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Friday 21 March 2008
Letters: Greed of the City
Shareholders mugged by the reckless greed of City operators
Sir: I was mugged this week. Not on the street, but by people playing roulette with my savings to make themselves loads of money. As an HBOS shareholder, I found these risk-taking entrepreneurs effectively putting their hands in my pocket to steal money to place their bets.
However much the damage done by such greedy "financial services experts", events such as the dot.com bubble and the sub-prime scam don't seem to be crimes at all, or most of those caught doing it don't go to jail – just perhaps get sacked or receive a golden handshake of more loads of money. And governments and central banks can't stop pouring out money to deal with the problems resulting from their reckless greed – which those being mugged will have to pay for eventually.
Would you believe it? Crazed Marxist satirists couldn't make it up.
Yet, like Mary Dejevsky ("Work hard? Play by the rules? You're a loser", 18 March), I wonder why so little anger is expressed in public about these muggers running wild and free. More anger is vented at mothers whose daughters are killed or missing.
Is that because deregulated free global markets are what the main political parties and most economic "experts" and the media say is the only way to run an economy? This makes raging against these crimes seem as futile as arguing with the weather. For some, perhaps, this makes it tempting to kick out in frustration at those more vulnerable than they are.
How to avoid another Iraq
Sir: Adrian Hamilton's worry about future unsound military ventures (Opinion, 20 March) is surely the result of a system of government with insufficient checks and balances. If we wish to avoid further Iraqs, I believe there are a couple of matters we should consider.
First, the British Prime Minister and his unelected advisers wield too much personal power. As Mr Hamilton says, this was very much Mr Blair's war, pushed through with the acquiescence of Cabinet and Parliament, both of which were deliberately marginalised by the leaders of New Labour as part of their project to concentrate power within a small elite.
Despite the persuasive arguments of many commentators and the protest of millions, the challenge that really mattered, that within government, failed to materialise in a potent enough form. Clare Short, I believe, said there was very little discussion of the decision in Cabinet. Michael Meacher recently said he did not have a face-to-face interview with Mr Blair the entire time he was a minister.
Thus a PM of great charm but, in this case, poor judgment, was able to steer a disastrous course. Cabinet government needs to be strengthened and the influence of political advisers curtailed.
Second, I believe Mr Blair said in 2003 that he would be in deep political trouble if WMD were not found in Iraq. The fact that he sailed imperviously on for four more years suggests that there is no adequate way of holding politicians accountable for the grave decision to go to war. Questions such as those about the provenance of the "dodgy dossier", the timing of the decision to go to war and the absence of a post-war strategy need to be answered. Going to war is a deeply serious decision, and we need to be sure that it is never taken in bad faith.
Therefore, I believe a public inquiry, such as the one that has been long sought by opposition politicians, should be a statutory consequence of any future decision to go to war. Such a requirement ought to concentrate politicians' minds and perhaps prevent the repetition of history that Mr Hamilton fears.
Walberton, West Sussex
Sir: The numerous television programmes in the past week and Robert Fisk's article of 19 March have left me profoundly depressed. Perhaps nothing has depressed me more than the callous indifference of this government to the almost certain fate awaiting those interpreters for the British forces who have been refused residence here.
As for ignoring the recent history of this turbulent area, may I draw the Government's attention to the words of King Feisal of Iraq no longer ago than March 1933 as quoted by James Barr in Setting the Desert on Fire: "There is still – and I say this with a heart of sorrow – no Iraqi people but unimaginable masses of human beings, devoid of any patriotic idea, imbued with religious traditions and absurdities, connected by no common tie, giving ear to evil, prone to anarchy and perpetually ready to rise against any government whatever."
J G Mighell
Sir: The time for an inquiry into the Iraq war is long over. The remedy is quite simple: to implement the 1949 Geneva Conventions IV article 146 – "The High Contracting Parties undertake to enact any legislation necessary to provide effective penal sanctions for persons committing . . . grave breaches of the present Conventions."
It is quite clear that there have been many grave breaches by the allies in this joint enterprise: deliberately falsifying news to arouse passion for war; failure to maintain public order and safety; failure to prevent looting; failure to maintain medical supplies; use of torture; theft of assets; destroying the natural environment by depleted uranium.
If the penalties of the Geneva Conventions are not upheld by the international community, then the Geneva Conventions are not worth the paper they are written on, and, as Philippe Sands, QC, has said, we will live in a lawless world. And the prospects for the little children of Iraq will look bleak indeed.
Sir: Five years after the invasion of Iraq, Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn have an uphill struggle to demonstrate that the invasion of Iraq was illegal (19 March).
If it ever was illegal for breach of the UN Charter, its illegality was cured long ago by the annual mandate of the Security Council, or else by the assent of the government of Iraq, which the UN recognises as legitimate.
For Fisk and Cockburn to demonstrate that the invasion was illegal for violation of peremptory norms of international law, which lay upon states an obligation to suppress genocide, aggression and crimes against humanity, they would need some temerity. They would need to give a convincing account that the 16 Security Council resolutions which fixed Iraq on the eve of the war with responsibility for threatening international peace were all based on fantasies. They would have to convince their readers that Saddam Hussein committed no aggression against Kuwait, nor genocide against the Kurds, nor crimes against humanity.
Sir: For how many more "anniversaries" are Messrs Bush and Blair to be lambasted – via all media – for audaciously attempting to replace a genocidal despot with the seeds of democracy?
Perhaps instead of gloating so excitedly about what a "disaster" it's all been, anti-war bores could, for once, try reflecting on just how many more innocent Iraqis might have died had Saddam Hussein been left in power to this day.
New NHS jobs for failed managers
Sir: Your report on the matter of Ruth Harrison, the NHS official appointed to a new job in a trust run by her sister-in-law ("Anger over lucrative post for failed NHS chief", 13 March) raises a host of issues. Her role in the local hospital trust is, alas, the sort of muddle and mess that we have come to expect in this area.
The procedures used nationally and locally to vet applicants for jobs, particularly at senior level, need to be more publicly obvious. For it to fall to the local press to reveal Ms Harrison's record is hardly a triumph for NHS procedures.
This is not the first time that a senior official with a record of failure has been passed from one top post to another within the NHS. There is no evidence that rigorous records of performance are kept centrally. While those with a newsworthy record of failure are known, there are many underperformers who pass unnoticed.
John C Green
Berlusconi may not be joking
Sir: Some of Silvio Berlusconi's "jokes" get reported (15 March) but it's not easy to know when he jokes and when he doesn't.
When I heard that he had recruited Alessandra Mussolini, the dictator's granddaughter, to help him win the election in April I thought it must be a joke. It wasn't.
Then last week I heard that he asked a well-known self-confessed fascist, Giuseppe Ciarrapico, to run as a candidate to become a Senator for his party on the grounds that he owns important newspapers. Again, I thought it must be a joke. Well, it wasn't.
Come 14 April, the day of the election, a Berlusconi victory might sound like a big joke indeed. It won't be.
The small girl who 'needs' £35,000
Sir: Can Heather Mills please justify whingeing that her four-year-old daughter is now worth £35,000 per annum? I am a nurse of 17 years' qualification. I earn £22,000 per annum. Go figure.
Sir: A full record of National Insurance payments entitles me to a pension of about £8,000. You might understand my perplexity, then, that a four-year-old child with mega-rich parents needs £35,000 a year to live on.
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Sir: The hypocritical media may snipe at Heather Mills but her work for animal welfare has won the admiration of countless people. What a pity the press ignores this dedicated campaigning for compassionate values.
Tax attack on family businesses
Sir: As Christopher Clayton (letter, 17 March) says that family businesses will have "no problem" proving they are not tax avoiders, I assume he is also of the mind that black men will be able to prove they are not drug dealers, gay men that they are not paedophiles and single mothers that they are not irresponsible. Governments deploying black propaganda against small sections of their own citizens is nothing new.
In countries such as France, Belgium, Canada, the US, Germany and (until recently) the UK, income splitting is, or was, seen as acceptable and normal. The change in law in this country is because Gordon Brown's government wants the cash; the labelling of family businesses as tax cheats is the political means to this end.
The legislation includes no objective criteria by which to judge whether unacceptable tax avoiding has occurred. The criterion is that the tax inspector finds it "reasonable to assume" that that was the goal of the arrangement.
Adopting a strange attitude to children
Sir: I was surprised to see Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman's children referred to as their "adopted children" in a sidebar to Virginia Ironside's column about divorce (18 March).
Having several children of adoption in my family, I assure you that your child is your child, regardless of how you got them. It is hard enough growing up looking different from your family. The last thing you need is for journalists to imply that the world will never see you as your parents' true child.
Sir: Doubtless, your readers will wish to join me in congratulating Gordon Ramsay as he continues to expand his international chain of restaurants ("The cook who ate the world", 20 March). I hope that he will now strive for consistency across his brand in the anticipation that his name will soon sit alongside such revered world-wide establishments as McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Burger King.
David R Jones
Sir: David Flavell (letter, 18 March) implies that education is safer in the hands of the Catholic Church than in those of secular humanists. In weighing up this complex equation, it is perhaps worth reflecting that an organisation that insisted for centuries that the heliocentric model of the solar system was wrong, and was wont to get terribly cross with those who begged to differ, is not in possession of an ideal set of testimonials for running a school.
Bolton, Greater Manchester
Answers to crime
Sir: Another costly government programme is announced to deal with antisocial behaviour ("Ministers target badly behaved children", 19 March). It will rely solely on overburdened professional services to solve the problems of urban decay. This is unrealistic. Over many decades, government bodies have failed miserably to deal with antisocial behaviour. Our overcrowded prisons bear witness to this failure. The £218m three-year intervention package to stop children from developing criminal behaviour will fail, as with the defunct Respect programme. For these programmes to succeed, government bodies must be willing to allow residents to become involved.
Sir: Pandora (19 March) quite rightly celebrates the news that Alice Temperley and her sister Mary are both pregnant. However, this good news story is marred by the approving remark that they are ordering disposable nappies. One baby will go through about 2,000 nappy changes a year. In the UK nearly 8 million nappies are thrown away every day and it can take hundreds of years for one disposable nappy to biodegrade. There is a wide choice of easy-to-use real nappies.
Sir: Tony Paterson says in his article about the Red Baron (17 March) that the British can take credit for keeping his memory alive since 1945. Americans might differ, saying that Snoopy, the dog in the Peanuts comic strip, was responsible because he was always going off to take on the Red Baron in dogfights and quaffing a few root beers with other flying aces. But then, Americans always see the outcome of wars differently.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
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