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Voice From The Back

LAND OF THE FREE

Behind all the bombast of "land of the free, home of the brave" national anthem in the USA lies a sinister reality. "From the 1880s to the 1960s, at least 4,700 men and women were lynched in this country. The noose remains a terrifying symbol, and continues to be used by racists to intimidate African-Americans (who made up more than 70 percent of lynching victims). In the past decade or so, only about a dozen noose incidents a year came to the attention of civil rights groups. But since the huge Sept. 20 rally in Jena, La., where tens of thousands protested what they saw as racism in the prosecution of six black youths known as the ‘Jena 6,’ this country has seen a rash of as many as 50 to 60 noose incidents. Last Tuesday, for example, a city employee in Slidell, La., was fired after being accused of hanging a noose at a job site a few days earlier. These incidents are worrying, but even more so is the social reality they reflect. The level of hate crimes in the United States is astoundingly high — more than 190,000 incidents per year, according to a 2005 Department of Justice study." (New York Times, 25 November)

DEATH IN A HARSH SOCIETY

The latest figures on deaths in winter make for harsh reading and illustrate the fate awaiting many British workers when they are unable to work anymore. "More than 23,000 people died of cold last winter despite it being one of the mildest recorded, according to the Office for National Statistics. Of these deaths, 19,200 were among those aged 75 and over. Charities called it a ‘national scandal’ and gave warning of more deaths this winter because of higher fuel prices and colder temperatures." (Times, 29 November)

HEIRESS ON THE RUN

She was left $12 million but it was a mixed blessing as she received threats from blackmailers and kidnappers. "Their threats forced concerned friends to bundle her onboard a private jet under a new identity and take her into hiding. Her location is a closely guarded secret but she is reportedly living somewhere in Florida under 24 hour guard." (Times, 4 December) It is reported that her annual upkeep is $300,000 but this includes a rotating security team. Oh, did we mention she has weekly grooming visits and has to visit the vet for her liver condition? Yes, the vet! For she is a white Maltese dog called Trouble whose former owner was the hotel tycoon Leona Helmsley. Go on tell us that capitalism isn't crazy!

OLD AGE FEARS

In so-called primitive societies that practiced a hunting-gathering existence, the elderly were protected and respected as knowledgeable members of the group. In modern capitalism the old are looked upon as a burden as can be seen from these findings. "Britons are living in fear of growing old in a society that fails to respect the over-65s or provide adequate support for those in need, a Guardian poll reveals today. ...The ICM poll found: 40% of Britons fear being lonely in their old age. Two thirds of the adult population are ‘frightened’ by the prospect of having to move into a care home; More than 90% said they knew they could not survive on the state pension and would need to rely on savings." (Guardian, 3 December)

PROMISES, PROMISES

Back in 1999 the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair promised to halve the number of poor children in 10 years and eradicate child poverty in 20 years. "The government's approach to tackling child poverty has lost momentum and is in ‘urgent need’ of a major rethink, a charity has said. A Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) report said there has been no sustained progress in the past three years. One in three UK children live in poverty. A report by the Treasury select committee fears the pledge to halve child poverty by 2010 is in doubt." (BBC News, 3 December) This is typical of reformist politicians – make promises, preferably far into the future and they will probably be forgotten when the next election comes along.

THE PRICE OF GOLD

About a quarter of a million mineworkers downed tools on Tuesday in South Africa, the world's top producer of gold and platinum. "This year's death toll has reached 200, mostly owing to rock falls and explosions in several mines. Many mines have been unchanged for decades but recently reopened, thanks to high world prices that have made them profitable again." (Times, 5 December) The miners are concerned about the lack of safety in the mining industry which one striker described as "dripping in blood". The average wage of a miner in South Africa is about $200 a month. None of them will be wearing gold or diamonds, that is for sure.