Patrick Ward

Too much bling?

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Sussex Police and Crimestoppers launched an initiative in January to catch "people with no legitimate income living a lavish lifestyle". The "Too much bling? Give us a ring!" campaign relies on members of the public dobbing in people they suspect have wealth unbefitting their employment.

Historically it is ethnic minorities who have suffered in such campaigns, with black men in pricey cars being targeted over-proportionally by police. But a recent poll by the Fabian Society suggests that it is bankers who are seen as having far "too much bling" relative to their workload. 70 percent of those polled also believe that ordinary workers should sit on remuneration committees to decide executive pay levels.

Censored 2009

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Eds: Peter Phillips and Andrew Roth, Seven Stories, £11.99

Censored 2009 is a collection of some of the stories which didn't hit the mainstream US news in 2007-2008. While the Winter Soldier testimonies of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans which exposed the brutality of the occupations were ignored, plenty of airtime was available for stories of actor David Hasselhoff's drinking and junk food binges. As the trials and tribulations of Britney Spears dominated the major news networks, news that US oil giant Chevron was complicit in Burma's dictatorship was relegated to the alternative media.

Interview: A structural crisis of the system

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István Mészáros won the 1971 Deutscher Prize for his book Marx's Theory of Alienation and has written on Marxism ever since. He talks to Judith Orr and Patrick Ward about the current economic crisis.

The ruling class are always surprised by new economic crises and talk about them as aberrations. Why do you believe they are inherent in capitalism?

I recently heard Edmund Phelps, who got the 2006 Nobel Prize in Economics. Phelps is a kind of neo-Keynesian. He was, of course, glorifying capitalism and presenting the current problems as just a little hiccup, saying, "All we have to do now is bring back Keynesian ideas and regulation."

Climate change: radical solutions needed

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Building a Low-Carbon Economy, Lord Adair Turner's 511 page report, made interesting Xmas reading for environmental campaigners. Produced by the Committee on Climate Change, which Turner chairs, it is the government plan to drag the world out of the clutches of uncontrolled climate change.

But, as campaigner and author George Monbiot writes in the Guardian, "Lord Turner has two jobs. The first, as chair of the Financial Services Authority, is to save capitalism. The second, as chair of the Committee on Climate Change, is to save the biosphere from the impacts of capitalism. I have no idea how well he is discharging the first task, but if his approach to the second one is anything to go by, you should dump your shares and buy gold."

It was. Are you?

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"I feel a terrible personal failure - it's a very nasty place to be if you're me," said Independent editor Roger Alton, after the newspaper lost 16.29 percent of its readership in one year.

Alton gained notoriety when, as editor of the Observer, he supported the illegal invasion of Iraq. His record at the Indie has also been less than promising. Its hot news is now more likely to be about Gazza than Gaza. His belief that "pictures of semi-naked women basically make the world a better place" has also led many to leave the paper on the shelf.

But with its appalling circulation figures have come 90 job cuts and its impending move to share office space with the Daily Mail - a newspaper Alton refers to as "the best paper in Britain".

Recession to the rescue

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"Tell people that biology and the environment cause obesity and they are offered the one thing we have to avoid: an excuse," said Tory shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley last summer. "We have to take away the excuses." Having a job is probably one of those excuses too.

"Interestingly, on many counts, recession can be good for us," Lansley wrote in November. "People tend to smoke less, drink less alcohol, eat less rich food and spend more time at home with their families."

His insight appeared on his blog, but was removed swiftly. A David Cameron induced apology was swiftly forthcoming.

New challenges for the new year

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This time last year the world looked very different. Ian McCafferty, the chief economic adviser of the CBI, argued on New Year's Eve 2007, "While the 2008 slowdown may appear dramatic set against this year's strong growth, the fundamentals of our economy remain sound and talk of a full-blown recession is overstated."

Meanwhile the idea of a massive grassroots electoral campaign ousting the neocons from the White House in favour of a black president might have been labelled hopelessly optimistic. 2009 therefore offers new challenges and opportunities for socialists as we enter uncharted waters in the midst of a global storm. But one thing is certain: there will be no time to sit back complacently to see what happens next.

Job cuts on the rise

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Unemployment has risen to its highest level since 1997, and is set to continue increasing dramatically in the near future as the recession starts to bite.

According to a report from the Office for National Statistics, the rate of employment fell by 0.4 percent in the quarter from June to September, with a total of 140,000 people being thrown into unemployment. The total number of unemployed now stands at 1.8 million. Tellingly, the number of hours worked over the same period increased by 0.9 million, illustrating that workers are being pushed to work longer hours both as a means of maintaining productivity and of ensuring pay packets can cover the cost of inflation.

Number crunching

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The impact of the economic crisis over the past year has led to a significant change in our phone habits according to recent figures from directory enquiry service 118118.

There has been a 67 percent increase in calls to debt collection agencies, as well as a 135 percent rise for credit card companies. Calls for restaurants fell by 6 percent, as cheaper pizza delivery enquiries rocketed by 97 percent. Office stationery enquiries are down 46 percent, and those for au pair agencies fell by 98 percent. Meanwhile, calls for second hand shops have increased by 299 percent.

Hedging their bets

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They leech off the system, destroy public services, and bring unemployment and now they're threatening to come to Britain. But this is one group of migrants to whom the gutter press won't be devoting the front pages - hedge fund managers.

At a US congressional hearing over their business practices, George Soros, Kenneth Griffin, Philip Falcone, Jim Simons and John Paulson claimed that any "knee-jerk" regulation may lead to their sort taking their business to unregulated London.

They are presumably as worried about the crisis as the rest of us. Despite their combined wealth of some £20 billion they manage to pay proportionally less tax than a US school teacher.

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