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Thursday 20 March 2008
Letters: The credit bubble
Culprits, great and small, suffer for the credit bubble
Sir: While I agree with Mary Dejevsky's condemnation of the credit bubble ("Work hard? Play by the rules? You're a loser", 18 March), I can't help feeling that she overstates the case somewhat in arguing that the culprits are not suffering.
Many of those involved will suffer, namely those who have shareholdings in the collapsing financial institutions or who lose their jobs; shareholders in Bear Stearns have lost 99 per cent of their holdings while Northern Rock is not far behind. In the latter case, those who argue that shareholders are being treated unfairly are clearly talking nonsense.
Some blame must be shared by those who took the mortgages. Yes, some of them were innocents who were misled by unscrupulous mortgage brokers, but most of them must have known full well that they could not afford the houses they were buying. They were simply greedy and hoped to pass the parcel before the inevitable crash.
I would also add that the newspapers must also take some of the blame. If you look at the coverage of real estate how many articles were there warning of potential danger?
Lastly, I think that Bush should come in for more condemnation. He was responsible for cutting taxes at the same time as he was leading the country into a costly war, thus leaving the US in a position where fiscal policy has much less leeway than would otherwise be the case.
Ian S Mccarthy
Myersville, Maryland, USA
Sir: Lady Thatcher said that "you cannot buck the market". Following recent interventions by the UK government and the US Federal Reserve, I consider the market to be well and truly bucked.
No need for an Iraq war inquiry
Sir: I must disagree with Lord Fowler in his call for an inquiry into the Iraq war (Letters, 18 March). The time for this was several years ago. I do not think the taxpayer would be well served as politicians now seek to distance themselves from the war. The outcome will be another bout of political hand-wringing that avoids at all costs any apportionment of culpability for this appalling crime, but instead will bring forth the usual "lessons have been learnt", "with the benefit of hindsight" and "it must not happen again". Not money well spent.
Five years on, I believe the British public understands fully what happened. We understand that what little facts existed were twisted to mislead in the furtherance of a dishonest and illegal agenda. We understand the lies about connections between Saddam and al-Qa'ida and weapons of mass destruction.
We understand that the Attorney General was uneasy about the legality of the war. We understand that the agenda was not to bring democracy to Iraq but to control a significant part of the region's oil wealth. We understand that the politicians who talked of avoiding another Hitler and another Munich were ignorant of the history of the region, or the likely effects of what they were about to do.
We understand that there was no planning for the aftermath because the military experts were ignored. We understand that the British forces were woefully under-equipped because the Government hadn't spent enough money. We understand that a British prime minister has supported an American president to damage immeasurably international law and the United Nations.
If Lord Fowler wants to capture the trust of the British people, he might ask David Cameron to admit that his party was gulled by the Prime Minister, and admit that if they'd been a bit brighter or more principled they would have stopped Britain's involvement. Millions in the UK were able five years ago to see through the lies, and the rest know it now. Let's not waste millions of pounds on cooking up yet more lies when we all know what happened.
Sir: There is no need for a further inquiry into the Iraq war. The circumstances are plain to see and accepted by almost everyone: Parliament and the nation were deceived; professional advice was ignored; the official opposition failed in its duty to probe, assess and challenge; and the post-invasion strategy was politically and militarily mismanaged.
What good can come from such an inquiry? The war's principal promoter from this country is out of the way; its disastrous after-effects in terms of internal UK security and relations between religions and nations are evident to all; and, since the Government will, as usual, select the person to conduct such an investigation, what value can one place on its findings?
Better far, surely, to attack the problem at its roots, by a radical review of a system of government which can return a party with a majority out of all proportion to its percentage of the popular vote, allowing its leaders to whip its followers into a misconceived course of action rightly opposed by public opinion at the time and since. Our participation in the Iraq war was, quite simply, a failure of democracy at home.
M A Timms
Sir: The most telling lack of remorse for the wanton destruction of Iraq was demonstrated by the British people in May 2005, when they re-elected those responsible. While the people of Iraq continue to suffer, it appears now that it is only economic consumer concerns that are finally putting the great British electorate off New Labour.
Sir: Gordon Brown states: "There is a need to learn all possible lessons from the military action in Iraq."
In 1939 Germany invaded Poland and set in motion a worldwide conflict that ended in defeat by the Allies and the inauguration of an International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.
Robert Jackson, the Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, made it clear that the law applied at Nuremberg did not just apply to the German aggressors, "but it includes, and must do so if it is to be of service, the condemnation of aggression by any other nation, not excepting those who now sit here in judgement."
Perhaps Gordon Brown could explain what lessons will be learnt from our invasion of Iraq that were not made clear at Nuremberg in 1945?
Sir: Commenting on the Iraq war (19 March), Robert Fisk denigrates Tony Blair as being a "small-town lawyer".
As a small-town lawyer myself, I take offence at this facile and gratuitous comment. I have never started a war, just or otherwise. Nor am I aware of any small-town lawyers who have ever done so, with the notable exception of Abraham Lincoln.
When Czechs voted for communism
Sir: Martina Navratilova says, "We [Americans] elected Bush... nobody chose a communist government in Czechoslovakia" (report, 12 March). Unfortunately, she is incorrect in her assertion.
In the parliamentary elections of May 1946, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (Komunistická strana Ceskoslovenska – KSC) and the Communist Party of Slovakia (Komunistická strana Slovenska – KSS) jointly won about 38 per cent of the vote, and gained 114 seats in the 300-seat parliament, by far the largest party in the house and more than twice the seats of their nearest rivals. President Edvard Beneš, himself not a communist, invited the leader of the KSC, Klement Gottwald, to become prime minister, and his new government contained nine communists and 17 non-communists.
While it is true to say that in February 1948 the Communists effectively staged a coup d'etat, and remained in power until the Velvet Revolution of November 1989, it is also true that the KSC were legitimately, albeit briefly, elected to govern Czechoslovakia.
Dr Nader Fekri
University of Bradford
Villages hollowed out by planning laws
Sir: It is true that the character of villages is changing in Cheshire, and doubtless every other leafy, sought-after rural area, but don't lay the blame at the door of footballers and their mansions ("Stop bulldozing our villages", 18 March).
Since the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, it has been taken as read by politicians, local government and popular opinion alike that new development in rural areas is to be opposed as standard. The obvious outcome of this artificial pressure is that limited available property will sell to the highest bidder and that policies designed to protect village communities will have the opposite effect.
If policy won't allow new build, then the next course of action is to replace what already exists; the average size of home thus rises inexorably, leaving several rungs missing at the bottom of the property ladder.
Villages such as Prestbury and Alderley grew in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when there were no planning restrictions. Substantial period houses sprang up in the woods and fields on the edge of the villages, leaving intact the cottages and smaller homes in the high street, and the community in balance.
That no longer happens. The number of houses in these villages no longer increases, so if there is plenty of new money washing around, it will inevitably displace both the people and the houses that were there before. If we want to prevent the hollowing out of our rural communities, it is time to rethink our planning policies to allow more development where people actually want to live.
A cynical decision to publish rubbish
Sir: Damages of £550,000 in the McCann case cannot disguise the fact that the Daily Express and Daily Star have benefited from big circulation gains, plus a publicity hit ("There is no such thing as bad publicity") for an outlay that the company may consider good value. A major advertising campaign might have cost twice as much.
What I suspect we are seeing here, perhaps for the first time, is a section of a free press that has cynically decided to publish what it knows to be lies and rubbish and libels, but has calculated that the balance of potential penalties and potential gains makes the risk worth taking. The answer is to ban out-of-court settlements and to introduce "exemplary" damages into the defamation process. The court should have had the opportunity to give its reasoned judgment on the case and it should have had the power to fine the newspapers something like £10m, to go to public funds, in order to deter repetitions by the same papers or others.
Sir: Will the Daily Express now print a Diana apology and fund half the cost of the inquest?
Petts Wood, Kent
Breeding hares need protection
Sir: Your report of 13 March gave an inaccurate view of the benefits to hares of set-aside.
During the 1990s, the British hare population did not "bounce back" from 800,000 to well over a million but fell to 730,000. This figure was arrived at by a properly structured survey carried out by Bristol University. Data gathered by the Tracking Mammals Partnership indicates a stable hare population since the late 1990s, suggesting that factors other than land use may be limiting hare numbers in Britain.
Between 200,000 and 300,000 hares are shot annually, and since this happens throughout the breeding season at least 37,000 orphaned leverets die of starvation. The brown hare remains the only game species without the basic legal protection provided by a close season.
A close season from February to September is needed on welfare and conservation grounds. But this is resisted by government because in spite of its claim to be "committed to improving the welfare of animals" it openly encourages shooting for sport. Hares offer follow-on sport as pheasant shooting closes on 1 February. This is lucrative business in East Anglia, with wealthy French, Germans and Italians coming here to shoot our hares for fun.
Chairman, Hare Preservation Trust, Crediton, Devon
Futility of war
Sir: Tony Paterson's article on the Red Baron (17 March) states that the film Das Boot (which was indeed excellent) was "all about German U-boat submariners being needlessly terrified and depth-charged". I guess he would describe the earlier part of the film as being all about British seamen being needlessly terrified and torpedoed.
Steep Marsh, Hampshire
Sir: Daniel Needlestone is concerned that the NUT conference might support the use of Palestine Solidarity Campaign education packs in schools (letter, 19 March), thus giving an unbalanced view of history. However, with so many events celebrating 60 years of Israel, perhaps looking at the Palestinian view of 1948, the Nakba, is introducing some balance. It is the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians which underlies the Israeli/Palestinian conflict today.
Sir: In his letter of 18 March, Garry Bushell implies that he belongs to that group of people who value our national independence, rather than to some other group who seek to make England a memory. I have news for you, Garry. England is not an independent nation, nor has it been since 1707. Think about it.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Sir: Have the very last bits of our moral fibre deserted us? Where are the demands to China to stop this open inhumanity in Tibet, a country it has long oppressed in defiance of all international conventions. Where are the sanctions we readily imposed on Iraq and Iran? I urge the Prime Minister to invite Australia to reopen its admirable Olympic facilities so that all nations that respect sound international and humanitarian conduct can withdraw their athletes from Beijing and send them instead to Sydney.
Sir: David Flavell (letter, 18 March) says that secular humanists have never run an education system. Except, of course, for the last 200 years in France. They appear to have been successful.
Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire
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