- Neal Ascherson was the only man I know who saw from the very beginning that the Iraq war would be the end of the American empire. I don’t think anyone else completely discounted the possibility that the US might in some sense win it. His lucid and pessimistic reflections, five years on, in the __New Statesman,_ are therefore unusually worth reading, especially the end:
And you happy, angry millions who flooded the streets five years ago – what do you feel now? “Not in My Name”? But a few days later it was done in your name, in spite of your passion. Blair pretended to take no notice; the next election did not throw him out; the killing has not stopped.
Does that mean that it’s time to shrug and move on, that all passion against unjust war is futile? I don’t think so. Demonstrations frighten governments more than they admit. Those who take part in them are changed, remembering a sense of strength that can last a lifetime. Meanwhile, the world has not moved on, but continues to burn; the madmen on all sides do not shrug but are laying new plots. Marchers with a passion for justice will be needed again, perhaps sooner than we think.
- The place to go for bulletins on the credit crunch is the FT. Nowhere else is the prospect of a complete collapse of the whole house of cards taken as seriously and the stuff you find there is sometimes brutally critical of Wall Street mores. Here, for example, is Willem Buiter, a former chief economist of the EBRD, on the Bear Stearns bailout:
The shareholders of Bear Stearns are eating their cake and having it. Shares may have dropped 43 percent in value, but what is left still beats nothing. And nothing seems the only possible fair value for what Bear Stearns would be worth without Fed assistance. Why was Bear Stearns not taken into public ownership, preferably at a zero price?
It’s worth reading the whole lot through.
In related news, it turns out that about 10% of American homeowners have loans taken out on their homes for more than they are worth; that is the state of affairs in February, when most reputable estimates suggest that the housing market has another ten or twenty per cent to fall.
- See also Clive Crook, earlier in the FT:
The US already has what must be the world’s most generous fiscal dispensation for mortgage borrowers — uncapped tax relief for owner-occupiers, plus colossal “government sponsored entities” to guarantee loans, implicitly subsidise mortgage rates and promote securitisation. This fiscal regime created an environment in which you felt a fool unless you borrowed to the hilt — not just to buy your house but to keep your equity in it to a minimum, so as to liberate cash for other purposes. This is the very root of the problem. Yet favoured responses to the subprime crisis on Capitol Hill include extensions of tax relief to poorer households (at present, it goes only to taxpayers who itemise their deductions), further vast expansions of the remit of, and resources potentially available to, the GSEs, and assorted new outright subsidies.
- John Cornwell has a huge article in the Sunday Times magazine today, which contains a story which trips every xenophobic circuit in the modern English psyche: some of the Polish immigrants with whom we are presently overrun are converting to Islam when they get here:
I’m talking with a chief imam in a Midlands city, who wants himself and his mosque to be off the record. He takes me up into an office on the second floor, past a room labelled Fatwahs — which merely means sharia judgments. He talks about Islam being a proselytising religion, unlike Judaism, Hinduism and Sikhism. For this reason, he says, Islam is set to expand rapidly in Britain. Then he drops a bombshell. “In the past two years, 16 Polish women have converted to Islam in my mosque.”
When I ask to meet these women, he says it is impossible. So I take another route. The imams are mostly ruled by the mosque councils which pay their salaries; the real power in the community resides with the local ward councillors, who hold court in the front rooms of their homes. This is how I met a remarkable Muslim woman community worker, who also wished to remain anonymous.
“There are second-generation Muslim men in many communities who have been obliged to marry village women or cousins back home. These men may be prosperous and westernised, and want a different kind of relationship, with a younger woman perhaps. A typical Polish convert might have been a victim of domestic violence with her boyfriend. She might have worked as a cleaner for a Muslim man who finds her attractive and takes her as a mistress or even proposes marriage as a second wife. He then sets her up in a flat and perhaps pays for her to go to college. They begin to find Islam attractive.”
Don’t anyone tell the Catholic Herald.