I love the United States - though I have a special affection for the beautiful and historic states that formed the old and long-dead Confederacy - and Sue and I have had some of the happiest times of our lives whilst on vacation in the U.S. We have fine friends in both South and North and our son is now an American citizen and living and working near Seattle.
However, the last time that I was over there, I was struck yet again by how polarised American politics have become in recent years. It seems now to be factual that there is sheer hatred for President Obama from the likes of Sarah Palin, still a highly regarded Republican prospect for 2012 despite her apparent ignorance of much beyond Alaska, and Rush Limbaugh, the radio commentator who broadcasts his own special brand of bile and hypocrisy. It all worries me greatly and I still recall with fondness the eight encouraging and up-beat years of Bill Clinton's presidency. Maybe we were then living in a fool's paradise or cloud-cuckoo land but it didn't feel like it at the time.
Following the dramatic loss to the Republicans of the Senate seat in Massachusetts formerly held by the late Senator Edward Kennedy who, for all his faults, was a grand speaker and a powerful voice for his State in Washington, it seems now to have become incumbent upon Obama to try to make up lost ground by advocating punitive new measures against the larger American banks. I think that we should remember that the U.S. banking system is very different from ours with a multitude of small 'regional' banks often based in one city in an individual State and with just a handful of branches. These smaller banks are still going belly-up due in part to poor management and in part to inadequate capitalisation and too generous lending to the NINJA (No Income; No Jobs; No Assets) customers who, in this country, would be given short shrift by most of the best-known High Street banks. It is a mistake - both financially and morally - to encourage people to take out loans and mortgages based purely on the supposition that property prices can only increase. The prime British casualty in this was Northern Rock, but no depositors lost a penny due to prompt action by the authorities. We must give credit where credit is due and Labour deserves the credit.
In America, the likes of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac went way too close to the wall, whilst the crash of Lehman Brothers precipitated a world-wide crisis of enormous and almost unprecedented proportions. We must not forget that the crisis started in America and spread throughout the world and Gordon Brown's government should not be held to blame. Indeed, some of the better ideas for dealing with the crisis have emerged from our side of 'the pond.'