Tuesday, December 01, 2009

POVERTY EQUALS DEATH

"The number of deaths during the coldest three months of the year was up almost 50 per cent on the previous year to 36,700, sending extra 10,000 pensioners to early graves, new figures showed yesterday. The rise in "excess winter mortality" for England and Wales for the three months to February was the biggest for years and the highest total in a decade, sparking fresh calls for ministers to combat high energy prices. ... As fuel bills have soared over the past six years, the number of households in "fuel poverty" – defined as having to spend 10 per cent or more of their income on power and heat – has risen five-fold to 6.6 million this year. Britain has a worse record on winter deaths than colder European states such as Sweden, Norway and Finland. Age Concern, the charity for the elderly, warned that unless heating was made more affordable, further large-scale deaths would occur this winter. ... Last winter more than 90 per cent of deaths were pensioners, who are among the least able to afford heat but the most vulnerable to cold-related disease, such as seasonal flu, hypothermia, bronchitis and emphysema." (Independent, 25 November) RD

Monday, November 30, 2009

THINK-TANK NONSENSE

From time to time politicians like to spread the lie that modern politics is a very complicated complex subject and that is why we need clever people like them to administer capitalism.

Part of this fiction is supported by what they choose to call "think-tanks." Recently the Tory party leader David Cameron has given his support to Phillip Blond's new organisation rather grandly titled "ResPublica". The political sketch writer Ann Treneman went along to the launch of this new organisation to try and find what it stood for. She was completely baffled.

"The label that the great and the good have given to Mr. Blond is "philosopher king". Not only is he a blond who is a brunette but he is also something called a red Tory, which I am told is a blend of Catholic social thought and a critique of the effects of economic neo-liberalism. Since I have almost no idea what that means, I was looking forward to the speech, which was his vision of a "radical transformative conservatives".

"I listened closely and can report that this is radical transformative conservatism at its deepest: abstract, abstruse, and quite possibly, total gobbledygook."

Political sketch writers are notoriously flippant and renowned for taking the Mickey, but to be fair to Treneman she has certainly got a point when she directly quotes Blond on human relationships.

"These associations themselves are not post-modern verities; they are arbitrary collections of whim and sophistry arrayed against the void." (Times, 27 November)

Before you go searching for a dictionary trying to decipher that utterance lets go with Treneman's description "total gobbledygook".

Saturday, November 28, 2009

$10 MILLION A DAY MAN

Don't rely on experts.

"Even as th e financial system collapsed last year, and millions of investors lost billions of dollars, one unlikely investor was racking up historic profits: John Paulson a hedge fund manager in New York. His firm made $20 billion between 2007 and early 2009 by betting against the housing market and big financial companies. Mr Paulson's personal cut would amout to $4 billion, or more than $10 million a day. That was more than the 2007 earnings of J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey and Tiger Woods combined".

(Wall Street Journal 15 November) RD

UK OWNERSHIP

"According to consultants AT Kearney, the richest 1pc in the UK hold some 70pc of the country's wealth. That there is this divide between rich and poor is not exactly new – but the scale of it, and the likelihood that it is not being narrowed by the financial crisis, is a big worry. Indeed, according to the report, in the US the amount of financial assets owned by the richest 1pc in the US is far, far lower at 48pc, and only 34pc in Australia. This must, to a large degree, be due to the fact that the UK set itself up in recent years as a haven for the super-rich, with its relatively generous rules on capital gains tax, because the income tax system itself is rather more redistributive than in the US. But the Kearney report is interesting because, unlike the traditional measure of inequality, the gini coefficient, it focuses not on income (the flow of money) but on actual substantive wealth (the stack of it that sits beneath us)." (Daily Telegraph, 25 November) RD

Friday, November 27, 2009

CLUNKERS AS CASH


While the "Cash for Appliances" programs will vary by state, some of the
proposed rebates that have been annouced so far, range from $50 to £100 per item
Capitalists can only access the surplus value extracted from the working class when they sell the products on the market. In times of recession they can reduce the price, but a method of selling and not reducing the price is preferable, trading in your old car as junk for a new car at a reduced price has met with some sucess, so the same method is to be used for refridgerators etc.
On the heels of its ballyhooed "Cash for Clunkers" program for cars, the federal government is expected to finalise details in the coming weeks of a tax- supported shopping extravaganza, known as "Cash for Appliances"
"Clunkers" is one of several stimulus programs whose purpose is to shift expenditures by households, businesses and governments from the future to the present," the coucil wrote in a September report. "Such time shifting is valuable in a recession when the economy has an abundance of unemployed resources that can be put to work at low net economic costs".

GOD AND MAMMON

"After what it must have deemed a decent interval since triggering a furore over its attack on traders and bankers as "robbers and assassins" last year, the Church of England is shamelessly seeking more yield. Just to refresh your memory, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Church, last September said it was right to ban short selling, while John Sentamu, archbishop of York, called traders who cashed in on falling prices "bank robbers and asset strippers". But the Church Commissioners had a tough year in 2008, as the Church's total assets dropped from £5.7bn to £4.4bn, a 23 per cent fall over the period. Clearly, faith alone was not enough. As the FT's People column reports on Wednesday in an appropriately headlined piece "God meets Joy", the Church of England has appointed fund manager Tom Joy to run its £4.4bn investment portfolio from a "very strong field of more than 70 applicants". (Financial Times, 6 August) RD

THE PRICE OF COAL

"A gas explosion tore through a state-run coal mine in Northern China, killing 42 people and leaving 66 others trapped underground. More than 500 people were working in the Xinxing mine in Heilongjiang province at the time. In the first nine months of this year, China's coal mines have suffered 11 major accidents with 303 deaths." (Observer, 22 November) RD

Thursday, November 26, 2009

KING OF THE BRONX


Jacob Selechnik at his office in the Bronx, from which he oversees an empire of
apartment houses



"In the feudal world of real estate, where a handful of landlords claim ownership to its skyline of cramped apartments, Jacob Selechnik is most certainly royalty. He has been buying buildings in the city's poorest borough for nearly 50 years, amassing an empire that reached a peak of more than 7,000 apartments. Brokers estimate his net worth at more than half a billion dollars. What's more, Mr. Selechnik, who has $300 million in proceeds from recent sales and uncommon good will from banks, sees the haemorrhaging real estate market as an open season for bargain hunting."
(New York Times, 18 November) RD

FOR A PAIR OF GLOVES?

"Yves Saint Laurent. Advert

These jet-black gloves fuse bangles with supple leather for dramatic effect. The statement piece of the season - with a price to match.   Price: £2,345: (Independent, 9 November) RD

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

ALL RIGHT FOR SOME

"Britain may still be in recession, but the appetite for the finer things in life, it appears, lives on. Topping all expectations, Bonhams, the upmarket auction house, last week sold a decanter of whisky to a bashful buyer for a record-breaking £27,600. The unique Dalmore Oculus, blended from some of the most exceptional whiskies of the past 140 years, had been expected to reach up to £20,000. Instead it raised the largest amount of money ever paid for a Dalmore whisky. The buyer asked to remain anonymous." (Observer, 22 November) RD

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

OOPS, SORRY ABOUT THAT

"The head of Goldman Sachs apologised for the Wall Street investment bank's role in helping to create the financial crisis. After being ridiculed for saying he was doing God's work, and seeing his company labeled as a blood-sucking vampire squid, Lloyd Blanketing delivered a mea culpa to a conference in New York.

"We participated in things that were clearly wrong and have reason to regret," Blankfein said. "We apologise."

So that's all right then." (Observer, 22 November) RD

Monday, November 23, 2009

Smart meters can't wait until after election, says energy boss

In a Socialist Society technical innovation can be welcomed as a further reduction in repetitive work and a further increase of opportunity to use the time saved for developing your interests: In a Capitalist Society technical innovation becomes a further opportunity for employers to increase their profits and reduce the number of workers.

Scotland on Sunday's article about "Smart Meters" is an example of this process.

SMART meters will be the biggest revolution in the power industry since North Sea gas was discovered, and legislation enabling their use should be pushed through parliament before the general election, says the head of the Energy Retail Association (ERA).

Garry Felgate said he expects an announcement on the roll-out of smart meters for residential customers to accompany next month's pre-budget report from Chancellor Alistair Darling

He said bills might also be reduced because utility companies would be able to save money on administration and postage costs associated with sending out amended bills when customers are unhappy with estimated amounts.

"The new meter technology will streamline a lot of our internal procedures, helping to improve account handling and turnaround times for processes like a change of tenancy or a change of supplier. Fundamentally, they will make it easier for our customers to do business with us."

Darling's pre-budget report is also expected to be accompanied by an outline for the UK government's "social pricing support" under which the ERA expects Westminster to define which customers need support.

I'm sure banks will be happy enough to lend the necessary capital in this stringent period to facilitate the energy bosses impatience, however, bills might be reduced, so it shows they're thinking about us.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

THE ADVANCE OF CAPITALISM

"With the stroke of a pen, the last of Kenya's honey hunters may soon be homeless. Since time immemorial, the Ogiek have been Kenya's traditional forest dwellers. They have stalked antelope with homemade bows, made medicine from leaves and trapped bees to produce honey, the golden elixir of the woods. They have struggled to survive the press of modernity, and many times they have been persecuted, driven from their forests and belittled as "dorobo," a word meaning roughly people with no cattle. Somehow, they have always managed to survive. Now, though, the little-known Ogiek, among East Africa's last bona fide hunters and gatherers, face their gravest test yet. The Kenyan government is gearing up to evict tens of thousands of settlers, illegal or not, from the Mau Forest, the Ogiek's ancestral home and a critical water source for this entire country." (New York Times, 15 November) RD

Thursday, November 19, 2009

POLLUTION AND PROFITS

Every vote seeking politician in the world waxes elequent about the urgent need for a curb to be placed on global emmisions. They fly hither and thither across the world addressing congresses about their deep concern for the planet's future. Behind these vote catching antics however lies a more pressing problem - how to compete against international rivals in obtaining a larger share of the profits. At a recent meeting in Singapore those politician showed where their real priorities lie.
"A key element of the international plan to address climate change is in jeopardy after several of the most powerful nations failed to confirm a previous commitment to halve gas emissions by 2050. The Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) forum, which includes the US, China, Japan and Russia deleted their commitment from the final version of the official communiqué issued after a two-day meeting in Singapore. ...Most climate scientists believe that a 50 per cent reduction in global emissions by 2050 is the minimum needed to have a chance of avoiding catastrophic change." (Times, 16 November)
For national governments to reduce industrial pollution would be economic suicide. Their costs would go up and they would not be able to compete with other nations that had not reduced their pollution. Inside capitalism in the battle between less pollution or more profits there is only one winner. RD

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

BABIES AND BOMBS

The charity World Vision is running an appeal for funds that it calls Child Health Now. It recently took a full page advertisement in The Times (16 November) that illustrated the plight of the world's poorest children. It reported that twins in Zambia had severe diarrhea but that the clinic they attended had only enough drugs to treat one of them. The untreated one consequently died and joined the estimated two million children that die every year of this untreated condition. The advertisement then went on to point out "A simple mixture of salt, sugar and water that costs just a few pence can save a child's life, without requiring hospital treatment." The death of a child for the lack of something costing a few pence is shocking enough but the charity then claimed "Today, World Vision launches its Child Health Now campaign, calling for an end to preventable child deaths. ...If the UK government, and the international community, channeled more aid into simple community provisions, like vitamins and rehydration salts for children cut off from health systems, the lives of six million children a year could be saved."
What the well intentioned World Vision do not understand is that we live inside a capitalist society where the priority is making profit not saving children. As we reported in the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard "Military spending worldwide rose by 4 per cent to $1.46 trillion." Immense expenditure to protect markets, sources of raw materials and profits, yet millions of kids die for the lack of a few pence. RD

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A NICE LITTLE EARNER

"All over America demand for firearms and ammunition is rising amid concerns that rising unemployment, which passed 10 per cent this month, will lead inexorably to higher rates of crime. ... Smith & Wesson is expecting sales to rise by 30% to $102 million (£61 million) in the first quarter of next financial year, after growing by more than 13 per cent this year to $335 million. At Strum and Ruger, sales for the third quarter hit $71.2 million, up 70 per cent from the same period last year. At Glock, the leader in law enforcement markets, pistol sales rose by 71 per cent in the first quarter of the financial year in 2009 in comparison with the same period last year."  (Times, 16 November) RD

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Obama eyes Afghan costs: $1 million per soldier

While President Obama's decision about sending more troops to Afghanistan is primarily a military one, it also has substantial budget implications that are adding pressure to limit the commitment, senior administration officials say.

The latest internal government estimates place the cost of adding 40,000 American troops and sharply expanding the Afghan security forces, as favoured by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American and allied commander in Afghanistan, at $40 billion to $54 billion a year, the officials said.

Even if fewer troops are sent, or their mission is modified, the rough formula used by the White House, of about $1 million per soldier per year, appears almost constant.

So even if President Obama opts for a lower troop commitment, Afghanistan's new costs could wash out the projected $26 billion expected to be saved in 2010 from withdrawing troops from Iraq. And the overall military budget could rise to as much as $734 billion, or 10 percent more than the peak of $667 billion under the Bush administration.

Such an escalation in military spending would be a politically volatile issue for Mr. Obama at a time when the government budget deficit is soaring, the economy is weak and he is trying to pass a costly health care plan.

( New York Times 14th November)

GLASGOW BRANCH ACTIVITY


Saturday, November 14, 2009

THIS IS DEMOCRACY?

American politicians are fond of lecturing other world politicians about how the USA is a wonderful model of democracy in action. A recent study on the wealth of U.S. Congress would seem to suggest that they have a wonderful model of "government of the people by the people- " by the rich people that is" Apparently, times aren't so tough all over. According to a new study compiled by the Centre for Responsive Politics, 237 members of the U.S. Congress, or 44 percent, are millionaires. "What's easy to see is that the economic reality of our elected officials is not reflective of the general population," said Dave Levinthal, who helped compile the study's findings. Nationwide, only 1 percent of U.S. citizens qualify as millionaires."
(Sphere News, 6 November) RD

HOME OF THE BRAVE?

"Gen. Eric Shinseki was famously shunned by the Bush administration for daring to state the true costs of occupying Iraq. As President Obama's secretary of veterans affairs, he is, thankfully, no less candid about the grinding problems veterans face at home. They lead the nation in depression, suicide, substance abuse and homelessness, according to data that Mr. Shineski is delivering in salvos in his current role. About one-third of all adult homeless men are veterans, and an average night finds an estimated 131,000 of them from five decades bedding down on streets and in charity sanctuaries. About 3 in 100 of them are back from Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem of homelessness for Vietnam veterans is, shamefully, well known. But the men and women in this growing cohort took just 18 months to find rock bottom, compared with the five years-plus of the previous generation's veterans." (New York Times, 11 November) RD

Friday, November 13, 2009

CAPITALISM IS GANGSTERISM

Politicians and clergymen and even well paid TV personalties will claim that the middle east conflict has something to do with morality and justice and that it has nothing to do with crass consideration such as "making a couple of bucks" as Al Capone once famously said. "The British oil giant BP will today take control of Iraq's biggest oilfield in the first important energy deal since the 2003 invasion. The move has created uproar among local politicians invoking resentful memories of their nation's colonial past. The agreement to develop the Rumaila field, near the southern city of Basra, will potentially put Iraq on the path to rivalling the riches of Saudi Arabia within a decade — if the Government can fend off corrupt officials, continuing terrorist attacks on pipelines and political uncertainty." (Times, 3 November)
Hey, Iraq workers may continue to live in poverty, so what, we can make a couple of bucks. That is how capitalism works, isn't it Al Capone? RD

THE NEW IMPERIALISTS

It used to be popular for supporters of the so-called Communist Party to decry Imperialism. They would point out how Britain had exploited Africa and India during their colonial conquests. Later on they would concentrate on the role of the USA in Central and South America. Changed days now with China investing heavily in all sorts of corrupt regimes throughout Asia and Africa. "Barely a fortnight after soldiers loyal to Guinea's military junta butchered at least 150 demonstators calling for civilian rule, a deal for oil and mineral rights worth about $7 billion has been struck between China and Guinea. ...It seems that China's commercial march across Africa will continue unabated, however vile the human-rights record of the government it seeks to befriend." (Economist, 17 October) RD

Thursday, November 12, 2009

MIRACLES, ANCIENT AND MODERN

One of the condition of attaining sainthood according to the Roman Catholic Church is two miracles. One gets you beatified and the other gets you canonised. It is understood that the Pope may beatify Cardinal Newman during his visit to the UK next year, but the claim of an American clergyman may bring on the full sainthood. According to Deacon Jack Sullivan, from the archdiocese of Boston, Massachusetts he was afflicted with a serious spinal condition causing intolerable pain with utterly no prospect of relief. He was told he was on the brink of complete paralysis. "I was completely helpless and the situation seemed hopeless. But it was this state of mind that led me to prayer. ..."Please Cardinal Newman, help me to walk, so that I can return to my classes and be ordained". (Times, 10 November)

Next thing the clergyman was up and walking, something he hadn't been able to do for months. Amazing as this may seem - and certainly a boon to a hard pressed NHS - it pales into insignificance according to the same newspaper report when compared to an earlier miracle. 

"In the Miracle of Calanda in the 17th century, the amputated leg of a young Spaniard grew back."

They just don't have miracles like that nowadays, do they? RD

CRISIS, WHAT CRISIS?

Warren Buffett is considered
one of the world's greatest investors

Billionaire Warren Buffett's investment firm has reported that profits almost tripled in the third quarter. Berkshire Hathaway said it's net profit was $3.2bn ( £1.9 bn ) in the three months to September, compared with the $1.1bn in the same period last year. ( BBC News 8 Sept 09) RD

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A personal experience in capitalism

We are all well aware that the battleground of capitalism is the price of their products
vis-a-vis their competitors. This is why shoplifting does not raise the prices (nor wage increases), as companies are not at liberty to set the price of their goods just anywhere. The price must revolve around value, and supply and demand. I decided I needed another shed; getting late in the season; bought a kit for $999; didn't include the floor or shingles (roofing); the frame was so skimpy, I was afraid it might blow down if the cows in the next field farted (although we all know it's going straight up and is the main cause of global warming); basically, the sheets of siding would be holding up the frame instead of the other way round; bought more timber to shore it up and frame it properly: end result – a fairly decent shed that cost about $1500, or just a bit more than the shed I built two years ago framed with 2x4s (not 2x3s) and sided with 1x12 pine boards. Home Depot still gets to advertise the shed for under $1000, which is the whole point of the exercise.
Hope that sheds some light on the workings of capitalism. John Ayers

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Food for thought 4

On the poverty front, capitalism may be 'lifting millions out of poverty' in India, but an article on McDonald's in that country (Toronto Star 18/Oct/09) tells us that the mashed potato sandwich is the highest grossing product and sells for 50cents. For the 456 million (that would be the third largest nation on earth) that live on $1.25 a day (World Bank) even that might be a bit of a stretch- In Toronto, food banks fell well short of their Thanks giving goals and the recession is blamed. Maybe McDonalds should be selling the mashed potato sandwich here.

- To celebrate the 20th. Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Toronto Star published an article on communism and Marx. Of course, as expected, it was the fall of communism (communism is as dead as the waxen figure in Lenin's tomb). Information was supplied mainly by 'respected communism scholar' Archie Brown. The level of misinformation and misrepresentation reached new lows. Apparently, the 70% plunge in the Moscow stock market last fall left the 'communists' speechless and afraid to criticize Putin. The ideals of 'communism' could never come to pass in an imperfect world, but Marx didn't die without a legacy – his ideals of social justice have penetrated the wealthiest countries, including the US. In the 21st. century, The West has adopted Marx's core belief that social progress is driven by material well-being, and social democracy has flourished. It was in the US, too, that Marx's philosophy of materialism soared to its outer limits, as a pioneering philosophy of 'toil and sweat' turned to rampant consumerism that broke all class barriers. Oh boy!
Needless to say, I fired off a letter which didn't get published, but it points clearly to the misinformation that is gleefully published by the capitalist press, even a 'liberal' paper such as The Star, Canada's largest. John Ayers

Monday, November 09, 2009

Food for thought 3

Capitalists always take the prize for audacity. As Ontario's telecommunications manufacturing firm, Nortel, divvies up its assets, CEO Mike Zafirovski is requesting $12.3 million, while employees on long term disability are ignored and left to expect to exist on $10 000 per annum.

Oil tycoon, T. Boone Pickens told US Congress that US energy companies are entitled to some of Iraq's crude, because of the large numbers of American troops that lost their lives fighting in the country and the large amount of taxpayers' money spent there.

At a conference in London, Goldman Sachs international advisor, Brian Griffiths, praised inequality. As his company was putting aside $16.7 billion for exec's compensation and benefits for the first nine months of the year (up 46% from a year earlier), Griffiths told us not to worry, "We have to tolerate inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all." John Ayers

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Food for thought 2

Food For Thought
"The food industry is making us sick", said CNN's Rudy Ruiz (Toronto Star 11/Oct/09). Costs of Obesity are estimated at $147 billion, diabetes $114 billion in the US. John Hopkins US researchers estimate in another 6 years, three quarters of Americans will be overweight or obese and already
26% of children entering kindergarten are overweight. Similar statistics could apply to several "developed countries, of course. How does this come about?

When US farmers were coping with chronic corn gluts in the 1960s and 70s, Earl Butz, agricultural secretary in the Nixon administration, unveiled a program of subsidies for farmers, school lunches, and alterations in food processing allowing corn to become a mainstay of the American diet. Canada followed suit. This ushered in the era of cheap, bad, fast food. Now the call to put this right is facing a tough challenge from farm-state politicians and fast food lobbyists.

Again, it's not what's right that counts, but what makes the most money for the owning class. John Ayers

TOUGH AT THE TOP

" According to the survey of richest men and women in UK property, carried out by Estates Gazette, the total value of the assets held by the country's top 100 wealthiest property investors has crashed to £ 34.32billion from £77.37billion over the past two years. The data shows that property's richest individuals fared slightly worse than the market overall. Between October 2007 and October 2009 the FTSE 350 real estate index showed a fall of 47 per cent. The seventh edition of the Estates Gazette rich list shows that between 2007 and 2009 the fortunes of the tycoons dropped by 56 per cent. One of the worst hit was Hemmings. According to the survey his personal wealth has fallen from just over £1billion last year to £300million this year - a 69 per cent drop. Britain's richest landlord, the Duke of Westminster, was also hit hard. His Grosvenor Group, which owns vast swathes of Mayfair and Belgravia, posted his worst results for 16 years in 2008. The Duke has slumped in value from £7billion in 2008 to £6.5billion after a 'challenging time' only cushioned by its 'well-diversified portfolio'." (Daily Mail, 24 October) RD

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Food for thought

- How capitalism works – the environment – Obama and his people hope to
get the year 2005 as the new baseline for the reduction of greenhouse
gases. They're touting 20% reduction by 2020, i.e. equivalent to 5% below
1990 levels or what was proposed at Kyoto but by 2010. Two steps back, one
forward. Great game!
- Let's get more people in prison. New proposed "get tough on criminals"
legislation by the Harper government is projected to increase
incarceration by 10%, now about 149 per 100 000. The worst crime for most
of those caught in the drug net is that they are racial minorities,
especially aboriginal, or that they have fallen through the cracks in our
education system, or suffer from a host psychiatric and psychological
syndromes. Conversely, spending on anti-drug programs and mental health
lag way behind prison spending.(Toronto Star, 17/oct/09).
John Ayers

BUDGET HOLIDAY IT AINT

An artist 's conception shows Galactic Suite's hotel pod in orbit.

Barcelona, Spain
A company behind plans to open the first hotel in space says it is on target to accept its first paying guests in 2012 despite critics questioning the investment and time frame for the multi-billion dollar project. The Barcelona-based architects of The Galactic Suite Space Resort say it will cost $4.4 million for a three-night stay at the hotel, with this price including an eight-week training course on a tropical island. During their stay, guests would see the sun rise 15 times a day and travel around the world every 80 minutes. They would wear Velcro suits so they can crawl around their pod rooms by sticking themselves to the walls like Spiderman.
(Reuter, 1 November) RD

Friday, November 06, 2009

ALL RIGHT FOR SOME (2)

"More MPs are set to stand down at next year's general election in order to take advantage of "golden handshakes" of up to £65,000 that will not apply at future elections. Senior figures in all political parties warned that the new expenses regime announced on Wednesday will provide a "perverse incentive" for MPs to "take the money and run", as one put it. Whips believe another 50 could decide to quit, on top of the 114 who have already announced that they will leave Parliament. The Committee on Standards in Public Life, chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly, said the pay-offs of up to a year's salary should be cut to two months' wages if MPs retire rather than are made "redundant" by losing their seats at an election. That would reduce the "golden goodbye" of a long-serving MP from £64,766 to £10,794, on current salary levels." (Independent, 5 November) RD

Thursday, November 05, 2009

DRUG PUSHERS PAY OFF

"Could you imagine how much money you would have to have to be able to spend $609,000 a day? What would you expect to receive for that amount of money? Who has that kind of money to spend, especially during a "recession"? According to the latest issue of Time magazine, in the first 6 months of this year, the pharmaceutical industry spent about $609,000 a day to influence lawmakers. Can you imagine the financial payoff they must expect to get to be able to spend that kind of money? This does not include all the money they spend on advertising as well. The drug industry has 1,228 registered lobbyists. This equals 2.3 lobbyists for every member of congress. Obviously, the pharmaceutical industry does not want to be left out of the current healthcare reform debate and are willing to pay handsomely to make sure they aren't. The return on that investment has already been considerable. As drug lobbyist Jim Greenwood says, "We've done very well." (Dr Brian's Blog, 26 October) RD

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A PROPERTY OWNING DEMOCRACY?

"New figures from Credit Action show that a property is repossessed every 11 and half minutes as the recession begins to bite. The debt organisation also said that 9,300 people are visiting Citizens Advice every day as their struggle to cope with their personal debts. Total UK personal debt at the end of September 2009 stood at £1,459bn. The twelvemonth growth rate remained at 0.8pc said Credit Action." (Daily Telegraph, 3 November) RD

A DOSE OF PROFIT

"GlaxoSmithKline is getting rich from swine flu vaccine sales. GSK, which has already sold 440m doses of its vaccine Pandemrix worldwide, said sales would hit £1bn this quarter. GSK confirmed in July that it would cost developed countries about 7 Euros (£6.30) for each dose, but it has declined to reveal production costs amid speculation it costs as little as £1 a dose to make." (Observer, 1 November) RD

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

ALL RIGHT FOR SOME

"As workers up and down the UK sat at home last week worrying about whether they would still have a job in a month's time, a raucous crowd of hedge fund managers and investment bankers at the Whisky Mist nightclub in Mayfair pulled yet more vodka out of their huge ice bucket and called for the waiter to bring another bottle of Dom Perignon, served with a sparkler. ...In London nightspots last week, the City's finest were spending with a swagger. ...As City workers once again prepare for corporate excess, and investment banks such as Goldman Sachs get ready to pay record bonuses, new bars, restaurants and nightclubs are springing up around the office tower blocks in the City and Canary Wharf to feed demand." (Observer, 1 November) RD

Monday, November 02, 2009

REAL LIFE MONOPOLY

REAL LIFE MONOPOLY

When we were children around about the time that we were tiring of Ludo and Snakes and Ladders we discovered the board game Monopoly. I can't remember the details or the rules - something about cards that said such things as "Pass Go, collect £200" - "Go to jail" - "Get out of jail". In real life it is usually found that going to jail meant the only people to collect money were the lawyers, but whatever the rules were it was good fun building hotels in Park Lane while your opponent was stuck in a hovel in the East End somewhere or off to jail and not collecting £200.

When we grew up of course we quickly learned that the Grosvenor Hotel and a mansion in Park Lane were not for "the likes of us". Our fate was to be members of the working class who had to work for a wage or a salary and lead an anxious life between weekly or monthly pay cheques. However there are people who wheel and deal in such properties and a recent newspaper article gave some details of these deals.

Two separate properties in Park Lane valued at £5m-£6m, one in Grosvenor Street for £10m and one in Reeves Mews at £25m. The astonishing thing about these desirable residences is that they have been vacant for between five and ten years. According to the empty properties officer for Westminster council Paul Palmer the owners intend to keep them empty for the present.

"There are an estimated 1m empty homes in the UK, and as empty properties officer for Westminster council, Palmer is responsible for about 3,000 of them. Every day he visits some of the ritziest addresses in the capital and does his best to get them lived in again. What makes his job unique is the staggering value of the properties on his books; some of his Mayfair mansions are worth as much as £50m, even in their dilapidated state. ... The properties usually aren't abandoned for reasons which might prompt sympathy. Palmer believes many elusive owners don't have the slightest intention of bringing them back to life. "So often offshore owners have little or no interest in the property as a building it is merely an asset to be traded as they see fit," he says adding that offshore firms are tricky to track down." (Guardian, 17 October)

The article points out that in some cases where property is owned by offshore companies, no UK capital gains tax is payable, and there are cases where the wheelers dealers sell a £1m property after a year for £2m and avoid the 18% tax. These traders do not look upon these properties as places to live but as chips in their grown-up game of Monopoly. All of this financial skullduggery goes on against a background of millions of workers living in sub-standard housing, thousands homeless and hundreds even sleeping in the streets around about these empty luxurious mansions.

Compared to the complexities of capitalism socialism is a simple social system. Houses will be built for people to live in, not counters in a horror version of the kids' board game like we have today. At 21 Upper Grosvenor Street there is a house valued at £25m, it has been empty for more than ten years. Once we establish world socialism it will be occupied immediately by a family at presently homeless. A simple socialist solution to a problem that capitalism finds insoluble.

RD

Sunday, November 01, 2009

END OF A DREAM

END OF A DREAM

Ever since the publication of his "Unsafe at Any Speed" in 1965 Ralph Nader has been the darling of radical circles in the USA. Here was a man who dared to question the power of such capitalist concerns as General Motors. He went on to found scores of progressive non-profit organisations. He even ran as a Green Party and later an Independent candidate for the President of the USA. On one occasion he even polled almost 3 million votes. Capitalism however is a resilient social system and his attempt at reforming capitalism has ended up with him looking to the capitalists to solve the problems. He is on tour at present to promote his first fictional book entitled "Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us". This has led some of his former supporters to doubt his reasoning. "There is a poignancy in listening to Ralph Nader these days. Here is a man who, for the last 45 years, has hurled his body at the engine of corporate power. He’s dented it more than anyone else in America. But he knows it’s still chugging, even more strongly than ever. Nader understands that he’s losing. He understands that we’re losing—we who believe in democracy, we who care about justice. But if our only hope is with a handful of billionaires, we’re in a lot worse shape than I thought." (The Progressive, 28 September)

HUMAN EVOLUTION

HUMAN EVOLUTION

"Despite evidence that human evolution still functions, biologists concede that it's anyone's guess where it will take us from here. Artificial selection in the form of genetic medicine could push natural selection into obsolescence, but a lethal pandemic or other cataclysm could suddenly make natural selection central to the future of the species. Whatever happens, Steve Jones, an evolutionary biologist at University College London says, it is worth remembering that Darwin's beautiful theory has suffered a long history of abuse. The bastard science of eugenics, he says, will haunt humanity as long as people are tempted to confuse evolution with improvement. "Uniquely in the living world, what makes humans what we are in our minds, in our society, and not in our evolution," he says." (TIME, 23 October) RD

Saturday, October 31, 2009

HOW ABOUT SOCIALISM?


A crop of genetically modified canola grows in a field in Lake Bolac, in
the Western District of Victoria, Australia, Sept 29 2009
With food prices remaining high in developing countries, the United Nations estimates that the number of hungry people around the world could increase by 100 million in 2009 and pass the one billion mark. A summit of world leaders in Rome scheduled for November will set an agenda for ways to reduce hunger and increase investment in agriculture development in poor countries. What will drive the next Green Revolution? Is genetically modified food an answer to world hunger? Are there other factors that will make a difference in food production?
( New York Times, 26th October ) RD

DEMOCRACY, US STYLE

Michael R Bloomberg, the Wall Street mogul whose fortune catapulted him into New York's City Hall, has set another staggering financial record: He has now spent more of his own money than any other individual in United States history in the pursuit of public office. Newly released campaign records show the mayor, as of Friday, had spent $85 million on his latest re-election campaign, and is on pace to spend between $110 million and $140 million before the election on Nov 3. That means Mr. Bloomberg, in his three bids for mayor, will have easily burned through more than $250 million __the equivalent of what Warner Brothers spent on the latest Harry Potter movie. The sum easily surpasses what other titans of business have spent to seek state or federal office. New Jersy's Jon S Corzine has plunked down a total of $130 million in two races for govenor and one for United States Senate. Steve Forbes poured $114 million into his two bids for President and Ross Perot spent $65 million in hid quest for the White House in 1992 and $10 million four years later.
(New York Times, 23 October) RD

Friday, October 30, 2009

CAPITALISM ISN'T WORKING

Women spreading wet rice to dry in Bangladesh after record rains in July
Scientist and development experts across the globe are racing to increase food production by 50% over the next two decades to feed the world's growing population, yet many doubt their chances despite a broad concenus that enough land, water and experise exists. The number of hungry people in the world rose to 1.02 billion this year, or nearly one in seven people, according to United Nations Food and Argriculture Organisations, despite a 12 year concentrated effort to cut the number. The global recession added at least 100 million people by depriving them of the means to buy enough food, but the numbers were inching up even before the crisis, the United Nations noted in a report last week. "The way we manage the global agriculture and food security system doesn't work" said kostas G Stamoulis, a senior economist at the organisation. " There is this paradox of increasing global food production, even in developing countries, yet there is hunger."
( The New York Times, 22 October 09) RD

Thursday, October 29, 2009

NO OLD BANGERS HERE


LEXUS


"Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Corvette, Lotus -- you can name all the ultra high-end sports vehicles in the auto industry and none of these cars hail from Japan, home of the Camry, Corolla, Civic and other family-oriented models. But the Lexus LF-A is finally ready for production after nine years in development. Just 500 units of the most powerful and most expensive car Toyota has ever produced will be available worldwide. The car offers 560 horsepower, a top speed of 202 miles per hour (325 kilometers per hour), your choice of 12 shades of leather and a price tag of over €255,000." (Independent, 22 October) RD

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

LAZY WORKERS?


Chris Kelsey, right, director of the C.R. England truck driving school in Burns
Harbor, Ind., received several hundred applications for an administrative
assistant position that was eventually filled by Tiffany Block, 28.
"As soon as the job opening was posted on the afternoon of Friday, July 10, the deluge began. C.R. England, a nationwide trucking company, needed an administrative assistant for its bustling driver training school here. Responsibilities included data entry, assembling paperwork and making copies. It was a bona-fide opening at a decent wage, making it the rarest of commodities here in northwest Indiana, where steel industry layoffs have helped drive unemployment to about 10 percent. When Stacey Ross, C. R. England’s head of corporate recruiting, arrived at her desk at the company’s Salt Lake City headquarters the next Monday, she found about 300 applications in the company’s e-mail inbox. And the fax machine had spit out an inch-and-a-half thick stack of résumés before running out of paper. By the time she pulled the posting off Careerbuilder.com later in the day, she guessed nearly 500 people had applied for the $13-an-hour job. “It was just shocking,” she said. “I had never seen anything so big.”
(New York Times, 21 October) RD

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It often takes over three years following the death of a construction worker before a company is brought to trial and convicted.

Trade Unions are continually forced to pursue a reassessment of Health and Safety legislation. The employers in the Building Industry Management are again under scrutiny by the building workers’ union UCATT, here are a couple of extracts from the Autumn issue of the ‘Building Worker’ which only demonstrates once again that while we continue to live in capitalism, ‘running fast to stay still ‘ will always be no solution for workers.
Another young Scottish construction worker killed
UCATT Regional Secretary Harry Frew was shocked and saddened to hear of a young worker killed on a construction site in Troon, Ayrshire
" We will await the results of the HSE investigation but it is clear from the recent fatality figures that the construction industry is just as dangerous as at the time of the major health and safety summits called by the government in 2001 and 2004, we hope the upcoming summit will bring about a cultural change in the industry to health and safety. This only adds to the figures of workplace fatalities spiralling out of control this year. This year construction deaths leapt by 31%.”Last year 79 people were killed on construction sites and the HSE acknowledge that at least 70 per cent of those deaths are caused by management failures to take adequate health and safety measures.Yet Another construction fatality hits Scotland
UCATT Regional Secretary Harry Frew was shocked and saddened to hear of a young worker killed on a major construction site at the Earlsburn windfarm near Stirling. A 19 year old man died after falling 100ft while working inside a turbine.
He stressed: " This only adds to the figures of workplace fatalities which is spiralling out of control this year. Last year construction deaths leapt by 25%."Last year 79 people were killed on construction sites and the HSE acknowledge that at least 70 per cent of those deaths are caused by management failures to take adequate health and safety measures.
"The continued scale of fatalities reinforces our demand for Corporate Killing legislation, " said Mr Frew.A UCATT commissioned report has revealed that convictions of companies responsible for the death of construction workers have fallen by nearly three-quarters. The reports findings come at a time when construction deaths are rising.The report Levels of Convictions and Sentencing Following Prosecutions Arising from Deaths of Workers and Members of the Public in the Construction Sector undertaken by the Centre for Corporate Accountability on behalf of construction union UCATT, has been published to coincide with Workers Memorial Day (April 28). It reveals that in a six-year period from 1998 to 2004 Health and Safety Executive prosecutions in construction deaths plummeted from 42 per cent to just 11 per cent. The study covered the deaths of 504 construction workers. It often takes over three years following the death of a construction worker before a company is brought to trial and convicted.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Vatican thumbs up for Karl Marx after Galileo, Darwin and Oscar Wilde



Karl Marx, who famously described religion as “the opium of the people”, has joined Galileo, Charles Darwin and Oscar Wilde on a growing list of historical figures to have undergone an unlikely reappraisal by the Roman Catholic Church.
L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, said yesterday that Marx’s early critiques of capitalism had highlighted the “social alienation” felt by the “large part of humanity” that remained excluded, even now, from economic and political decision-making.
“We have to ask ourselves, with Marx, whether the forms of alienation of which he spoke have their origin in the capitalist system,” Professor Sans wrote. “If money as such does not multiply on its own, how are we to explain the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few?”
(Times 22nd October 09)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

THE STATISTICS BEHIND


Sheri West operated a shelter for homeless people, but last year she lost her
home in Cleveland and had to sleep in her car.
We are all familiar with the awful figures of unemployment and the re-possession of homes of the working class but behind these statistics lie the real shock of the lack of confidence to the personality of the people involved. Here is a particular nasty example of the trauma that can be experienced by even relatively comfortable workers who lose their jobs and their homes.
"Cleveland — The first night after she surrendered her house to foreclosure, Sheri West endured the darkness in her Hyundai sedan. She parked in her old driveway, with her flower-print dresses and hats piled in boxes on the back seat, and three cherished houseplants on the floor. She used her backyard as a restroom. The second night, she stayed with a friend, and so it continued for more than a year: Ms. West — mother of three grown children, grandmother to six and great-grandmother to one — passed months on the couches of friends and relatives, and in the front seat of her car. But this fall, she exhausted all options. She had once owned and overseen a group home for homeless people. Now, she succumbed to that status herself, checking in to a shelter.
No one could have told me that in a million years: I’d wake up in a homeless shelter,” she said. “I had a house for homeless people. Now, I’m homeless.” Growing numbers of Americans who have lost houses to foreclosure are landing in homeless shelters, according to social service groups and a recent report by a coalition of housing advocates." (New York Times, 19 October)
The real lesson to be learned from Sheri's plight is that there is no security for members of the working class. That is how capitalism operates - one minute in charge of a homeless shelter, the next being homeless yourself! RD

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

DOLE QUEUE RECRUITMENT

"Aided by a bleak job market, the U.S. military met all of its recruitment goals in the past year for the first time since it became an all-volunteer force in 1973, the Pentagon said on Tuesday. Military services have been stretched thin by conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, giving added weight to recruitment efforts as President Barack Obama considers sending another 40,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan next year. The United States already has 67,000 troops in Afghanistan and about 119,000 in Iraq. Pentagon officials said recruitment gains were fueled by the deepest U.S. recession since the Great Depression and an unemployment rate nearing 10 percent." (Reuters, 13 October) RD

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

THIS IS COMMUNISM?


Reuters – BYD (Build Your Dreams) president Wang Chuanfu sits inside
the BYD E6 Electric Car
"China's super-rich have bounced back from the financial crisis with a vengeance, and China now has more known dollar billionaires than any other country bar the United States, according to a new report released on Tuesday. The annual Hurun Report said China has 130 known dollar billionaires, up from 101 last year. The number in the United States is 359 while Russia has 32 and India 24, according to Forbes magazine. China's rich are getting richer, with the average wealth on the list $571 million, up almost one-third from last year, said compiler Rupert Hoogewerf." (Reuters, 13 October) RD

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Food for Thought

Reading Notes
"Competition is the complete expression of the battle of all against all which rules in modern society. This battle, a battle for life, for existence, for everything, in case of need a battle of life and death, is fought not between the different classes of society only, but also between individual members of these classes.
Each is in the way of the other, and each seeks to crowd out all who are in his way, and to put himself in their place. The workers are in constant competition among themselves. The power-loom weaver is in competition with the hand-loom weaver, the unemployed or ill-paid hand-loom weaver with him who has work or is better paid, each trying to supplant the other. But this competition of the workers among themselves is the worst side of the present state of things in its effect upon the worker, the sharpest weapon against the proletariat in the hands of the bourgoisie.
Hence the effort of the workers to nullify this competition by associations, hence the hatred of the bourgoisie towards these associations, and its triumph in every defeat which befalls them".
Frederick Engels, "The Condition of the Working Class in England" (p108)

UNDERNOURISHED

"Yesterday the UN's annual report on global food security confirmed that more than a billion people - one sixth of the world's population - are undernourished and said that the number was growing even before the economic crisis, which had only made the situation worse."
(Times, 15 October) RD

Friday, October 16, 2009

PROFITS BEFORE PEOPLE

Capitalism is a ruthless society; nothing must stand in the way of profit making. The original dwellers of North America were slaughtered and driven off the land they had inhabited for thousands of years. The fate of the indigenous tribes of Australia were likewise crushed and marginalised, but in the Amazon region of South America we have this lust for profit carried to even more awful extremes - the complete destruction of the Akuntsu people. A once proud group of several hundred now have only five survivors. "Much of the Akuntsus' story is – for obvious reasons – undocumented. For millennia, they lived in obscurity, deep in the rainforest of Rondonia state, a remote region of western Brazil near the Bolivian border. They hunted wild pig, agoutis and tapir, and had small gardens in their villages, where they would grow manioc (or cassava) and corn. Then, in the 1980s, their death warrant was effectively signed: farmers and loggers were invited to begin exploring the region, cutting roads deep into the forest, and turning the once verdant wilderness into lucrative soya fields and cattle ranches. ... The only way to prevent the government finding out about this indigenous community was to wipe them off the map. At some point, believed to be around 1990, scores of Akuntsu were massacred at a site roughly five hours' drive from the town of Vilhena. Only seven members of the tribe escaped, retreating deeper into the wilderness to survive." (Independent, 13 October) RD

Thursday, October 15, 2009

No work , No hope

Almost one in three households in Glasgow have no wages coming in, official statistics have revealed.

Figures released by the Scottish Government show 62,000 households in the city - 28.9% of all homes - had no working-age adult in employment last year. That puts Glasgow behind the national average of 24%. The stats also reveal a shocking 22,900 children in Glasgow live in a workless home.

The director of the Glasgow-based Poverty Alliance, branded the figures a "scandal".

"There is little doubt that unemployment means that people will struggle to afford the basics in life. For these families heating their home and putting food on the table is the challenge. In the 21st century that is quite clearly a scandal. We know that children in workless households, living in poverty, will have less chance in life than children from better-off backgrounds.We know that their education will be adversely affected and they are more likely to suffer health problems. The danger is that we perpetuate a cycle of worklessness and limited opportunity."

Capitalism cannot be reformed for the benefit of the working class and sooner the well meaning realise this fact , the sooner , we can begin the dismantling of the capitalist system .

EVEN MORE MUST STARVE

"Tens of millions of the world's poor will have their food rations cut or cancelled in the next few weeks because rich countries have slashed aid funding. The result, says Josette Sheeran, head of the UN's World Food Programme (WFP), could be the "loss of a generation" of children to malnutrition, food riots and political destabilisation. "We are facing a silent tsunami," said Sheeran in an exclusive interview with the Observer. "A humanitarian disaster is unrolling." The WFP feeds nearly 100 million people a year." (Observer, 11 October) RD

A NICE LITTLE EARNER

"A company producing swine flu vaccine for Britain has paid millions of pounds in out-of-court settlements after being accused of fraudulently overcharging for medicine. Baxter, the US pharmaceutical giant, reached at least seven huge settlements over the past 12 months, some of them for multimillion-dollar sums. The company has been accused of fraud amid allegations that the company had overpriced medicines by as much as 1,300%." (Observer, 11 October) RD

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has been sparring with President
Obama over whether Iran is developing the technology nuclear weapons.
"The Pentagon comptroller sent a request to shift the funds to the House and Senate Appropriations and Armed Services Committees over the summer. The comptroller said the Pentagon planned to spend $19.1 million to procure four of the bombs, $28.3 million to accelerate the bomb's "development and testing", and $21 million to accelerate the integration of the bomb onto B-2 stealth bombers. The notification was tucked inside a 93-page "reprogramming" request that included a couple hundred other more mundane items. Why now? The notification says simply, "The Department has an Urgent Operational Need (UON) for the capability to strike hard and deeply buried targets in high threat environments. The MOP is the weapon of choice to meet the requirements of the UON." It further states that the request is endorsed by Pacific Command (which has responsibility over North Korea) and Central Command (which has responsibility over Iran)." (ABCNews, 6 October) RD

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

HYPOCRICY IN THE CITY


Church and the City: bankers are said to have lost their way, with the financial
crisis being partly blamed on a culture of greed




Banking, insurance companies and the myriad financial off-shoots that make up the City of London are central to the running of modern capitalism. They produce nothing of course but then neither do the industrial capitalist class. It is probably a bit unfair to say the City produces nothing. It certainly produces nothing useful, but it certainly produces hypocrisy in large doses. "As bankers last month began gearing up for a bumper bonus season, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican church, bemoaned their lack of repentance.
“We haven’t heard people saying, ‘Well, actually, no, we got it wrong and the whole fundamental principle on which we worked was unreal, empty’,” Mr Williams told bankers in September. Such rhetoric echoes that of Lord Turner over the summer, when the chairman of the Financial Services Authority spoke in moralistic terms about the need for banking to become "socially useful" again. Hector Sants, his chief executive, has even explained his move to a regulatory job in terms of a sense of Christian “duty” to give something back to society after a 30-year career in money-making." (Financial Times, 7 October)
We expect Archbishops to utter hypocritical nonsense, after all it is their stock in trade, but when financiers rant on about "Christian duty" and banking becoming "socially useful" it is a bit hard to bear. Here’s to the day when banks and other financial institutes are part of our unlamented history along with all its apologists, both religious and secular. RD

Monday, October 12, 2009

OUTDATED MARXISM?

An oft repeated criticism of the ideas of world socialism is that it is based on a 19th Century critic of capitalism - Karl Marx. What could he know of the developments of 21st Century society ask our ultra-modern opponents.
If they had switched on their super duper plasma TV screens (or do they view on ipod now?) on Friday 9 October they would have seen a Channel 4 programme entitled Unreported World, Peru: Blood and Oil. It depicted the bloodshed and military violence that has accompanied the Peruvian government’s decision to auction off large parts of the Amazon countryside that has been used for thousands of years by the indigenous people.
"For the first time isolated indigenous groups are uniting to fight the government's plans to auction off 75% of the Amazon - which accounts for nearly two thirds of the country's territory - to oil, gas and mining companies. ... These would allow companies to bypass indigenous communities to obtain permits for exploration and extraction of natural resources, logging and the building of hydroelectric dams." (Times, 9 October)
What we have here is the modern enactment of what Marx described in Capital in 1867 as the "so-called primitive accumulation" in Europe from the 16th century onwards. As he so aptly put it when commenting on the Enclosure Acts and the Highland Clearances - "The expropriation of the agricultural producer, of the peasant, from the soil, is the basis of the whole process." Far from being out of date Marxism is bang up to date with the current developments of the capitalist system. RD

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A HORRENDOUS FUTURE

Every day in the newspapers and on the TV we are confronted by earnest politicians who assure us that they are doing everything possible to lessen the prospects of another nuclear horror story like Hiroshima or Nagasaki. A great deal of concern is being shown by these politicians as to whether Iran has a nuclear bomb. This concern seems a trifle ludicrous when the USA has 9,400 nuclear warheads and Russia has 13,000 of them. In fact when they are being frank, as the writer of this newspaper report is, they know that nuclear disarmament is an impossibility inside capitalism.
"Later this month United Nations inspectors will visit Iran's secret nuclear facility near Qom to find out if the Islamic republic is about to become the world's tenth nuclear power. Whatever they find, the world already has enough nuclear weapons to destroy every single nation on the planet. With approximately 23,000 warheads, there is enough deadly material for 2.3 million blasts the size of Hiroshima. ... The world is committed to nuclear disarmament in principle, in practice it will never happen." (Times, 6 October) RD

OOPS, THERE GOES ANOTHER WARHEAD

"For all the recent uproar over Iran's nuclear program, little attention has been paid to the fact that the country which first provided Tehran with nuclear equipment was the United States. In 1967, under the "Atoms for Peace" program launched by President Eisenhower, the US sold the Shah of Iran's government a 5-megawatt, light-water type research reactor. This small dome-shaped structure, located in the Tehran suburbs, was the foundation of Iran's nuclear program. It remains at the centre of the controversy over Iranian intentions, even today."
(Yahoo News, 2 October) RD

Friday, October 09, 2009

THE SUPER RICH

"Castles in France. Islands in the Caribbean. Private jets. With a collective $1.27 trillion at their disposal, the members of The Forbes 400 could buy almost anything. How about a country? A quick glance at the CIA Fact Book suggests the individual fortunes of many Forbes 400 members are as big as some of the world's economies. Bill Gates, America's richest man with a net worth of $50 billion, has a personal balance sheet larger than the gross domestic product (GDP) of 140 countries, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Bolivia and Uruguay. The Microsoft (MSFT) visionary's nest egg is just short of the GDP of Tanzania and Burma. Warren Buffett, who lost $10 billion in the past 12 months and is this year's Forbes 400 biggest dollar loser, still has a fortune the size of North Korea's economy at $40 billion." (Yahoo Finance, 2 October) RD

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Food for Thought 2

How capitalism works
1 – Hope for cheap HIV drugs dims reports the Toronto Star (19/Sept/09).
Canada's Access to Medicines Regime is now five years old but only one country, Rwanda, has benefited. Progress at a glacial pace is one way to prevent change.
2 – Apparently Osama Bin Laden's ex body guard told The Toronto Star that he, Laden, didn't target civilians. He hit targets and civilians happened to be around! But wait! Isn't that exactly what "collateral damage" is that our `leaders' use to excuse murder? Seems they're all the same, surprise.
3 - More obfuscation – The news is that US taxpayers are now profiting from the bailouts of the financial system( New York Times). They are touting $4 billion in profits but ignore that trillions were spent in the first place. Sounds good anyway.
4 – Despite the well-earned reputation of the dirtiest site on earth for the Alberta tar sands oil project, the Canadian government is expected to formulate its climate change plan so that Alberta and Saskatchewan could carry on as usual, while the rest of the country, with much smaller problems vis-à-vis pollution would be restricted. You can bet that they will be screaming, not about beating climate change, but about the advantage given to the Western Provinces. John Ayers

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

WELCOME TO CAPITALISM


Modern Slave

"After crossing half of Africa and surviving a perilous boat trip from Libya in search of a better life in Italy, Boubacar Bailo is now contemplating suicide. One of an army of illegal immigrants hired to harvest tomatoes in the Puglia region, Bailo squats in a fetid cardboard shack restlessly waiting for a call to the fields. Every year thousands of immigrants, many from Africa, flock to the fields and orchards of southern Italy to scrape a living as seasonal workers picking grapes, olives, tomatoes and oranges. Broadly tolerated by authorities because of their role in the economy, they endure long hours of backbreaking work for as little as 15-20 euros ($22-$29) a day and live in squalid makeshift camps without running water or electricity."


(Reuters, 28 September) RD

who owns the north pole - part 18

The Northwest Passage should have a more Canadian name to assert Canada's claim over the Arctic waterway, says Yukon Liberal MP Larry Bagnell.Bagnell presented a motion in the House of Commons this week, calling on the government to rename the route the Canadian Northwest Passage or the Canadian Arctic Passage.A name change could make to clear to the rest of the world that the Northwest Passage is part of Canada, Bagnell said.
"We claim it to be part of our internal waters, which gives us a lot more authority and control over it," he told CBC News

The United States and Europe have claimed that the Northwest Passage is an international waterway, while Canada has held its position that it's an internal passage.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A SHORT BRUTAL LIFE

"As India's rich get richer; the child death rate soars in the slums. Despite living in the world's fastest-growing economy, millions of Indian mothers do not have access to the care their children desperately need. India's growing status as an economic superpower is masking a failure to stem a shockuing rate of infant deaths among the poorest people. Nearly two million children under five die every year in India one every 15 seconds - the highest number anywhere in the world. More than half die in the month after birth and 400,000 in their first 24 hours." (Observer, 4 October) RD

Monday, October 05, 2009

Bankruptcy Millions


Oct. 5: For decades, Simmons Bedding Company, an iconic American business, was a
prized holding for top private equity firms. But the mattress maker has fallen
into bankruptcy for the first time in 133 years.
For most of the 133 years since its founding in a small city in Wisconsin, the Simmons Bedding Company enjoyed an illustrious history.
Presidents have slumbered on its mattresses aboard Air Force One. Dignitaries have slept on them in the Lincoln Bedroom. Its advertisements have featured Henry Ford and H. G. Wells. Eleanor Roosevelt extolled the virtues of the Simmons Beautyrest mattress, and the brand was immortalized on Broadway in Cole Porter’s song “Anything Goes.”
Its recent history has been notable, too, but for a different reason.
Simmons says it will soon file for bankruptcy protection, as part of an agreement by its current owners to sell the company — the seventh time it has been sold in a little more than two decades — all after being owned for short periods by a parade of different investment groups, known as private equity firms, which try to buy undervalued companies, mostly with borrowed money.
For many of the company’s investors, the sale will be a disaster. Its bondholders alone stand to lose more than $575 million. The company’s downfall has also devastated employees like Noble Rogers, who worked for 22 years at Simmons, most of that time at a factory outside Atlanta. He is one of 1,000 employees — more than one-quarter of the work force — laid off last year.
But Thomas H. Lee Partners of Boston has not only escaped unscathed, it has made a profit. The investment firm, which bought Simmons in 2003, has pocketed around $77 million in profit, even as the company’s fortunes have declined. THL collected hundreds of millions of dollars from the company in the form of special dividends. It also paid itself millions more in fees, first for buying the company, then for helping run it. Last year, the firm even gave itself a small raise.
Wall Street investment banks also cashed in. They collected millions for helping to arrange the takeovers and for selling the bonds that made those deals possible. All told, the various private equity owners have made around $750 million in profits from Simmons over the years.
How so many people could make so much money on a company that has been driven into bankruptcy is a tale of these financial times and an example of a growing phenomenon in corporate America.
Every step along the way, the buyers put Simmons deeper into debt. The financiers borrowed more and more money to pay ever higher prices for the company, enabling each previous owner to cash out profitably. New York Times 5th October

Food for Thought

- Quebec leads the way in fighting poverty (Carol Goar, Toronto Star, 09/Sept/09) with a 40% reduction over the last decade. The province now strives to lift the remaining 875 000 above the poverty line, and is winning the war according to UQTR professor who assembled the statistics.

- Other places can't make that claim. Canada, as a whole, saw poverty reduced in 2007, but the expectation is that 2008 figures will climb back to where they were previously, or worse. Women, as usual, lead the way, especially women living on their own.

- The summer job picture was so bad that many students will have to take on increased debt to continue their studies. U of Toronto has seen a 12% increase in financial aid applications.

- Labour Day 2009 dawned with 500 000 more jobless Canadians than last year, and job losses are expected to continue.

- And that's the way it goes under capitalism. Gains in one area are sure to be lost in another, and so it will continue until private ownership is defeated. John Ayers

Sunday, October 04, 2009

THE GOOD OLD DAYS

The Pope and other religious zealots always hark back to a supposed golden age when Christianity was all-powerful throughout the world. The trouble with modern society according to them is down to the lessening of Christian morals. Here is the latest example of this fallacy.
"Brno, Czech Republic – Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday that all of Europe — and not only this ex-communist country — must acknowledge its Christian heritage as it copes with rising immigration from other cultures and religions. The second day of Benedict's pilgrimage to this highly secular country was marked by a joyous open-air Mass that drew tens of thousands of pilgrims and a sober message for the entire continent. "History has demonstrated the absurdities to which man descends when he excludes God from the horizon of his choices and actions," Benedict said." (Associated Press, 27 September)
Ah, the good old days of Christian supremacy. The burning of so-called witches, the torture of heretics and the mass slaughter of the church-sponsored crusades. Not to mention the support of dictatorships and the suppression of science when it did not accord with Christian "truths". RD

Who Owns the North Pole - part 17

Our Nordic Saga simply carries on and on , as the war drums continue to beat .Further to previous post we now have a Times article reporting that competition for resources in the Arctic Circle could provoke conflict between Russia and Nato, a newly appointed commander at the alliance warned yesterday. Admiral James Stavridis said that military activity and trade routes would be potential sources of competition around the polar cap.

His assessment comes after warnings from Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato Secretary-General, who said this week that climate change had “potentially huge security implications” for Nato. The thinning ice cap is opening up a new Northwest Passage trade route, while it is estimatedthat previously inaccessible oil worth $90 billion (£56 billion) lies beneath ice in the Arctic Circle.

Friday, October 02, 2009

DEMOCRACY, US STYLE

Gore Vidal, novelist and essayist in press interview. "I would have liked to have been president, bit I never had the money. I was a friend of the throne. The only time I envied Jack was when Joe (JFK's father) was buying him his Senate seat, then the Presidency. He didn't know how lucky he was." (Times, 30 September) RD

Thursday, October 01, 2009

WHAT HOUSING PROBLEM?


This overview shows the district of Mongkok in Hong Kong.
"Home prices in overcrowded Hong Kong have traditionally been high, but when it comes to having the most expensive residential properties in the world, the Chinese metropolis has never seriously challenged cities like New York, London and Tokyo. Until now. In another demonstration of how the recession is shaking up the global financial order, two luxury Hong Kong apartments have just gone on the market for a stunning $38.7 million each. If the developer, Sun Hung Kai, finds buyers at that price, the three-level penthouse dwellings, perched atop the 93-storey Cullinan towers with sweeping views of Hong Kong's harbour, could well qualify as the world's most expensive apartments." (Time, 24 September) RD