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Showing posts from February, 2012

COLD REALITY

The recent extremely cold spell in Eastern Europe left many workers in peril of their lives with many homeless workers dying of the cold. This was not the fate of the wealthy minority however. "Monaco-based potash tycoon Dmitry Rybolovlyev has bought the priciest piece of residential real estate in New York City, paying $88 million for a Manhattan penthouse, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. Rybolovlyev purchased the apartment from a former head of Citigroup in the name of a trust for his daughter Yekaterina, a 22-year-old college student, the newspaper reported." (The MoscowTimes , 17 February) The demise of state capitalism in the former USSR has certainly ensured the warmth and comfort of the minority capitalist class in that country.RD

BABY ITS COLD INSIDE

One of the illusions that supporters of capitalism like to foster is that although capitalism may not be perfect it is improving. This seems like an idle boast when we consider the absolute necessity of staying warm. "More than nine million households will be living in fuel poverty within four years unless the Government directs £4bn a year from carbon taxes to families in greatest need, campaigners warn. More Britons die every year from living in a cold home than on the roads, they said, with the situation expected to worsen sharply because of soaring utility bills. A new study has revealed that there are a million more households already living in fuel poverty compared with previous estimates, taking the total to 6.4 million. The study, by energy efficiency experts Camco, suggests that the total will hit 9.1 million by 2016." (Independent, 27 February) The old pop song used to declare in order to stay a little longer with a girl friend "Baby Its Cold Outsi…

The last volunteer

The last Scottish veteran of Spanish Civil War has died.Thomas Watters was a Glasgow Corporation bus driver who took his first-aid skills to Spain in the Scottish Ambulance Unit. He said the people who made up the International Brigades were not fighting men, but individuals who felt strongly about the need to combat the spread of fascism. "They went out there in ones and twos and the whole body was formed from all sorts of nationalities and languages. It was a huge job but they became very effective."

Socialist Courier takes the opportunity of his passing away to remind its readers of the Socialist Party's attitude to The Spanish Civil War.

Socialists are on the side of the exploited in their struggles against the landed and monied classes. This is true whether the workers concerned are socialist or not, organised or unorganised, and whether the struggle is a strike or a lock-out, or whether it is concerned with gaining "elbow room" for the working class moveme…

The World Bank

Glasgow branch is at present conducting a series of meetings on British banking so it maybe useful to add an international dimension.

The World Bank was established in 1944 to promote economic development and virtually every country is now a member. This spring the bank's 187 member countries choose a new president to succeed Robert Zoellick, whose term ends in July.

Until now, the unwritten rule has been that the US government simply designates each new president: all 11 have been Americans, and not one has been an expert in economic development, the bank's core responsibility, or had a career in fighting poverty or promoting environmental sustainability. Instead, the US has selected Wall Street bankers and politicians, presumably to ensure that the bank's policies are suitably friendly to US interests. US officials have traditionally viewed the World Bank as an extension of US foreign policy and commercial interests. With the bank just two blocks away from the White House …

A GREEN AND PLEASANT LAND?

One of the great illusions shared by nut case nationalists and religious freaks alike is that England unlike the rest of the world is something special and is in the words of William Blake " a green and pleasant land"."New data has revealed the number of people sleeping rough in England has risen by 23 per cent in a year. The figures were gathered by local authorities in a single night last autumn, and compared with an assessment 12 months earlier. The statistics show that on one night in 2011 there were 2,181 rough sleepers in England, up 413 from 1,768 on the same night the previous year. London and the South East had the highest number of rough sleepers with more than 400 in each region." (Independent, 23 February) Surely the concept of "pleasant" should at least include a pillow, a blanket and a mattress? RD

COMIC BOOK CAPITALISM

It has been recently reported that millions of workers are trying to exist on the equivalent of $1.25 a day, so what have we to make of the following news item? "A "jaw dropping" collection of early comic books has sold for $3.5m (£2.2m) at auction in New York. The trove of 345 comics had been bought by the late Billy Wright from Virginia when he was a boy. A copy of Detective Comics No. 27, which sold for 10 cents in 1939 and featured Batman's debut, got the top bid on Wednesday - raising $523,000." (BBC News, 23 February) It speaks volumes for the values of capitalism that a couple of comic books are of more value than human lives. RD

Heart care 'more likely for rich'

An estimated 182,000 people in Scotland have coronary heart disease (CHD), around 3.3% of the population. Rates of heart disease in Scotland remain the highest in Western Europe, despite new cases falling by nearly a third in the last 10 years.There is evidence that rich people are more likely to receive NHS treatment for heart disease than poor people, according to the public spending watchdog.In some more deprived areas around 25% of men over 75 have CHD but, according to Audit Scotland, people in deprived communities "are not always getting the same level of treatment as the rest of the population"

Treatments such as angioplasty, which widens the arteries, or heart bypass surgery, are over 20% less than expected in deprived areas. The least deprived areas saw over 60% more than expected. Audit Scotland said this "implies a lower level of access to these treatments for people in more deprived areas".

A WONDERFUL TOWN?

The USA is undoubtedly the wealthiest country in the world and New York is probably the home to some of the richest capitalists in the world, but that is poor consolation for members of the working class trying to get by on the minimum wage. "New York is an expensive place to live, and unaffordable for workers struggling on $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum wage. Nineteen other states, recognizing that the federal minimum is too low for survival, even with food stamps or other government assistance, have increased their minimum above that level. Lawmakers in Massachusetts raised it to $8 an hour. Connecticut's is $8.25, and it is $9.04 an hour in Washington State. It is time for New York to raise its minimum wage enough to help more than 600,000 struggling workers." (New York Times, 12 February)RD

Targetting the vulnerable

Sick and disabled Scots and their families will lose out under UK Government benefit reforms, according to new figures published by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS).

CAS says 115,000 Scots will lose out on sickness benefits over the next three years. Of these, 36,000 will only be eligible for Jobseeker's Allowance. They will face a drop in income of at least £27 a week, and will have to seek work. Another 65,000 will drop out of the benefits system altogether – either because it is deemed a partner can support them, or because they have not paid sufficient contributions having been out of work for a lengthy period. This group faces a loss of at least £99 a week.

22,500 people in Glasgow will lose entitlement to a total of £73.7 million, with 19,600 told they are not eligible for Employment and Support Allowance. Meanwhile, in West Dunbartonshire, 2800 people will lose entitlement, saving the Government £9.1m, but will be plunged into an employment hunt in an area where the…

Scottish independence?

American billionaire Donald Trump is to throw the full might of the Trump organisation behind a Scottish anti-wind farm group.

The tycoon's staff, based at Trump Towers in New York, are to work on a daily basis with Communities Against Turbines Scotland (Cats). Trump is also sending his executive vice-president and legal counsel, George Sorial, to an anti-wind farm meeting to be held by the group in St Andrews, Fife, next Thursday. Sorial said the billionaire would use all of the resources at his disposal to do "whatever it takes" to prevent Scotland being "encircled by these monstrous turbines". He went on to state "We have agreed to provide financial support to Cats. We have agreed to assist them with marketing and PR. We have agreed to provide them with staff, with some of our team at our New York office working with them on a daily basis."Nothing to do with Trump's £750 million Balmedie golf resort, of course.

Work on the hotel has stopp…

THE REAL WORLD

As financial TV experts pontificate on the worsening economic European turndown it is worth reflecting on what it means to the workers who have to suffer its effects far from the comforts of the TV studio. "In the heart of central Athens, a stone's throw from the city's glorious ancient sites, another face of today's Greece is on show. Hundreds weave their way around the small, bare courtyard of the municipal soup kitchen, queuing patiently. Visitors have gone up by a quarter in the past few months as homelessness here reaches new heights. .... Homelessness has soared by an estimated 25% since 2009 as Greece spirals further into its worst post-war economic crisis." (BBC News, 4 February) RD

A DISASTROUS SYSTEM

Disasters like earthquake will occur in any social system, even world socialism, but at least once we are free from the production for profit motive of capitalism we will be better able to deal with such catastrophes. "A six-storey building that collapsed and killed 115 people during last year's earthquake did not meet construction standards, according to a government report. The report, which called it "technically inadequate", was contested by the building's designer. The Canterbury Television (CTV) building in Christchurch collapsed during the magnitude-6.1 earthquake on 22 February. It accounted for nearly two-thirds of the quake's 184 victims." (Guardian 8 February) In order to create the biggest possible profits production costs like building material has to be of the cheapest available as over a hundred grieving families now know to their cost. RD

you are being watched

Britain has 20% of the world's CCTV cameras, says a study, despite having only 1% of the world's population. There are at least 51,600 CCTV cameras controlled by local authorities in the UK – costing a total of £515m between 2007 and 2011.

Fife has the second-highest number of cameras in the UK and Aberdeen is sixth highest. Fife has 1420 cameras, which cost just under £1 million between 2007 and 2011. Aberdeen has 942 cameras, which cost £1.78m. Edinburgh City Council was the biggest spender in Scotland over the same period, amassing costs of £6.3m for just 232 cameras.

Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties at Big Brother Watch said "Britain has an out-of-control surveillance culture that is doing little to improve public safety but has made our cities the most watched in the world...There is no credible evidence that more cameras will reduce crime"

Some Sottish business news

The number of customers in Scottish stores plummeted compared to the rest of the UK according to a new report that warns of “troubled times” ahead for Scotland.
The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) has reported an 8.5 per cent drop in footfall in the three months to January 2012, which included the peak Christmas period, compared with the same three months to January 2011.
http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/troubled_times_for_shops_as_customers_fall_1_2126645

Industry confidence in the embattled construction sector took a further hit today as a major survey of employers flagged low expectations for jobs and profits. Two out of three Scottish building firms predicted publicly-funded construction activity will drop in 2012, and a third expect construction employment to fall. Most anticipate another difficult year for housebuilding within the private sector, with nine out of ten companies warning that the area would be stagnant or in decline in the next 12 months.
http://www.scotsman.com/…

THE OLYMPIAN SPIRIT

This year sees the start of the Olympic Games, it will be a period of excessive nationalist nonsense in the world's media and the re-iteration of endless balderdash about fine sporting ideals. But, this is capitalism and sporting tradition comes a poor second to making a few bob out of a business opportunity. "London landlords are evicting tenants to cash in on the Olympic Games by charging tourists fortunes. Homes in the east London boroughs where many events are to be held are fetching between five and 15 times their typical rates as properties are rebranded as short-term Olympic lets." (Daily Mail, 3 February) RD

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

Take a stroll through certain streets in New York and you are almost certain to be approached by some homeless down-and-out looking for a few dollars. A similar stroll through Mumbai's streets will be even more likely to produce the same destitution. This of course is not the lot of all citizens of these mega-cities."The property market may be in poor shape in many parts of the world, but the super rich continue to spend eye-watering sums on new homes. The latest deal to grab headlines is a penthouse apartment with panoramic views of New York's central park, sold to a Russian fertiliser magnate for $88m (£56m). .... It is widely believed that the world's most expensive private dwelling is in Mumbai, India. The 27-storey Antilla tower, which boasts three helipads, six floors of parking and a series of floating gardens, was built at a cost of $1bn (£0.63bn) for India's richest man, Mukesh Ambani." (BBC News, 18 February) RD

Imperial Caledonia

The SNP's choice for the referendum date 2014 cannot be a simply a coincidence but a ploy on its symbolism. However, t he Scottish Wars of Independence and the 1314 Battle of Bannockburn were in reality a fight between two sets of Norman knights, English Norman and Scottish Norman, as in those days the ruling class in both countries was actually Norman.

The Act of Union was on behalf of the Scottish wealthy - a bailout. The disastrous Darien Scheme was backed by about a quarter of the money circulating in Scotland and its failure left the nobles and landowners – who had already been suffering a run of bad harvests – practically ruined. The Scottish ruling class voted to end its own parliament in Edinburgh. Did the Scottish ruling class, those "parcel of rogues", betray their country by accepting the Union? The hypothesis is only valid if we accept that those lords and merchants were somehow obliged to place "Scotland" above their own socio-economic interests. T…

TWO TYPES OF JUSTICE

I was once fined £50 for breach of the peace. An offence that still uses the term "causes alarm to the Queen's lieges". "Merrill Lynch, broker has been fined £350,000 by the Financial Services Authority for engaging in "market abuse" ahead of a fundraising by Punch Taverns. Andrew Osborne, who was managing director of corporate broking at Merrill Lynch International and described by the FSA as a "trusted gatekeeper of inside information", disclosed information ahead of the £375m cash call by the pubs group in June 2009." (Guardian, 16 February) Obviously Mr Lynch's defence " I am a greedy bastard and will do anything to make a couple of bob", was more powerful than my apology. "Your honour I may have been a little pissed at the time and I should not have said to the arresting officer I deny everything - including the law of gravity". With more money you get better lawyers and in this case bigger fines. RD

AN OLD REALITY FOR THE ELDERLY

Workers are having to delay their retirement plans because they cannot afford to leave their jobs, a worrying report warns today. "One in ten of those who were planning to retire this year said they have ditched the plan, with the majority blaming the fact that they simply do not have the money. The report, from the insurance giant Prudential, urged Britons to accept that there is "a new retirement reality"." (Daily Mail,15 February) The insurance company might imagine that this is a "new reality", but for many workers being too skint to stop working is a very old reality indeed. RD

Scottish Slavery

"It wisnae us"

At the beginning of the 18th century, Glasgow was a poor town and Scotland, an isolated country. The 1707 Act of Union opened up trading opportunities and entrepreneurs seized their opportunity. The economic boom in the 18th and 19th century was built on profits from the West Indies, "...ultimately, profits built from slavery." according to James Cant, a Scottish historian re-examining the emergence of Scotland as an economic powerhouse. "We look at the agrarian revolution in Scotland, the scientific development, and we look at entrepreneurial excellence in Scotland. We never looked at the other side of the ocean to where the raw material and the wealth were truly coming from."

Iain Whyte, author of Scotland and the Abolition of Slavery, insists we have at times ignored our guilty past. He said: "For many years Scotland's historians harboured the illusion that our nation had little to do with the slave trade or plantation slavery. …

AN OLD REALITY FOR THE ELDERLY

Workers are having to delay their retirement plans because they cannot afford to leave their jobs, a worrying report warns today. "One in ten of those who were planning to retire this year said they have ditched the plan, with the majority blaming the fact that they simply do not have the money. The report, from the insurance giant Prudential, urged Britons to accept that there is "a new retirement reality"." (Daily Mail,15 February) The insurance company might imagine that this is a "new reality", but for many workers being too skint to stop working is a very old reality indeed. RD

GLASGOW BRANCH ACTIVITY TONIGHT

Glasgow Branch of the Socialist Party GB

Orwell on Nationalism

You can accuse us, socialists, of being unpatriotic if you so wish. We are proud to be anti-patriotic.

Socialist Courierpreviously posted an extract on patriotism by Tolstoy. We think it s also fitting to also offer extracts from a George Orwell essay on nationalism:-

"A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. He may be a positive or a negative nationalist — that is, he may use his mental energy either in boosting or in denigrating — but at any rate his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations. He sees history, especially contemporary history, as the endless rise and decline of great power units, and every event that happens seems to him a demonstration that his own side is on the upgrade and some hated rival is on the downgrade. But finally, it is important not to confuse nationalism with mere worship of success. The nationalist does not go on the principle of simply ganging up with the strongest side. On the …

iEXPLOIT

The technology of such appliances as iPad and iPhone have gained the admiration of many of it's users but the policy of Apple and similar companies should earn the hatred of most human beings. "Apple's problems with Taiwanese company Foxconn, which manufactures almost all of its devices, date back as far as 2010 when a string of workers committed suicide at a plant in Longhua, which employed between 300,000 and 400,000 workers. However the troubles have continued and last month 150 Foxconn employees threatened to leap from the top of a three-floor plant in Wuhan amid allegations they were paid piecemeal and were expected to work in a pressured environment without any training." (Daily Telegraph, 13 February) In its competition to cheapen production costs there are are no limits to the depths to which capitalism will descend. RD

LOSING THE HEAD

It is very difficult for socialists to argue a scientific case against bigots but in some parts of the world it is even more difficult. A defiant declaration of atheism by an Indonesian civil servant has inflamed passions in the world's most populous Muslim nation, pitting non-believers and believers against each other. The trouble began when civil servant Alexander Aan posted a message on the Facebook page of Atheist Minang, a group of Indonesians with godless beliefs. "It read: "God doesn't exist". The post so enraged residents in Aan's hometown of Pulau Punjung in West Sumatra province that an angry mob of dozens stormed his office and beat up the 30-year-old. To add insult to injury police then arrested him and now want to press blasphemy charges that could see him locked up for five years. Muslim extremists have called for Aan to be beheaded but fellow atheists have rallied round, and urged him to stand by his convictions despite the pressur…

Businesses as usual

Rangers has filed legal papers at the Court of Session to appoint administrators. Rangers awaits a tax tribunal decision over a disputed bill, plus penalties, totalling £49m which the club would be unable to pay.

Celtic has announced a big fall in pre-tax profits for the second half of 2011, profits of only £180,000 compared to a £7m profit at the end of the previous year. Cash from player sales also fell from £13.2m to £3.1m. Bank debt is £7m.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-17009960

And in the east, Hearts still struggle off-field as much as they do on-field. Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov told RIA Novosti on Wednesday that all wage arrears with the debt-stricken Scottish club have been settled (Hearts players have suffered late wages since October), but admitted to an outstanding tax bill that threatens their future. British tax authorities lodged a petition with a Scottish court earlier this week saying Hearts had eight days to settle the bill, reported to be a…

Bar-L Museum

Derek McGill, governor of Scotland's most infamous prison, Barlinnie, , the Bar-L, said: "I would be sad to see Barlinnie completely demolished. There's a huge amount of history here. You could imagine them running tours. This could be the Alcatraz of Glasgow." showing how prisoners were treated from Victorian times to the present.
Barlinnie was criticised for its cramped accommodation. It was found to be more than 50% over capacity, with about 500 inmates more than it was designed for. Prison chiefs hope that the 130-year-old establishment will be replaced by a new building around 2020.

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/barlinnie-could-be-alcatraz-attraction.16736161

If only the rest of capitalism's structures can be turned into a museum exhibits

MORE IMPROVEMENTS

Capitalism is a very progressive society and is always striving to make improvements. Pentagon war planners have concluded that their largest conventional bomb isn't yet capable of destroying Iran's most heavily fortified underground facilities, and are stepping up efforts to make it more powerful, according to U.S. officials briefed on the plan. "The 30,000-pound "bunker-buster" bomb, known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, was specifically designed to take out the hardened fortifications built by Iran and North Korea to cloak their nuclear programs. But initial tests indicated that the bomb, as currently configured, wouldn't be capable of destroying some of Iran's facilities, either because of their depth or because Tehran has added new fortifications to protect them." (Wall Street Journal, 28 January) A 30,000 pound bomb isn't good enough for a progressive society like capitalism! RD

The Food Stamp Nation

“I’ve got two children,” she says. “I’ve got to have food.”So do 46 million other Americans. In fact, if the Americans using food stamps constituted a country, they would be the 27th largest nation in the world.In the first minutes of each month, food stamp purchases at 24-hour Wal-Marts across the country surge as those relying upon food stamps drives through the dark to purchase sorely needed food.“Our sales for those first few hours on the first day of the month are substantially and significantly higher,” Wal-Mart CEO William S. Simon told a Goldman Sachs conference 18 months ago. “If you really think about it, the only reason somebody goes out in the middle of the night and buys baby formula is that they need it — and they’ve been waiting for it.” Studies show that food stamps typically last only 17.5 daysLaunched under Kennedy , first as a pilot project and later permanently by Johnson as part of his “War on Poverty,” food stamps (technically known as the federal Supple…

ROLLING IN IT

At a time when unemployment is rising and many companies are feeling the economic pinch it is not all doom and gloom for investors. "Another year another bumper set of figures for investors in Rolls Royce. ... Analysts have penciled in £1.2 billion of profits on £11.4 billion of sales, increases of 16% and 5%, respectively." (Sunday Times, 5 February) It is reassuring no doubt for the unemployed that the owning class can still lord it over us in their splendid new Rollers. RD

ANOTHER PROBLEM SOLVER

In December 2010 the Prime Minister was concerned about 120,000 households that were out of work so he appointed Emma Harrison as a sort of families champion to improve the situation. "The woman appointed by David Cameron to get problem families back into work pocketed £8.6million last year - most of it from the taxpayer. Emma Harrison - who lives in a 20-bedroom 'posh commune' with 11 close friends and their families - paid herself the huge dividend from her firm A4e, which makes all its UK income from state contracts." (Daily Mail, 10 February) Needless to say the households concerned are still "problem families" but the Harrisons should get by OK. RD

A STRANGE SORT OF ADVANCE

Some years ago with the advent of advanced technology many workers were promised that the working week would be cut drastically, but capitalism just doesn't work that way. "Workers in the digital era can feel at times as if they are playing a video game, battling the barrage of e-mails and instant messages, juggling documents, Web sites and online calendars. To cope, people have become swift with the mouse, toggling among dozens of overlapping windows on a single monitor. But there is a growing new tactic for countering the data assault: the addition of a second computer screen. Or a third. This proliferation of displays is the latest workplace upgrade, and it is responsible for the new look at companies and home offices - they are starting to resemble mission control."  (New York Times), 7 February) For many office workers the advance of technology has meant more arduous working conditions, not easier ones. RD

THE REALITY OF CAPITALISM

The media love to portray a Britain of prosperous, contented workers happily going about their day to day activities, but a recent banking report blows that foolish concept away. "The average British worker is worrying that they are broke just 17 days after payday, a report from the banking giant Halifax will warn today. The report highlights the nightmare facing cash-strapped workers who are struggling to pay soaring household bills while many are being hit by a pay freeze or pay cut by their boss. For the worst-hit victims, the money worries begin even sooner. The research reveals one in 10 people admitted that things get tight within a week of receiving their monthly salary." (Daily Mail, 8 February) Too many days in the month and not enough money seems to be the usual fate of most workers. RD

A BIG EARNER

One of the great claims made by supporters of American capitalism, is that unlike decadent Europe or corrupt Asia they have a truly democratic political system. Truly democratic if you happen to be a millionaire that is. "After facing growing criticism by his Republican competitors, and taking a drubbing in the South Carolina primary, the Republican candidate finally released his 2010 and 2011 taxes. Voters were again reminded of the great divide between wealth and regular working stiffs: Romney earned about $21.6 million in 2010 and estimates about the same for 2011." (Yahoo Finance, 25 January) The word "earned" seems a little strange, does it not? RD

BEHIND THE DIPLOMACY

The Philippines is in talks with the Obama administration about expanding the American military presence in the island nation. An arrangement would follow other recent agreements to base thousands of U.S. Marines in northern Australia and to station Navy warships in Singapore. Under each scenario, U.S. forces would effectively be guests at existing foreign bases. "The sudden rush by many in the Asia-Pacific region to embrace Washington is a direct reaction to China's rise as a military power and its assertiveness in staking claims to disputed territories, such as the energy-rich South China Sea." (Washington Post, 7 February) Behind the niceties of diplomacy lies the naked economic drive of modern capitalism. RD

The Poison of Patriotism

"The time is fast approaching when to call a man a patriot will be the deepest insult you can offer him. Patriotism now means advocating plunder in the interests of the privileged classes of the particular State system into which we have happened to be born." - E. BELFORT BAX.

"...it is clear that if each people and each State considers itself the best of peoples and States, they all live in a gross and harmful delusion...One would expect the harmfulness and irrationality of patriotism to be evident to everybody. But the surprising fact is that cultured and learned men not only do not themselves notice the harm and stupidity of patriotism, but they resist every exposure of it with the greatest obstinacy and ardour (though without any rational grounds), and continue to belaud it as beneficent and. elevating... with reference to the patriotic idea, on which all arbitrary power is based. People to whom it is profitable to do so, maintain that idea by artificial means, thoug…