Wednesday, December 19, 2007

GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL

After a hard year slogging away at the workplace you might fancy an idyllic holiday but we don't think you will be booking up at Richard Branson's island. His friend billionaire Larry Page is secretly getting married there. "When a man is worth $20bn, however, certain secrets are impossible to keep. On Wednesday, the New York Post revealed the location and the expected number of guests – 600. It appears the guests will fly into St Thomas, the biggest of the Virgin Islands, and then take smaller planes and helicopters to Virgin Gorda, a 40-minute ride. Necker Island is so small and exclusive it does not – intriguingly – even appear on the Google map service. (A consequence, perhaps, of Mr Page's friendship with Branson.) The island's website, however, reveals that each of its 14 Balinese-style houses, blessed with pools, jacuzzis, private chefs and other luxuries, costs $46,000 (£23,000) a night – when available." (Independent, 8th December) RD

All very fishy

It sounds mad: shipping UK-caught langoustine thousands of miles to be processed, then back again to be turned into breaded scampi and put on sale. That's what leading seafood producer Young's started doing last year. We read :

The journey for the scampi that ends up on dinner plates and in pub baskets across the country starts in traditional style - the catch being landed by inshore fishing boats in ports like Stornoway. From there it is taken by lorry to the Scottish border town of Annan, which is where things start to change.
In the past the scampi was shelled by machine in Scotland. Now it is taken first to Grangemouth and loaded into containers, which are in effect giant freezers.
They are shipped to Rotterdam before being loaded onto a huge container ship alongside around 7,000 other containers for the long haul to Bangkok.
The key part of the process takes place in Thailand, as the langoustine are peeled by hand .
The long journey home from Bangkok takes the frozen, peeled langoustine through Rotterdam again before a short hop across the North Sea to Grimsby, where the scampi is breaded - and then delivered to our supermarkets and our plates.

The whole round-trip is about 17,000 miles (27,353km).

"They cover this up and distract it by saying it's carbon neutral, but in truth this is about minimising costs and maximising profits." says Willie Mackenzie of Greenpeace.

The motives of Youngs Seafoods is indeed exactly what Greenpeace claim , grubby lucre, and nothing at all to do with energy conservation or protecting the enviroment from CO2 emissions . The local workers cannot compete, even if, on Britain's minimum wage, with the Thai prawn-peelers who are paid 25p per hour.

The company announced 120 job cuts when it transferred scampi shelling operations to Thailand and leaves less than 50 workers at the Dumfries facility.

John Holroyd, of the T&G, said: “This is all about exploiting cheap labour abroad..."

Another company , Dawnfresh of Uddingston , in 2006 shed 70 staff to send Scottish prawns to China for shelling before being returned to the UK for sale.

Horse Sense

Millions of pounds spent each year on the sperm of race-winning horses. The owner of one superstar stud can earn £25 million a year. British breeders can typically expect to pay more than £500 a time in stud fees, with some American horses commanding fees of up to £10,000. Stallions reputed for producing good quality offspring come at a premium, and can fetch far higher fees.

Research published today will cast doubt on the rationale that bringing champion horses together will produce potentially race-winning foals. a horse's lineage is far less important than was previously thought. Genes account for only 10% of the prize money a horse wins in its lifetime

"The offspring of expensive stallions might tend to win more money, but not necessarily because they have inherited the best genes . It is likely those breeders best able to pay high stud fees are also those who are able to spend more on care of the horse, how it is trained, and who rides it - all of which will contribute more to how much it will win."

We in the socialist movement have been arguing that what genes determine in humans are the physical characteristics and the capacities of the brain, but not the actual behaviour and behaviour patterns . In other words, human nature is one thing, human behaviour another.

It makes horse sense .

Chocolate Class War


Cadbury's announced this year that it would cut 7,800 jobs world wide and is currently fighting union resistance to factory closures in the UK .


However , billionaire corporate raider Nelson Peltz, who has been building a stake in the confectionery giant has been demanding that Cadbury Schweppes should return as much as £1.7 billion to shareholders after the spin-off of its US drinks business next year or face an attempted boardroom coup . He and his confederates dmand that by adopting more aggressive trading margin targets, Cadbury could push the value of its shares up to 970p and pay a special dividend of 80p per share – handing back £1.7bn in total – when the drinks business is spun off. The stock was up 15p to 623p yesterday. Cadbury's chief executive promised this year to raise the company's trading margins from about 10 per cent currently to a mid-teens percentage by 2011. Mr Peltz says the target should be closer to 20 per cent


The veteran financier made hundreds of millions of dollars in profit from previous forays in the food and drink business, most recently buying Snapple for $300m (£149m) and selling it three years later for $1.5bn.


So there is the answer to why jobs are lost or out-sourced - to fill the pockets of investors

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Xmas Presents

Ethical gifts are billed as the perfect antidote to the conspicuous consumerism of the festive season. Whether buying a goat for a family in Africa, or the materials to build a toilet, we are told that these simple items can make a big difference to people in developing countries.
Such presents have been growing in popularity and last year Oxfam sold £3.9 million worth of ethical gifts . The charity has this year launched a celebrity-led campaign to encourage more of us to send useful gifts - which may include items such as dung, condoms or even a can of worms - to help communities in the developing world.

However UK-based education charity Worldwrite says that far from being welcome, these gifts are often seen as "demeaning and patronising". Worldwrite also argues that far from encouraging development, buying someone a goat or a hoe for Christmas only conspires to keep recipients at the same subsistence levels year after year. "People in the developing world are like us - they know the sorts of things we have and they want them too " . They felt some projects epitomised "low horizons" and irritated locals who say they are offered "peanuts" with endless "accountability" and "target" forms to fill out.

Worldwrite's views are echoed by Ghanaian De Roy Kwesi Andrew, a teacher and translator, who says: "Our people and government have become merely the passive, obedient pupils to be preached to."

As a local teacher in Ghana , Godbless Ashie , puts it : "Africans have big brains, big aspirations and want to live in liberty."

We at Socialist Courier say the best Xmas present for everybody would be for all of us to put an end to capitalism and for us all to achieve socialism and put an end to exploitation and pauperism .

Monday, December 17, 2007

Coleman on Dietzgen


Once more Brooklyn Darren of Inveresk St Ingrate has uploaded another Stephen Coleman talk .


This time the subject is Joseph Dietzgen , the working class materialist philosopher .


The talk can be downloaded in two parts here


CRISIS, WHAT CRISIS?

According to the newspapers and the television we are going through a crisis, but Wall Street would disagree. Of course a lot of workers are being evicted from their houses and many workers find themselves in debt but come on let the good times roll.
"Thousands of bankers at Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers will celebrate record bonus payments today, despite the global credit crunch. Lehman kicked off the good cheer as it emerged that it had handed Richard Fuld, 61, its chief executive, a $35 million (£17 million) share award. Goldman began to tell staff on both sides of the Atlantic yesterday of their share of what is expected to be an $18.8 billion pool - $2.3 billion more than last year's awards." (Times, 13 December)
Being a plumber, an engineer or a clerk doesn't seem such a good idea, does it? Ever heard of a clerk with a £17 million bonus? RD

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The usual Xmas story

A shortage of affordable housing has left 130,000 children homeless in England this Christmas – an increase of 128 per cent in the past decade, according to research by the shadow housing minister Grant Shapps.

The Tories claim the impact of homelessness on children goes beyond the misery of not having a permanent roof above their heads, making them far more likely to suffer from medical and social problems. The "social failure" of child homelessness is often followed by mental, physical and educational disadvantage. A homeless child is twice as likely to be admitted to an Accident & Emergency department, four times as likely to have respiratory infections and six times as likely to suffer speech impediments, as a child with a fixed address.

Director of the homeless charity the Simon Community, welcomed the report and its conclusions, saying: "What children need is a stable, healthy environment with people who love them, but also where they aren't constantly moving from one piece of low-quality housing to another, or have the threat of that hanging over them, because the housing stock in the UK is so desperately limited."

Mr Shapps said: "For 130,000 homeless children in England, this Christmas is unlikely to be much fun... "

Saturday, December 15, 2007

PROPERTY OWNING DEMOCRACY?

The then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was reputed to be the one to think up the phrase "property owning democracy". It was possibly dreamed up by one of her advisers, just like her "the lady is not for turning". Who ever thought up the phrase must wish they hadn't bothered as more and more evidence highlights re-possessions and mortgage payments defaults.
"In a damning report, the Citizens Advice Bureau said that irresponsible lending decisions and "aggressive arrears management" by sub-prime lenders was causing increasing numbers of house owners with credit problems to miss mortgage payments or to have their homes repossessed. Numbers of home repossessions, already at a seven year high, are expected to rise by 50 per cent this year to 45,000, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders."
(Times, 12 December) RD

HOW FAST IS FAST FOOD?

We live in a competitive crazy society, but even by capitalism's standards the following news item is bizarre. "The question of just how long it should take to eat fast food is being answered by the burger giant McDonald's, which is making customers finish within 45 minutes or face a charge of £125. Motorists who care to linger over their McMeals for any longer at some drive-throughs are receiving demands from a private company that manages car parks for the burger chain. If they do not pay, the fee rises steadily and customers are threatened with court action and approached by bailiffs." (Guardian, 11 December)
In order to maximize profits McDonalds are resorting to bailiffs and courts. Capitalism just gets crazier and crazier RD

Rich Pickings


Been a while since Socialist Courier revealed the take home pay of the the rich . So we now point to Stewart Milne who maintained his position as one of Scotland's best-paid directors by taking home more than £7.5m in salary, benefits and dividends . Between them, the company's directors shared pay and benefits of £4.4m, of which more than one-third, £1,547,498, was taken by Milne. The company also paid out dividends of £6.2m, of which £6m went to Milne himself.


Milne's total pay packet has actually fallen from last year when he was a beneficiary of a £10.8m package, but £5m of that was in the form of a pension contribution.
Nothing like whatis available in Wall St though .
According to the Independent "The young guns at the investment bank Goldman Sachs – none of them over 40 years old – were unmasked yesterday, prompting a wave of adulation and envy among their colleagues, and another bout of handwringing about Wall Street's ability to make multibillion-dollar profits even as millions of ordinary people face losing their homes
Dan Sparks and two underlings, Josh Birnbaum and Michael "Swenny" Swenson, placed what were in effect giant bets against the US mortgage market at the start of the year and watched their winnings tick higher and higher as the rising numbers of mortgage defaults spiralled into a worldwide financial crisis.
The trio themselves are in line for bonuses of about $10m apiece from a record bonus pool at Goldman of about $19bn

Friday, December 14, 2007

Troops Out of Iraq

Just only 2% of Basra residents believe that the presence of British troops since 2003 has had a positive effect , says a BBC poll .


But , of course , they were never sent there in the first place for the benefit of the local inhabitants , no matter how much and how often Tony Blair tries to keep preaching to us .

IT IS GRIM UP NORTH

Many misguided southerners may sometimes envy the residents of the highlands of Scotland. After all they can look out their window and see the bonnie snow-clad mountains, but it is not so romantic if you happen to be as skint as many of the highland workers are.
"Rising energy prices means that more than half a million households are living in fuel poverty in Scotland. Figures published today show that households spending more than 10% of their income ,on heating has worsened since 2004 when it accounted for 18% of households. Now the total is 23%, or 543,000 homes, according to Scottish Government figures." (Herald, 11 December)
Half a million households shivering in the cold is far from being an idyllic Scottish scene. RD

TOUGH AT THE TOP?

We are often told that it is tough at the top and that great wealth brings great burdens. Spare a tear then for Richard tenth Duke of Buccleuch and his onerous future. "The Duke of Buccleuch left £320 million in his will, despite trying to downplay his wealth. The Scottish aristocrat, who died in September aged 83, was as wealthy as the Queen and up to four times richer than he would ever admit. He was one of the biggest landowners in Europe, with about 280,000 acres, but he had also amassed a personal fortune. The majority of his estate will be passed to his son, Richard, the tenth duke." (Times, 10 December)
No worries about sub-prime loans there, we would imagine! RD

Chartist Thinkers

Another upload of lectures given by Stephen Coleman , this time part of a series called Socialist Thinkers and , in this talk , it is James Bronterre O'Brien , one of the leaders of early workers movement , the Chartists , that Coleman discusses .

Again , many thanks to "Brooklyn" Darren for taking time to make these talks available to the internet .

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A MERRY XMAS - FOR SOME

"At £50,000, it's the cost of a Jaguar car or a terrace house in Castleford. But that hasn't stopped the orders coming in for what is probably the most expensive Christmas hamper assembled. The idea came from a well-heeled customer at the Vivat Bacchus restaurant in London who asked the co-owner to put together a goody basket for the festive season.
When Neleen Strauss asked for a budget, the client told her £50,000. Strauss set about putting together the special hamper - believed to be the most expensive on sale in the UK - which is stuffed with 22 bottles of prized wines, champagnes and spirits. They include the sought-after Meinert Merlot 2000, ...Strauss describes it as "priceless". Also thrown in for good measure is a £15,000 bottle of Romanee Conti 1970 - one of the best burgundies in the world - and a Chateau d'Yquem 1959 dessert wine (£2,400). The restaurant, which straddles Clerkenwell and the City of London, is a haunt of lawyers, bankers and City financiers who are often flush with bonuses. Word got around in the restaurant of the £50,000 hamper assembled for the customer, a banker. "Then, before I knew it, a lady had ordered another two" said Strauss". (Guardian, 11 December) RD

DEATH AND DESPERATION

In complete contrast to the indulgences of the extremely wealthy is the utter desperation of some workers risking their lives for the right to be exploited.
"A boat carrying illegal migrants sank off Turkey's Aegean coast and at least 43 people died, an official said yesterday. The 50-foot boat sank in rough weather late on Saturday off the coast of Seferihisar, a town south of the city of Izmir, local Governor Orhan Sefik Guldibi said. Six migrants were rescued and hospitalized, mostly for shock. Citing survivors, the Coast Guard said a total of 85 people were on board. Guldibi said 43 bodies had been recovered."We are trying to keep our hopes alive but the possibility of more survivors is diminishing," Guldibi said." (Independent, 11 December) RD

A lesson that goes unlearned

Socialist Courier has often reported on the inequality of opportunity in education and our stance is that it is not accidental or a result of mistaken policy but integral to the class divide of society .

Yet again the media carries the same old story , privilege over poverty in education . Clever children from poor families face being overtaken by less bright children from affluent homes . The findings are part of a study for the Sutton Trust which says UK social mobility has not improved since 1970.

"It's a terrible thing that children from poor backgrounds, who are bright, end up actually not getting a very good start in life. They end up in schools that aren't very good and end up poor as adults and that's a terrible waste of talent and it's also basically wrong, it's just unfair." trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl said.

The trust's study by the London School of Economics and the University of Surrey concludes that the UK remains very low on the international rankings of social mobility.

Children from the poorest fifth of households who score some of the best results in tests aged three have fallen behind by the age of five. The report said that children in the poorest fifth of households but in the brightest group drop from the 88th percentile on cognitive tests at age three to the 65th percentile at age five . Meanwhile those from the richest households who are least able at age three move up from the 15th percentile to the 45th percentile by age five. The report authors conclude: "If this trend were to continue, the children from affluent backgrounds would be likely to overtake the poorer children in test scores by age seven".

They also said while 44% of young people from the richest 20% of households were awarded degrees in 2002, only 10% from the poorest 20% did so.

The report concludes: "Parental background continues to exert a significant influence on the academic progress of recent generations of children. Stark inequalities are emerging for today's children in early cognitive test scores - mirroring the gaps that existed and widened with age for children born 30 years previously."

It has also been reported on the BBC The children who could benefit most from out of school clubs are least likely to have access to them . Young people on free school meals were less likely to participate in after school activities than those from more affluent homes, research suggested. This was because rich parents were able to buy their children access to such clubs, while poorer parents could not.

"It's probably the kids who don't get much support at home who need activity programmes the most. Yet struggling schools in disadvantaged areas often lack the resources to offer them."

And in Scotland , the BBC reports , it is children from deprived areas of Scotland that are more likely to truant or be absent from school than other pupils . Latest attendance figures showed pupils registered for free school meals were away for an average of 10 days more than those who do not receive them .

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

FEET OF CLAY?

The slavish attitude that workers have towards their leaders and "great men" always astonishes socialists.
A case in point was President George Bush saying "The trouble with the French is that they don't have a word for entrepreneur".
If that was a schoolboy error made by a "great man", what about the following?
US homeowners searching for help with their mortgages struggled to get through on a telephone number that President Bush gave them on Thursday.
"I have a message for every homeowner worried about rising mortgage payments: the best you can do for your family is to call 1-800-995-HOPE," he said. But those who went in search of hope got a busy signal - the president had given them the wrong number. The number Bush gave was for the Freedom Christian Academy in Texas. The school phone rang non-stop when Bush gave out the number. "I've tried my best to give the correct number to these people when they called," the academy's Ms Karen Pulaski told the Dallas Morning News, having spoken to more than 50 people in an hour. "But it got a little overwhelming because I couldn't do anything except answer these calls." Ms Pulaski later disconnected the phone." (BBC News, 10 December)
Feet of clay? Right up to the elbows! RD

SURPLUSES AND SHORTAGES

The advance of Chinese capitalism is enriching their owning class but it is not helping their working class. "China's worst fuel crunch in years has led a crematorium to dump half-burnt corpses to try saving on diesel costs, a Hong Kong newspaper said on Friday. Villagers in Hengyang county, in the southern province of Hunan, discovered the practice when an "unbearable stench" started coming from the site, and tried to block a road on Wednesday to stop funeral vehicles from delivering more bodies. The village sent people to investigate the smell and the South China Morning Post said they saw "crematorium workers putting half-burnt human remains and organs in plastic bags and throwing them into a nearby ditch." "As the price of diesel rose, we saw more and more bags thrown out from the crematorium," the paper quoted Xiao Gaoyi, a village representative and one of the witnesses, as saying. ..Fuel in many parts of the country was rationed and there were long queues at petrol stations." (Yahoo News, 7 December) RD

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

EVEN MORE EXPENSIVE

Not to be outdone by their New York rivals the London rich and useless have went one better when it comes to wasting money on booze.
"Economists may be warning of tough times ahead and homeowners fretting about the state of the property market, but one London nightclub remains undeterred. Today, it will launch the world's most expensive Christmas cocktail, costing £35,000 a glass. The Movida nightclub, a hangout of celebrities, footballers and the super-rich, has already taken a small number of orders for the drink, named the Flawless. The cocktail consists of a large measure of Louis XII cognac, half a bottle of Cristal Rose champagne, some brown sugar, angostura bitters and a few flakes of 24-carat edible gold leaf. The drink is described as warming and refreshing, but that is not the main reason for the exorbitant cost: at the bottom of the crystal glass is an 11-carat white diamond ring." (Guardian, 8 December) RD

AN EXPENSIVE TIPPLE

The sub-prime crisis in the USA obviously doesn't concern the buyers at this New York auction. "A bottle of 81-year-old Scotch sold for $54,000 at this New York's first liquor auction since Prohibition. An anonymous collector bought the pricey potable at Christie's sale of wines and spirits on Saturday. The 100-lot auction sold a total of $304,800 worth of rare wine and liquor. The top lot was a collection of 729 bottles of whisky, which went for $102,000. The $54,000 bottle was distilled at Macallan in Scotland in 1926, bottled in 1986 and rebottled in 2002." (Yahoo News, 9 December) RD

Listen to the Party


Socialist Courier wishes to draw readers attention to the availability on the internet of a talk given by Stephen Coleman of the place of the SPGB in the history of the labour movement that can be got as a download by going to link :




Monday, December 10, 2007

EMPTY PROMISES AND HARSH REALITY

Many South Africans struggled hard to overcome the horrors of apartheid but tragically their sacrifices have proven largely in vain as capitalism has ensured that the majority still live in poverty and insecurity.
"Desmond Tutu says South Africa has lost its moral direction, and the bitter contest for the ANC leadership offers no hope for new direction or ideas. The African National Congress, the continent's oldest liberation movement, faces its moment of truth. South Africa's millions of poor blacks have gained little from the economic boom that has produced 5 per cent annual growth rates for the past two years. Apart from voting every five years, the country's celebrated turn to democracy in 1994 has not brought them much."
(New Statesman, 6 December) RD

BEHIND THE PIETY

Capitalism is a harsh exploitive society. It is especially harsh on young poor women. Every religious group erects a pious barrier against the sordid realities of a cash society, but it is a phoney piety that cannot compete with the cash nexus. Moslems in the Middle East are especially hypocritical in their defence of chastity and purity.
"With their bright neon signs and glitzy decor, dozens of nightclubs line the streets of the Maraba district in the Syrian capital Damascus. It's here that men come from far and wide - car number plates are not just from Syria but Iraq and Saudi Arabia - to watch young women dancing. Most of the dancers are teenagers and many of them are Iraqi refugees. They dance for the cash which gets tossed onto the stage. The dancers are surrounded by bodyguards, to stop them being touched by the men. But the guards also arrange for their charges to be paid for sex with members of the audience." (BBC News, 3 December)
The Koran cannot compete with the cash register inside capitalism. RD

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Tax and the rich 2

More than a third of Scottish farms sold this year have been snapped up by cash-rich businesspeople anxious to avoid paying inheritance tax .

According to the annual Scottish Estates Review by property agency Strutt & Parker, the number of farm buyers who cite IHT as a reason for their purchase reached 36% this year.

Prime Scottish arable land has now more than doubled in value since 2004, selling for at least £3,500 an acre, compared with £1,600 three years ago. Farmers have traditionally been allowed to pass on their land to their children without the value being calculated for inheritance tax purposes. Any assets above a threshold of £283,000 are normally taxed at a rate of 40%, but farms are excluded so that they do not have to be split up to pay death duties.

But the tax break is now being exploited by wealthy investors.

"These are people with maybe £20m, £30m or £40m and they are looking for ways to shield that money from IHT in the future. They are buying farms and sheltering some of their money that way." Strutt & Parker's farm sales specialist said "You can't let the land go unmanaged but you can employ a manager, so investors don't even need to get their hands dirty."

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Tax and the rich

The Treasury has admitted its plans to clamp down on super-rich non-UK domiciled taxpayers are being hampered by a lack of reliable data

A little more than 15,000 people are thought to have a combined wealth of £140 billion, and that includes £65 billion attributed to a small number of super-rich.

The combined taxable annual income of this latter group is estimated at about £1.9billion and "non-dom" rules allow these people to avoid a £600m tax bill. The Treasury has estimated that it is losing £1billion a year to the "non doms".

Jobs for the Boys

Jonathan Powell, former chief of staff to Tony Blair, is to become a senior executive at a leading bank. He will take up a full-time position as a senior managing director of Morgan Stanley's investment banking division. The son of an air vice-marshal, Mr Powell comes from a powerful family that includes his brother Charles, who was Margaret Thatcher’s foreign policy adviser. His other brother, Chris, is influential in advertising and has done some work for the Labour party.

A former journalist and diplomat, Mr Powell is expected to play a role in transactions involving some of the bank's largest clients in UK and Europe. As a managing director in Morgan Stanley's investment banking division, Mr Powell will be responsible for introducing the bank to important governmental and corporate clients he met during his time as aide to Mr Blair.

It has become increasingly commonplace for investment banks to hire former government ministers and politicians to introduce them to clients and brief them on government policy. Former Conservative prime minister John Major is a senior adviser to Credit Suisse while ex-German chancellor Gerhard Schröder works part-time for Rothschild. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi spent time with Goldman Sachs before and after his first spell as Italian leader in the 1990s. Lord Waldegrave, a former Conservative minister, is vice-chairman of investment banking at UBS, Switzerland's biggest bank. Jeremy Heywood, Mr Blair's former principal private secretary, left his job as Morgan Stanley's co-head of UK investment banking to become Gordon Brown's head of domestic policy in June.

Brown-nosed snouts in the trough

SUB-PRIME, WHAT'S THAT?

"It's been that kind of year for the luxury sector in New York. While home prices slid around the country, Manhattan set a new apartment sales record with developer Harry Macklowe's $60 million purchase of an entire Plaza Hotel floor (minus one rogue apartment), and a new price-per-square-foot benchmark ($6,287 per interior square foot) with former Citigroup chairman Sanford Weill's $42.4 million splash into 15 Central Park West."
(Yahoo News, 29 November) RD

SUB-PRIME, AND HOW

"More than two years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is suffering from an acute shortage of housing that has nearly doubled the cost of rental units in the city ... Before the storm, more than half of the city’s population rented housing. Yet official attention to help revive the shattered rental home and apartment market has been scant. ...One of the more striking changes to appear lately in New Orleans is the highly visible number of homeless men and women living under bridges and in parks. Social service groups say about 12,000 homeless people are living in the city, about double the number before the storm. ...In the past several months, a homeless encampment has sprung up on the steps of City Hall — partly because it is a safe open space and partly because it is a political statement. Tents and sleeping bags are aligned in rows. The crowd of hundreds is a mix of young and old, white and black." (New York Times, 3 December) RD

SUB-PRIME EXISTENCE

Capitalism likes hiding its brutality behind euphemisms. Thus we have no Ministry of Offence, but one of Defence. So when mortgage companies lend money to people that are skint they describe them as "sub-prime" loans. The recent rash of foreclosures in the USA affected not only home buyers but tenants of landlords that were in debt. Alice Mills, a 67 year old returning from hospital was shocked to learn that she was to be evicted the next day - she was not alone. "Mills is one of a growing number of renters who are being caught up in the nation's foreclosure crisis. According to RealtyTrac, a company that tracks foreclosures across the country, 1,785,596 foreclosures have been filed nationwide so far this year, a dramatic increase over a year ago. RealtyTrac say October foreclosures this year were up 94 percent over last October." (USA Today, 30 November) RD

Friday, December 07, 2007

WORKED TO DEATH

There is an old saw that claims "hard work never killed anybody", like most old saws it is absolute nonsense, as the following illustrates.
"A Toyota Motor Corp employee died of overwork after logging more than 106 hours of overtime in a month, a judge ruled Friday, reversing a ministry's earlier decision not to pay compensation to his widow. ...The employee, who was working at a Toyota factory in central Japan, died of irregular heartbeat in February 2002 after passing out in the factory around 4 a.m. "(The employee) worked for extremely long hours and the relationship between his work and death is strong," Yomiuri Online quoted Judge Toshiro Tamiya as saying. Overworking is a serious issue in Japan, where an average worker uses less than 50 percent of paid holidays, according to government data. In fiscal year 2005-2006, the labour ministry received 315 requests for compensation from the bereaved families of workers who died of strokes and other illnesses seen as work-related." (Yahoo News, 30 November)
This brings to mind another old saying - "Socialism won't work because the workers are too lazy"! RD

CHINESE COLONALISATION

Here is another example of the Chinese government that used to castigate European capitalism for exploiting less-developed parts of the world, engaging in the same adventurism that it once branded as "capitalist colonisation". "Overall, China's push into Africa has been remarkably successful. Chinese companies are sucking up oil from Sudan, cutting down timber in Guinea and mining copper and zinc from the Congo. Beijing recently bought a major stake in South Africa's Standard Bank to fund infrastructure projects throughout the continent. And the Chinese are far outpacing their Western rivals. China has opened more embassies in Africa than the United States has, and is even investing heavily in countries, like Rwanda, where the immediate returns are murky at best. Last year trade between Africa and China topped $50 billion. By 2010 it's projected to reach $100 billion." (Newsweek, 3 December) RD

Price fixing at your local supermarket

Always first with the news , Socialist Courier reported here the Capitalist Scam of supposed rivals and competitors co-operating to fix prices of goods to extract extra profits .

And lo and behold , what should appear on the BBC , but the revelation that Sainsbury's and Asda have admitted fixing the price of milk and cheese and who along with a number of dairy firms, have agreed to pay fines totalling at least £116 million following an inquiry by the Office of Fair Trading . Cases against Tesco and Morrisons will continue after no deal was struck.

The OFT said that its evidence found that while dairy product prices went up after the collusion, the price received by farmers did not increase. The price fixing saw customers being charged 3p extra for a pint of milk and 15p extra per quarter-pound of butter. Customers also being allegedly overcharged 15p per half-pound of cheese .

In September, the watchdog provisionally found evidence of collusion by 10 firms relating to price-setting in 2002 and 2003. Now Sainsbury's and Asda have admitted price-fixing of milk and cheese, as has Safeway - before it was bought by Morrisons. Safeway has also admitted colluding on the price of butter. Dairy product processors Dairy Crest, the Cheese Company and Wiseman Dairies were also fined .

So , indeed, "Every Little Helps" "That ASDA Price"

Thursday, December 06, 2007

THE PRICE OF GOLD

About a quarter of a million mineworkers downed tools on Tuesday in South Africa, the world's top producer of gold and platinum.
"This year's death toll has reached 200, mostly owing to rock falls and explosions in several mines. Many mines have been unchanged for decades but recently reopened, thanks to high world prices that have made them profitable again." (Times, 5 December) The miners are concerned about the lack of safety in the mining industry which one striker described as "dripping in blood". The average wage of a miner in South Africa is about $200 a month. None of them will be wearing gold or diamonds that is for sure. RD

HEIRESS ON THE RUN

She was left $12 million but it was a mixed blessing as she received threats from blackmailers and kidnappers. "Their threats forced concerned friends to bundle her onboard a private jet under a new identity and take her into hiding. Her location is a closely guarded secret but she is reportedly living somewhere in Florida under 24 hour guard." (Times, 4 December) It is reported that her annual upkeep is $300,000 but this includes a rotating security team. Oh, did we mention she has weekly grooming visits and has to visit the vet for her liver condition? Yes, the vet! For she is a white Maltese dog called Trouble whose former owner was the hotel tycoon Leona Helmsley.
Go on tell us that capitalism isn't crazy! RD

OLD AGE FEARS

In so-called primitive societies that practiced a hunting/gathering existence, the elderly were protected and respected as knowledgeable members of the group. In modern capitalism the old are looked upon as a burden as can be seen from these findings.
"Britons are living in fear of growing old in a society that fails to respect the over-65s or provide adequate support for those in need, a Guardian poll reveals today. It found a country struggling to come to terms with demographic pressures that are set to see an increase in the number of older people by more than 60% over the next 25 years, putting a huge strain on the resources of the welfare state. The ICM poll found: 40% of Britons fear being lonely in their old age Two thirds of the adult population are "frightened" by the prospect of having to move into a care home; More than 90% said they knew they could not survive on the state pension and would need to rely on savings." (Guardian, 3 December) RD

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

THIS SPORTING LIFE

In the mad competitive struggle that is capitalism, the use of steroids by athletes has become commonplace, but what is not so well known is their use by school kids."Probably next week, but certainly before Christmas, the state of Texas will become the first to implement mandatory drug testing for high-school students." (Times, 1 December) This legislation is being introduced partly because of the suicide of Taylor Hooton, a 17 year old baseball pitcher at a Texas high school, but also because of a series of surveys that suggested that 2 - 6 per cent of high school take steroids. RD

PROMISES, PROMISES

Back in 1999 the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair promised to halve the number of poor children in 10 years and eradicate child poverty in 20 years. "The government's approach to tackling child poverty has lost momentum and is in "urgent need" of a major rethink, a charity has said. A Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) report said there has been no sustained progress in the past three years. One in three UK children live in poverty. A report by the Treasury select committee fears the pledge to halve child poverty by 2010 is in doubt. Ministers say progress has been made, but acknowledge more needs to be done." (BBC News, 3 December) This is typical of reformist politicians - make promises, preferably far into the future and they will probably be forgotten when the next election comes along. RD

The Poor Pay More

Following up an earlier post we see from the BBC that energy companies have been accused by an industry watchdog of exploiting some of the poorest people in society.

Customers with pre-payment meters are paying hundreds of pounds more for electricity and gas than those with access to the cheapest tariffs . Customers on the meters are charged an average of £195 more a year than those paying by direct debit . In some cases, customers using meters have been found to pay as much as £304 more a year. There are 3.5 million electricity and 2.2 million gas pre-payment meters in Britain. Some 580,000 pre-payment meters were installed in 2006. Energywatch claims that 63% were installed by companies to recover debts, which would limit the ability of those households to switch to cheaper suppliers or payment methods.

"That they should ramp up the rates and exploit those with no access to alternative payment methods is morally bankrupt," said Energywatch chief executive of Allan Asher.

According to Energywatch, the industry is making conservatively close to £300 million a year in revenues from customers on pre-payment meters.

Bank Fraud


Elsewhere and if committed by others this would be classed as fraud and the perpetrators would be hounded but with such influence and clout with the State the banking industry can do no wrong under the eyes of the Law , it seems .


Britain's high street banks have raised billions of pounds in funds through complex financial deals that use supposedly charitable trusts which are not donating a penny to good causes . Trusts are set up during an elaborate process known as securitisation, which has increasingly replaced the traditional mortgage model in which banks made loans to home buyers and held on to the loans until they were paid off.
Over the last seven years, banks have been pooling many of their loans and turning them into mortgage-backed securities which can then be sold to large investors.
The banks have been doing this through trusts which they can control without owning, isolating financial risks, and keeping their liabilities off their balance sheets in a way that makes them appear more profitable. By giving the trusts a charitable status, they can be operated indefinitely. The trusts are not obliged to make any payments unless they are eventually wound up, and even then the amount any charity might receive would be only a small fraction of the sums raised.


Of the 12 institutions investigated by the Guardian, all admitted that their current series of "charitable" trusts had given nothing to charity.


Halifax names the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) as a beneficiary, and has since raised funds on the back of almost £50bn of home loans. The Halifax admitted that this trust had not paid a penny to the NSPCC, however, and the charity said it knew nothing about the arrangement.


Northern Rock had raised £71bn through a Jersey-registered trust called Granite, which issued a prospectus that told potential investors: "Any profits ... will be paid for the benefit of the Down's Syndrome North East Association (UK) and for other charitable purposes."
Down's Syndrome North East, a small charity run by volunteers from a semi-detached house on the outskirts of Newcastle, was told nothing about this and did not receive any money.


Standard Life's trust, named Lothian, says it operates "for the benefit of charities involved in the domestic and international wellbeing of children". Standard Life would not identify these charities, but acknowledged that it had not paid them any money.


The Alliance and Leicester, for example, said it was one of the last UK banks to enter the mortgage securitisation market, and protested it had merely copied its competitors. "When entering the market, we took legal advice and followed a well-established structure already in use by very many other UK banks," a spokeswoman said. What an excuse but that's capitalism -- no scruples at all in the hunt for profits and always ready to join others with their snouts in the trough .

Christmas Good Cheer


The Herald reports that food prices are set to rise around the globe after years of decline, with climate change making it harder for the world's poorest to get adequate food . Rising global temperatures as well as growing food consumption in rapidly developing countries such as China and India are pressuring the world food system, meaning that prices will rise for the foreseeable future, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute. In addition, switching to crops used for biofuels will also reduce the amount of available food and increase prices


Hunger and malnutrition could rise as poor agricultural communities most sensitive to the environment, such as in Africa, are affected. Dependency on food imports will also increase as cereal yields decline in poorer countries. The world's agricultural production is projected to decrease by 16% by 2020 due to global warming, the report said, with land used for certain crops shrinking.


And we have the Independent reporting that the World's wealth already cannot provide for all its population and it is making the customary Christmas appeal for charity and alms .


Even in this supposed rich developed country there are tens of thousands of homeless yet according to Empty Homes Agency, a campaigning charity there are currently 663,000 wasted empty homes in England .


There are three main reasons for these 663,000 empty homes:-


First group have small-scale owners who've let the properties fall into disrepair, or have bought/inherited them in that state. But they don't have the time or the means, and so nothing is done year after year.


The second group are a consequence of property speculation. They are new-builds bought for investment. People buy off-plan with the intention to sell, will wait for their high expectations to be met rather than to accept what they're worth now or to rent them out. They'll gamble for big returns in the future rather than settle for a small but good income now .


The third group are publicly owned such as the Ministry of Defence or local authorities compulsory-purchasing homes with a view to regeneration. But some of those regeneration projects take forever, and in the meantime, homes that could be put to good use are sitting vacant.


Meanwhile between July 2005 and June 2006 139,760 were found to be homeless and the rate of homelessness in London is twice as high as the rest of England with over 50,000 homeless households. In Scotland , the number of households officially recognised as newly homeless in 2005/06 was 40,000.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

BUDDY, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME

"Food banks around the country are reporting critical shortages that have forced them to ration supplies, distribute staples usually reserved for disaster relief and in some instances close. “It’s one of the most demanding years I’ve seen in my 30 years” in the field, said Catherine D’Amato, president and chief executive of the Greater Boston Food Bank, comparing the situation to the recession of the late 1970s. ..“It’s the price of oil, gas, rents and foreclosures,” said Melanie Gosselin, executive director of the New Hampshire Food Bank. Ms. Gosselin said household budget squeezes had led to a drop in donations and greater demand. “This is not the old ‘only the homeless are hungry,’” she said. “It’s working people.” (New York Times, 30 November) All this is happening in the most developed capitalist nation in the world at a time when billionaires are coining it in as never before. RD

POVERTY RECRUITS

Socialists have always maintained that poverty is the biggest recruiting agent when it comes to young workers joining the military and here is a recent example of it in the USA.
"One in 10 public high school students in Chicago, wears a military uniform to school and takes classes -- including how to shoot a gun properly -- from retired veterans. That number is expected to rise as junior military reserve programs expand across the country now that a congressional cap of 3,500 units has been lifted from the nearly century-old scheme...But opponents say the programs divert critical resources from crumbling public schools and lead to a militarization of US society. ..While military officials say the junior reserve programs are not used as recruiting tools, about 30 to 50 percent of cadets eventually enlist, according to congressional testimony by the chiefs of staff of the various armed services in February 2000. This is particularly troubling given that the programs are concentrated in low-income and minority neighbourhoods, said Sheena Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Chicago branch of the American Friends Service Committee which lobbies against the programs." (Yahoo News, 25 November) RD

Monday, December 03, 2007

AN INSANE SOCIETY

That capitalism is a crazy social system is summed up by the following news item that occurs in a society where millions try to survive on less than a $1 a day. "One of the biggest truffles found in decades has fetched $330,000 (£165,000) at an auction held simultaneously in Macau, London and Florence. A Macau casino owner, Stanley Ho, made the record-breaking bid for the white truffle, which weighed 1.5kg (3.3lb). Luciano Savini and his son found the highly-prized fungus after it was dug up by his truffle dog near Pisa, northern Italy, last week." (BBC News, 2 December) RD

LAND OF THE BRAVE

Behind all the bombast of "land of the brave, mother of the free" national anthem in the USA lies a sinister reality. "From the 1880s to the 1960s, at least 4,700 men and women were lynched in this country. The noose remains a terrifying symbol, and continues to be used by racists to intimidate African-Americans (who made up more than 70 percent of lynching victims).In the past decade or so, only about a dozen noose incidents a year came to the attention of civil rights groups. But since the huge Sept. 20 rally in Jena, La., where tens of thousands protested what they saw as racism in the prosecution of six black youths known as the “Jena 6,” this country has seen a rash of as many as 50 to 60 noose incidents. Last Tuesday, for example, a city employee in Slidell, La., was fired after being accused of hanging a noose at a job site a few days earlier. These incidents are worrying, but even more so is the social reality they reflect. The level of hate crimes in the United States is astoundingly high — more than 190,000 incidents per year, according to a 2005 Department of Justice study." (New York Times, 25 November) RD

Cold Capitalism for Young and Old

Consumers are being warned by energy broker Catalyst Commercial Services that heating prices are set to rise by 10 per cent in early 2008 - which could push the average household energy bill above the £1,000-a year-mark.
According to the National Energy Action (NEA) charity, for every 1 per cent rise in energy prices, a further 40,000 households are forced into fuel poverty – defined as the need to spend more than 10 per cent of household income on electricity and gas. If the NEA figures are right, up to 400,000 more households could become "fuel poor" in the new year.

"In the last year, wholesale gas prices have fallen by 50 per cent, and while the industry enjoyed the respite, it was in no hurry to share the benefits with consumers," Mr Asher of the consumer group Energywatch explains. "Suppliers waited until spring this year to pass on miserly reductions to their customers..."

"While price increases are passed on rapidly, there is evidence that any price reductions take much longer to filter through to households," says NEA chief executive Jenny Saunders

Office for National Statistics show 23,900 people died last winter as a result of the cold weather, of whom 22,300 were older people as we reported here.

"Many pensioners feel they need to cut back on their heating to reduce their bill, yet this could be putting their health at risk," says Gordon Lishman, director-general of the Age Concern charity. "With fuel costs 60 per cent higher than four years ago, it is no wonder that many pensioners worry about paying expensive bills. But they shouldn't have to worry about health versus wealth."

NEA research shows how, in England, the number of dependent children in fuel poor homes has risen from 220,000 in 2003 to 750,000 last year. This increase, coupled with news of rising fuel costs later this year, will increase the suffering for poor children across the UK.

Living in cold, damp homes can have a significant impact on children and their families:
It can increase the risk of asthma, a rapidly growing problem among children in particular, with approximately 1.1 million children in the UK, currently receiving treatment for the condition. Respiratory illnesses are almost three times more widespread than any other long-term childhood disease in the UK.
It can affect children’s health, increasing the risk of common ailments like colds and flu, and respiratory infections such as bronchitis, as well as making them more vulnerable to allergies.
It can affect children’s educational attainment, with children finding it difficult to complete homework in homes where only one room may be adequately heated and more liable to miss school due to cold-related illnesses.
It can increase feelings of social exclusion, with children often too embarrassed to invite friends back to a cold home.

Saunders, NEA Chief Executive, said: “For millions of families and individuals, winter brings poor health, isolation, debt and worry..."

Poverty Reported

The Government's strategy for tackling poverty will be heavily criticised in two separate reports .

The New Policy Institute, an independent think tank, said moves to tackle poverty and social exclusion which have been pursued since the late 1990s had lost momentum . The most serious setback in the anti-poverty campaign had been an increase of 200,000 children living in poverty during 2005/2006, its report claimed. It added that this brought the total number of children living in poverty to 3.8 million for that year, and meant there had been no sustained progress on the issue in three years. since the Government first made its pledge to end child poverty in 1999, it was still 500,000 short of the target it should have reached in 2004/2005.

Half of all children living in poverty were part of a working family, a similar level to a decade ago, suggesting low wages continued to be an issue.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, found that out of 50 indicators of poverty and social exclusion, nine had worsened in the past year, mainly in key areas of income and work. "Progress on child poverty has stalled at a level that is only halfway to the target set for two years ago. Tax credits may be working, but they are not enough on their own. Yet the Government's budgetary and legislative programme set out this autumn contains no substantial new ideas about what should be done."

A separate Treasury select committee report, MPs said that the Government's commitment to halving child poverty by 2010 could be in doubt because it has not explained how the target will be met. The report expressed concern "that the Government may have drawn back from a whole-hearted commitment" to meeting its target. It warned that any backtracking would represent a "conscious decision to leave hundreds of thousands of children in poverty for longer than is necessary".

Socialist Courier has repeatedly counselled that Government cannot legislate away poverty through a policy of reforms . The idea that capitalism can be humanised and changed by a series of reforms is almost as old as the capitalist system itself. But reforms are implemented by political parties that seek and get a mandate to run capitalism. The motives for reforms may include a genuine motive to relieve suffering and to promote well-being, but the measures have the effect of serving the system rather than meeting the needs of individuals or groups. The simple truth of the matter is that systems of social welfare do not change the exploitative character of capitalism or even touch the surface of its symptoms. Poverty has not been reformed away and poor housing, unemployment, job insecurity and related ill-health remain very real concerns for the working class.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

THIS IS PROGRESS?

Recent reports on income distribution paint a gloomy picture for those who imagine that modern society is making tremendous progress.
"The distribution of wealth lies at the heart of political economics. Nations and empires have risen and fallen, and millions have died, as a result of humanity’s struggle to decide how (or whether) to divide wealth. But for all that, the level of wealth inequality has remained remarkably consistent over the last 2,000 years, according to a recent study by Branko Milanovic, a researcher with the World Bank, and two economics professors, Peter H. Lindert of the University of California, Davis, and Jeffrey G. Williamson of Harvard University (economics.harvard.edu.) While “human civilization has advanced by leaps and bounds over the past two millennia, income inequality has stayed relatively the same,” Zubin Jelveh of Portfoloio.com wrote about the study." (New York Times, 1 December) RD

LABOURING UNDER LABOUR

For many years we have been told by apologists of capitalism that the lot of working men and women was gradually improving. One of the illusions that we were fed was that with improvements in capitalism the working week would be dramatically cut and the big problem of the future would be what to do with all our new-found leisure. Like many other promises of capitalism this has proven to be false.
"A culture of working long hours is on the rise once more in the UK after a decade of gradual decline, according to figures today. More than one in eight of the British workforce , now work more than 48 hours a week, the maximum allowed under the law unless workers agree to waive that limit. The proportion rises to one in six in London. The figures highlighted by the TUC and extracted from the latest Labour Force Survey, prompted warnings from campaigners that children and family life risk being squeezed further. The UK's working hours are among the longest in Europe. But there has been a steady if slow fall in long-hours working since 1997. The latest figures reverse that trend for the first time under the Labour government, with 93,000 more people now working more than 48 hours a week compared with 2006, taking the total to almost three and a quarter million (3,242,000). The increase represents a rise from 12.8% to 13.1% of the workforce." (Guardian, 28 November) RD

Friday, November 30, 2007

PANAMANIAN PARADOX

No matter where in the world you look the contrast between extreme wealth and extreme poverty is obvious. In a booming Panama the story is the same as it is all over the capitalist world.
"These are heady days for tiny Panama. It is undertaking a massive expansion of the Panama Canal, luring billions of dollars in maritime and high-tech investment that could make it the Hong Kong of the Americas. But here's the other side: in the past few months, scores of toddlers have died of malnutrition in villages around the country. More than half of Panamanian children under 5 are at risk of suffering the same fate." (Time, 2 November) RD

FORESTS VERSUS FORTUNES

This dreadful report from Honduras shows what capitalism's priorities are.
"The blunt economic truth is clear: deforestation can never be stopped as long as trees are worth more dead than alive. The two environmentalists never stood a chance. As they drove into the small Honduran town of Guarizama on 20 December last year, armed men forced Heraldo Zúñiga and Roger Iván Cartagena to the side of the road, dragged them from their car, stood them against a wall next to the municipal building in full view of passers-by, and shot them. Although at least 40 shots were fired, Zúñiga survived long enough to denounce those who had hired the assassins - the timber barons who are making a fortune by razing the region's pine forests and exporting wood to the United States. ..Now, after a long campaign, the Environmental Investigation Agency is supporting a rare bipartisan legislative effort in the US Congress to choke off domestic demand for imported illegal wood products. Promoted by Republicans and Democrats alike, as well as by an unusual coalition of environmental and industry groups, the Legal Timber Protection Act would make it a crime to import or sell illegally sourced timber. The EU is also on the way to similar legislation. Despite these positive moves, however, the blunt economic truth is clear: deforestation can never be stopped as long as trees are worth more dead than alive." (New Statesman, 22 November) RD

DEATH IN A HARSH SOCIETY

The latest figures on deaths in winter make for harsh reading and illustrate the fate awaiting many British workers when they are unable to work anymore. "More than 23,000 people died of cold last winter despite it being one of the mildest recorded, according to the Office for National Statistics. Of these deaths, 19,200 were among those aged 75 and over. Charities called it a "national scandal" and gave warning of more deaths this winter because of higher fuel prices and colder temperatures." (Times, 29 November) RD

The Super-Star Super-Rich


A report by the BBC on those super rich super-stars .


England captain Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup in 1966 he earned £100 a week. Today's England captain, John Terry, holds the same position, but reportedly earns over £130,000 a week. David Beckham earned over £11 million from endorsements alone last year.


Then there are humble cooks like Gordon Ramsay , wealth of nearly £70 million , James Oliver , almost £60 million .


Superstars are boosting the luxury goods market, with worldwide sales in the sector topping £75 billion last year. Its all Aston Martins and private jets .


Naturally , the apologists of this insane distribution of riches claim that there are the benefits of the "trickle-down effect " but other commentators are more observant .


"Although these are people who will clearly have significant interests here in the UK and invest here in the UK, they're also looking to place their money around the world," said Mr Charrington , head of Citi's UK private banking arm , adding that the super-rich are looking for opportunities in China, India and Latin America "whether that be in private equity or hedge fund businesses. "


The BBC Money Programme produced a few interesting facts . 1% of the British population controls nearly 25% of the wealth. The top 10% in the UK having nearly 7 times the disposable income of the bottom 10%, up from only 3 times in the mid 1970s.( In the US, for example, 1% of the population control almost 40% of wealth and 20% of income.)


The lowering of the top rate of UK income tax from 98% to 40% in that time, with businessmen and women now able to turn income into capital gains paying a special low rate of 10%, has also widened the gap between after tax pay of high and low earners. For many foreign-born super stars, London is a tax haven, with non-domicile status meaning that they don’t have to pay UK tax at all – apart from council tax.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Workers Have No Country




Whether Polish plumbers, Portuguese hop-pickers or Chinese cockle-pickers, migrant labour in the UK is undoubtedly higher profile now than it has been for many decades. The focus groups and private polling used by the major parties are confirming immigration as the No 1 issue for voters at the moment.


In some parts of the UK the influx may well have resulted in increased unemployment for existing workers and appears to be putting a downward pressure on wages in some sectors.


It’s worth noting that there has been an enormous effort made to vilify, criminalise and erase racist language and ideas over the last few decades. World socialists have not opposed these developments but we have argued that racism – like other the so-called "hate" crimes – is usually fuelled and ignited by poverty and fear, and therefore cannot be removed until the cause is.


For workers fighting over crumbs in lower wage unskilled jobs, the temptation to blame your unemployment or wage level on foreign labour may be strong. But nevertheless such views are false. The blame lies elsewhere. In order to stay profitable, UK employers are demanding cheap labour. It makes good business sense to welcome cheap labour from overseas – you didn't have to pay for its education, and after you have exploited it for a lifetime, you still won’t have to pay its pension.


In many ways the government is only repeating at the national level what has been happening at employer level for many years with out-sourcing of staffing costs.


And while the free movement of labour is restricted, capital is of course expected to roam the globe looking out for ever better rates of exploitation, sniffing around the sweatshops for signs of harsher working conditions or longer hours. But if these chickens come home to roost – if little pockets of the third world's poor actually have the gumption or bravery to start popping up on our doorstep – then our local administrators of capitalism start to get a bit edgy.


As with so many issues, politicians are slowly realising that governments must simply accommodate to capitalism with regard to migration and accept it. They can only try to control it but if they are to have any hope of effectively securing borders and finding those who slip through they must expend vast sums as on ID cards and the like.


The World Socialist Movement didn't get its name for nothing. Unique amongst all political parties left and right we have no national axe to grind. We side with no particular state, no government, no currency. We have no time for nationalisation or privatisation, for border controls or for migration incentives. The world over, workers must do what they can individually and collectively to survive and resist capitalism. In many parts of the world that means escaping the tyranny of political terror or economic poverty. Politically however, workers should try and resist taking sides in the battles of the economic blocs who just happen to be named on the front of your passport. You must not blame another worker for your poverty. Instead we would argue that workers should recognise that – whether migrant or not, whether illegal or legal.
"... socialists must oppose nationalism in all its forms: not just refusing to espouse their creed, but defying the rituals, the anthem signing, flag saluting and other expressions of craven loyalty to the nation-state, that help enforce the idea of nation in our minds."

Long Live The Workers - NOT

Men in routine jobs, such as bus drivers and refuse collectors, are more likely to die early figures show. The Office for National Statistics data showed routine workers were nearly 3 times more likely to die by the age of 64 than high-level managers. After the routine workers, semi-routine staff, including postmen and security guards, were most likely to die early.

The average 65-year-old man in Glasgow could expect to live a further 13.8 years, the lowest life expectancy in Britain.

"Those in better paid, more prestigious jobs are less likely to suffer violence, behave differently, are treated better and value their work more."

The report said the most disadvantaged were more likely to live in poor housing, be exposed to environmental pollution and occupational hazards, have a poor diet and smoke. Conditions at work also play a part with career prospects, control over work and performance-related bonuses associated with better health and longer life.

This latest research just confirms previously that we have featured here on Socialist Courier

The report said: "Generally, the literature suggests that occupations with greater autonomy and control experience better health."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Price Fixers


Capitalism is all about competition , right ? Wrong , if these stories are to go by .

Four of the world's biggest glass manufacturers have been fined a total of £348.2million for illegally co-ordinating price rises. The firms are Guardian of the US, Pilkington, which is the UK unit of Nippon Sheet Glass, Saint-Gobain of France and Belgium's Glaverbel. The European Commission said the firms had raised or stabilised prices in 2004 and 2005 through illicit contacts.

Between them they control 80% of Europe's market for flat glass. Flat glass is used in products such as windows, glass doors and mirrors.

Then there was this in Canada too

Regulators have launched an investigation into allegations of price-fixing by some of the biggest makers of chocolate bars in Canada. Officials from the Canadian divisions of Nestle, Cadbury, Hershey and Mars confirmed the probe is underway.

"We can confirm that we are investigating alleged anticompetitive practices in the chocolate confectionery industry," said the Competition Bureau's John Pecman. "The volume of commerce affected here is definitely potentially in the billions of dollars per year."

And there was this in Australia , as well .

Australian airline Qantas has been fined US$61 million in the United States after it admitted price-rigging freight costs between Australia and the United States. Qantas plead guilty for its role in a price-fixing conspiracy and is the third airline to admit to wrongdoing after British Airways and Korean Air Lines in August pleaded guilty to similar charges.British Airways and Korea Air Lines were each ordered to pay fines of US$300 million for their roles in passenger and freight price fixing conspiracies. The charges say that Qantas participated in meetings, conversations and communications in the US and elsewhere to fix cargo rates on trans-Pacific routes.During the period the breaches occurred Qantas was the biggest cargo carrier between Australia and the US, earning more than $US600 million from trans-Pacific freight.

And another in the USA

A class-action lawsuit was filed against six monitor manufacturers on Tuesday, alleging the companies of being a "global cartel" involved in price-fixing of CRT monitors. The prices of CRT monitors should have fallen as technologically superior products were introduced such as LCD monitors . Instead, for almost a decade, we have seen periods of unnatural and sustained price stability, as well as inexplicable increases in the prices of CRTs . The complaint alleges collusive behavior by the manufacturers, causing the plaintiff and direct purchasers to overpay for CRT monitors.

Yet again , in Australia

Teac is the latest local company successfully prosecuted for price fixing by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) after investigations into Topfield set top boxes and Optima computers.The ACCC recently convicted another set top box manufacturer, Topfield, of similar price-fixing charges and fined the company $297,500. The owner of the brand's Australian distributor, Jai Kemp, was also personally fined over $17,000 for his involvement in the misdemeanor.Optima Computers was also prosecuted by the ACCC in December last year for resale price maintenance.According to the Current.com.au report, products sold through The Good Guys, Retravision and Leading Edge were investigated after a complaint was made to the ACCC about alleged resale price maintenance. Optima admitted it had told two of its dealers they should top discounting and raise their prices for Optima computers to Optima's recommended retail prices. The dealers were threatened with having the supply of Optima products withheld or their dealership cancelled.

And in South Africa

Bread is a basic commodity. The anti-competitive practices involving a basic commodity like bread disproportionately affects the poor. On November 12, Tiger Brands was ordered to pay a R98,7-million fine by the Competition Commission after admitting to participating in bread and milling cartels.

In France kids suffered when French trading standards office DGCCRF has called for 10 retailers and 6 manufacturers in the toy market to be fined over price-fixing. The companies under investigation include Carrefour, France's largest retail group, and Danish toy maker Lego.

Just a brief google search has produced the above recent scams . Need we go on ?

MONEY MADNESS

If the idea of world socialism could be summed up in one phrase it would probably be "a world without money". So the following news item seems particularly crazy. "An anonymous buyer has paid more than $30 million for a collection of rare U.S. prototype coins, some from the 1700s, that never went into circulation, according to the dealer that brokered the deal. The collection consists of about 1,000 coins that collectors refer to as pattern coins — trial designs that never went into production because the U.S. Mint chose other designs. "This collection is an incredible collection. ... These were some of the first coins ever, ever struck by the United States government," said Laura Sperber, a partner in Legend Numismatics of Lincroft, N.J., which brokered the deal. ... "Both the buyer and the seller are very competitive people. And they're very successful in their careers, and they both love the romance and collectability of coins," Sperber said." (Yahoo News, 17 November)
What Laura is really saying is that two members of the capitalist class are so rich they don't know what do with their money except collect useless things. RD

THE GLORIES OF WAR

We are all aware of the Hollywood movies about the nobility of heroism, but here is a blast of reality to question that nonsense. "The psychotherapist remembers the strapping young soldier, slouched in a chair in her office one morning last month, asking if God could be punishing him because he had once thought it would be exciting to fight in a war. By then, the soldier, Sgt. Brad Gaskins, had been absent without leave for 14 months from his post at Fort Drum in northern New York State, waging a lonely battle against an enemy inside his head — memories of death and destruction that he said had besieged him since February 2006, when he returned from a second tour of combat in Iraq. “I asked Sergeant Gaskins whether he thought about death,” the psychotherapist, Rosemary Masters, said in an interview on Thursday. “He said that death seemed like a good alternative to the way he was existing.” (New York Times, 18 November) It is hardly John Wayne material is it? RD

EVEN THE RICH GET RIPPED

"A Manhattan restaurant that unveiled a record-breaking $25,000 dessert last week has been forced to shut its doors temporarily due to an infestation of mice and cockroaches. Serendipity 3 on the Upper East Side failed its second consecutive health inspection in a month on Wednesday night after health officials found a live mouse, mouse droppings in multiple places, flies and dozens of live cockroaches, the Heath Department said. "We're rectifying it as quickly as we can," said owner Steven Bruce, adding the restaurant would then be allowed to reopen. Serendipity 3 set a Guinness world record on November 7 for the most expensive dessert when it partnered with luxury jeweller Euphoria New York to create "Frozen Haute Chocolate," a blend of 28 cocoas fused with 0.2 ounces of edible 23-karat gold."£ (Yahoo News, 16 November)
Mice and cockroaches can shit on the owning class, why don't we? RD

The Credit Crunch


Further to the previous post this news item perhaps explains the reason why many workers find it necessary to work long hours .


Around one in three mortgage customers face higher repayment rates and difficulty in borrowing more on their homes in the light of the recent credit crunch.Lenders have become increasingly cautious following the problems in the credit markets, and as a result many home- owners will be offered less favourable terms if they want to remortgage their homes. More people than ever are set to fall into the sub-prime category as a result of missed debt repayments, meaning that borrowing will now be put out of reach for many.

Mintel market analysts , estimates that around 9% of the UK's 16.5 million mortgage holders will now be considered sub-prime by lenders. It also forecasts that a further 24% could also be considered a high risk because of their personal circumstances, such as being self-employed or not having a regular income, or because they had moved frequently or fallen behind with household bills. Those coming off fixed-rate deals taken out before the recent interest rate rises will be particularly hard-hit and that many people may not be able to absorb these increases and millions of people could start to suffer financially.


Other research released yesterday, from web credit specialists uSwitch.com, claimed that one in four people are now struggling with unmanageable debts and 12% admit they have missed repayments during the past six months. Around 23% of people say their current level of borrowing either borders on being unmanageable or is no longer manageable. The group said 12% of people also admitted they have missed payments on debts or bills during the past six months and 10% have had a payment bounced by their bank because they had insufficient funds in their account. 38% of people applying for new credit were turned down with 19% of personal loan applications rejected.


One in 10 people claim they are now trapped in a vicious cycle of debt where they may need to get further into debt just to meet their existing financial obligations, and 13% may have to turn to credit just to meet their living costs. At the same time, one in five consumers say they have maxed out at least one of their sources of credit, with 11% going up to their spending limit on a credit card and 10% doing the same on an overdraft.


23% of people are now more worried about money than they were a year ago and 18% are more worried about debt.At the same time 34% say they are feeling financially worse off and more than half of people do not think it is a good time to make a life-changing decision such as buying a home, having a baby or changing jobs.


The average person now sees half of their take-home pay eaten up by debt repayments, with 35% going on their mortgage and 18% spent on unsecured debts.


Is it no wonder that many now try to earn more by working more - just to pay off debts


Working Hours Get Longer


People are working longer hours, reversing a 10-year trend of a cut in the working week, a report suggests. More than one in eight people now work more than 48 hours a week, rising to one in six in London, the TUC said.



An analysis of official figures revealed that 3.2 million people were now working more than 48 hours a week - more than 13% of the workforce. Official figures underestimate long hours because they are unlikely to include migrant workers or people who live at their place of work, such as hotel or care staff.


According to the study, the biggest rise in the number of people working a 48-hour week was in the south-east of England and London, with 16% of staff in the capital now working long hours.


Of course , the lick spittles of capitalism have their own spin on this trend to work longer - according to the government minister for Employment Relations research has shown that seven out of ten long-hours workers would not want a cut in hours if it meant a cut in pay and that in the UK, people have the choice to refuse to work long hours if they don't want to and the flexibility to work longer hours and earn overtime if they wish . This is rather similar to the fox-hunting fraternity's pronouncement that “The fox enjoys the hunt.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Malnutrition in the UK

A quarter of all adults admitted to hospital and care homes in the UK are at risk of malnutrition, a major survey has found.

The survey found that it was not just older patients who were at risk of malnutrition.
Patients under the age of 30 had a 27% risk of malnutrition, compared with a 34% for those over 80. Malnourished people stay in hospital longer, succumb to infection more often and visit their GP more frequently. They also require longer-term care and more intensive nursing care.

Professor Marinos Elia said: "This finding establishes - if there was any doubt - that malnutrition is a major public health issue in the community that must be addressed both at source and when individuals are admitted into care."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Wage Slavery

Anti-racism protestors have marched through Glasgow to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.The St Andrew's Day Anti-Racism March, organised by the Scottish Trades Union Congress, will remember the anniversary of the act to abolish the trade. First Minister Alex Salmond has given his support to the rally.Yet we know there still exists to-day another type of slavery - wage slavery


JUSTIFED KILLING?

We live in a dreadful society and we obviously need a new one that would never use phrases like "justified killing". Let us all cooperate to get rid of capitalism's killing fields, and make the following news item impossible.
"Federal agents investigating the Sept. 16 episode in which Blackwater security personnel shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians have found that at least 14 of the shootings were unjustified and violated deadly-force rules in effect for security contractors in Iraq, according to civilian and military officials briefed on the case. The F.B.I investigation into the shootings in Baghdad is still under way, but the findings, which indicate that the company’s employees recklessly used lethal force, are already under review by the Justice Department. Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to seek indictments, and some officials have expressed pessimism that adequate criminal laws exist to enable them to charge any Blackwater employee with criminal wrongdoing. Spokesmen for the Justice Department and the F.B.I. declined to discuss the matter. (New York Times, 14 November)
If you kill someone it is called murder, if your masters tell you to kill someone it is justifiable. Lets hope the Justice Department and the FBI come up with a conclusion that says all killing of human beings is unjustified. Don't hold your breath for that one. RD

Friday, November 23, 2007

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

If the United States is the embodiment of capitalism, then New York must be the jewel in its crown. A modern technologically advanced city it is forever being revered as the epitome of modernity, but there is another side to capitalism as revealed in this news item.
"Over 1.3 million people, one in six New Yorkers, cannot afford enough food, with queues at soup kitchens getting longer, anti-poverty groups say. The New York City Coalition Against Hunger says the number of people who use food pantries and soup kitchens in the city increased by 20% in 2007. Some of the food distribution points are struggling to meet demand. The coalition blames the situation mainly on increased poverty as well as government cutbacks in food aid." (BBC News, 21 November) RD

THE WASTEFUL SOCIETY

It is difficult to assess just how wasteful the society capitalism is but a recent estimate of the US government's military expenditure in the Middle East gives some idea of the astronomical waste involved.
"The economic costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are estimated to total $1.6 trillion — roughly double the amount the White House has requested thus far, according to a new report by Democrats on Congress' Joint Economic Committee. The report, released Tuesday, attempted to put a price tag on the two conflicts, including "hidden" costs such as interest payments on the money borrowed to pay for the wars, lost investment, the expense of long-term health care for injured veterans and the cost of oil market disruptions. The $1.6 trillion figure, for the period from 2002 to 2008, translates into a cost of $20,900 for a family of four, the report said. The Bush administration has requested $804 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined, the report stated. For the Iraq war only, total economic costs were estimated at $1.3 trillion for the period from 2002 to 2008. That would cost a family of four $16,500, the report said. Future economic costs would be even greater. The report estimated that both wars would cost $3.5 trillion between 2003 and 2017. Under that scenario, it would cost a family of four $46,400, the report said." (Yahoo News, 13 November) RD

Reforming Child Poverty

Child poverty in Scotland once again is in the news .

A charity has launched a campaign aimed at eradicating child poverty in Scotland. Save the Children said almost one in every 10 children in Scotland was living in "severe poverty" and that the problem was a "national disgrace "

Save the Children classes the worst deprivation as that which forces families to live on £19 a day, after paying housing costs. Previous research by Save the Children revealed that 90,000 children in Scotland live in severe poverty.

"Parents are being forced to make impossible decisions between such basic provisions as providing an adequate meal or putting on the heating..." said Save the Children's programme director for Scotland .

Yet , as always and as before , the solutions offered by the charity are aimed at only alleviating child poverty through tinkering with the system - more government money (£4 billion) , helping parents back to work, and a new scheme to give poorer families seasonal grants of £100 for each child in summer and winter - remedies that Socialist Courier place no hope in .

"The palliatives over which many worthy people are busying themselves now are useless because they are but unorganised partial revolts against a vast, wide-spreading, grasping organisation which will, with the unconscious instinct of a plant, meet every attempt at bettering the conditions of the people with an attack on a fresh side. " - William Morris .

We have seen many times how after all of the reforms obtained by "worthy" reformers who sought welfare aid for workers, the system simply creates new dimensions of poverty which undermine whatever apparent progress the reformers made. Capitalism as a social system cannot be humanised by reforms .

Church Business

Serve God ?

Only if there is a bonus in it .


The Vatican says it has decided to give financial rewards to employees who are doing a good job.
It says it will take into account issues such as "dedication, professionalism, productivity and correctitude" when awarding a pay rise.


It says that "this novelty brings an element of incentive and remuneration into the Vatican salary system".


The new, corporate-style incentives are likely to require some careful book-balancing, the BBC's says.


Salaries already constitute the largest drain on the Vatican's finances - and its coffers are feeling the pressure of the falling value of the US dollar,