1990s >> 1998 >> no-1124-april-1998

Voice From the Back

Who armed Saddam?

Advocates of a bombing campaign speak as if they had just discovered Saddam’s lethal potential. America has known about his chemical and biological weapons for a generation. In 1975 an American corporation, Pfaulder of Rochester, New York, sold Saddam the plans for a chemical weapons factory that he built at Akashat for $78 million. In 1983 Saddam first deployed chemical gas against Iran, killing 45,000 Iranian soldiers over the next five years in clear violation of international law. In 1988 Saddam sprayed mustard gas and sarin on the Kurdish village of Halabja to murder at least 5,000 civilians. A few months later, in January 1989, ABC News uncovered details of Saddam’s germ-warfare programme at a facility south of Baghdad. The State Department, which now issues briefings on the same site at Salman Pak, denied its existence at the time. Despite the use of chemicals and clear evidence of Saddam’s development in the 1980s of anthrax, tularaemia and cholera, the US and Britain increased their export credit guarantees to his regime . . . All the time Saddam was massacring his citizens and invading his neighbour, Iran, the American Karkar corporation supplied him with communications for his Ba’ath party spies. The CIA gave him reconnaissance pictures of Iranian troop positions. British Aerospace, Westland Helicopters, Dassault of France and Karl Kolb of Germany were adding to an Iraqi arsenal already over-supplied by the Soviet Union. New Statesman, 20 February.

Owners of property

There are already plans to sell of £1.2 billion of NHS land and buildings in the next five years. Trusts currently own £3 billion of land assets and £15 billion of buildings and fittings. Mail on Sunday, 7 December.

Squandered resources

A staggering £250 million a year is wasted in the National Health Service on food patients don’t eat. Half of the food served is unpalatable or unwanted, threatening patients’ health and recovery because they don’t get the nutrients they need. A study of nine wards for the elderly, and of medical and surgical cases in four hospitals in London and the South-East found that 23 percent of food served for breakfast and around 40 percent of food provided for midday and evening meals was thrown away. When food was served on the ward from a trolley almost 60 percent was discarded. Mail on Sunday, 7 December.

This new capitalism’s a load of . . .

Employees at a large state farm in Vlogda, northern Russia, have not taken kindly to the cash-strapped government’s policy of remunerating workers with agricultural goods in an effort to compensate for months of unpaid salaries. Instead of receiving chickens and vegetables, they were paid last month with piles of manure. Special trucks were laid on to deliver “salaries” to the workers’ doorsteps, prompting vigorous protests from neighbours about poor air quality. Sunday Times, 19 October.

Looking both ways

Poor people are much more likely to be knocked over on the roads than people living in affluent areas, according to a study of road accidents in Edinburgh and the surrounding Lothian region. It is the first detailed analysis of the link between road accidents and social deprivation. The researchers . . . found that young children from the 15 percent most deprived areas of the region were almost eight times as likely to be knocked over as children living in the richest 15 percent. Accident Analysis and Prevention, vol 29, p.583.

Child labour

Forty years after it joined the European Community, and more than a decade after it overtook Britain in the league table of national wealth, Italy still has almost 300,000 child workers . . . The biggest concentration of under-age workers is thought to be in and around Naples, where their wages average about 70,000 lire (£26) a week. Guardian, 8 January.

World Wide Web

When I go online to engage in human interaction, I log off feeling energised. When I search databases or shop in online malls, I leave the experience feeling drained and alone. The former involves communicating with other living beings, while the latter concerns only machines and their information. Douglas Rushkoff, Guardian Online, 8 January.


Competition, so admired by champions of capitalism, is being rapidly eradicated by—competition. “Before many more years, there will be one or at most two global companies per industry, trampling over a fluctuating number of local suppliers living off their personal connections and/or niche services,” wrote William Kay, the City Editor of the Financial Mail on Sunday on 8 February. “The process is nearly complete in sectors as diverse as alcohol and accountancy . . . The trouble is that what counts as duplication from the suppliers’ point of view is good old competition as far as the customers are concerned . . . When the customers in question have been mere individuals, their interests have been at best only hazily defended.”

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