Thursday, January 13, 2011

Who Owns the North Pole - Part 24

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

"We're not doing OK," said Lt. Cmdr. Nahshon Almandmoss "We definitely don't have the infrastructure available to operate for an extended period of time in the Arctic in the summer, much less in the winter when it's more critical for logistical purposes."

In a report last September, the Government Accountability Office said the Coast Guard lacks adequate infrastructure or equipment in the Arctic.

"With 20 percent of the yet-to-be-discovered oil, gas and minerals remaining in the world in the Arctic, the U.S. can't risk losing it," said Rear Adm. Christopher C. Colvin, commander of Alaska's 17th Coast Guard District, from Anchorage.

The Arctic nations - Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and the United States - have been preparing to claim larger chunks of territory under a clause in the treaty that governs the world's waters. Non-Arctic nations like China and South Korea also have been eyeing the economic potential in the far north. The only international treaty that applies to the Arctic is the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, ratified by more than 150 nations. But although it helped draft the convention and subsequent revisions, the United States has not ratified the treaty; conservatives say it impinges on U.S. national sovereignty. Under the treaty, a nation that can prove its continental shelf extends past the current boundary of 200 miles off its coastline can be granted up to 150 additional miles of seabed. Like other Arctic countries, the United States is gathering scientific evidence for its claim to an extended continental shelf in the Arctic. Russia has been preparing a territory claim that would absorb nearly half of the Arctic into its possession

"An extra 150 miles of shelf can be billions or trillions of dollars in resources," said Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins, commander of Alaskan Command, Joint Task Force Alaska, Alaskan North American Defense Region and the 11th Air Force.

In 2007, Russia planted a flag in the waters below the North Pole. Canada planted one nearby soon after. Denmark placed its flag on the north's contested Han Island (which Canada promptly removed and delivered back to Danish officials.) America and Canada cooperated on scientific and military operations last summer. Canada bought fleets of F-35 fighter jets and is building a new base along its Arctic coast. Russia is building new icebreakers and new nuclear-power stations on its north coast.

Nations are taking steps to position themselves.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


As children if we happened to be born in England we were taught about "sizzling sixes over the tuck shop roof" and nonsense about "play up play up for England chaps" and other such foolishnesses about cricket. If you happened to watch the England v Australia cricket matches on TV you may have seem grown-up children still indulging in that nonsense. They call themselves "the Barmy Army" and who are we to argue with that adjective? Behind the worthwhile sporting endeavors of all the cricketers concerned lurks the usual sordid commercialism of capitalism. "This week, the England and Wales Cricket Board will try to capitalise on the first Ashes victory in Australia for 24 years by auctioning the rights to sponsor home Test matches from 2012. It is talking to a number of potential replacements for the current sponsor, npower, in the hope of netting up to £5m, 25% more than the previous deal." (Observer, 9 January) You may have seen it as a great 3-1 victory - they saw it as a great commercial opportunity. That is capitalism for you. RD

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


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

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cameron threatens the unions

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

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

Grahame Smith, the STUC general secretary Cameron was deliberately raising the political temperature with an anti-union sentiment, which, he argued, was “extremely unhelpful" and explained that "If union members want to take industrial action, they do so not against the Government but against their employer. Any industrial action will not be politically inspired,”

Dying Old

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

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

Hanlon, who trained as a doctor, said: “The system is designed to deal rapidly with you, shunt you through and get you off the waiting list. All of that is not human and humane.”

Some estimates, he said, suggest one in five hospital admissions is at least in part caused by previous treatment. He envisages a more open conversation between health professionals, patients and their families about whether fewer tests and treatments would be desirable in what is likely to be their last 12 months of life. Decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis, however, he stressed.

Lindsay Scott, communications manager for charity Age Scotland, said: “As an organisation, we would look at this proposal from a discrimination point of view. It was the idea in the first place with the NHS that from cradle to grave everyone is treated equally.” However, he said some older people would support Mr Hanlon’s ideas. A survey of 300 pensioners in Scotland found 65% supported assisted suicide for people with a terminal illness and 54% would consider it as a means of ending their own lives.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Food For Thought

Gwynne Dyer provides the clue to the problem of getting climate action agreements between nations that socialists know all too well. In "EMC" newspaper, he writes, "Why don't all governments act? Because the developing countries refuse to accept limits on their emissions for fear that they wouldn't be able to go on growing their economies." In other words they are acting in the interests of their own capitalist class, and that's the heart of the matter in a competitive system.
Apparently sharks, who have lasted since before the time of the dinosaurs, are becoming an endangered species, falling prey to capitalism. Conservationists blame the practice of 'finning' – slashing prized fins off the fish and leaving them to die so the fins can be sold to the on the growing Asian market. After what was done to whales to produce oil and the
material for corsets, is this any wonder?
As we move ever closer to 1984, scans at airports become ever more invasive. You can take a scan that reveals just about everything you physically possess, or you can refuse and get groped for your trouble. The Civil Liberties group says it has received 600 complaints in 3 weeks over the busiest travel period of the year. Great world we live in! John Ayers

Saturday, January 08, 2011


Entertainment – you too can be the proud owner of a signed autograph of a famous celebrity, e.g. Princess Diana for $5 400, or Ernest Hemingway at the bullfight for $8 000. Can't afford it? How about Jim Carey in his "Mask" outfit for $200. Gets crazier all the time.
Hollywood's Billy Bob Thornton confirms what we've known about movies for a long time, "In our current state of affairs, especially in the entertainment business, we're living in a time when we're making – in my humble opinion – the worst movies in history." Thornton goes on to elaborate that movies are geared to the video game-playing generation, becoming increasingly unrealistic, violent and shallow in an artistic sense. But, Billy Bob, they make lots of money for little outlay and that's what drives everything in this system, including movie making.
Environment – the Cancun Climate Conference did not instill much confidence – a 'breakthrough" was seen as agreeing to a 'second commitment period' for the already failed Kyoto agreement which, if fully implemented, would still have been far from doing what needs to be done. Canada, again deservedly winning the "Fossil" award, reportedly aligned itself with Russia and Japan to block the Kyoto extension.
Scientist and broadcaster, David Suzuki, was accused of turning his back the Cancun Conference, but, as he explained, he had little confidence in the process after it was recently revealed that the Canadian government teamed up with the oil industry to secretly lobby against climate policies around the world, including California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard Act. Canada already subsidizes the oil industry by $1.4 billion a year. Another example of how your government does not work for you. John Ayers


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

Thursday, January 06, 2011

First the greasy pole, now the gravy train

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

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

Green MSP Patrick Harvie said "Lord Reid is the chairman of Celtic Football Club and it surely should fall to that club to shoulder the costs of his attendance at matches and training grounds."


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

A warning from Shelter

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

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

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

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

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said:
"A reliance on high-interest options such as credit cards to pay rent or a mortgage is a highly dangerous route to go down and is known to contribute toward uncontrolled debt, repossession or eviction and, eventually, homelessness. It is also very worrying that thousands of people in Scotland are being forced to move in with family or friends and that many more are having to take on extra hours and or a second job just to make ends meet.As we brace ourselves for the full impact of savage cuts to jobs and housing benefits, we are very concerned that more people are going to face even greater debt and the threat of homelessness."

Atishoo Atishooo and we all fall down

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

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

wages or jobs?

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


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


The futility of Reform – 900 steelworkers are locked out of their mill in Hamilton, Ontario. Recently, Stelco was bought out by the American company, United States Steel Corp. and the squeeze on wages and benefits began, e.g. pension indexing was lost for 9 000 pensioners and new hires, mostly from those receiving the lowest pensions, 78% of whom are widows. The company insists there are no indexed pensions in the US steel industry so the workers are expected to accept that as an excuse for a race to the bottom. Capitalism can never work in the interests of the workers.
In the same vein, The Toronto Star (11/12/10) published an article by John Cartwright, president of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, in which he blames corporate greed for eroding the foundations of a just society, "21st Century corporate culture demands that pension plans be gutted, benefits weakened, and jobs outsourced wherever possible." Mr.
Cartwright should be reminded that it was no different in the 20th century or the 19th century and what he is looking at is the constant attacks on labour, until we, the people, are in charge.John 'Ayers

Tuesday, January 04, 2011


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


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

A bankrupt society

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

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

“Many people are only able to cling on to their homes as long as their mortgage payments are being kept at an historicallly low level due to the 0.5% base rate. Once interest rates start to rise, I believe we will begin to see a considerable growth in what might be termed the “middle class insolvent” Bryan Jackson, corporate recovery partner, explained. It was likely that interest rates would have to start rising this year, whereas the housing market was unlikely to start a recovery until 2012 at the earliest, which meant “there will not be the escape route of rising equity to reduce debts which has been used by thousands of individuals in the recent past”.

The VAT increase, coupled with rising utility costs, would pile further pressure on those who were staving off insolvency. There is already evidence of an increased take-up of payday loans and other products from high-interest lenders which only temporarily put off the inevitable.

Monday, January 03, 2011


"Lack of toilets and other proper sanitation facilities costs the country nearly 54 billion dollars a year, a World Bank study has found, mainly through premature deaths, especially of young children. Asia's third-largest economy loses 53.8 billion dollars or 6.4% of its gross domestic product through hygiene-related illnesses, lost productivity and other factors stemming from poor sanitation, according to World Bank. "For decades we have been aware of the significant health impacts of inadequate sanitation in India," said Christopher Juan Costain, leader for the World Bank's South Asia Water and Sanitation Program. "This report quantifies the economic losses to India, and shows that children and poor households bear the brunt of poor sanitation," he said in remarks posted on the group's website on Tuesday. The lack of proper sanitation creates major health risks, raising the threat of potentially fatal illnesses such as typhoid and malaria. The study in East Asia showed annual per person losses from poor sanitation in the range of 9.3 dollars in Vietnam, to 16.8 dollars in the Philippines, 28.6 dollars in Indonesia to a high of 32.4 dollars in Cambodia, said Costain. "In contrast, India lost 48 dollars on a per capita basis, showing the urgency with which India needs to improve sanitation," he said." (Hindustan Times, 21 December) This World Bank report and Mr Costain's remarks sums up the priorities of capitalism. Never mind the premature deaths of thousands of young children - look at how much it is costing us! RD

Travellers Beware

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

Inflation-busting rises in rail fares took effect yesterday with some mainline season tickets going up almost 13%. Overall, main-line fares rose by an average of 6.2%, with regulated fares, which include season tickets, going up by an average of 5.8%. But these are just average rises – some fares are going up by far more than this, with the cost of an anytime direct return from Aberdeen to Cardiff set to rise 9.7%, from from £321 to £352. An annual season ticket between Glasgow and Edinburgh will now cost £3188, while Glasgow to Stirling is up to £1740 a year. The 5.8% average main-line rail increase in regulated fares, which include season tickets, is based on the July 2010 retail prices inflation (RPI) figure of 4.8% plus 1%. The train companies are allowed to use “flex” (flexibility) to average out the increase, so some fares can go up by more, provided others go up by less.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus, said: “Some passengers will be facing rises way above inflation and, in some cases, it will be back to the bad old days of double-digit fare increases.”

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Reading Notes

Post cards from New Internationalist magazine - not strictly socialist, but they do say something about the state of things under capitalism :

"When we talk about equal pay for equal work, women in the workplace are beginning to catch up. If we keep going at this current rate, we will achieve full equality in about 475 years." (Lya Sorano, US womens' rights activist).

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

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

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

Best wishes for a happy and healthy year,

For socialism, John Ayers

Saturday, January 01, 2011

happy new year

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

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

The next step is to organise – to organise for change. In groups and meetings and on the internet we need to band together to fight against the reason most of us fell fearful or miserable - the market economy itself and the politicians who oversee its operation. Without this, our "Happy New Year" greeting will be the empty platitude it usually becomes every year.

Our New Year's wish is that we will not accept the lie that this capitalist system is as good as it gets, that it's "natural", that there is no alternative to "practical politics". The alternative is called socialism. Once the overwhelming majority of workers understand it and want to implement it then that alternative will be very real and will become the only practical political solution forward. As socialists, we argue that we should stop being the helpless victims in society, prey to the mercenary forces of the market, and instead get up off our knees. As socialists we want to participate in a progression of the global community to free humankind’s real human potential.

Socialists are equal but are each different. We don’t accept leaders. Begin to free yourself, be confident, be disobedient; think for yourself, ask questions and inquire about the socialist case. We have nothing to lose but our chains. We have a world to win.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

11 yr wait to buy a house

First-time buyers in Scotland face an 11-year struggle to break into the property market, with many more frozen out by low wages and high house prices, according to new research.
On average, Scots trying to get on to the property ladder will have to find a £21,000 deposit for their starter home, according to the Halifax. It means at least a decade of scrimping and saving to get a foot on the ladder. Someone earning the average Scottish wage of £25,350 and saving one-tenth of their take-home pay would need more than a decade to amass the down payment, while still paying rent.Overall, the average house price paid by a first-time buyer in the UK has more than doubled over the past decade, increasing by 102% from £68,644 in 2000 to £138,682 in 2010 – equivalent to a weekly increase of £135. With such high demands made of those looking to buy, the average age of a first-time buyer in 2010 was 29. But it estimated that the average age of first-time buyers without financial assistance, such as a parental loan, had increased from 33 in 2007 to 36 now.
While the average-earning Scottish buyer will take 11 years to amass a deposit, a typical buyer elsewhere in the country would take nearer 15 years if they saved at the same rate.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


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


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

Monday, December 27, 2010


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

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Toys Galore



Christmas Eve was only twenty-seven days away. A thousand feet down beneath the ice and rock of northern Greenland Father Christmas was feeling pleased and rather excited. In his workshops the output of toys and sweets was going almost exactly according to plan.

     And what a plan! Five years ago he had decided that, old as he was, he must move with the times. And he and his elves had begun to modernise and expand his workshops. It was an immense task and it meant a profound change for all of them. But at last it was finished, and everything was working well. Now the production lines and stores and packing departments spread out under ground for many hundreds of metres, and it was all fully automated and computerised. The elves, who had once been craftsmen in wood and metal and leather and pottery and cloth, now sat at control panels and monitored whole banks of machines and conveyor belts. Now they watched over the manufacture and warehousing of a bewildering range of plastic toys, construction kits, bicycles and tricycles, dolls prams, computer games, model space ships, racing cars, toy kitchens and nurses' outfits, robots, chemistry sets, prehistoric monsters and a wide variety of sweets and chocolates and biscuits and cakes.

     Father Christmas himself dressed in his workaday red smock, sat at his control desk, smoothing his white beard and watching the VDU screens as the reports from every section flashed up in front of him. In his mind he was already composing his press statement. This was what excited him. It was something he had never done before, but he had never had such news to tell as this. Now that the reorganisation was complete and everything was working well, he was going to tell the world that, this year, for the first time, he could give every child in the world what they wanted on Christmas morning.

     Suddenly making up his mind, he got up and moved across to his world processor. Tentatively, he began to type out his message, going back to insert words here and there, moving paragraphs about, then wiping out fussy details, trying all the time to keep his news short and simple. He wanted everyone to understand the significance of the change that had taken place - how it would affect them all, but particularly the children.


     For as long as he could remember – a great many years - he and his helpers had toiled without rest to make a few hundred thousand presents every year to take to a few hundred thousand children in just a few parts of the world. There was never enough: never enough time; never enough hands to do the work; never enough materials, tools or energy to drive the machinery. And so most children had to go short, and many more had to go without. Now, all that had changed. Father Christmas had at last caught up with the modern world and could now turn out an almost limitless supply of the sort of things that today's children wanted.

     When the press release was finished it ran to just over two hundred words. He read it through again carefully. Nothing boastful or misleading. Just a simple statement of the facts. He hoped that every newspaper and broadcasting station would eventually carry the story in one way or another. He transferred the finished text to the main computer, keyed in Reuter's code number, waited for the "ready" signal and then touched the "transmit" key.

     He made his way to the post room near the surface. The trickle of letters that had started over a month ago had now become a steady stream. By mid-December it would be a flood. Childish handwriting and bad spelling all had to be deciphered and the details entered into the computer where they would form instructions for the packing department. This work could not be automated. It was a job for experts of long experience. Often they had to guess what was wanted or provide substitutes. This year, children who did not write at all were being given standard parcels of sweets and toys. What Father Christmas could not do - and he was acutely conscious of this as he looked at a few of the letters - was to relieve the gruelling poverty of so many of the families to which these children belonged. As he walked along the corridor towards the stables he reflected that perhaps his new initiative might point the way to ending the deprivation of adults too.

     The new sleigh was a massive affair. In spite of its traditional appearance, it was really a huge VTOL aircraft more like a spaceship, with vast load carrying capacity- It was their own design, and its test flights had probably given rise to some of the UFO stories that had spread around the world in the last two years. It incorporated one piece of advanced technology that far surpassed anything they had copied from the world outside a transporter which would beam down presents to children while the sleigh flew over at high speed, miles above.

     The reindeer knew that their formation ahead of the sleigh was now symbolic rather than functional but still they were getting restless, faintly sensing the seasonal change in the air above, eager to begin their annual

journey. Father Christmas walked slowly from stall to stall, murmuring softy to each one, calming and reassuring them.

     When he returned to his control room, over an hour later, his computer screen carried the notice that an incoming message had been received and required an answer. When he called it up on the screen, it read, "Reuterlond to SaCIaus Greenld. Request clarification your 1343.55 hrs 281186. Please confirm extent of enhanced Xmas delivery". It irritated him. He replied tersely that all children, everywhere would have presents delivered - where available, those they had requested. And then he settled down again to the job that he and the computer had been doing for weeks - the complicated planning of his delivery flights throughout the dark hours of Christmas Eve, right around the world.

     He was not left in peace for long. A reporter on a New York newspaper sent a message requesting an interview. He replied immediately that he did not give interviews. In the following two hours more than thirty similar requests came from different parts of the world. He sent the same reply to all of them, adding to the later ones the emphasis that he never had given interviews and never would. But he was worried. This was not the sort of reaction he had expected. There were no congratulations or expressions of pleasure at his news.

     He became more worried, even alarmed, when he began to receive offers to appear on television. Now he wished that he had told them nothing. Surely they understood that he never appeared in public did not want any publicity for himself, disliked even being seen. Replies to that effect seemed to do the trick. The screen stayed blank and he was able to get on with his work again.

     It lasted three days. Then the real trouble started. The first indication of the way things were going came from a Hong Kong toy company. It complained of what it called "unfair competition". This was followed by a long series of calls from toymakers' federations, confectionery groups, chain stores, trades councils and even transport associations, using expressions like, "We hope there is some mistake. . .", ". . . view with grave concern. . .", ". . . lack of consultation . . ." First he became agitated and then, increasingly, angry. None of them seemed to have any concern at all for the children they were supposed to be serving.

By the end of the week, even governments' boards of trade and foreign offices  were asking him to "reconsider" or accusing him of "dumping" - a term he did not understand - and demanding that he attend all sorts of meetings to discuss his plans. Through the dry bureaucratic jargon and the impassive green lettering on the computer screen he could feel a growing panic, almost hysteria, in their messages. They've gone mad! he said aloud, but he was deeply upset.

All his work to bring pleasure and happiness to the children seemed to have aroused nothing but dismay and hostility. For a few hours he clung to the hope that, even if these trade associations and government departments did not appreciate the breakthrough he had achieved, then ordinary people would. But angry communications from trade unions representing shop and distributive workers, employees in toy and sweet factories, and even Father Christmases in department stores all but squashed that hope.

    But the letters from the children did not stop. They wrote to him in ever-increasing numbers as the day drew nearer and the postal services kept delivering them, many more than in previous years, letters from parts of the world that had never heard of him before. They wanted his gifts, whatever their parents said. And he was determined to go on providing what the children wanted, as he had always tried to do. So when the Food and Drugs administration of the USA informed him that accusations had been made about the purity of his candy and the British Office of Trading Standards questioned the safety of his toys, he ignored them. He ignored the threats of sanctions from the secretariat of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and he smiled dismissively when the United Nations General Assembly informed him that "defensive measures" might be taken if he persisted. He was quite intent on going ahead in spite of all of them. He said, Christmas is for the children. They must know that.

     The reindeer behaved well on Christmas Eve. In the steady arctic twilight they streamed north ahead of the sleigh, over the Pole and down the international dateline. At the height they were flying, the sun remained low but visible even when they reached the south Pacific. They traversed Tonga and the neighbouring islands, where the dateline bulges east, in a few swift sweeps and then began to cover New Zealand and the sprinkled islands of Melanesia. The parcels of gifts whistled out of the unloading bay and were steadily replaced by a stream from the cargo hold as they passed over villages and cities and ships at sea. As they swept north over Australia, New Guinea and the Philippines, the earth below was dark but as they reached eastern Siberia the winter sun still lit the frozen land with a dull glow.

     Before touching China at all, they returned to Greenland to reload and refuel. And so they worked their way gradually westward around the world.

     They were flying south over India when they noticed the first bright flares coming up from the Maldives Islands. They looked a little like fireworks, but they came far too high and fast for fireworks and exploded behind them with shocks that they could feel faintly. "Bless my boots!" said Father Christmas. "They're shooting at us! 'Defensive measures'!"

     It did not happen again until they were over the Ural mountains in Russia but this time the missiles detonated ahead of them and frightened the reindeer. "Peace on earth, good will toward men" he muttered fiercely through his beard. "They are probably singing that just about now."

     The final deliveries were very late. The sun was already rising over the western states of America and Canada. The sleigh, now minus its reindeer, glinted in the sunlight like a star and left vapour trails high in the atmosphere. The children were already waking but the fighter planes had been grounded. There had been no more attacks since Father Christmas had returned to base and sent out his ultimatum. It was very brief. He simply threatened to tell everyone, parents and children, how they could have plenty of everything they wanted, all the year round, all round the world. And that really frightened the governments. They called off their defensive measures and Father Christmas went on with his task in silence. That is why not many people know about it yet.




Socialist Standard December 1986




Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Marxmas


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


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

Thursday, December 23, 2010


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


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

A real drug problem

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

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

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

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

A survey carried out jointly by the Office of National Statistics and the Institute of Psychiatry found that children from poorer families are three times more likely to suffer from some kind of mental disorder.

The transport system is in chaos. The health service is crumbling. Schools have become testing factories. Pollution is rife and the environment under attack. The poor have got poorer. Begging and homelessness have spread. Crime is rising. Racism is reviving. Business culture reigns supreme, with “market forces”, “competition” and “profit” as the buzz-words. Life is becoming more and more commercialised and empty. People are becoming isolated from each other, so should we be surprised that mental illness is on the increase?

Some might say the standard of living may be going up, but the standard of life is most definitely going down.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


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

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


We are being told that "Our Resources" are being wasted, we must recycle newspapers glass etc.
A socialist would agree that there is much wasted in a capitalist world, saving newspapers may save the amount of trees felled, but he would no doubt be aware that the ownership of the trees are not his and any savings made would benefit the capitalist owners of trees, not him.  However, a socialist agrees recycling is something that would benefit the planet and would certainly be encouraged in a socialist society where the common ownership and control of the world's resources would be used to benefit everyone not the privileged few.

An article in the Sunday Herald( 19th December 2010 ) demonstrates once again that the profit motivation of capitalist society throws a spanner into what would appear could never be a problem,

   "Scotland is aiming for "zero waste" by attempting to increase recycling and reduce the amount of waste created. Over the last five years the amount of waste recycled by Scottish local authorities has risen from 17% to over 37%."

Can't be much wrong with that one would think, but in a capitalist world some people own the land and they want to make a profit, so if you want to dump your waste you must get signed up in a contractual manner and pay for the privilege of dumping, dressed up to a better term called landfill.

      Council taxpayers who have successfully boosted their recycling face multi-million pound bills for failing to dump enough waste on landfill sites, the Sunday Herald can reveal.

As can be seen from this link, the success of recycling by the councils have caused problems which certainly would not arise in a socialist society.

" This means that much less waste is being disposed of as landfill, where it rots and causes noxious pollution. But some councils signed contracts with waste companies in the 1990s that oblige them to deliver minimum amounts of waste to landfill sites every year.

The City of Edinburgh Council signed a contract in 1995 under which it now has to supply 110,000 tonnes of waste a year to a landfill site near Dunbar in East Lothian run by waste company, Viridor.

A report estimated that shortfalls in meeting this could end up making the council liable for "fresh air payments" of £2.5 million a year for three years from 2017. This is because of Government plans to introduce bans on some kinds of waste being dumped as landfill.

"It is ridiculous that Edinburgh is locked into a contract which requires it to either generate rubbish, or pay for empty landfill space," said Dr Dan Barlow, head of policy with WWF Scotland.

"This must act as a warning to all local authorities to avoid locking themselves into long-term landfill or incinerator contracts which undermine progress to cut waste volumes and increase recycling."

Edinburgh council argued that it had to honour contracts it had signed in the past. "Our aim, along with the Scottish Government, is to minimise the amount of waste being sent to landfill. We are extremely proud of our successes in recycling to date," said a council spokeswoman.

"We don't yet know the impact new Scottish Government legislation will have on our contractual commitments to Viridor. However, if we are still bound to pay for any shortfall, the maximum exposure would be £2.5m per annum from 2017 to 2020."

Several other councils are thought to have long-term landfill contracts that could give them similar headaches. Dumfries & Galloway Council admitted that it was committed to a minimum tonnage of waste going to landfill."We're not currently liable for 'fresh air payments', though we could be in the future," said a council spokesman. "But we want to reduce our waste. Income from processing waste from private waste companies could offset any future fresh air payments."

Viridor, part of the £3.9 billion Pennon Group, claims to be the largest waste and recycling company in Scotland. Last week it was given the go-ahead for a £200m incinerator at its Dunbar site."


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

shooting estates rise

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

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

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

Okay for some , eh?

Monday, December 20, 2010


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


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

Sunday, December 19, 2010

slavery paid

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, December 18, 2010


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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


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

Monday, December 13, 2010


"Scores of Israeli rabbis have added their names to a document calling on Jews to avoid renting or selling property to non-Jews. The statement, signed by 300 religious figures, has prompted calls for prosecution for incitement to racism." (Times, 10 December)    RD

debt rising

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

In addition, NMG notes that 48pc of all households are on fixed-rate mortgages, "paying about £680 a month in comparison with about £530 a month for those on trackers or variable rates" for equivalent sized mortgages. Households with high loan-to-value (LTV) mortgages or renting are struggling the most, the survey says, with the proportion resorting to credit card debt rising: The fraction of high LTV mortgagors with unsecured debt had risen between the 2009 and 2010 surveys, from 68pc to 92pc.

Despite record low interest rates, half of respondents reported a fall in monthly disposable income after tax, mortgage, rent, bills and other loan payments. Nearly a third, 29pc, said their debt concerns had risen over the past two years, compared with just 12pc who are now less worried

UK consumer borrowings are around £1.45 trillion and have not begun to shrink. The Bank has already warned that more than one in two people with "unsecured" debts, such as credit cards or personal loans, are struggling to cope.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A challenge to debate

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

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

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said; “Iain Duncan-Smith should have the guts to stand up in front of the communities at the sharp end of his welfare cuts, like the people of Dundee. If he refuses to meet with the Unemployed Centre it will show in the clearest terms that this ConDem Government doesn’t have the bottle to justify their cuts plans to those who will be hit hardest.”


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

Friday, December 10, 2010


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

Thursday, December 09, 2010


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

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


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

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


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

Monday, December 06, 2010


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

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Food for Thought

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

The real cost of war is often hidden from view. We know about 150 Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan because their bodies are paraded down the "Highway of Heroes", otherwise known as the 401 expressway, but we hear nothing of the wounded. Tanya Talga reported in the Toronto Star (7/Nov/2010) that the planes from Afghanistan arrive at Landstuhl, Germany, all day, seven days a week with as many as 80 injured soldiers in seats and stacked three deep on stretchers. Many will be permanently disabled and unable to work. They are looking at meagre pensions that don't pay the bills. Too bad they are not socialists and refuse to fight capitalism's wars. Unfortunately, most are well brain washed into the system as they get their training. One mentioned had lost most of both legs and one arm. He proudly displayed his tattoo on the piece of arm that was left, "God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot shoot, the courage to shoot the people I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." At the time of writing, the Canadian government is trying to stiff the injured soldiers out of their pensions by proposing a lump sum at a fraction of the cost of a lifetime pension.

John Ayers

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Food for Thought

Canada has a state-of-the-art ice-breaker in the Arctic Ocean. It is used mainly for assessing the effects of climate change. Frequently it gets loaned out to oil companies to help in their search for oil under that ocean. Incongruous? Yes, but, as the head of the program says, 'at
$50 000 a day rental, it helps to pay the ice-breaker's way! The logic escapes most sane people.
 On the poverty front, good news. A House of Commons committee, after three years of study, has put forward solid recommendations to combat the scourge of poverty for three million Canadians. Unfortunately, the fact that it is a supplementary report signals its low priority. In 1989, parliamentarians voted unanimously to eliminate child poverty. They still
haven't. Of course, we know, it's endemic to the profit system.
Nowhere in Canada is poverty more obvious than in First Nations' communities but some chiefs are pulling in large salaries, such as at Peguis First Nation community. The Toronto Star reported (31/Oct/2010) that in that nation, where many houses are mould-infested, the chief earned $355 000 a year, and his predecessor made $665 000. In Toronto there are 75 000 families waiting for a subsidized place to live while there are many empty houses. The Toronto Star reporter who investigated met a woman who waited for 21 years to get an affordable apartment. By then, her kids had grown up! The old rubric of money to fix
up housing for the needy is offered. Meanwhile 131 city owned houses are rotting. Homelessness and poverty are not just the domain of the cities. In my mainly rural township of Cramahe in the county of Northumberland, local papers are reporting increased numbers of those needing help. The Cramahe food bank's roll of those in need has risen from 8-10 households when it began eight years ago to 75-100 households per month today. Homelessness in the county is mainly invisible because 'couch surfing' is the usual course of action for those without shelter, or the house that is maintained for short stays. All agencies are asking for help because money is tight for those trying to help, but freely available for some, as you can see from the next item.
Meanwhile, money is no problem for the financial industry. The G20 countries bailed out the rich to a tune of $5 trillion (Toronto Star editorial, 13/Nov/2010). Now the austerity measures brought in by almost every government hit, of course, the most vulnerable the hardest. Do we expect anything different? No, but it would be nice if the protests were
bigger and had a real purpose like establishing socialism. John Ayers

Friday, December 03, 2010


"One of Wallis Simpson's most famous sayings was that "You can never be too rich or too thin," and she could well have extended the aphorism to say ... "or have too much bling." The stylish American for whom King Edward VIII gave up his throne had another epic love affair: with jewellery. Yet her baubles were more than just expensive adornments. Through them, history, fashion and romance are perfectly combined and preserved forever. In the opinion of David Bennett, Chairman of Sotheby's Jewellery in Europe and the Middle East, Simpson's jewels are "the most important jewellery collection put together in the 20th century". When her collection was first sold by Sotheby's in 1987, the year after the Duchess of Windsor died (the sale was announced on 12 December 1986, exactly 50 years after the abdication), the auction held in Geneva caused a huge wave of interest. It eventually raised $50m (£31m) and set a new world record for a single-owner jewellery collection." (Independent, 30 November) RD


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

Who owns the North Pole - Part 23

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

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

"Countries are setting the chess pieces on the board. There are tremendous resources at stake," said Rob Huebert, director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary."At this point, everyone is following the rules and say they want cooperation; behind the scenes developments are happening that suggest it may not be so cooperative," Huebert said.

Russia and Canada are the only two Arctic states who have ramped up the rhetoric on the military front. The US, despite its military power, doesn't rattle swords in the same way. The Norwegians are talking the most cooperatively but they are arming very assertively, recently buying at least five combat frigates with advanced AEGIS spying and combat capabilities. The Danes are re-arming too.

"It is our land and our water. They don't own it, it is ours," Calcote said, echoing the view of some indigenous peoples from Greenland, through Canada, Norway, and Siberia.

Thursday, December 02, 2010


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       "Half a rare German postage stamp which dates back to 1872 has fetched some 261,000 Euros (220,500 pounds) at auction in the southern German town of Bietigheim-Bissingen, a spokeswoman for the auction house told Reuters on Thursday.She said a German collector purchased the well-preserved half stamp, which originates from the northern German town of Syke, despite its hefty price tag because it was so rare. "Stamps were in short supply in Syke between 1872 and 1874 so it was decided that they should be cut in half as a makeshift solution," she said. "But because this was only done for a short period, very few letters actually bear these halved stamps." She said the winning bidder from north Germany was able to secure the stamp, which had an asking price of 120,000 euros, only after a lengthy duel with a bidder from south Germany." (Yahoo News, 25 November) RD

Food for Thought

A New York Times article entitled "Rising Seas and a Looming Catastrophe" (21/Nov/2010) begins, "At great risk and with diminished support, scientists are racing to answer one of the most urgent – and most widely debated – questions facing humanity: How fast is the world's ice going to melt." At great risk and with diminished support? We are talking about the greatest threat to the earth we have known. Apparently the consensus now is that we may well be warming up faster than previously thought. In a sane world, solving this would be the major focus of the world's nations and their international; body, the UN. Obviously, it's getting in the way of making a profit!
 Here's an example. As Arnold Schwarzenegger is leaving the governorship of California, he is pushing through an environmental bill against oil industry practices. The oil lobby has introduced Proposition 23 that will mothball the legislation until the economy recovers – read never. Even Canada has got into the act as the federal and Alberta governments object to the green law on the grounds that it discriminates against the tarsands industry – another example of government going to bat for the owning class even when it's on 'dirty' ground. Schwarzenegger commented on the attempt by the oil industry to kill his bill, " This is like Eva Braun selling a kosher cookbook. It's not about jobs at all. It's all about their ability to pollute and protect their profits." He got this one right, at least. John Ayers

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


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


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

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

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

Scotland's life expectancy had worsened over the past five years and was now just ahead of eastern European nations such as Slovenia and Poland.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said "Nobody should be condemned to a life of ill health because of where they live or their family's background. Poor health is not inevitable and we should not accept it."

How true but how false. Under capitalism that is just what happens and we have seen that regardless of all the public health initiatives and reforms the situation remains and it will only be with the establishment of socialism that those words of the government spokeswoman will have any veracity.