Sir: A large majority of ethnic Chinese in countries such as the US, UK, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan, having had the privilege of living in democracies, free of blind unquestioning pro-China nationalistic propaganda, would love to see the downfall of the Chinese Communist Party. Indeed, Tiananmen has shown us that many within China have the same aspirations.
However, for a large majority of Chinese nationals, memories of the dire poverty and near starvation (which, rightly or wrongly, has directly resulted in the Chinese diet including everything from pig intestines to dogs) following the Cultural Revolution are still fresh in the mind. This, combined with biased Chinese reporting of the catastrophe of regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan, has resulted in a morbid fear of the social upheaval that would follow a sudden removal of the present government.
Clare Cheney (Letters, 18 March) argues that our purchase of Chinese exports indirectly subsidises Chinese atrocities worldwide. Unfortunately, a worldwide boycott of Chinese exports would not cause the withdrawal of Chinese troops from Tibet, as they were evidently capable of military aggression in 1950, well before the opening up of China's economy.
In addition, it would also result in either of two possibilities. First, it could result in China emulating North Korea, where the populace is plunged into poverty, starvation and desperation, while their "leaders" continue to live in opulence. Second, it could result in the sudden regime change many call for; but with Tiananmen as an example, the deaths accompanying any such turmoil could well match the tens of millions killed in the Cultural Revolution.
By all means, boycott the Olympics or expel China from the UN Security Council. But a boycott of Chinese exports would only affect those who have no control over what their rogue government does.
Victims of the credit crunch
Sir: I totally agree with the sentiments expressed by Mary Dejevsky (Opinion, 18 March): those who work hard and play by the rules could end by picking up the tab for those who don't.
It gives me little satisfaction to say that my own gloomy predictions made nearly two years ago are coming to fruition. The housing bubble is about to burst; the endless provision of credit is leading to a banking crisis; the prudent saver could lose everything as banks teeter and even fail. With all our own accounts lodged beneath one potentially leaky umbrella, I'm getting nervous.
What to do? Do we lose even more interest by parcelling up our deposit account into amounts of £35,000 and dividing it between several banking establishments? Bigger interest rates on a larger deposit account versus lower interest rates on smaller deposits, plus government protection.
It's a dilemma that others – struggling to meet payments for a mortgage they couldn't really afford in the first place – may envy. But we are in this position due to our both working hard for the last 35 years or so, living in the same modest home for 32 years and not living beyond our means and our ability to pay off a credit card fully each month.
Our one indulgence has been to build up savings for a comfortable old age. Now even that one indulgence may be taken away from us. Aux armes, citoyens!
Monique M Sanders
Sir: Mary Dejevsky is right to berate our apathy, and I would join her on the barricades if I had some idea of what the revolution is about and what its outcome is likely to be.
What is the point of political protest? At least a million people were on the streets protesting against an illegal war and still it went ahead. You cannot demonstrate outside Parliament without being branded a terrorist. Our members of Parliament either cannot or will not hold their parties and governments to account. One cannot get into a party conference without being a fully paid-up member of the faith and one is swiftly ejected at the first sign of dissent. Civil rights are constantly under attack in the name of fighting terrorism.
So we sit comfortably in our stalls tranquilised by television, cheap booze in the mini-bar and unlimited credit in the cash machine, blissfully unconcerned that a new breed of pig has taken over the farm house.
Sir: James Daley offered his "Tips to help you survive with your finances intact " (18 March) to men, "if you've got a wife and children who depend on your income". I'm fed up with the outdated assumption that men are the breadwinners. What financial advice does Mr Daley have for women in these troubled times – marry a millionaire and then divorce him?
An alternative to prison that works
Sir: Welcome though it was, there was something deeply ironic about Jack Straw's recent call for alternatives to custody to reduce the prison population (23 February).
In the early 1970s the Conservative government established the Day Training Centre experiment. The centres, which were in Liverpool, London, Sheffield and Pontypridd, provided rehabilitative programmes aimed at teaching people who offended persistently pro-social ways of solving problems. Despite evidence of their potential for providing an effective alternative to the revolving door of prison, the centres were phased out during the 1990s as UK governments embraced punitive models of criminal justice from America.
The irony lies in the fact that the Day Training model influenced the US, where more than 40 states have now set up Day Reporting Centres (DRCs) – for adults and juveniles; specifically as alternatives to prison and custodial remands; as part of parole/re-entry procedures; and as adjuncts to community justice/problem-solving courts such as drug courts.
There are currently more than 10,000 places in DRCs. They have kept thousands of young men out of prison in Cook County, Illinois – without harm to the community. They invest in the education and restoration of contributing citizens rather than in creating anti-social convicts and ex-prisoners.
The Day Reporting model is infinitely flexible and adaptable and could be re-imported to this country without enormous capital expenditure, and with running costs far below those of prison.
Campaign for Community Justice, Cardiff
C-charge and the climate threat
Sir: Stephen King (Business, 10 March) fails to understand the fundamental nature of our revision of the Congestion Charge. Its aim is to prompt those who have chosen to drive cars that have the biggest effect on global warming to change their behaviour and start adopting greener modes of travel.
The central aim of the charge has always been to reduce congestion in central London; 70,000 fewer cars now enter the zone each day than did before. The changes to the scheme, which will mean the highest CO2-emitting cars are charged £25 to drive in the zone, and the lowest CO2-emitting vehicles receive a 100 per cent discount, aim to encourage people to think further about the impact of their choice of transport on global warming.
Climate change is the single biggest threat facing the world today, and Londoners are becoming increasingly switched on to it – 61 per cent supported the idea of higher charges for the highest CO2-emitting cars in a recent Mori survey. The revenue raised will be used to improve transport across London.
The suggestion that this is a "tax on families" is wrong. A tax is something that people are obliged to pay, whereas everyone has a choice about whether to drive their car through the congestion zone during the affected times. There are a wealth of public-transport options now available, such as the 24-hour bus network. Even if a family feels it is necessary to drive through the central zone in a large vehicle during peak hours, there are plenty of large vehicles that emit less than 226g of CO2 per kilometre, and hence will not pay the £25 charge. Indeed the examples used by King – the Vauxhall Zafira and the Renault Espace – have many models in lower VED bands that will not be affected by the higher charge.
There are always going to be borderline cases, but the fact is that a line must be drawn somewhere, or we will simply continue down the road of super-powered vehicles pumping out CO2, that will only lead us one way – towards environmental disaster.
Mayor of London London SE1
Balanced views of history in schools
Sir: Although Steve Sinnott and the NUT are correct to question the balance of educational materials provided by the MoD ("Iraq: teachers told to rewrite history", 14 March), they are in no position to criticise. At their conference, a motion is to be debated which instructs the NUT to purchase and distribute to schools education packs from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Given the NUT's track record on the Middle East conflict, this resolution will no doubt be passed and our schools will be bombarded with more one-sided material.
They say that history is written by the victors; apparently in future it's to be written by the NUT.
Chair, Jewish Teachers' Association, Elstree, Hertfordshire
Every move tracked by CCTV cameras
Sir: Johann Hari equates being captured on CCTV in a public place with being seen by a stranger in that place ("This strange backlash against CCTV", 17 March).
He might have a valid point with reference to a single camera (and if those strangers into whose range of vision you enter are equipped with total recall, and can be instantly accessed by authorities to play back the experience at will). However, being picked up by a system of a thousand cameras in central London is far more analogous to being followed – dogged throughout the day, every move tracked, catalogued, and filed away, "just in case".
This is, indeed, a grave threat to liberty by the state, and should be seen as such.
Sir: I urge Johann Hari to think more carefully about the implications of almost universal public and private surveillance.
The case against surveillance is that, increasingly, the purposes for which each system was set up are feeding a state which wants to survey all its citizens, for currently the best of reasons, and links databases into a potential total intelligence awareness system. Each system is benign in itself, but when linked together, these databases become a source of serious worry for citizens.
We are seeing the birth of a (currently) benign surveillance state.
Sir: Johann Hari seems to think that privacy ends at the door of one's home. How does he come to that view ? Surely privacy (outside suspicion of committing a crime) is a right, not a location.
If he is comfortable with being monitored by CCTV anywhere outside his home, would he also be comfortable when the CCTV cameras are fitted with microphones capable of listening to conversations ?
Sir: Johann Hari's opening paragraphs on the homeless man highlighted a not uncommon problem. Many of our homeless readers suffer abuse, as often as not, in some areas, from workers in large City firms.
Unfortunately, the Government and local authorities usually target the homeless when it comes to taking action against drinking and anti-social behaviour, little thinking that they are as likely to be the victims of it. Moves are frequently made to "address street drinking", whereas the greatest problem with alcohol lies in the violence coming out of bars and clubs; violence sometimes directed at those at hand, the homeless.
Editor, The Pavement, London SE22
Flying without guilt
Sir: Many of my acquaintances justify the emissions of the flights they take on the grounds that "the plane would be going anyway". I am delighted that we can now apply the same argument to food miles, and look forward to eating mange tout again. Also, could the Watercress Alliance (letter, 17 March) tell me which flights are scheduled to carry that crop, so I can come along for the ride guilt-free?
Newcastle upon Tyne
Sir: I have learned to look very carefully at the words used by this government. You quote the Prime Minister (17 March) as saying: "There is a need to learn all possible lessons from the military action in Iraq and its aftermath." No mention of political or intelligence decisions made in the UK or the US. I am not holding my breath, as it looks as though any inquiry could well be another fudge.
Bans on books
Sir: A member of the British Humanist Association deplores a bishop's demand that books critical of Catholicism be banned from school libraries: David Flavell (letter, 18 March) asks whether he can infer from this that humanists would ban no book from school libraries? The answer is no; but he's welcome to infer that secular humanists would ban no book on the grounds that it's critical of secular humanism.
Worthing, West Sussex
Sir: "Her Majesty does not want to look at two reflections of her grumpy face," writes John Walsh ( 18 March). There are countless photographs of the Queen with a warm smile or beautiful laughter. If you or I were photographed as often as her, some shots would catch one off guard momentarily showing discomfort. It can be journalistic laziness to describe the Queen as grumpy; she is not.
Skelmanthorpe, West Yorkshire
Sir: I felt so sad on reading that Heather Mills's daughter will only receive £35,000 a year to manage on that it behoves me to offer a few bob if it would help her out at all. Please ask Heather to get in touch.
Bovey Tracey, Devon