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Voice from the Back

Come Clean, Queenie

  "Voice-recognition lie detectors are to be used by two Welsh councils in an attempt to crack down on benefit fraud. People in Flintshire and the Vale of Glamorgan on housing and council tax support will have their speech patterns analysed when claims are reviewed. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is piloting the 12-month scheme in 18 local authorities across Wales and England. However, some critics claim it could deter genuine claimants. Benefits cheats cost the UK taxpayer an estimated £400m a year. A pilot scheme was initially introduced among seven English councils, but has been extended and includes Wales for the first time. Details were announced as part of the Welfare Reform Bill during the Queen's Speech on Wednesday." (BBC News, 4 December) This will be hailed by all supporters of capitalism as an excellent wheeze to foil impoverished claimants, but what will happen when the Queen phones up for an increase on her benefits in the civil list? Presumably the lie detector will be switched off for non-impoverished claimants.

A Suicidal Society

 Workers are often told how lucky they are to be workers instead of capitalists, but capitalists themselves don't believe that piece of nonsense. With the downturn in the capitalist market place many capitalists face the prospect of losing their privileged class position and finding themselves in the ranks of the working class. The prospect is so awful that some of them can't face it and commit suicide. "Kirk Stephenson, the 47-year-old New Zealand-born chief operating officer at the private equity firm Olivant, died instantly when he was hit by a train at Taplow station in Buckinghamshire, on September 25 last year. A jury returned a verdict of suicide. ...Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, 65, a French financier, locked the door of his New York office last month, swallowed sleeping pills and slashed his wrists with a craft knife. ... Paulo Sergio Silva, 36, a trader for the brookerage arm of the Brazilian banking giant Itau, shot himself in the chest during the afternoon trading session in San Paulo's commodities and futures exchange in an apparent suicide attempt in November. ... One of Europe's most influential industry magnates has thrown himself in front of a train after his business empire began to crumble. Adolf Merckle, the 74-year-old head of a conglomerate that employs thousands in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, killed himself on Monday." (Times, 7 January)

Production For Use

We are all used to "letters to the editor" in the national press that deal in crass trivialities, so it was a great pleasure when we came across this exceptionally perceptive letter. "Music as product placement is certainly a dismal vision (The sullying of our songs, 16 December). But the old business model for music inside capitalism is nothing to feel nostalgic about. John Harris suggests that downloading makes music worthless. No, just priceless! If everything (not just downloads) was free it all might actually be valued that bit better. I suggest we should embrace the concept of production for use, by raising our horizons beyond just the digital world to - in the words of John Lennon - imagine no possessions. Brian Gardner Glasgow" (Guardian, 19 December)

Desperate Times

With the US automobile industry in recession many desperate ideas are being considered - the Keynesian notion of government intervention - the increase of pensions and welfare payments to stimulate demand, but here is the most extraordinary "solution" of all - prayer! "Pentecostal Bishop Charles H. Ellis III, who shared the sanctuary’s wide altar with three gleaming sport utility vehicles, closed his sermon by leading the choir and congregants in a boisterous rendition of the gospel singer Myrna Summers’s “We’re Gonna Make It” as hundreds of worshipers who work in the automotive industry — union assemblers, executives, car salesmen — gathered six deep around the altar to have their foreheads anointed with consecrated oil. While Congress debated aid to the foundering Detroit automakers Sunday, many here whose future hinges on the decision turned to prayer. Outside the Corpus Christi Catholic Church, a sign beckoned passers-by inside to hear about “God’s bailout plan". (New York Times, 7 December) The sad truth is that despite the desperate prayers of Detroit workers capitalism is a system based on slumps and booms and no amount of hymn singing is going to save their jobs.