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Voice from the Back

CALIFORNIAN NIGHTMARE

The dreadful fires in California that led to death and destruction were well reported in the British press, but what was hardly covered was the plight of the immigrant workers. "Out of the burning brush, from behind canyon rocks, several immigrants bolted toward a group of firefighters, chased not by the border police but by the onrush of flames from one of the biggest wildfires this week. ... Immigrants from south of the border, many illegal, provide the backbone of menial labor in San Diego, picking fruit, cleaning hotel rooms, sweeping walks and mowing lawns. The wildfires, one of the biggest disasters to strike the county, exposed their often-invisible existence in ways that were sometimes deadly. The four bodies were found in a burned area in southeastern San Diego County, a region known for intense illegal immigration. ...Terri Trujillo, who helps the immigrants, checked on those in the canyons, urging them to leave, too, when she left her house in Rancho Peñasquitos ahead of the fires. Ms. Trujillo and others who help the immigrants said they saw several out in the fields as the fires approached and ash fell on them. She said many were afraid to lose their jobs. ‘There were Mercedeses and Jaguars pulling out, people evacuating, and the migrants were still working,’ said Enrique Morones, who takes food and blankets to the immigrants’ camps. ‘It’s outrageous.’ Some of the illegal workers who sought help from the authorities were arrested and deported." (New York Times, 27 October) What a comment on capitalism, some workers live in such poverty and insecurity they give up their lives in an attempt to keep a menial weekly wage.

WALL STREET SHUFFLE

We are always being told that capitalism is a competitive system that rewards success and punishes failure, but what are we to make of the following? "Merrill Lynch's directors may be weighing E. Stanley O'Neal's future, but one thing is already guaranteed: a payday of at least $159 million if he steps down. Mr. O’Neal, the company’s chairman and chief executive, is entitled to $30 million in retirement benefits as well as $129 million in stock and option holdings, according to an analysis by James F. Reda & Associates using yesterday’s share price of $66.09. That would be on top of the roughly $160 million he took home in his nearly five years on the job. Under Mr. O’Neal, Merrill moved aggressively into lucrative businesses like the packaging of subprime mortgages and other complex debt securities. ...But those big bets appeared to go bust this week. Merrill announced an $8.4 billion write-down, raising questions about whether Mr. O’Neal will keep his job. One thing that he surely will hold onto, though, are the giant paychecks he has collected. ‘I lay the blame at the foot of the board,” Frederick E. Rowe Jr., a money manager and president of Investors for Director Accountability. “He was paid a tremendous amount of money to create a loss that is mind-boggling, and he obviously took risks that should never have been taken.’” (New York Times, 27 October) He managed to lose $8.4 billion for the company and can claim $159 million for his efforts. Who says capitalism isn't crazy?

THIS IS COMMUNISM?

"The United States has more billionaires than any other country: 415 by the last count of Forbes magazine. No. 2, and closing fast? China. A year ago, there were 15 billionaires in China. Now, there are more than 100, according to the widely watched Hurun Report. Forbes has documented 66. ..As much as the bounty of billionaires is a source of pride, it is also a potential cause for concern in a nominally Communist country. Per capita income in China is less than $1,000 a year." (New York Times, 7 November) China is a fast developing capitalist country and just like any other capitalist economy the gap between the rich and the poor is immense.

CHINESE STATISTICS

One of the effects of the rapid expansion of Chinese capitalism is the pollution of the atmosphere and drinking water. This has led to these horrendous statistics. "40% - Percentage by which birth defects among Chinese infants have risen since 2001, according to a government report, which linked the rise to environmental pollution. 460,000 - Number of Chinese who die prematurely every year from exposure to pollution and dirty water." (Time, 12 November) This expansion may be leading to the creation of more billionaires, but it is also producing more corpses.