas and Florida saw the most people fall below the line. In Florida alone, 323,000 people became newly poor last year, bringing the state's poverty total to 2.7 million." (Washington Post, 19 November) RD
THE chasm between the health of Scotland's rich and poor was exposed yesterday with the release of new official statistics showing that men living in the most affluent parts of Scotland live, on average, more than 13 years longer than males in the poorest parts of the country.
Statistics showed that males living in the most deprived 10 per cent of the country have a life expectancy that is 13.4 years shorter than those in the richest 10 per cent of the country. That means men in the most affluent areas can expect to live to the age of 81.1, compared with 67.7 for those in the most deprived areas.

The area with the lowest life expectancy is North Glasgow -where men can expect to live to just 69.8 years and women to 76.2 years.

Female life expectancy in the most deprived 10 per cent of the country is nine years lower than for the wealthiest 10 per cent of the country. Women in poorest parts of Scotland can expect to live to 75.4 years of age, but that figure rises to 84.4 years of age …