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Saturday 25 February 2012
Letters: Economic crisis in Greece
Greece pushed into penury
As someone with six grandchildren in Athens, the oldest about to finish university, I am horrified by the conditions their generation will be facing as they grow up and try to establish themselves.
The imposed austerity measures are having the severest social and political consequences.
Mass unemployment and deepening recession, the humiliation of national pride and the erosion of democracy are producing a darkness and desperation reminiscent of the interwar period in Europe. They are causing enmity and division in Greece and in Europe, and breeding political extremism.
EU national governments are frightened of asking their electorates to invest in a viable future for Greece, especially when Greek governments have apparently for years been bribing their voters with generous early pensions, but they bear much responsibility for the present chaos; the eurozone was enlarged too fast and without sufficient planning, controls or firewalls.
Even by the standard of the coldest self-interest it doesn't make sense to reduce a trading partner to penury and disintegration. The only way to avoid this developing human disaster is to give investment in growth a higher priority than austerity and reform.
Unfortunately European authorities seem more intent on punishing Greece than helping the economy to recover. For two years now they have been pushing the Greek economy into recession, and there appears still no light at the end of the tunnel.
The ostensible purpose of Greece's prolonged recession is to lower labour costs in order to lower the country's real exchange rate and increase Greece's international competitiveness. After four years of recession, with unemployment rising from 6.6 per cent to a record 20 per cent, Greece's real effective exchange rate, according to the IMF, is higher than it was in 2006.
The bottom line is that you cannot shrink your way out of a recession – you have to grow your way out. What they are doing to Greece really makes no economic sense. At this point, it looks like the economy would do better if Greece were to exit from the euro, as opposed to enduring indefinite recession and stagnation, extremely high and persistent unemployment, and increasing poverty. The European authorities are certainly pushing Greece toward the exit and default option.
Hungry children in remote jungle
How commendable to run your lead story on the overlooked and imminently threatening global disaster of malnutrition in children ("The hungry generation", 15 February). I am currently seeing the tragic consequences of hungry children in a largely forgotten part of the world – the Burma border with Thailand, where thousands of children are physically and mentally stunted.
Visiting projects where we provide lunches to just a few of the plethora of boarding houses and migrant schools dotted along the Thai-Burma border, we are seeing the results of children who have just one meal a day comprising rice and fish-paste: nothing more. Without a fuller diet of protein, vegetables, fruit and vitamins they will not grow, their immune systems will be weak and their cognitive skills will be impaired.
Thousands of displaced Burmese migrants work for less than a dollar a day in the sweating heat of the factories or the farms around the Thai border town of Mae Sot. Many are left to forage in the jungle for food.
UNICEF reports that as many as one million Burmese children are malnourished. Developed nations need to take note of the devastating impact that hunger is having on one in four of our young people of tomorrow. We add our voice to the call for world leaders to address this tragedy before it is too late.
Director, Thai Children's Trust
Your report "The hungry generation" is tragic not only for the enormity of human suffering it describes, but also that for the fact that it never once mentions that a large part of this agonising problem is due to over-population.
The aims of Save the Children are noble. It is just that they cannot be realised with a population that is increasing exponentially. The only long-term solution has to be to try to limit population growth through the education of women, the widespread provision of contraception, and a reversal of edicts issued by religious bodies which prohibit it .
I do not make donations to Save the Children, but to Marie Stopes International, because I believe that the provision of contraception to all women who want to limit the size of their families will do a greater good.
Islamic fighters in Syria
As President Obama comes under increasing pressure to arm Syria's rebels, which now include al-Qa'ida fighters from Iraq, it is worth asking how well thought through is Western foreign policy.
For the West the new model for intervening in Syria is Libya's "revolution". Ignored is the fact that the largest rebel organisation, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, is al-Qa'ida and that Libya today is on the verge of civil war with torture and abuse of civilians commonplace.
Is it really wise for the West that has spent trillions of dollars and lost seven and half thousand soldiers fighting al-Qa'ida in Iraq and Afghanistan to arm another bunch of rebels that include al-Qa'ida? And what would neighbouring Israel think if, as al-Qa'ida took over Libya, it also took over Syria? Doesn't sound too smart to me.
When cultures collide
I was saddened by your obituary of the teacher Ray Honeyford (20 February). He was man hounded from the job he loved, by groups of vocal immigrants without any concept of free speech, or understanding of the views that he felt to be in the interests of the children he taught. The primacy of the English language and its literature in our society should not even be the subject of debate.
Many of us wish only to see our minorities integrated into the indefinable thing we call "Britishness". Have Mr Honeyford's fears of permanent ghettoes gone away? Is it still possible to walk round districts of our great cities without hearing English spoken? These are not right-wing views. I am arguing for full and free citizenship, not a self-imposed apartheid.
Your leading article "When will the US learn to take care with the Koran" (22 February) throws up an interesting thought. I am an atheist. If I were to "insult" the Prophet or the Koran in some Muslim counties I could be executed.
While I agree that the US was incendiary towards Islam by improperly disposing of religious materials, here in the West we pride ourselves on tolerance. Muslims may call for the execution of the Pope or burn the Bible but we do not rise up in hatred. Our society rises above such violent behaviour. I know where I would sooner live.
Lansley aims at wrong targets
Reform of the NHS needs to be more clinical. I can understand the Government's reluctance to talk to the BMA, an organisation that cries wolf at every passing mouse. But the Royal Colleges should not let their desire for continuing influence prevent recognition that there is a wolf at the door.
The Health Bill's deficiencies are well known: woolly analysis of needs, imprecise identification of solutions that are no more than mantras, chaotic and un-transparent introduction and a naive faith in market forces.
Meanwhile, we hear little about real problems facing the health service. Issues like the role of generalists in highly specialised diseases, the need for better integration between primary and secondary care, the harms of polypharmacy in the elderly, the related issues (largely caused by market forces) of a decline in diagnostic ability and an over-dependence on (priceable) diagnostic tools.
C J Hawkey
Professor of Gastroenterology
Electric cars with no batteries
Your article on wireless charging technologies mentions the possibility of powering electric vehicles on the road without the need to plug into charging points (23 February). This holds the key to boosting electric car sales in the UK, which have flat-lined despite generous government incentives.
At present, much of the disproportionate cost of electric cars is due to the cost of heavy batteries, along with clumsy plug-in points. Making electric vehicles "wireless" will open up many exciting possibilities for road travel and will eventually blur the distinction between "public" and "private" transport.
Football for gentlemen
Powerful comments from Peter Catlow on the parlous condition of our so-called national sport (letter, 15 February). His analysis of the 2011/12 season is truly shocking.
However, on the bright side, we don't have any of that nonsense in our Blue Square Bet Premier League matches at Forest Green Rovers. Any hostility is good-natured and based on genuinely poor officiating. Referees sometimes miss offsides and rustic challenges. There is no racism and the only swearing is from the away team's management when they don't get their own way.
More power to the non-league non-prima donnas.
Nicholas E Gough
Pigeons in the mirror
Simon Usborne ("All things bright and beautiful", 22 February) overestimates pigeon intelligence. They are smart, but sadly it appears that they cannot recognise themselves in mirrors.
True, in 1981 B F Skinner published an article that appeared to show that pigeons could perform this behaviour, but crucially this occurred only when the pigeons had been trained to carry out certain key movements.
Magpies, on the other hand, do appear to spontaneously recognise themselves in a mirror. What that means is another question.
Professor of Zoology
University of Manchester
Forced out of the cycle lane
Tim's cartoon (Letters, 22 February) rightly places his doomed cyclist on a designated cycle lane. Vehicles parked on such cycleways, forcing riders out into a stream of speeding traffic, are a serious cause of accidents. The practice should be made illegal and offenders severely punished.
Ripponden, West Yorkshire
Exchange of fire
So the Chancellor wants bosses to be able to fire badly performing staff at will. I'd be OK with that provided that staff that perform well have the right to fire the badly performing bosses who have been responsible for our dire financial situation.
Buckland Newton, Dorset
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