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Tuesday 11 January 2011
Letters: Bankers' bonuses
The City analyst David Buik says we should "get over" the bankers' bonus issue and "move on" (View from the City, 10 January).
Should we also get over and move on from other unacceptable and immoral aspects of our society – just say "Ah well, so be it" and absorb them as the norm? Where there are social outrages that we have the power to address, we should certainly not "move on" from them; we should continue to make every effort to put them right.
Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex
I enjoyed David Buik's piece about how we all need to move on, and allow investment bankers to pay themselves billions in bonuses, free from carping criticism.
But maybe the humour of the piece – in particular, its absurdly exaggerated insensitivity to the hardships now being experienced by millions of people as a result of the bankers' irresponsible pursuit of personal enrichment – was just a little too broad for the satire to be truly effective?
Bankers argue, in defence of their bonuses, that the "best" bankers make a massively significant personal contribution to the profits of the bank which employs them. In that respect, they are no different from top pop stars, sportsmen, lawyers, accountants and chief executives.
But the value added by top pop stars, sportsmen, lawyers, accountants and chief executives is (in theory) continuously "marked to market" by a final consumer. The value added by top bankers is most certainly not. Bankers and banks (with the collusion of the legal and accountancy professions) have found a way to "enclose" a massive part of the profit added by the productive economy before it gets distributed to our saving and pension schemes.
In that respect, their "business model" is directly comparable to protection rackets run by the enforcers of the mafia, with international competition and massive bonuses for the very best enforcers.
Our reaction to the "enforcer" issue should not be to try to clamp down on the pay and bonuses of the enforcers, but to clamp down on the whole concept of protection rackets.
Similarly, our reaction to the "banker" issue should not be to try to clamp down on the pay and bonuses of bankers, but to clamp down on the whole concept of unreasonable spreads and spurious financial engineering.
Since when was it the responsibility of the taxpayers to underwrite rich capitalist speculators and save them paying insurance?
A committee of MPs has claimed that a similar oil disaster to the Mexican oil spill, happening in the North Sea, would cost the British taxpayers billions. Let them, the banks and all other businesses pay their own insurance like the rest of us. No wonder the rich are getting richer at the expense of the poor when we pick up their bills.
Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh
When a bank announces the total bonuses paid to staff, it should also give (1) the total number of its savers so that the bonus per saver is clear, and (2) the total amount of savings "lost" to its savers (particularly pensioners like myself) because of its below-inflation interest rates.
Staff who hold society together
Having worked in the private sector for 23 years, then the public sector for the past 11 years, I feel that I am qualified to respond to Roger Woodward's letter about the "public-sector mentality" (8 January).
He says that as an employer in the private sector he would not employ any of "these people" that have been made redundant by Con Dem cuts. He gives the impression that public sector workers are all lazy.
You will find a small minority of people in the workplace, both in the public and private sector, who want to do as little as possible, but the vast majority of workers are happy to receive a decent wage packet for an honest week's work.
Local government workers who are facing redundancy across the country, including the police, care workers, teachers, library staff, NHS staff and bin men, are the very people who keep our society held together. I am tired of the public sector being made scapegoats for problems caused by the irresponsible activities of banks, tax dodgers and the greed of capitalism.
D P Williams
St. Helens Merseyside
Having switched jobs from public to private sector just over a year ago, I have found that I now work very differently, but would not say that I worked any less hard in my public-sector role as a librarian, nor do I work any harder in my private-sector role as an analyst.
The pressures, working practices, attitudes and outlook are different in each of the sectors but public-sector workers often work far longer hours for far less reward than their private-sector counterparts, as I did when putting in 10-hour shifts at public libraries through the county. Public-sector workers have a great deal to offer and should not be dismissed as unsuitable candidates for jobs on the basis of hearsay and prejudice.
I have 15 years' experience of working in the public sector, and do not recognise Roger Woodward's description of the public-sector mentality. I have worked with countless men and women who have been willing to sacrifice many hours of their own time because they believed in what they were doing and cared about getting the best results.
Yes, I have also seen plenty of wasted time and effort, and pretty depressing it was too; most of it was spent trying to regulate and constrain the greedy, dishonest and irresponsible behaviour of the private companies whose industry Mr Woodward so admires.
Saviours of St Pancras
Your story about the saving of St Pancras station in London ("Without us, this masterpiece could have been lost for ever", 10 January) rightly records that "in October 1967, the building was spot-listed as Grade 1, effectively protecting it from further demolition".
This spot listing was done by my father, Wayland Kennet, then the Ministry of Housing and Local Government's junior responsible minister in the House of Lords. The dedicated officials wanted the building down, supported by "experts" such as Sir Jon Summerson, but Wayland, being a member of the Victorian Society and an admirer of St Pancras, won that battle within government.
There are several people we can thank for the survival of St Pancras: Mrs Fawcett, Sir John Betjeman, Sir Niklaus Pevsner and not least, Wayland Kennet. Without him, the others would likely have failed.
Human rights in Israel
Christian Aid agrees that "criticism is not betrayal" (leading article, 6 January). Israel, by suggesting otherwise in setting up a panel to target human rights organisations, is in danger of damaging its much-vaunted democratic credentials.
The proposed parliamentary panel marks a worrying new trend. Whereas the existence of human rights organisations was once presented as an example of Israel as a functioning democracy, they are now increasingly held to be "delegitimisers" of the state and thus targets for proposals for ever more onerous and restrictive legislation.
One of Christian Aid's Israeli human rights partners, B'Tselem, states: "We are proud of our work to promote human rights in the Occupied Territories, which is conducted legally and with complete transparency. Persecution and attempts at silencing will not stop us. In a democracy, criticism of the government is not only legitimate – it is essential."
We agree and urge Israel to resist voices inside the country that don't want to hear criticism or see diversity of opinion and identity flourish. Such signs from the Knesset do nothing to calm the fears of minorities who are still worried about the potential repercussions of a recent religious ruling signed by prominent Israeli rabbis that would forbid the renting of homes to non-Jews.
Advocacy Officer, Middle East
Christian Aid, London SE1
We already knew that Israel lacked the ability and will for a solution that would give a Palestinian state even minimal viability. Israel's settlements won't disappear, nor will its progressive strangling of Arab Jerusalem.
Donald Macintyre (31 December) describes the parlous state of the Israeli government, but behind his description is a bigger picture: a progressive shift rightwards of government in Israel ever since 1967. We can't realistically hope for an administration able and willing to make necessary concessions. With that in mind it is only naive Western politicians who still seriously believe a two-state solution remains feasible.
In view of the abject US pandering to Israel's worst instincts, Europe must urgently evolve a long-term strategy that addresses Israel's inability to disgorge its conquests of 1967. It needs to establish a framework within which Israel must be firmly held to account to ensure an eventual unitary state for the whole of Mandate Palestine, based upon equal rights for all. That this is going to be fiendishly difficult is obvious, but to do nothing holds the promise of massive human and civil rights violations dwarfing those already committed since 1948.
The menace on our streets
The headline on Joan Smith's article (6 January) asks "How about telling men, not women, to stay indoors?" I could not agree more.
Many years ago I was attacked by a man while walking my dog. I defended myself by hitting him with the metal dog leash and was unhurt except for some bruising and temporary shock.
I was warned by the police that I should not have used the leash as an offensive weapon and was questioned as to why I was exercising my dog at twilight. I was told that women should not go out to that perfectly respectable area in the evening, and when I asked why men should not be told not to instead, I was treated like an idiot.
Even now when I tell this story, men cannot seem to understand the idea that the 50 per cent of the population who do not generally cause any violent crime should be allowed to roam freely while the other 50 per cent, some of whom feel the need to rape and murder, should not be allowed to do so.
Bangor Co Down
An illuminating critic of art
I would like to thank Tom Lubbock (obituary, 10 January), not only for his art reviews, which were always stimulating and laced with humour and humanity, but also for his graphics and quizzes. No matter what subject he approached, Mr Lubbock's articles were always worth reading. He will be much missed.
His weekly series discussing masterpieces was illuminating and diverting. Might a collection of these pieces be reprinted as a book, as a testament to his intelligence?
Cruel secular slaughter
Recent correspondence about animal slaughter according to religious practice risks losing sight of the main issue. On 19 November The Independent exposed the abuse of animals in British slaughterhouses. Animal Aid had recorded gross cruelty in seven of the eight slaughterhouses investigated, including animals repeatedly kicked, stood on, tortured with electric shocks across the abdomen, and even going to the knife or having their legs hacked off while inadequately stunned.
Thanks to Johann Hari's anti-religious comment (19 November) attention has turned from these outrageous inhumanities solely to the discussion of religious practices.
Kosher slaughter has two undisputed effects: the requirement that an animal be unblemished ensures that it is not severely mistreated or mutilated before slaughter; and scrupulous attention to "bleeding out" ensures that the animal is dead before it is further mutilated or skinned. Halal slaughter is similar. The evidence indicates that secular slaughter ensures neither.
All slaughter should be conducted to ensure that the animal is uninjured until stunned, stunned when killed, and dead when dismembered.
Dr Philip J Sampson
With regard to the Royal Family's new right to secrecy (report, 8 January) , I am reminded of the words of Rosencrantz in Tom Stoppard's 1966 play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead: "You can't treat royalty like people with normal perverted desires. They know nothing of that and you know nothing of them, to your mutual survival."
Have our attitudes, or theirs, changed in 40 years?
Steve Bunce's otherwise excellent obituary of Gary Mason (8 January) quotes "the great British boxing writer, Harry Mullan". Au contraire: Harry was the great Irish boxing writer. Born and buried in County Derry, my brother was named Patrick Henry Pearse Mullan after the leader of the 1916 Easter Rising.
Bradford, West Yorkshire
There was something not quite right about the 60th anniversary episode of The Archers. A man screams and then the dum-di-dum tune begins. It's always the other way round for me. The tune makes me scream because I know the programme it heralds.
Dr Alex May
Perspectives on American violence
No stopping the lunatic Rambos
Is it possible to say that the democratic process continues to work? We see the problem worst in the US, where the lobbyists have taken over from the voters as the determiners of national policy. Their politicians depend on these powerful interests for their funding.
The laughable concept that everyone should be able to own their own lethal weapon will not change while the National Rifle Association holds sway. Lunatic Rambos will continue to proliferate. The drug and medical interests will pump as much money as it needs to ensure that basic health care for everyone does not see the light of day.
Meanwhile religious fanaticism, as damaging as its Muslim counterpart, continues to hold large swathes of the population immune to education and reason, so that unlike turkeys they are only too willing to vote for Christmas.
Crocodile tears from the political right
In the aftermath of the massacre and attempted political assassination in Arizona, I had to sadly smile at the naivety of a sign imploring: "Don't make this about politics. Republicans and Democrats deplore this kind of hatred and violence."
That is an ideal to be aspired to, but the reality is that this is exactly the kind of thing that Republican leaders and far-right commentators love. They rely upon chaos and fear to keep the unthinking masses obedient and distracted from their corruption and profiteering. They will weep crocodile tears, and wail convincingly, but the reality is that the victims are just acceptable collateral damage in their eyes – the cost of "fighting the good fight" and the losers in what they see as a dog-eat-dog world.
Until sickness like that is rooted out, the US will never be anything other than the planet's most prosperous third-world country.
Compare and contrast
I am impressed by the difference between the dysfunctional state of Pakistan and the constitutional democracy of the United States.
In the one, political and religious extremists encourage and carry out the assassination of those who do not share their views; weapons are readily available; those who have power and money are able to buy their way into the legislature. In the other. . .
D J Walker
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