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Patently double standards

This article is over 22 years, 3 months old
Suddenly the US government doesn't seem so keen on promoting big business use of patents. It threatened to override the patent on the antibiotic Cipro if its German manufacturer, Bayer, did not cut the price. Cipro can be used to treat some anthrax infections.
Issue 1773

Suddenly the US government doesn’t seem so keen on promoting big business use of patents. It threatened to override the patent on the antibiotic Cipro if its German manufacturer, Bayer, did not cut the price. Cipro can be used to treat some anthrax infections.

Protecting patents is one of the key strategies of the World Trade Organisation. Its supporters argue that businesses won’t invest in research unless they have legally enforceable rights over any discoveries they make.

But it is really about the multinationals that dominate research protecting their profits and denying the poor access to scientific developments.

Now it is the US government that wants cheap and easy access to antibiotics. US secretary for health Tommy Thompson said he would ask for the law to be changed to allow the US to violate the patent without paying damages unless Bayer slashed its prices.

The company agreed. And now at the World Trade Organisation meeting the US is threatening action against Third World countries that have broken patents to produce cheap drugs.

Lifelong con

New Labour is ditching its ‘flagship initiative’ to promote lifelong learning. The Individual Learning Accounts (ILAs) were the free market alternative to government-funded training. Individuals received £150 in return for a £25 contribution towards training schemes.

Such subsidies attracted over twice the number of account holders, around 2.5 million, that the government expected. Although some people benefited from the scheme, it became a bonanza for some private companies.

Cowboy operators got individuals to sign up for training that never happened. Some 279 private training providers are being investigated after allegations of fraud.

Indonesia is another member of the ‘international coalition’ that is unconcerned for the plight of Afghan refugees fleeing the US bombs. Around 350 refugees, including people from Iraq and Afghanistan, were drowned last week after sailing from Java in Indonesia.

Some of the 44 survivors have reported that Indonesian police and military forced the refugees at gunpoint to board the clearly unsafe boat. They threatened to beat up any refugee who refused to get onto the overcrowded fishing boat.

Shoots you well, sir!

General Motors is one of the companies trying to profit from the war. Its adverts in the US proclaim how in the ‘dark times’ everyone can help get the economy back on its feet by forking out for a car. ‘Let’s stand together and keep America rolling,’ urges the advert’s voiceover. One General Motors executive admitted, ‘It is natural that we are thinking of ways to tap into that sentiment for commercial advantage.’

Designer Ralph Lauren has headed up a campaign for the fashion industry called ‘Fashion for America-shop to show your support.’ But the call for ‘patriotic shopping’ has provoked some criticism. Customers have condemned one clothing salesman for sending them an email which said that doing business with him was a blow against terrorism. ‘I didn’t mean to offend any sensibilities,’ he said, ‘but we live in a capitalist economy.’

Thrown into a state

GEOFFREY Robinson, millionaire and former New Labour minister, is furious that the editor of his magazine, the New Statesman, is anti-war. The New Statesman’s editorial last week criticised the bombing, saying, ‘Far from defeating terrorism, we are encouraging it and turning Bin Laden and the Taliban into martyrs.’

Robinson is reportedly ‘incandescent’ over the magazine’s failure to support the government. But he has been rather preoccupied recently trying to hang on to his parliamentary seat.

He faces three weeks suspension from the House of Commons after misleading MPs over a £200,000 payment from a company owned by the now dead Labour tycoon Robert Maxwell.

The McDonald’s fast food giant experienced a bit of redistribution of wealth at one of its drive-ins in Australia last week. A customer was given a bag with the day’s takings inside instead of burger and fries.

She drove off and understandably has not been seen since. A professor at King’s College in London condemned her actions, saying, ‘The reasonable stability of society depends on most of us being inclined not to rip off organisations like McDonald’s.’ Inside the System hopes whoever got the special order is enjoying the cash.

I love St Helens?

‘With this house every time I walk out of the front door people are going to see me and be able to speak to me.’ That was what Shaun Woodward, the millionaire former Tory turned New Labour MP for St Helens, said about the terraced house in his constituency on the eve of the election.

But Woodward has still not moved in. He prefers his £4 million town house in London and his mansion in Oxfordshire where he is waited on by his butler. ‘He came once in May but since the election we’ve not seen him,’ says local Terry Crehan.

Things they say

‘It’s a big world. There are lots of countries. Bin Laden’s got lots of money. He’s got lots of people who support him. I just don’t know whether we will be successful.’
US Defence Secretary DONALD RUMSFELD, morning of 25 October

‘FROM TIME to time I suppose some things come out of my mouth in not quite the right way. We intend to find him. I think we are going to get him.’
DONALD RUMSFELD, later on 25 October

‘We are pulling away at the legs beneath the stool the Taliban leadership counts on.’

‘They are proving to be tough warriors.’
ADMIRAL JOHN STUFFLEBEERN on the Taliban, 25 October

‘We have military objectives and I’d like to accomplish them within the next few days.’
US Secretary of State COLIN POWELL, 24 October

‘We are in for the long haul. We can carry on until the job is done. If it takes three or four years, then it takes three or four years.’

‘The operation must be as short as possible.’
Pakistani dictator GENERAL MUSHARRAF

‘I don’t know who told the Pakistani president our attacks would be short.’
US president GEORGE W BUSH

‘The war against Communism took 50 years to win, and I wonder if we shouldn’t be thinking like that.’

‘We have to constantly remind people that military action may last indefinitely.’
Home secretary JACK STRAW


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