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Wednesday 2 June 2010
Israel's victims wrong again
The Israeli government's response to the killing of at least nine civilians on board the Gaza aid flotilla has a familiar sound to it.
A group of armed Israeli soldiers boarded a civilian boat in international waters (which is against international law) in the middle of the night, yet it is those on board who tried to repel the attack who are in the wrong.
Similarly, they invaded and occupied Palestinian land, ignored numerous UN resolutions calling for an end to the occupation, transferred numbers of their population to settlements in the occupied land (which is against international law), but it is Israel who is defending itself against Palestinian terrorism.
Few things are more disgusting to watch than a smug Israeli official dismissing the aid ships as an armada of terror. The attempt to drag in Iran, Syria and Hizbollah into the equation makes it all the more obscene.
Armed with nothing more than food, medical supplies and children's toys, this humanitarian mission was meant to highlight Israel's three-year siege of 1.5 million impoverished Palestinians. Despite the worsening conditions, the Israeli army has prevented everything from pencils to pasta from entering the strip, citing "security" concerns.
Now the world's most moral army can add the slaughter of peace activists to its list of accolades.
The Israeli navy boarded five other ships of the flotilla to Gaza. The activists on those ships protested peacefully and nobody was hurt.
Some passengers on the sixth ship, the Marmara, staged a violent resistance using bats, iron bars, knives and slingshots with glass marbles. They assaulted every soldier as he slid down from the helicopter.
Seven of them were wounded. One suffered a serious head injury. Only then did they use their handguns and responde to the violent attack against them.
The unfortunate loss of life was a direct result of the violence used by the extremists on the ship.
Dr Jacob Amir
I cannot imagine The Independent ever asserting that the Conservative and Liberal parties "seized control" of the United Kingdom on 6 May .
Why, then, in your leading article of 1 June, do you use such a pejorative term to describe the fact that Hamas won the fairly conducted elections in Gaza in early 2007? There will be no peace in the Middle East until Britain and the United States (and our media) stop pandering to the racial and political prejudices of Israeli governments.
Upon reading the recent report in The Independent that strawberry jam was banned from import to Gaza I was very afraid. In my kitchen I have a store of (admittedly home-made) strawberry jam along with other homemade preserves. Clearly, possession of this dangerous weapon means that I can, at any moment, expect a raid on my kitchen by Israeli commandos defending Israel from the threat to the very existence of Israel posed by jam. Can I defend my kitchen or will Bibi describe my jam-making actions as a provocation?
Don't lecture David Laws
I find it deeply depressing that Philip Hensher seems unable to understand why David Laws might have acted as he did (31 May). It looks as if either Laws or his partner disliked or dreaded the implications of "coming out" or was not ready to do so. That's what he said when he resigned.
Many people have jobs in which they are entitled to claim expenses. MPs were entitled to claim the costs of maintaining accommodation in London, including the full costs of a mortgage and utility bills on a good-sized house. Most perfectly legitimately did. Mr Laws chose only to rent a room, at perhaps a quarter of the cost. In 2006 the rules changed so that MPs were not supposed to pay rent to a partner.
So what would you do? He wanted to keep his relationships private. Many people do. Mr Hensher has no right to indulge in insulting speculation about what they said to their families and whether they used the same taxis, or to lecture them about the inconvenience of secrecy.
I was not a great supporter of David Laws before all this, not knowing much about him but having heard he was a bit right-wing. Now I am earnestly hoping that he returns to the Government to help clear up the dismal financial mess that Labour has left us with. And I hope that more gay men will have a bit of fellow feeling with each other when one of them gets on the wrong side of the bullies of this world.
It was sadly inevitable that David Laws would have to resign, but I am not alone in finding The Daily Telegraph's activities hard to stomach.
Given that David Laws and his partner had been together since 2001, long before the rule banning paying partners for rent changed in 2006, he was faced with either stopping claiming rent, effectively outing himself, or continuing to claim as he had before the rules changed.
I find it suspicious that, when the Telegraph was busy milking the expenses story, they didn't mention David Laws's living arrangements at all. How many more grenades are they storing to lob into our midst?
The coalition government needs to realign its priorities, or face accusations of moral bankruptcy.
Before the revelations, David Laws maintained that he was single and did not make it known that his landlord was also his long-standing lover. David Laws has clearly not told the full truth to the people dealing with expenses in the House of Commons. His defence is weak, and apologising and paying back the stolen money is not good enough.
Mr Laws exceeded his judgement ethically and politically. It is embarrassing to hear David Cameron trying to defend the indefensible, at a time when he is speaking about "rebuilding trust".
Dr Kailash Chand
So David Cameron hopes that David Laws will be able to return to the Cabinet. Plus ça change. Laws is clearly another Mandelson/Blunkett, and Cameron another Blair. And we have Clegg spouting Brownisms about the record of "public service" from Mr Laws.
The only service here is the public's funding of his £40,000 nice little earner. I am proud to have a car bumper sticker that reads "Don't blame me: I wasn't a lemming who voted in 2010."
Your leading article (31 May) supposes that David Laws had to choose only "between making public his sexuality ... and breaking the letter [sic] of the law". He had others, including retiring from public life. The choice he made was to submit a false declaration so he could receive reimbursement from the taxpayer. The worry is that Cameron and Clegg took so long to realise that he had to go.
A millionaire politician claims £40,000 just to keep his sexuality secret? Can the rest of us join the scheme? I've got a nice closet I can disappear into at the drop of a hat if there's a big bag of cash in there.
The Rev Richard Haggis
Labour in search of its principles
John Rentoul writes (27 May) that if Labour is "left of centre (itself questionable in the New Labour format), lurching to the right might be a sensible response to defeat": or, as Groucho Marx put it, "These are my principles, and if you don't agree with them, well, I have others."
Rentoul thinks it is OK to blame immigration for Labour's defeat. Why then does he not just join the BNP and have done with it? Perhaps he thinks that they might be a bit soft on the illegal wars that his beloved Mr Blair is so fond of.
There is a story of Audrey Wise (or possibly Jo Richardson, or Joan Maynard) who, when canvassing, was told "You'll get my vote if you get the Blacks out." The reply was direct: "You can stick your f***ing vote up your f***ing a**e." The Labour Party needs more candidates who stick by their principles and fewer of whom Rentoul would approve.
It is foolish for John Rentoul, on the 70th anniversary of Dunkirk, to dismiss the invasion of Iraq as "a war fought seven years ago". His contention also flies in the face of the experience of activists who cite it as the principal reason for lifelong Labour supporters rejecting the party in the recent general election. They (and myself, as an ex-member of the Labour Party) can no longer be dismissed as "urban intellectuals", as Tony Blair once did.
To balance the loss of support among core voters, New Labour then enjoyed the support of many Sun and Daily Mail readers; but its fair-weather friends have since run for shelter beneath the umbrellas of the Conservative Party and Ukip.
Dr Yen-Chung Chong
Bible defends people in peril
I take issue with John Walsh's scattergun approach to bible translations and ethnic groups abroad (26 May), having been present when a translation was handed over to the native people of northern Argentina.
This was received by the indigenous church with great enthusiasm. The possession of a bible in their own language gives credibility and identity to a native people under threat from the destruction of their environment in the name of progress. Also, it is the church that supports them in the issues of land ownership, water rights, education, health and economic matters.
I have seen this on several visits (and not in connection with the Bible Society.)
Useless jailing of children
Courts are definitely not "fit for purpose when dealing with children" (Paul Vallely, 25 May). The boys aged 10 and 11 convicted of attempted rape were tried in the Old Bailey under a criminal process which is almost the same for adults. In most other European countries the boys could not be convicted of a crime because they would be below the age of criminal responsibility.
Europeans are shocked to learn that we imprison children as young as 10. In April, there were 26 children below the age of 14 imprisoned in England and Wales. We allow children that age to be imprisoned for non-violent crimes including breach – not turning up for appointments which are part of a sentence – and criminal damage.
Nearly two-thirds of those under 18 sentenced to imprisonment are locked up for non-violent offences. Though only 6 per cent of convicted young offenders get a sentence of imprisonment, we imprison a greater proportion of our children than any other country in western Europe.
Children who do wrong need to understand the harm they have caused, and they need to make amends. And they also frequently need the help of parents, teachers and social workers to address why they are getting into trouble. But by prosecuting and imprisoning children, we only perpetuate the cycle of crime.
Prison Reform Trust, London EC1
Wildlife plan falls behind
I was shocked to read about our wildlife ("Report on failure to halt wildlife decline is buried", 22 May). But not surprised. The UK Government had committed to both stop and turn about the decline by 2010, and we're well short of that. In fact, the report – "The UK Biodiversity Action Plan: highlights from the 2008 reporting round" – is the latest in a three-yearly series which had never shown us on course to achieve the target.
I was one of many local authority leads who took part in these reporting rounds, feeding in data on our local biodiversity action plans (LBAPs). Concerned at what seemed like a general lack of progress, I also researched LBAP experience across England and Wales in more detail (MPhil, Bangor University, 2008), finding that local wildlife action was seriously under-resourced.
When will governments learn that looking after the natural world brings manifold health, social, and other benefits, not least in climate change mitigation and adaptation?
Under the headline "The impoverished professionals: New victims of the crunch" (26 May), you list such "professionals" as a duchess, a singer/celebrity, a broadcaster/ celebrity, a columnist, a former footballer, a party organiser, a journalist and a Radio DJ. Now I'm not one to be pedantic (if I were to be, would that make me a professional?), but which professions are these? Or is "professional" now a euphemism for "earns money for doing not a lot"?
In Errors and Omissions (29 may) , Guy Keleny writes: "I would single out two reasons." I hope he'll forgive me if I say "two reasons" doesn't look very singular to me.
Perspectives on road dangers
Why we need lower speed limits
Dr Nick Foreman's article "The day I hit a child at 20mph . . ." made chilling reading (28 May). I live in a small village in Wales where, in common with many such rural neighbourhoods, the narrow streets have no pavements. People and cars share the same small strip of tarmac. With traffic regularly passing through at crazy speeds, just walking to your house or getting the kids to school can be frightening.
Our driving culture kills communities. Most of us drive even the shortest of journeys, isolated from neighbourly contact, and fear of traffic keeps our kids cooped up at home rather than roaming the streets where they belong.
Cars are more or less essential in our rural area, where public transport is poor. But I'd happily advocate a speed-limit of less than 15 mph in residential areas without pavements. I'd also call for automatic pedestrian right of way on any space shared by people and cars. In my village, that protection would add barely a minute to through-traffic journey time.
I read the moving article by Dr Nick Foreman and I hope a copy of it is very quickly presented to the new Transport Secretary.
The move towards blanket 20mph limits on residential roads is gathering pace, but many councils still resist, on the grounds of cost and the fact that the motoring lobby (assumed to be every driver) protests loudly at every threat to their freedom to decide for themselves how fast to drive on any given road at any given time.
Clear directions from the top are essential. I hope every driver reads Dr Foreman's story. Roads are for people, not just the man behind the wheel.
Go on, do persecute the motorist
Oh dear! Our new transport minister wants to stop persecuting the motorist. I only hope his officials quickly disabuse him of the idea that motorists are badly treated.
The marginal cost of private motoring has been falling in real terms. Efficiency and more robust cars have counteracted increased running costs. So choices based on such costs encourage car use.
But the average cost of private motoring has actually been rising. If we add the user charges to the motorist – interest, maintenance. expendables, parking, road charges – to the public costs – the road system itself including capital, maintenance, and land (charges that all other economic activity must bear) and the costs of policing, regulation, NHS accident recovery, speed humps and so on – the cost rises towards £2 per mile. And if we then add the huge social and environmental costs we move towards £3.
All the taxes and charges collected from motorists and commercial users cover only a fraction of these public costs. The rest is paid through general taxation or simply redistributed through society. Private motoring is the most heavily subsidised activity in the economy.
Mr Hammond's predecessor, Andrew Adonis, seems to have understood this and there were clear moves towards road pricing. Every advanced country now charges road tolls but they are inefficient and expensive to collect. The technology exists to charge every user for every mile and to vary such charges by geography and time of day from zero in the countryside at night to many pounds for a city rush-hour mile.
The money raised should be invested in public transport, particularly high-speed rail and efficient freight rail and water.
We have to stop our thorough national addiction to private motoring and reduce it to reasonable levels based on the true cost.
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