VCRs and subs

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NOT every day does the United States Congress play judge and jury, as it did this week: The Senate voted, 92 to 5, to impose an import ban of between two and five years on two overseas manufacturers. Nor should Congress generally undertake such a quasi-judicial role. That said, the Senate has sent an unmistakable - and merited - reminder to the two companies, along with the governments of Japan and Norway, as well as other US trading partners. That reminder is that you don't bite the hand that feeds you. The companies were Japan's giant Toshiba Corporation and Norway's Kongsberg Vaapenfabrikk. They played a high-stakes trading game. They sell sophisticated products to the US; they have also been selling supersensitive military technology to the Soviet Union.

The Toshiba sales to the Soviets particularly drew the ire of the Senate. The equipment apparently lets Soviet submarines run so silently that they can escape detection from US or allied surveillance. It is at the least distasteful for a company to sell microwaves, VCRs, and other consumer goods to a public it is at the same time putting at risk through military-related sales.

The US carries a major part of Japan's defense burden - one reason Japan can focus its resources on civilian product marketing. Talk about biting the hand....

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Top Japanese trade officials, who approve exports, must have known the Toshiba sales would be an affront to Americans. Hence, the Senate's action.

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