The US yesterday, Britain today and Germany tomorrow. Overnight in Britain the UK Government announced a second industry-wide bail-out of banks that means the Royal Bank of Scotland is now 70 per cent owned by the taxpayer. Only a desperate desire to avoid the Treasury taking on a £2,400bn balance sheet and the political responsibility for the bank’s lending policy prevented a full scale nationalisation.

“We have a clear view that British banks are best managed and owned commercially and not by the government,” the Chancellor Ian Darling told the House of Commons.

This second UK bank rescue package includes powers for the Bank of England to lend up to £50bn directly to businesses and comes after last Friday Bank of America and Citigroup reported awful results, prompting yet more government intervention in the United States. Soon it will be the turn of Germany.

A survey of 20 major German banks conducted by the German central bank and banking watchdog BaFin revealed that the banks hold so-called “toxic” securities totalling just under €300 billion ($US398 billion), of which only a quarter has been written off.

And why is it so?

“In essence,” explains Tony Jackson writing in the Financial Times, “the banks are staring down the twin barrels of a shotgun. The old problems of rancid assets remain, and the new ones of recession are kicking in.”

The website tells it all. In Our Tips and Rumours section yesterday we had a shocked engineer urging Crikey to find out more about the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering which recently claimed Australia will probably have to go nuclear to tackle climate change. Well I have followed our informant’s example and visited the Academy’s website and recommend it as an excellent how-to-do-it guide to any group interested in increasing its political influence.

The ATSE, you see, is a perfect example of how a grand sounding title can confer gravitas on opinions which would otherwise largely escape public notice. Take the choice of the word Academy. To the unenquiring mind this might suggest a body like one of those Royal Academies of the academically distinguished but this Academy does not embrace the notion of an emphasis being put on publication in the scientific literature when electing its so-called “Fellows”.

This is a body formed by captains of industry like Sir Ian McLennan, who was Chairman and Director of Administration of The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited when he became its President with the enthusiastic help of Sir Maurice Mawbey who was running the then Conzinc Rio Tinto Australia. The post nominals FTSE are bestowed on fellows who have promoted “in Australia the application of scientific and engineering knowledge to practical purposes.”

Give thanks to Paul and Peter. In Australia our banks only have the single barrel of an impending recession to contend with and it is the past Treasurers Paul Keating and Peter Costello that the nation can thank for that. It was back in 1990 that Treasurer Keating wisely determined that financial deregulation should not proceed to the point where mergers of the big four banks — the Commonwealth, NAB, Westpac and the ANZ — were allowed.

These four pillars grumbled a little at what they saw as an unfair impediment to them combining to take on the goliaths of international banking while Labor remained in office and looked forward to the day when a Coalition Government would take the next step. But the Liberal Party Treasurer Peter Costello resisted the entreaties and saved the big four from themselves by continuing to thwart the mergers which would have fed their international ambitions.

And so it is that, as Stephen Mayne reported last Friday the Commonwealth, Westpac, NAB and ANZ now all have a bigger market capitalization than the Citibanks and Morgan Stanleys they once wanted to emulate.

Meet the musical brother.

Another of Barack Obama’s extended family discovered by the China Daily:

Peter Fray

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