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Voice From the Back

We also tell lies

First we set you free. Now we set new standards. Total freedom. A state rarely achieved and much sought after. For some it's symbolised by the vastness of the ocean. For others, it's the call of the open road. At Mazda it's a guiding philosophy. Which is why we were the only car company . . . After all, nothing should stand between you and total freedom. Advertisement.

Capitalism's realities

Russia's foreign debt stood at more than £78 billion in January. Rescheduling delayed repayment until this year, and in 2003 Moscow is due to start paying back the billions borrowed by the Soviet Union. The backlog of unpaid wages has grown inexorably. The private sector owes employees £5.7 billion, while the state sector owes £700 million in wages. The backlog of pensions in both sectors has reached £8.8 billion. Meanwhile, the popular daily newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reported yesterday that the presidential administration was secretly spending millions of pounds on an exclusive leisure centre—including indoor tennis courts, weights and a sauna—inside the Kremlin. Guardian, 2 April.

In case you wondered . . .

. . . the latest initiative from [French Prime Minister] Jospin is a true piece of backward-thinking madness—a proposed 35-hour week to be introduced by 2000. Jospin promises it will ease rocketing unemployment, but it is more likely to exacerbate the problem by hurting the competitiveness of French companies. "The notion of reducing unemployment through a shorter week is just farcical," says Rob Hayward, senior economist at Bank of America in London. Financial Mail on Sunday, 19 April.

Death merchants

A report by Oxfam singles out Britain as a key player in the small-arms market, exporting to more than 100 countries in the past two years. Despite obsessive official secrecy, it has identified at least 120 British companies involved in the trade. The call for tough controls coincides with threats by the United States to block the export to Britain of more than 14,000 handguns which it believes are to be re-exported to war zones or used in organised crime. In the past year the government has sanctioned at least 11 small-arms export licences to Kenya and at least 20 to Turkey, Oxfam says. In 1995, it estimates, about three-quarters of African countries importing small arms from Britain were suffering political violence and other conflicts. Licences for small arms cover a wide category of weapons, including machine guns, mortars, grenades, shoulder-launched rockets and "chemical irritant" weapons. Guardian, 23 April.

Capitalism needs drugs

In Birmingham there are estimated to be around 22,000 men who are depressed, finding it difficult to motivate themselves to carry on with work, or maintain relationship with their family. But a new prescription anti-depressant drug called Edionax which works on replacing a substance in the brain called noradrenaline is offering new hope. Evening Mail, 24 April.

Drugs make profits

The government is attempting to block a Brussels move to cut the price of medicines. Its motive is to protect the multi-billion-pound profits earned by the UK's drugs industry. Lord Simon, Minister for trade and Competitiveness in Europe, will defend Britain's drugmakers at a key meeting of trade ministers that he is chairing next month. He fears that relaxing drug price controls in the European Union would unleash a flood of cheap imports into Britain from southern Europe, slashing profits for UK drug companies . . . It would bring down the prices that the National Health Service pays for pharmaceuticals to the cheaper levels of Spain and Italy. Financial Mail on Sunday, 26 April.

Inherently unstable

In the 10 months since the Asian economic crisis first burst on us, Asian governments have so far managed to contain the anger of their peoples. The crisis itself, and the measures which the West and the world's financial institutions insisted were necessary to deal with it, have brought bankruptcy, unemployment, and privation on a large scale to societies which only a little time ago thought they had joined the ranks of the world's winners. How, with the first deaths in Indonesian rioting, which had until now kept this side of serious street violence, and with the confrontation between government and labour in South Korea, a period of increased danger has obviously begun. Guardian, 7 May.

Doing time

BBC researchers in London are looking for three Birmingham volunteers to help make a TV programme about time . . . BBC researcher Mick Conefrey said: "We are interested in people who would be willing to try out time management techniques. People often say there isn't enough time in the day but now there are people who say 'yes there is' and they will show you how to use it." Mr Conefrey said that American companies were "really obsessed" with time management techniques. British firms were now becoming interested, he added. Evening Mail, 8 May.

How succinct!

We're meant to accept that in this post-communist (or, as I prefer to think of it, pre-communist) world nothing comes for free, and everything has its price. Julie Burchill, Guardian Weekend, 28 February.