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I blame the scapegoats, p.15

I blame the scapegoats, page 15


I blame the scapegoats

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  The most common method of fraud has been to inflate share prices by artificially exaggerating company profits. Suspicions should have been raised when the revenue for the last financial year was given by an eight-year-old boy who excitedly announced the official figure to be a billion, trillion, gillion, quillion, zillion! Or when the figure at the end of the annual report had two zeros scrawled on the end in red felt-tip pen.

  For a country obsessed by crime, the Americans are having to learn that criminals come in a variety of guises. Police officers are now making up for lost time as public opinion turns against the new hate figures in US society. America's isolated Accountant community, for many years shunned due to their strange stripy suits and incomprehensible language, are now being openly persecuted. 'We're not all fraudsters . . .' implored a spokesman for the accountants. 'In fact, only three point four per cent in the last fiscal quarter rising in line with projected forecasts . . .' he went on, but already he seemed to be losing the journalists' attention. Secret video footage has just been released showing traffic cops dragging an innocent auditor out of his car and beating him up. 'Thought you could offset projected profit shortfall by excluding capital outlay, huh, you four-eyed geek?' (punch!). 'Trying to overstate company revenues by hiding loan repayments eh? God, you pin-stripe punks make me sick . . .' (kick!).

  In the nearby financial district, auditors reacted angrily, not rioting exactly, but the nearest equivalent for accountants. Desks were left untidy, computer keyboards were left uncovered by polythene dust sheets, calculators left switched on, caps left off fountain pens . . . Witnesses said they had not seen such untidy scenes since the great double-entry ledger protests of '68.

  Now Crimewatch ratings look set to plummet. The only reconstruction so far showed a man sitting at his desk for a long time in front of a computer. 'Does this jog any memories?' said the presenter, as millions of viewers rang in to say they had a vague memory of witnessing a similar scene.

  As the stock markets crashed, millions of ordinary citizens lost their pensions and savings and George W. Bush announced that he would take tough action to deal with whoever had done so much damage to American interests. US bombers were despatched to mete out the usual punishment, but then were swiftly called back when it was explained to the President that the perpetrators worked in Wall Street and bombing New York might not go down too well right now.

  So then his advisers sat him down and very slowly explained the nature of modern corporate fraud from start to finish, finally declaring, 'So you see, Mr President, that's why billions of dollars have now disappeared.'

  'I understand. So did anyone see the getaway car?' 'No, it wasn't stolen, sir. It was fraud.'

  'So these are counterfeit dollars we're looking for. Do we have the numbers?'

  'Sir, it's not real money; these are just figures in a computer.'

  'Geez, they shouldn't have left the money in the computer - that's always the first thing these guys steal.'

  The reason that this crisis is so damaging to the President is that this sort of unfettered capitalism is exactly what the current American administration is all about. Not only is he the champion of unregulated business, but Enron and their like also paid for his election campaign. Maybe it was Enron's auditors who counted up the ballot papers which handed him victory after getting fewer votes than his opponent. Bush has promised to be tough on these super-rich fraudsters, so we can expect them to go to prison for the rest of their day. Because something tells me that America's billionaires will receive less punishment than an ordinary US citizen would. Of course, wiping out the pensions and savings for millions of ordinary people is a crime that deserves the sack. But once they're unemployed, let's just hope they don't make any false claims for minor social-security payments, because then they'd really be in trouble.


  3 August 2002

  Yesterday cinemas around the country began showing a new horror fdm. In its final terrifying scene a pretty girl awakes in bed to find herself covered in a plague of filthy rats. Yes, it's the latest new release from those well-known purveyors of extreme horror action- the Keep Britain Tidy Campaign.

  No one can accuse them of being at all sensationalist about this. All they are saying in this new advert is that if you drop litter you'll wake up with rats crawling all over your face - it's a very reasonable and moderate statement. 'We don't want to alarm you, but you drop one apple core and huge mutant rodents with razor-sharp teeth will swarm out of the sewers to gnaw through your skull and suck out your brains while you sleep.' And the cinema-goers all shrug and spill another kilo of popcorn all over the floor.

  Apparently the making of this commercial was a rather tense affair for the casting agency concerned. 'So what's the part?' said the rats as they turned up for rehearsals. 'Are we the adorably furry pets that comfort the kiddies in the children's hospital? Or is it a Stuart Little type thing, cute rat with voice-over from Billy Crystal?'

  'Er, no, no . . . it's pretty straightforward. We just wanted you looking a bit dirty, nibbling a discarded hot-dog.'

  An awkward hush fell over the thespian rats. 'So we're playing vermin again, are we?' they said tersely.

  'Well, that is sort of what the advert's about.'

  'I see. It's just that as members of the rat community we do get a bit fed up of being typecast. I mean, we rats do do other things apart from breed in the sewers and scamper round spreading diseases, you know.' And the rats stormed off to their trailers to ring their agents, but then were distracted by some rotting burgers on the way.

  This advert is required because so many people are discarding fast-food cartons that the rats are coming out of the sewers to feed on leftover McDonald's. So if the warfarin doesn't kill them then there's always heart disease. Apparently rats love the meat from fast-food outlets; now it seems they're cannibals as well. Rats are back as public enemy number one. Britain can no longer be a soft touch for rats. Politicians are suggesting that rats be confined to secure detention centres while their claims to be genuine rodents are processed. Others say our hostility is based on myth and ignorance.

  There are now officially 60 million rats in the UK, and that's just the ones that bothered to return their census forms. Every year 200 of this number pass on Weil's disease to humans; so, as always, it's just a small minority who give all the others a bad name. In fact, British rats would have done well to fire their PR company years ago. When fleas gave everyone the bubonic plague, their spin doctor put out a story saying it was all the rats' fault and the brand 'rat' never really recovered. In any case the creatures involved were the Black Rat (Rattus rattus - it was late on Friday afternoon at the rodent naming office), which was later displaced by the Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus - named after the first Stranglers album). But still all these years later it is presumed that the only good rat is a dead rat. Britain's domestic cat community has been censured for failing to do their bit to keep down the vermin population. At a press conference this week a spokesman for the cats seemed unmoved by the criticism. 'Yeah, what of it?' he shrugged before going back to sleep.

  Meanwhile, increasingly cruel ways are being used to poison, trap and eradicate rats and nobody cares. Where are the fifty-something women who never had kids, weeping outside the Ministry? Where are the balaclava-clad hard men of the Animal Liberation Front, ready to burn down the warfarin factory? The British public have studied this issue very carefully and have concluded that any way you look at it, rats are just not as cute as dolphins and baby seals. Cruelty against fluffy doe-eyed animals is one thing - but smelly disgusting rats, well, sorry, you had it coming to you, I'm afraid.

  But with fox hunting successfully banned, the solution to Britain's rat problem seems obvious. Could there be a more pleasing sight in the English countryside than dozens of huntsmen, resplendent in their bright red tunics, disappearing into the sewers and getting covered in crap? What could do more to gladden the heart of an Englishman than seeing the master of the hunt clamberi
ng out of a manhole, wiping the brown sludge from his jodhpurs? Soon we can look forward to our towns echoing with the sound of the huntsman's horn telling us that a traditional rat hunt has begun in earnest. It will be a signal announcing that the rural upper classes have just clambered into our sewers; a noise that says 'Right - everyone flush now!'

  Football fans are revolting!

  10 August 2002

  Today is the first day of the English football season. Up and down the country will be heard that traditional cry of non-fans: 'Already? But it had only just finished!' In recent years the popularity of the sport has mushroomed beyond all expectations; violence is down, racist chanting is rare and the quality of the matches is significantly better. But still some commentators go all misty-eyed about times gone by: 'Oh it's not the same these days. I mean, when I were a lad, you'd be packed into the terraces behind a seven-foot chain-smoker, unable to see your team draw nil-nil after the defenders kept passing back to the keeper, and then on the way home you'd get beaten up for wearing the wrong scarf by that bloke who'd been shouting racist abuse. Ah, happy days . . .'

  But a decade on from the formation of the Premier League, the majority of clubs that were left behind are now in trouble. The collapse of ITV Digital and the subsequent resignations have left the Football League in crisis. Supporters watching games this afternoon may already notice the lower-division clubs making one or two economies. Unable to afford proper kits, players will be wearing embarrassingly tight shirts and huge baggy shorts from the lost-property basket. The ball will be a plastic one from Woolworth's with Harry Potter on the side, and when it's kicked out of the ground, the rush goalie will be forced to go round and ask that grumpy old man next door, 'Excuse me, can we have our ball back please?' Final score two-nil.

  'It wasn't two-nil, that second one was a post - it went straight over my jumper.'

  'No, it would have gone in-off!’

  Another worry for the Football League is that while arrests are down in the Premier League, according to tables published yesterday they actually increased in the first division. It's no wonder ITV Digital went bankrupt; the broadcasters boasted that their interactive coverage made it just like being at a real match. So when you leapt off the sofa to celebrate your team's goal they supplied a couple of opposing fans to beat you up. You have to question the wisdom of publishing-league tables for football arrests. Did they imagine the perpetrators would weep with remorse at being brandished the worst troublemakers in the land?

  'I'm so dashed upset, Tarquin. We've really let down the vast majority of genuine peace-loving sports fans at our club.'

  'Yes, Julian, the shame of it! I'll never be able to show my face down at my men's anger-management workshop again.'

  Or is there perhaps an outside chance that the Neanderthals might take some sort of perverse pride in being top of the arrests league? Maybe the police could arrange a pitched battle between the fans that finished third and fourth to decide who gets a play-off place. They might at least have printed the tables the other way up, with the clubs with the most arrests at the bottom. It's the best chance I've got of seeing Fulham at the top of the Premiership. With Tony Blair helping to set up a new football league in Afghanistan, maybe other problems in the region could be solved with British football know-how by sending Stoke City and Millwall supporters to Iraq.

  In fact, football violence roughly fits the Marxist analysis of war between capitalist economies. While working-class fans are beating-each other up, the real enemy, football's ruling class, remains safe in their corporate boxes and chairmen's suites, becoming multimillionaires as they bring poverty to the poorer clubs. Well, this season it's all going to change. Suddenly aware of their own strength, the supporters of the world will unite and throw off the chains of having to pay £45 for a replica shirt that cost lOp to produce in some sweat shop in China. Instead of pointlessly attacking each other, the newly politicized fans will storm the Manchester United Directors' Box, declaring the people's first socialist soccer soviet. The super-rich chairmen of the big clubs will be lined up and shot, but they'll survive because Andy Cole is doing the shooting. But no more will the big clubs grow ever richer off the players they have taken from the lower leagues; no more will the ordinary fan be priced out of the ground. At last it can be said, 'Chelsea fans are revolting!'

  A supporters' revolution would slightly change the game, of course. 'Quick, pass!' 'Sorry, comrade, but such a move would have to be ratified by the people's executive committee!' But by bringing Marxist doctrine to the Premier League we'll prove that socialism is the only way forward for the rest of our society. 'The workers! United! Will never be defeated - because frankly a score draw is always the fairest result!' And imagine the thrilling climax to the season when you know every club will finish with exactly the same number of points and identical goal difference. Er, hang on -1 think I'd better think this out again . . .

  I'm a world leader, get me out of here!

  30 August 2002

  All week a conference centre in Johannesburg has been host to many of the most important people in the world. The security has been incredibly tight. One man who was thrown out is still hanging around outside the compound insisting that he is a bona fide delegate. 'I'm not making it up! There is such a country as Turkmenistan!' Meanwhle the girl on the reception desk has been having a terrible time trying to deal with all the complaints from the Western leaders who jumped at this chance to fly away in August. 'What do you mean it's winter in the southern hemisphere? It's just not good enough . . .'

  In reality, this convention is not much different to any conference of middle managers taking place in the Jarvis Hotel on the A508 near Kettering. The reps all file in, collect their little name badges and then excitedly check their hotel rooms.

  'Ooh, a trouser press!' says a thrilled Gerhard Schroeder.

  'And look, miniature packets of cashew nuts in the mini-bar!' exclaims the Russian delegate, as he pops the free shower cap and little sewing kit into his suitcase.

  During the first session all the world leaders sit there with anxious faces. Not because they are worrying about global ecology, but because they're all privately thinking, 'If I watch the adult channel tonight, will it come up on my bill as "Pay Movie" or "Pervy Porn Flick"?'

  The first talk is done by a Scandinavian Environment Minister using Microsoft Powerpoint. 'So you see that within fifty years, Earth will be unable to sustain life and we will all be dead.' On the screen a little animated graphic shows the world expand and then go 'Pop!' and everyone gasps and turns to the delegate beside them.

  'Ooh, that's clever, isn't it!'

  'Yes, I can't do anything like that on my computer . . .'

  After the coffee break there's a talk on teamwork and motivation from Will Carling and then in the afternoon they've arranged for some workshops.

  'Right, if you chaps from the Balkans could get into small groups . . .'

  'We already have done.'

  'And if the South Americans can choose a team leader - no, don't use the army to install him.'

  Soon they are all ready for the trust exercises. 'The Israeli minister here is going to fall backwards and these Arab leaders are going to catch him. You look a bit worried, Binyamin?'

  By the end of the day they can't wait to get out of there and sit down to the evening meal, especially with the promise of a professional comedian as an after-dinner speaker. 'Oh no, who booked Jim Davidson?' say the African delegates, sitting there stony faced while Jim does his best West Indian accent for all his gags about 'my mate Chalky'. The whole dinner might have been more tactfully arranged. The Western leaders had a huge slap-up five-course feast, while over on the Third World table the waiters just dumped a sack of dried milk powder and left them to fight over it.

  Back at home the ordinary voters remain cynical about their leaders' ability to change anything. People need to see their representatives getting stuck in, really making the best of a difficult situation, and so next
time the gathering will take a completely different format. Coming soon on ITV1 is a brand-new docusoap: I'm A World Leader, Get Me Out of Here! In order to understand the problems of the environment more fully, presidents and prime ministers will be forced to live in poverty in a hostile tropical setting, while Ant and Dec laugh at their efforts and dish out the next challenge. 'Oh no! The Canadian President has got dysentery from drinking that polluted water! And now he's got to go to the toilet in front of everyone!' they will chuckle. 'Whoops! Jacques Chirac has been bitten by a mosquito and now he's got malaria! I bet now he's wishing he hadn't cut back French medical aid to Africa!' they'll giggle.

  Of course George Bush won't turn up again. Just like the original TV show, only D-list celebs will be available, and viewers will be left saying, 'Who on earth is that?' as the Prime Minister of Bhutan flirts with the President of Luxembourg. But that is the trouble with the whole Johannesburg conference: the people who really count aren't even there. Not just George W. Bush, whose country alone is responsible for a huge proportion of the world's greenhouse gases, but all the unaccountable people who run the global corporations and multinationals which are now more powerful and damaging than many nation states. So perhaps the only really effective way to help the environment and developing countries would be to get all the corporate billionaires to Johannesburg. If they saw the security they would be reassured of their own safety. 'That should keep people out,' they'd say, looking at all the razor wire, the lines of electrified fences and the heavily policed concrete barriers.

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