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Showing posts from January, 2011


"Andy Warhol once remarked that he liked "money on the wall". ...While economies crashed and governments slashed spending, an unprecedented number of incredibly wealthy people all over the world were effectively taking Warhol at his word. What they actually hung on their walls and stood in their rooms were Picassos, Modiglianis and Giacomettis, but at the mind-bending prices they paid for them, the effect was almost the same as if they had displayed a bunch of dollar bills or or more pertinently a bunch of Chinese yuan. Their spending spree meant that Christies, the world's largest auction house, announced yesterday sales of £3.3 billion ($5 billion) last year, a jump of 53 per cent on its 2009 performance and the highest total in the company's 245-year history." (Times, 28 January) RD


"Russian Orthodox Church calls for dress code, says miniskirts cause 'madness'. A top official of the increasingly powerful Russian Orthodox Church has triggered a storm of outrage by calling for a "national dress code" that would force women to dress modestly in public and require businesses to throw out "indecently" clad customers. Women, said Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, can't be trusted to clothe themselves properly. "It is wrong to think that women should decide themselves what they can wear in public places or at work," he said Tuesday. "If a woman dresses like a prostitute, her colleagues must have the right to tell her that." "Moreover," Archpriest Chaplin added, "if a woman dresses and acts indecently, this is a direct route to unhappiness, one-night stands, brief marriages followed by rat-like divorces, ruined lives of children, and madness." (Christian Science Monitor, 20 January) RD


We live in a society where many are concerned about world hunger, homelessness and rising unemployment, but the British Government have much more important issues to concern themselves with - primogeniture. This deals with the perplexing problem of whether or not if Prince William has a daughter before a son she can become queen. "Luckily the Prime Minister has recognised that this a matter of the deepest seriousness ... It is, said his spokesman, " a complex and difficult matter that requires careful and thoughtful consideration..." (Observer, 23 January) A jobless father of several children might consider his unpaid mortgage a trifle more difficult a problem than primogeniture though. RD


"In California, former auto worker Maria Gregg was out of work five months last year before landing a new job - at a nearly 20% pay cut. In Massachusetts, Kevin Cronan, who lost his $150,000-a-year job as a money manager in early 2009, is now frothing cappuccinos at a Starbucks for $8.85 an hour. In Wisconsin, Dale Szabo, a former manufacturing manager with two master's degrees, has been searching years for a job comparable to the one he lost in 2003. He's now a school janitor. They are among the lucky. There are 14.5 million people on the unemployment rolls, including 6.4 million who have been jobless for more than six months." (Wall Street Journal, 11 January) RD

who owns the North Pole - Part 26

Canadians have adopted a confrontational stance. A new opinion poll finds that Canadians are generally far less receptive to negotiation and compromises on disputes than their American neighbours. More than 40 per cent of Canadians said the country should pursue a firm line in defending its sections of the North, compared to just 10 per cent of Americans.

The international survey – conducted by EKOS Research for the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto and the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation – found that a majority of Canadians see Arctic sovereignty as the country’s top foreign-policy priority; they also believe military resources should be shifted to the North, even if it means taking them away from global conflicts.

Harper has made the Arctic a major political platform, taking every opportunity to remind Canadians that his government is determined to defend this country’s sovereignty in the Far North. The poll’s findings would suggest that Canadi…


The gap between rich and poor in Edinburgh is bigger than in most other UK cities. Centre for Cities analyst Paul Swinney said:"It shows that despite Edinburgh's very strong performance in the ten years before the recession, that prosperity was not necessarily shared equally."

It ranked eighth for earnings, with an average weekly wage of £516.70.


"Nearly 1 million South Floridians need food stamps to get by - an increase of almost 200,000 in the last year alone. That jump is more than the entire population of Fort Lauderdale. "It's been a steady increase occurring every month for the last three, four years," said Florida Department of Children & Families spokesman Joe Follick. "It's obviously dramatic." Numbers released Friday show that in April 2007, before widespread layoffs and record unemployment levels, 422,233 people in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties received food stamps. By December 2010, that number more than doubled to 965,823." (Palm Beach Post, 8 January) RD


"He made his fortune through musicals such as Cats and Phantom of the Opera. And now Andrew Lloyd Webber has added an extra £3.5 million to his bank balance with the sale of some choice bottles from his vast wine collection. The eagerly-anticipated sale, held at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Hong Kong, featured 8,837 bottles of classic French wines, including what experts regard as the finest white Burgundies ever for sale in the region. Pre-sale estimates suggested that the 746 lots (mainly cases of 12 or six bottles, but also some individual bottles) would fetch £2.6 million but the salesroom was filled to capacity with what Sotheby's said was spirited and jovial bidding from all over Asia. Buyers bid in person, over the internet or by telephone." (Sunday Telegraph, 23 January) RD

On January 22 - Bloody Sunday

1905: "Bloody Sunday" occurred in St. Petersburg, when the Czar's troops killed 500 protesting workers

Bloody Sunday: The Revolution of 1905 On January 22, 1905, about 200,000 workers and their families approached the czar’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg.

They carried a petition asking for better working conditions, more personal freedom, and an elected national legislature. Nicholas II was not at the palace. His generals and police chiefs were. They ordered the soldiers to fire on the crowd. Between 500 and 1,000 unarmed people were killed.

Russians quickly named the event “Bloody Sunday.”

Lenin called the incident a “dress rehearsal” for the later revolution that would usher in the state capitalist Bolshevik regime.

Bloody Sunday provoked a wave of strikes and violence that spread across the country. Though Nicholas still opposed reform, in October 1905 he reluctantly promised more freedom. He approved the creation of the Duma —Russia’s first parliament.

The first Duma me…


"Iraq will buy armaments worth $13 billion from the United States by 2013 and will spend another $13 bn on weapons later, a Baghdad newspaper reported citing an Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman. Al Ittihad quoted Major General Mohammed Al Askari as saying that Iraq has already concluded a contract worth more than $13 bn with the United States. The money will be used to buy aircraft, helicopters, tanks, other armored vehicles, warships and missiles, to enter service with the Iraqi defense and interior ministries." (RIA Novosti, 9 January) RD


A trip through London is like a trip through two different cities. On the one hand you have the homeless, the desperate and the down-at-heel individuals that scuttle around the main railway stations like King's Cross asking for your spare change, and on the other you have the undoubted opulence of the extremely rich. Here is a particularly obvious example of the latter. "The £1 billion One Hyde Park building in Knightsbridge, overlooking the park and a stone's throw from Harrods, has become the most desirable address in the world. Each square foot with its polished Breccio Paradiso marble and European Oak woods, costs at least £6,000, a new high for residential property anywhere in the world that is expected to reframe global prices for the super-rich. The average UK salary of £26,000 would pay for only the space occupied by a fitted Gaggenau coffee maker - one of the many gadgets in the high-security residences, with their bomb-proofed windows and panic rooms…

one law for the rich ...

The millionaire owner of the House of Bruar retail complex escaped a driving ban and was allowed to stay on the road despite now having 14 points on his licence after persuading a court it would cause him exceptional hardship. Birkbeck claimed he would be forced to sack staff at the shopping complex if he was banned from the road as no-one else in the company was capable of buying the goods on display at the upmarket shopping centre. He was fined £300.

Birkbeck was driving a £70,000, 3.6 litre Range Rover Vogue TDV8 when he was detected by police speeding at 90mph on the M90 motorway.

“If he is disqualified for six months there will be a large number of redundancies at House of Bruar...He would have no option but to let people go – breadwinners who live in the local area." Solicitor David McKie, defending, said.

Actually, to Socialist Courier, that sounds very much like blackmail.

Hero no more..

Sheridan no socialist

“Sheridan told he faces years in prison for lies about sex and socialism”, so ran one newspaper headline the day after a jury found the former MSP guilty of perjury (Times, 24 December).

We don’t know, or care, if he told lies about his sex life to get at a scandal rag that was trying to entrap him. It’s only the political aspect of the case that interests us, and it’s true that, as a reformist politician, he had certainly told lies about socialism. But this is the first time we have heard of this being a crime punishable by imprisonment. If it was, the prisons would be full of journalists, politicians and academics. Of course the Times – like the News of the World, owned by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch – was merely trying to discredit socialism.

Sheridan was a Trotskyist, originally of the Militant Tendency variety, and although he could no doubt explain why the USSR had been a “degenerate workers state”, or why some common or garden reform was a “transitional deman…

A bunch of cults the lot of 'em

The cult of leadershipIn 1997 Britain emerged from the dark days of Tory rule, liberated by the Labour Party—their path to victory illuminated by the dazzling smile and radiant glow of sincerity from Tony Blair, who promised "Things Can Only Get Better!" If only the People would trust him to lead them. It was He, and He alone, with his charm and iron-willed leadership, that brought victory to the Labour Party. It was He, and He alone, who could save Britain. It was He, and He alone, who was fit to give us leadership.The Cult of Tony was born!
And the members of the Labour Party, from the knockers-on-doors to the MPs in Westminster, to the people who owed their very jobs to Tony, saw how He and He alone brought them victory. And they believed. They believed it was Tony what won it, they believed that Tony could do it, they believed they owed it all to Leadership. And they looked out into the darkness in the world, the places where Tony's light—alas!—did not an…

The Guardians of the Countryside ?

Eggs are crushed, chicks trampled, nests smashed, baits poisoned, birds trapped and shot – and all to line the pockets of the landowners. Birds of prey are being routinely killed to protect the sporting estates of landowners – and perpetrators have tried to cover up evidence of their crimes, according to the Herald.

An authoritative new report for Government advisers shows thousands of rare and beautiful hen harriers are being illegally persecuted across huge swathes of the country. But publication of the report has been blocked by the landowning lobby. Another expert study, due to be unveiled in the next few weeks, suggests as many as 50 golden eagles are being illegally poisoned, shot or trapped every year in Scotland. This is far higher than previously suspected.

"It is the grouse industry that is responsible. They simply won’t tolerate birds of prey on grouse moors.” said Mark Rafferty, a former police officer who now investigates wildlife crime for the Scottish Soc…

Why Bother?

A senior consultant surgeon has spoken out against screening patients for bowel cancer in Scotland’s most deprived areas...because they are likely to suffer from other serious conditions which could kill them anyway.
Angus Macdonald, consultant colorectal surgeon at Monklands Hospital in Airdrie, said that in his experience in Lanarkshire, an area of high deprivation with one of the country’s lowest life expectancies, many patients with small tumours were more likely to die from other conditions before the cancer claims their life. Health officials estimate that the NHS’s bowel cancer screening programme, for people between the ages of 50 and 74, could prevent 150 deaths annually. But Macdonald argues for some sections of the population it would not actually change the age at which a patient will die. “When you roll out a screening programme there is a very real possibility that you will identify cancers in the people who would normally have died from something else. We mi…

Who owns the North Pole - part 25

BP has signed a joint venture with Russian energy firm Rosneft to exploit potentially huge deposits of oil and gas in Russia's Arctic shelf.

As part of the deal Rosneft will take 5% of BP's shares in exchange for approximately 9.5% of Rosneft's shares. It is BP's first deal since the Deepwater Horizon spill last year, which cost it billions. The BP shares stake is worth just under $8bn (£5bn). Rosneft is 75% owned by the Russian government. So it will look to many as though the Russian government is taking a 5% stake in a company with strategically important oil reserves all over the world, including - of course - the US. The firms will explore in three areas - known as EPNZ 1,2,3 - on the Russian Arctic continental shelf. The areas covers 125,000 square kilometres in an area of the South Kara Sea.BP gets access to resources, Rosneft gets access to expertise and knowledge. BP and Rosneft have agreed to set-up an Arctic technology centre in Russia which wi…

GG or GS

The leftist parties Solidarity and Respect seem to have had a falling out. Gail Sheridan is to stand for election to the Scottish Parliament which means that she will now compete with Mr Galloway for votes.

"I'm against the separation of the country and Tommy's group is for independence,"Galloway explained. "I'm a Labour man and they're more of a far-left crew, but most importantly if Gail Sheridan runs as my number two my election campaign will become a referendum about Tommy Sheridan, about his trials and tribulations...a vote for Gail Sheridan would be vote for Tommy Sheridan - or not"

It is believed that Gail Sheridan will be going for the swing vote...

sticking plaster remedies

Thousands of people in Dumfries and Galloway are suffering from fuel poverty. Figures put before members of the housing sub-committee showed that 41 per cent of households are in fuel poverty – the third highest level of all local authorities in Scotland. The Scottish average is 28 per cent.

Dumfries councillor Ronnie Nicholson explained “Dumfries and Galloway has a problem with sub-standard housing which is why the figures for this area are so high compared to elsewhere in the country. There is a lot of social housing in the region with inadequate heating and insulation, there are also a lot of old farmhouses and cottages in rural areas suffering from the same problem.” He added: “Fuel poverty is a significant problem in the region and I fear that our solutions are only a sticking plaster as the Government do not have the funds to properly tackle the issue.”

that's clever!

Inverclyde Council spent £650,000 in order to make savings of just £250,000.

Four senior local government officials, all of whom receive salaries of between £75,000 and £105,000, have been suspended after paying consultants hundreds of thousands of pounds to deliver savings that failed to materialise.

Meanwhile, in Edinburgh the city’s new chief executive has said thedisaster-hit trams project must go ahead because too much money has been spent to cancel it.

Who Owns the North Pole - Part 24

The Obama administration, like the Bush one before it, has identified the Arctic as an area of key strategic interest. The U.S. military anticipates the Arctic will become "ice-free" for several summer weeks by 2030, possibly as early as 2013. The U.S. Arctic is melting quickly because of accelerated climate change. The prospect of newly thawed sea lanes and a freshly accessible, resource-rich seabed has nations jockeying for position. And government and military officials are concerned the United States is not moving quickly enough to protect American interests in this vulnerable and fast-changing region. The Arctic is believed to hold nearly a quarter of the world's untapped natural resources and a new passage could shave as much as 40 percent of the time it takes for commercial shippers to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

"We're not doing OK," said Lt. Cmdr. Nahshon Almandmoss "We definitely don't have the infrastructure avai…


As children if we happened to be born in England we were taught about "sizzling sixes over the tuck shop roof" and nonsense about "play up play up for England chaps" and other such foolishnesses about cricket. If you happened to watch the England v Australia cricket matches on TV you may have seem grown-up children still indulging in that nonsense. They call themselves "the Barmy Army" and who are we to argue with that adjective? Behind the worthwhile sporting endeavors of all the cricketers concerned lurks the usual sordid commercialism of capitalism. "This week, the England and Wales Cricket Board will try to capitalise on the first Ashes victory in Australia for 24 years by auctioning the rights to sponsor home Test matches from 2012. It is talking to a number of potential replacements for the current sponsor, npower, in the hope of netting up to £5m, 25% more than the previous deal." (Observer, 9 January) You may have seen it as …


One of the jibes often thrown at socialists is that the concept of world socialism is an idea that has been outgrown by the 21st Century. We are constantly being told that we live in a new modern society where far from suffering the poverty of the 19th century members of the working class now have bank accounts, credit cards and mortgages. This rosey portrayal is hardly backed up by recent figures released by the charity Shelter. "Nearly one in ten of those in private rented accommodation used their credit card to cover the housing bill in the year August 2010, while about 8 per cent of mortgage borrowers did the same, the housing charity said. In many cases, residents struggling to make ends meet have withdrawn cash from their card to pay housing costs, pushing them deeper into debt." (Times, 6 January) Charity claim that two million now use their cards to pay their housing costs. This is hardly the new poverty-free society that its supporters claim. RD

Cameron threatens the unions

In his first television interview of the year, Cameron, facing a possible spring of discontent as unions consider co-ordinating strikes against public-sector cuts, sent a tough message against any militant action. "Striking is not going to achieve anything and the trade unions need to know they are not going to be able to push anyone around by holding this strike or that strike or even a whole lot of strikes together – they can forget it,” he declared.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union countered: “If David Cameron thinks he can batter working people into the dirt through his undiluted brand of fiscal fascism, then he’s got another think coming.” He added: “Millionaire public schoolboys, who are insulated from the lives of working people taking the daily hit of VAT increases and spending cuts, are in no position to tell the unions what we should and should not be doing to defend our members.”

Grahame Smith, the STUC general secretary Cameron was deliberately raising the …

Dying Old

In The Herald Socialist Courier reads that 50% of the time that people spend in hospital over a lifetime occurs in the 12 months before they die. In a new book, Professor Phil Hanlon, a former adviser to the Scottish Executive, argues the elderly should be prescribed far fewer drugs and given fewer tests and procedures as they reach serious physical decline.

He said: “It is not that I would discard such people. I would simply give them a more human and humane approach, which would use less intensive NHS facilities. The big debating point is: would people die earlier? And the answer I would give to that is we do not know. You might actually live longer if you do not have all the stress associated with going to the hospital for treatment and healthcare-associated infections. We all get to that stage in life where your systems begin to shut down, albeit slowly, and medicine cannot reverse that. If you treat the person as if you are going to reverse that, you actually do them harm and that…

Food For Thought

Gwynne Dyer provides the clue to the problem of getting climate action agreements between nations that socialists know all too well. In "EMC" newspaper, he writes, "Why don't all governments act? Because the developing countries refuse to accept limits on their emissions for fear that they wouldn't be able to go on growing their economies." In other words they are acting in the interests of their own capitalist class, and that's the heart of the matter in a competitive system.
Apparently sharks, who have lasted since before the time of the dinosaurs, are becoming an endangered species, falling prey to capitalism. Conservationists blame the practice of 'finning' – slashing prized fins off the fish and leaving them to die so the fins can be sold to the on the growing Asian market. After what was done to whales to produce oil and the
material for corsets, is this any wonder?
As we move ever closer to 1984, scans at airports become ever mo…


Entertainment – you too can be the proud owner of a signed autograph of a famous celebrity, e.g. Princess Diana for $5 400, or Ernest Hemingway at the bullfight for $8 000. Can't afford it? How about Jim Carey in his "Mask" outfit for $200. Gets crazier all the time.
Hollywood's Billy Bob Thornton confirms what we've known about movies for a long time, "In our current state of affairs, especially in the entertainment business, we're living in a time when we're making – in my humble opinion – the worst movies in history." Thornton goes on to elaborate that movies are geared to the video game-playing generation, becoming increasingly unrealistic, violent and shallow in an artistic sense. But, Billy Bob, they make lots of money for little outlay and that's what drives everything in this system, including movie making.
Environment – the Cancun Climate Conference did not instill much confidence – a 'breakthrough" …


American patriots like misguided patriots elsewhere in the world are fond of holding up "their" country as a paragon of fairness and equality, but where is the equality in the following figures quoted by the ultra patriotic CNN? "The richest 1% of U.S. households had a net worth 225 times greater than that of the average American household in 2009, according to analysis conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank. That's up from the previous record of 190 times greater, which was set in 2004." (CNN, 23 December) The truth is that the USA like every other country in capitalism has a wide gap between the haves and the havenots. RD

First the greasy pole, now the gravy train

Former Labour Cabinet minister and Celtic chairman Lord John Reid made expenses claims for chauffeur-driven travel of £4,000 to ferry the former home secretary to 14 matches and football stadiums across Scotland to watch his team.

Despite claims the peer needed the travel arrangements for security reasons, the journeys are understood to have been made unaccompanied by any police officers or drivers trained in protection. Chauffeurs usually picked up Lord Reid either at his home or Glasgow Airport, drove him to the ground, waited, then took him back home or to an airport. The cost of Lord Reid's travel included a £1,376 bill for two fixtures - against Hearts at Celtic Park and a clash with Aberdeen at Pittodrie. A further £723 was spent on trips to Celtic Park - including the day of the club's annual general meeting - or the team's training ground.

Green MSP Patrick Harvie said "Lord Reid is the chairman of Celtic Football Club and it surely should fall to that club to …


Every Hollywood romantic screenplay and lots of popular songs depict the magic of love but for many members of the working class the reality is much more sordid. "A fifth of homeless people have committed "imprisonable offences" to spend a night in the cells and more than a quarter of women rough sleepers took an "unwanted sexual partner" to escape their plight, new research out today shows. A  survey of more than 400 rough sleepers by Sheffield Hallam University reveals the desperate steps taken by the homeless to find shelter. ...Unwanted sex has become a way out of homelessness for many. One in seven men and 28% of women had spent a night or longer with an unwanted sexual partner to "accommodate themselves"." (Guardian, 23 December) The reality behind the Hollywood fantasy and the pop song magic is that poverty destroys the best of human aspirations. RD

A warning from Shelter

Scots are having to work longer hours and even move in with friends to help make ends meet.

Shelter estimated that 9% of people in Scotland have had to increase their work hours or take on a second job, compared with the British average of 7%.

Some 4% of respondents in Scotland said they had moved in with family or friends, double the 2% average across Britain.

The survey of 2,234 people across the UK also indicated that around two million people paid their rent or mortgage with credit cards over a year. The charity said the proportion was equivalent to about 5% on average in Scotland and across Britain.

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said:
"A reliance on high-interest options such as credit cards to pay rent or a mortgage is a highly dangerous route to go down and is known to contribute toward uncontrolled debt, repossession or eviction and, eventually, homelessness. It is also very worrying that thousands of people in Scotland are being forced to move in wit…

Atishoo Atishooo and we all fall down

Scottish Ministers plan to take £10 million from the pandemic flu budget as the NHS struggles with new cases of the deadly H1N1 strain and spend it on hosting the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.

Four people in Scotland have died from H1N1 recently, while another 12 patients were taken to intensive care in the week before Boxing Day.The number of cases is expected soar this month, with the GP consultation rate for flu now more than 50 people per 100,000 visits.

wages or jobs?

Cuts in public spending could wipe out up to 125,000 jobs in Scotland – about 5% of the working population – within the next financial year, union leaders have warned. Unison, said 60,000 public-sector and 65,000 private-sector jobs could be lost north of the Border because of spending cuts.

“The recruitment freeze is already condemning a generation of young people – many of whom have trained for years – to unemployment..." the union explained

Aberdeen City Council's SNP-LibDem coalition voted in December to begin negotiating with the unions about a 5% pay reduction, which would remove the need to shed about 1000 members of staff.


Wikileaks – will founder Julian Assange be brought to justice? Although it appears that he has done nothing wrong, he is sure to be hounded and made an example for exposing the secret world of capitalist 'diplomacy'. It seems obvious that Sweden has buckled to US pressure with the weak charges brought against Assange. Meanwhile, the real leaker, Bradley, is being held in solitary confinement with just one hour of exercise a day until he breaks and agrees to a deal that will drastically cut his possible 52-year sentence and 'confesses' that Assange colluded with him. John Ayers


The futility of Reform – 900 steelworkers are locked out of their mill in Hamilton, Ontario. Recently, Stelco was bought out by the American company, United States Steel Corp. and the squeeze on wages and benefits began, e.g. pension indexing was lost for 9 000 pensioners and new hires, mostly from those receiving the lowest pensions, 78% of whom are widows. The company insists there are no indexed pensions in the US steel industry so the workers are expected to accept that as an excuse for a race to the bottom. Capitalism can never work in the interests of the workers.
In the same vein, The Toronto Star (11/12/10) published an article by John Cartwright, president of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, in which he blames corporate greed for eroding the foundations of a just society, "21st Century corporate culture demands that pension plans be gutted, benefits weakened, and jobs outsourced wherever possible." Mr.
Cartwright should be reminded that it wa…


In the military lunacy category, The Toronto Star (24/12/10) suggests that Canada may have been the target of 'forceful diplomacy' from the Americans in our government's purchase of 65 F-35 fighter jets. Canada paid $16 billion, including maintenance contracts, for a short-range fighter plane in a country that spans six time zones. Wikileaks revealed that Norway was subject to that particular form of diplomacy in their purchase of the same airplane.
The New York Times (5/12/10) began an article on warfare with, "War would be a lot safer, the United States Army says, if only more of it were fought by robots." Apparently, 56 nations are now developing robotic weapons and the race is on. The winner not only gains an advantage on the battlefield, but will win the 'selling sweepstakes' with lucrative military contracts.
Perhaps the use of robots will eliminate the need for government to pay disabled war veterans at all. The Canadian veterans are in…


It is often claimed by supporters of the NHS that while poor people may live in sub-standard housing and experience economic insecurity they have at least access to excellent medical care, but this is a complete fallacy. "Maternity services are close to breaking point and care for mothers is worsening, the UK's leading midwife warns in a dramatic plea over the declining state of childbirth on the NHS. Labour wards are struggling to give women the proper quality of care under the "relentless" pressure of a record birth rate, staff shortages and increasingly complex births, says Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives." (Observer, 2 January) RD

A bankrupt society

A record number of Scots will be made bankrupt in 2011, according to accountant and business adviser PKF. Accountancy firm RSM Tenon also predicts that personal insolvencies in the UK will set new records in 2010 and 2011.

PKF predicts that final figures will show about 22,000 Scots were sequestrated (the Scottish term for bankruptcy) or took out a Protected Trust Deed (PTD) in 2010, or 425 a week, and that this year will see even higher levels of personal insolvency. Personal bankruptcy during 2011 will be impacted by the Comprehensive Spending Review (the full impact of the CSR is yet to be felt) , which is likely to result in higher levels of unemployment among public sector employees, and potentially by the effects on mortgage-payers of rising interest rates.

“Many people are only able to cling on to their homes as long as their mortgage payments are being kept at an historicallly low level due to the 0.5% base rate. Once interest rates start to rise, I believe we will beg…


"Lack of toilets and other proper sanitation facilities costs the country nearly 54 billion dollars a year, a World Bank study has found, mainly through premature deaths, especially of young children. Asia's third-largest economy loses 53.8 billion dollars or 6.4% of its gross domestic product through hygiene-related illnesses, lost productivity and other factors stemming from poor sanitation, according to World Bank. "For decades we have been aware of the significant health impacts of inadequate sanitation in India," said Christopher Juan Costain, leader for the World Bank's South Asia Water and Sanitation Program. "This report quantifies the economic losses to India, and shows that children and poor households bear the brunt of poor sanitation," he said in remarks posted on the group's website on Tuesday. The lack of proper sanitation creates major health risks, raising the threat of potentially fatal illnesses such as typhoid and mal…

Travellers Beware

According to the AA the average price of a litre of fuel in Britain will rise from £1.26 to £1.30 on January 4. American householders are now typically paying a fraction of the price at just over 50p a litre, according to the latest figures. And EU figures show fuel prices in Britain have been the highest in Europe. This time last year petrol was at £1.08 a litre and diesel at £1.09. In Stornoway, the typical price of a litre of unleaded will go up from £1.37 to over £1.40 with diesel up from £1.39 to £1.43.
Luke Bosdet, of the AA, said: “The facts are that fuel is being taxed like a luxury item such as champagne. But it is a necessity for everyone, from the youngster starting his first job, to volunteer drivers, to cabbies, and lorry drivers. The duty on fuel is an unfair tax as it hits everyone the same. There is no means-testing built in so it affects people that can least afford it. Enough is enough.”

Inflation-busting rises in rail fares took effect yesterday with some mainline se…

Reading Notes

Post cards from New Internationalist magazine - not strictly socialist, but they do say something about the state of things under capitalism :"When we talk about equal pay for equal work, women in the workplace are beginning to catch up. If we keep going at this current rate, we will achieve full equality in about 475 years." (Lya Sorano, US womens' rights activist).

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to beg in the streets, steal bread, or sleep under abridge." (Anatole France).

"The Air Force pinned a medal on me for killing a man and discharged me for making love to one." (Leonard Matlovich, USAF sargeant).

" Years ago I recognized my kinship with living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am n…

happy new year

"Happy New Year" we all said to one another on Hogmanay. Even though we meant it sincerely what are the chances of it becoming a reality? Is it likely 2011 will be any better than 2010, or more likely worse? The blame game is in full swing with politicians, bankers and regulators all trying to place responsibility with someone else. And, of course, the working class are accused of starting the problem by daring to imagine that they could lead the lives of the class above them, so ending up over-stretching themselves to accept all those mortgages and other loans. There will be many innocent by-standers caught in the cross-fire of this latest in the long list of economic crises of the market system. Workers shouldn't waste their time trying to sort out this mess, or to try and better regulate it.

What is the next step as we enter the new year?

The next step is to organise – to organise for change. In groups and meetings and on the internet we need to band together to fight …