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Voice From the Back

Business ethics 1
Hundreds of Western firms are courting Saddam Hussein's regime in the hope of contracts if the embargo imposed after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 is lifted soon. Scores of deals have been struck, aiming to take advantage of possible waivers of sanctions on certain goods . . . The courting of Baghdad, which has the second largest oil reserves in the world, surprises few experts. "Iraq is the big prize," said Lowell Feld, of the US Department of Energy, who wrote a recent report on Iraq's oil industry. "There are dozens of firms out there salivating, ready to move in as soon as the UN gives the go-ahead." Observer, 26 December.

Business ethics 2
A United Nations embargo on all diamond exports from Liberia, a high level commission of enquiry into the links between organised crime and the Belgian diamond industry, and a new International Diamond Standards Commission under the UN are urged in a new report on the disintegrating society of Sierra Leone. The report, released in Canada and launched by a former foreign minister, Flora MacDonald yesterday, is critical of De Beers, the dominant player in the world's diamond industry. It set a challenge to the UN to take decisive action on one of the motors of war across a swath of west and central Africa. The diamond trade, most of it illegal, plays a major part in the wars or shaky peace in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola and Congo, but the actors reach far beyond west Africa. Guardian, 13 January.

For our safety
The United States stored 12,000 nuclear weapons and components in at least 23 countries and five American territories during the cold war—including Morocco, Japan, Iceland, Puerto Rico and Cuba—according to an article based on a recently declassified document. The document, a secret study written by the Defense Department and titled "History of the Custody and Deployment of Nuclear Weapons: July 1945 through September 1977", is described in the November/December issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. New York Times, 20 October.

The relentless factory-like drive to produce the perfect 40mph racing machine results in the mass slaughter of 20-30,000 greyhounds each year. These make way for the next 20-30,000 which are bred each year in the UK and Ireland. Only a small number of them make it to the betting tracks. The rest is "wastage". Despite attempts by the industry to prevent the slaughter, some trainers and owners prefer the cheaper option of killing dogs to paying between £20-30 for them to be humanely put down by a vet. Unwanted greyhounds have been found starved, clubbed, electrocuted and injected with petrol. Some are flung from speeding cars, sold to vivisection labs or hung from trees. Corpses have been dragged up from the sea with rocks tied to their legs. Big Issue, 12-23 January.

Care in the community
The government is to net a £4 million windfall after the West Midlands NHS Executive sold off a slice of the former Rubery Hill [mental] Hospital site for a new pub and lodge. Evening Mail, 13 January.

The rule of law
"If there is indeed a 'war on drugs' it is not being won; drugs are demonstrably cheaper and more easily available than ever before. The same picture can be seen in the USA and elsewhere . . . If a significantly large, and apparently growing, part of the population chooses to ignore the law for whatever reason, then that law becomes unenforceable. A modern western democracy, based on policing by consent and the rule of law may find itself powerless to prevent illegal activity—in this case the importation and use of controlled drugs . . . The best example of this is cannabis—the UK has the highest rate of cannabis use in Europe, higher even than in the Netherlands which has a tolerance policy . . . If prohibition does not work, then either the consequences of this have to be accepted, or an alternative approach must be found. The most obvious alternative approach is the legalisation and subsequent regulation of some or all drugs." Richard Brundstrom, former Assistant Chief Constable, from a report published by Cleveland Police.

The causes of war are . . .
Three days after raising its flag in Grozny's last rebel stronghold, Russia is claiming the richest prize of the war: Chechnya's potential as a conduit for the vast oil reserves of the Caspian basin . . . As one export put it yesterday: "Access to the Caspian has historically been the reason for Chechnya's importance. Why else did Hitler try so hard to conquer it?" Times, 10 February.

It all depends . . .
Death in Britain is not an equitable business. Nor is health. People in Springburn, Glasgow, suffer a rate of chronic illness of 155 per 1,000. In Wokingham, Berkshire, the rate is 36. There are 67.9 deaths per 10,000 live births in Springburn but only 53.2 in Wokingham. Our environment can kill, in other words. But not at the same rate. Observer, 13 February.