Wall Street:

Belinda Meares writes: Re. “The credit crisis now has its tentacles firmly around Europe” (yesterday, item 1). Did you know that Wall Street virtually ground to a halt nearly 30 years ago? I was there, and here’s the story. Back 1979, I was with a bunch of radical activists (in those heydays of peace and anti-nuclear rallies), who had organised a massive demonstration in New York, from all over the country. The goal was to literally shut down Wall Street as it was perceived as the hub of finance stoking the defence and nuclear industries. We converged from all directions on the Street in the very early morning and linked hands forming a human chain to block entrances so that the brokers and workers couldn’t get into their buildings — there to wheel and deal with “blood money”.

There was of course big police presence, though nothing like what there would have been today. Some were even on horseback — it was surreal seeing mounted police in the middle of Manhattan, and intimidating. (I vividly remember the noisy clatter of hooves on the paving, and we feared getting squashed against the buildings). Some Wall Streeters camped overnight in their offices so that business could carry on as usual, but the demonstration did cause a disruption of several hours to financial operations, and so it was deemed a success. Lots of people were arrested — another mark of success. It was an extraordinarily bold and imaginative direct-action when you think about it — those were the days when we believed we could change the world. Now of course the irony is that Wall Street has virtually shut itself down, due to the rot from within!

As inevitable as the present financial mayhem is, how extreme and swift the unravelling once it got started! Greed and fear are what drives our “market-led” economy. There is nothing rational about it, and if we are to continue living in a capitalist system, it must be much more transparently and rigorously regulated. Thanks for your efforts to inform and enlighten, and even to entertain in these very unfunny times!

Les Heimann writes: What makes the world go round? For want of a better expression “activity”. The human species is acquisitive, inquisitive, innovative and competitive. We still hunt and gather — that’s why we are active. However, our developed eco/societal model is dependent on our designed activity that we loosely refer to as “jobs” in return for “money” — what we hunt and gather. So all the other paraphernalia is really mostly unnecessary activity. Don’t rescue the model — rescue the people impacted by the model — and allow a more sensible arrangement to arise. Protect the true hunters and gatherers — those who add value for themselves and others — tank the rest. A new economic “ism” is now needed. Is it “socialism”?

Gabriel McGrath writes: Re. “There is no evidence of human-induced financial crisis” (yesterday, item 4). Great stuff Crikey. I can’t wait to read your feedback section with people arguing “Oh you’re just being juvenile! Making sure that big businesses keep getting richer is important. Not like this whole no-more-Aussie-ski seasons or Barrier Reef stuff!” And, for a last word on the climate change issue. If Australia won’t do too much about climate change until “everyone else does”… And everyone else does the same… …doesn’t it end up like two teenage lovers deciding who should hang up their phone first? “You reduce carbon!”, “No, you do it”, “No — you first”, “I’ll reduce carbon straight away after you do”… etc.

Chris Hunter writes: Re. “Briefly Business: The Economist, Lehman, T.S. Eliot” (yesterday, item 27). In light of what is happening in Wall Street perhaps something more succinct from T.S Eliot was required — moving on from his opaque despair of 1925 to the perse semi-despair of 1949 — from The Hollow Men to The Cocktail Party:

Half of the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important.
They don’t mean to do harm — but the harm does not interest them.
Or they do not see it, or they justify it, because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.

Ah well, it’s been a hell of party, drinks all round. Taxpayers shout did you say?

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Rundle08: Heads they win, tails they’re Republicans” (yesterday, item 2). Guy Rundle is spot on with his game theory analysis of the bailout vote. But there’s more. If the bailout goes through, the economy, by general consensus, will go into recession anyway and the naysayers will claim vindication. If the bailout never makes it, no one can prove it would have worked. I think the nays have it…

Bruce Graham writes: Philip Carman (yesterday, comments) has “been advising” (his clients) to hold 70% cash for four to five years. This proves nothing if not that he was wrong for very many years before finally becoming correct. So Fred Schwed wrote in 1940 in “Where are all the customers’ yachts?”

Faris and capitalism:

Drew Turney writes: Re. “Faris: Capitalism cannot be beaten” (yesterday, item 16). Peter Faris is absolutely right — capitalism will survive, and it should. What shouldn’t survive is the wrong kind of capitalism — one that stopped being built on fair trade between competitors (rather than the sort of artificial bubble financiers that run it now) almost as soon as it was ushered onto the stage of human history.

Marilyn Shepherd writes: Why does Faris call Barack Obama simply Hussein? Is it his own vile attempt to pretend that there is something “Muslimish” about Obama that cannot be trusted? Anyone would think that Obama managed to name himself at birth, choose his own parents and ask to be abandoned by his father when he was two years old and then demand that he only see him once before the man died.

Rob O’Neill writes: While I rarely agree with his nonsense, I’m not opposed to your publishing Peter Faris’s contributions. But please, limit them to topics he knows something about.

The Liberal National Party:

Ian Macdonald, Liberal party Senator for Queensland, writes: Re. “Merger what merger? The LNP vanishes online” (Tuesday, item 10). Thank you for allowing me to shine for a moment, although I would have much preferred to “shine” for all of the good works that I do for Northern Australia and have been doing for many years-most of which regrettably passes beyond the radar of good scribes such as yours — and I might add, every other journalist in Australia! You might see from my website that I do have the Liberal logo first, followed by the LNP logo, which according to the constitution of the Liberal National Party of Queensland is a division of the Liberal Party of Australia.

Now you may be correct that this has not yet been ratified by the Federal Council of the Liberal Party of Australia, although opinions seem to differ whether it has or it hasn’t been ratified. If it hasn’t been I am told that it will be. However, my embracing of the LNP is on the basis that it is the Liberal Party’s Queensland Division. But thanks for having a look at my website anyhow. I note your suggestions for a good website. I hope I have scored on at least some of your suggestions — and I certainly did pay money to get a good designer — flashiness is not my style as you have probably noticed.

The great hybrid swindle:

Mitchell Holmes writes: Re. “Essay: The great hybrid swindle” (yesterday, item 18). Peter Vogel seems to be just one of several critics of hybrid cars that I have read in recent months. However, the criticisms are essentially the same:

  1. Fuel savings are not that great
  2. Cars such as the Prius have complicated parts that are expensive to repair or replace.
  3. Other critics add such cars are not economical at all since they are new cars and thus use scarce resources and
  4. Cars such as the Prius are far more expensive to purchase than a comparative non-hybrid car.

Well, I am no car reviewer but I am a very satisfied owner of a three year old Toyota Prius. My experience tells me that in town/city driving, the Prius consumes about 40% of the amount of fuel that my previous Camry did (as opposed to Vogel, I call that dramatically better!). Sure, the Prius has an extra battery that is expensive to replace — in addition to the regular three year vehicle warranty, the battery itself carries a ten year warranty — ample to ease my concerns. And sure, the Prius has other expensive systems — but then so does every other late model car.

As for the cost of a Prius at around $40K, it is more expensive than say a new Camry. However it is quite a deal cheaper than many comparative 4WDs that people only use as town cars. In addition, the Prius has good passenger space, comparable to a larger car but is smaller in overall dimensions so is easier to park. Above all, in my opinion, the Prius looks great, is a nice car to drive and the fuel savings are a bonus. I sometimes think that the critics have never taken time to actually drive one.

The traffic light scheme:

Dr Rosemary Stanton, nutritionist, writes: Re. “Daily Intake Guides should get the green light for food labelling” (yesterday, item 13). A collaboration of highly qualified public health and consumer research groups conducted a scientifically-sound study on food labelling. The results from almost 800 participants showed that consumers found traffic light labelling easy to understand and helpful in making healthy food choices. Bridget Kelly from the NSW Cancer Council discussed the findings in Croakey on September 30.

Similar findings have been reported in the UK. Kate Carnell, speaking from her position representing the big end of the packaged food industry labelled the researchers as “activists” and then rubbished their research results. She then offers vague results from a couple of carefully crafted Newspoll questions as proof that the food industry’s preferred Daily Intake Guide is a preferable labelling scheme. It’s preferable to the food industry because it is designed not to turn anyone off the product.

With two thirds of men, half of all women and a quarter of our children carrying too much body fat, we need an easy way to warn people of products high in kilojoules, saturated fat and added sugar or salt. Red lights help shoppers detect such products at a glance. UK experience shows that sales of such foods fall — which is why Ms Carnell and the food industry she represents rail against the traffic light scheme.

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to [email protected] Preference will be given to comments that are short and succinct: maximum length is 200 words (we reserve the right to edit comments for length). Please include your full name — we won’t publish comments anonymously unless there is a very good reason.

Peter Fray

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