Voice From The Back

The benefits of globalisation
“America’s steel industry is in a mess; only a week ago, a veteran foundry, Bethlehem Steel followed two dozen of its brethren into Chapter 11 bankruptcy . . . The company blamed its plight on a tide of cheap imports and this week Pittsburgh-based US Steel announced third-quarter losses of $23 million. …. President Bush in June announced he would take action under section 201 ot the Trade Act of 1974, an obscure law that permits global safeguards to industry. Unlike anti-dumping measures which require proof of unfairness, section 201 permits the erection of tariff barriers to provide temporary relief from import competition.” (Times, 24 October)

So, behind all it’s bombast about free trade and the benefits of competition, the US government reveals yet again a truism about capitalism. Capitalists are in favour of free trade when they are winning but against it when their competitors are winning.

It’s a dog’s life
Something of the madness of capitalism in general and post-disaster New York in particular can be gauged from Chris Ayres’s Wall Street Diary in the Times (25 October).

“A bomb-sniffing dog can take as much as $2,500 (£1,760) back to his kennel for a 16 hour shift. With the dogs working seven days a week, this adds up to an impressive $912,500 per year.”

A great deal more money than the wages of the heroic New York firemen who perished in that recent disaster, or indeed, for that matter, any of our readers.

It ain’t half hot, mum
In this column in May we reported that British police forces were interested in the development of an American crowd control vehicle that zapped demonstrators with microwaves. The good news for control freaks everywhere is that the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in New Mexico have recently completed tests.

“The Air Force now wants to use this Active Denial Technology (ADT), which it says is non-lethal, for peacekeeping or riot control at “relatively low range” – possibly from low-flying aircraft. … AFRL says that the 3 millimetre wavelength radiation penetrates only 0.3 millimetres into the skin, rapidly heating the surface above the 45 degrees C pain threshold. At 50 degrees C, they say the pain reflex makes people pull away automatically in less than a second – it’s said to feel like fleetingly touching a hot light bulb. Someone would have to stay in the beam for 250 seconds before it burnt the skin, the lab says, giving ‘ample margin between intolerable pain and causing a burn'” (New Scientist, 29 October).

Wow, is this tempting, or what, for repressive regimes everywhere? Burn, baby, burn.

Gerry in Wonderland
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” A similar disdain for language would seem to be shared by Lewis Carroll’s character in Alice in Wonderland and Gerry Adams.

“Mr Adams said, ‘The IRA is not a terrorist organisation. The name terrorist is bandied about willy-nilly. Clearly what happened in the USA recently was a terrorist act where civilians were deliberately targeted. In any war terrible things were done. In my view the IRA has never deliberately targeted civilians'”.

Pressed on whether the IRA had never placed bombs in shopping districts he said, “Well, it depends, it depends, you see.” He then added: “It’s quite academic.” The Herald (6 November)

Not really all that academic though if your kid has been blown up by some mad zealot, is it, Gerry?

A strange democracy
In an apparently surprising turnaround Michael Bloomberg was elected Mayor of New York last month. Surprising in that he was standing as a Republican in a city where five out of six voters are registered Democrats. Surprising also in that until about a year ago he was a Democrat. He has had no previous political experience Blatantly he only became a Republican to stand for mayor and used the campaign slogan “A leader not a politician.”

His 51 percent share of the vote becomes less surprising however, when you realise that Mr Bloomberg is a billionaire and spent a staggering $60 million on his campaign. In other words he bought the office of Mayor of New York. A strange “democracy” indeed.

Praising Karl Marx
Socialists are used to the works of Karl Marx being dismissed or ignored by capitalism’s academics, so it is a pleasant change to read on page 166 of Steve Jones’s Almost Like A Whale a brief compliment to Marx:

“Karl Marx got it (as usual) more or less right: ‘what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality’. His statement brings out the pragmatic nature of evolution, in a hive or anywhere else. Bee society has no plans.”

From rats to riches
A short news item from Rio de Janeiro speaks volumes about the ingenuity of the working class and the madness of capitalism. “Rats in the Brazilian city outnumber human beings ten to one and people are being offered about £1.30 for every 2lb of dead rat found. Officials are using poison and will collect carcasses – despite fears that poor people will begin rearing the rodents.” (Times, 10 November).

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