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Thursday 6 December 2007
Letters: Gas supply
Are we still happy to depend on gas from Putin's Russia?
Sir: Perhaps we should be grateful and reflect on just what it takes to keep us in the West ticking over as normal. In Russia, millions of voters have just experienced a return to a dictatorship in all but name. Their jobs, bonuses and, in some cases, even their homes were threatened if people did not vote for Putin's party of choice.
And what do we have to do with this? We are told that the Russian gas that keeps our heating and many of our power stations going can only continue to flow long-term if we keep our noses out of Putin's dirty business. We supposedly go to war for democracy in Iraq and yet conveniently cave in as it is eroded elsewhere. Our government should now refuse to do business with Putin until he and his cronies really let go of the reins, regardless of the domestic inconvenience to us.
As there is little chance of us tightening our belts and doing the right thing, I hope we all remember those unsung Russians when we leave our lights and heating on unnecessarily this Christmas. We have become so used to wasting artificially cheap energy that we have lost touch with what it takes to light up a bulb. In the short term, perhaps we can remember to switch off where possible. This will not only help with global warming, but will also lessen our dependency on energy from corrupt states.
Sir: How on earth can the UK government be scathing about the Russian election result when it sees nothing wrong with getting 64 per cent of the seats, and practically unlimited power, with only 40 per cent of the votes cast?
UK citizens trapped by foreign laws
Sir: In his enthusiasm to see the NatWest Three "banged-up", on which I have no views, your otherwise excellent columnist Jeremy Warner (30 November) misses vitally important matters of principle.
The issue is not that "anyone can conduct business in the US honestly and openly", but that US prosecutors have claimed extraterratorial jurisdiction even where parties never intended to do business in the US, justifying their actions on such tenuous grounds as an IT server being based in that country. This extraterratorial reach has never been properly tested in a US court, because faced with terrifying 35 year sentences, victims of such semi-judicial rendition have not surprisingly copped a plea bargain.
Let us assume that Mr Warner one day found that 500 had been erroneously credited to his account with a UK bank, and he decided not to do anything about it. Whilst he would no doubt fully accept his punishment before a UK court if he were found out, he would surely not expect to be deported to a foreign jurisdiction and subject to exemplary penalties in another country, simply because of where his bank's server was based.
This is all the more serious now that New Labour, the worst custodian of our civil liberties in several centuries, has extended to foreign magistrates in the enlarged EU the power to arrest us and remove us from the UK without even recourse to a UK court. Woe betide Mr Warner if he were to slip a foreign coin into a parking meter and find that his local council outsources parking enforcement to a company based in an eastern European country that is trying to stamp out local corruption.
His views on the NatWest Three should not blind Mr Warner to the sloppy state of affairs that our own government has brought about, which is that we could all be deported to another country with which we never intended to have any connection, in relation to a crime that was not even categorised as such in the UK. The fourth estate should be protecting us, rather than helping New Labour focus groups to their conclusion that there are not many votes in it.
David von Simson
The great dodgy donations mystery
Sir: Just what were New Labour's dodgy donations solicited for? If someone is running for deputy leader or, as in Scotland, leader, of a political party in which they already hold or have held a high-visibility position, it shouldn't take umpteen thousands of pounds to announce: "Hi, I'm (fill in name) and I'm hoping to become (fill in position) of the New Labour Party." What were all these dodgy donations spent on?
Sir: Legalistic or populist arguments against state funding of political parties are all very fine (Letters, 3 December) , but those expressing them should clarify whether they propose some other method of reform, or whether they wish politics to become dominated by rich men, on the American model.
Sir: Most people, having less and less faith in our present political system, would not be happy with state funding of political parties. However, we may be prepared to see our money being used to fund political parties provided that in return we, the public, have control over the level of MPs' pay.
Buckland Newton, Dorset
Help for children in Palestine
Sir: On behalf of our board members, staff and project partners, all of us at the Welfare Association would like to thank your readers for the marvellous support we received during your Christmas Appeal last year ("How readers' generosity has made a difference in the past year", 4 December). With the 95,000 we received, Welfare Association is running a schools health programme in Palestine, with 30 primary schools in the West Bank and 10 in Gaza, which will support 25,000 young children.
For children traumatised from the conflict of the occupation, suffering from malnutrition and anaemia due to the collapsing local economy, and parents unable to provide nutritious food, and without government funding to provide children's basic health checks, glasses and hearing aids, this programme will provide urgently needed support in all these areas.
In addition our own Welfare Association Christmas Appeal last year received a tremendous boost, again thanks to the generosity of your readers, with 28,000 raised to provide emergency medical supplies, surgical supplies, oxygen cylinders and fuel for ambulances at Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza. Working with The Independent gave us the opportunity to help these extremely vulnerable communities living under the worsening conditions of occupation. We would like to congratulate you on last year's appeal and wish you every success with your Christmas Appeal for 2007.
Director, Welfare Association, London SW1
Why libraries are cutting books
Sir: The situation Hermione Eyre describes in her piece on public libraries (1 December) is happening all over the country as public library services come under ever more extreme pressure in terms of resources. The role of professional librarians is being downgraded and in some places staff are no longer allowed to have that title, being subsumed instead into generic "managers".
The new libraries are being marketed like bookshops, and that most important role for a public library, of holding a backstock of out-of-print and less popular items to respond to readers' requests, is being sacrificed as space is given over to coffee shop franchises etc. Book funds for new purchases are an easy target when a local authority is looking for savings.
The Museum, Library and Archives Council, the government quango charged with the advocacy of these cultural services, now has a chief executive who has, quite proudly it seems, gone on record as saying that "not one of my top team originally came from museums, libraries or archives". This team apparently has "a radical vision, which is boldly set within the context of future changes in the cultural sector, where there is emphasis on organising to avoid duplication and waste".
The minister with responsibility for libraries, Margaret Hodge, also has forthright views. She has gone on record as saying that the Public Libraries and Museums Act, which imposes a statutory duty on all local authorities to provide a "comprehensive and efficient service", and charges the Secretary of State to ensure this happens, is too loose to offer any realistic chance of formal intervention if a local authority decides to cut the service. She believes that librarians must accept the reality of job losses because her department (Culture, Media and Sport) is losing 20 per cent of staff as part of central government's latest "efficiency" drive.
Against this background public libraries are being exhorted to support the 2008 National Year of Reading, which they most certainly will do, despite the difficulties. Ms Eyre is quite right to make the link between the way the once internationally highly regarded public library service in this country is being diminished and the decline in children's literacy reported last week. Unfortunately no one in these august government departments seems capable of doing the same.
Barnby Dun, South Yorkshire (the writer is a retired professional librarian)
Labour Friends and Israel's obligations
Sir: There are many positive things about Labour Friends of Israel, for which they are to be warmly congratulated. However, as a member of their policy council, please could David Blunkett (letters, 5 December) confirm LFI's position on the following propositions:
i) The acquisition of territory by war is inadmissible, and therefore negotiations with the Palestinians over east Jerusalem should be conducted on the basis that it is not Israeli sovereign territory.
ii) The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 applies in its entirety to all territory occupied in 1967, and therefore Israel is under a duty to evacuate all Israeli civilian settlements.
iii) Israel and Palestine must accept each other's rights and their own obligations under international law if meaningful negotiations for peace are to take place.
Unless he can give an unequivocally affirmative answer to these three propositions, his letter proves Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's point that the debate over political party funding should extend to lobby groups of all persuasions as well as individual donors.
Chair, Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine, London SW15
Sir: The article by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown ("The curious role of Labour Friends of Israel", 3 December), and the letters in response to it, demonstrate that Jews should think long and hard before offering or collecting funds to benefit political parties.
Stepping outside of our own community, to exercise such philanthropic tendencies as we might have, seemingly can only ever lead to accusations of "buying influence", and all that follows. If ever anyone doubted the lessons in The Merchant of Venice, now perhaps is the time to take heed.
Festive tradition under threat
Sir: Once more we approach the annual Festival of Global Warming and across the nation, in town centres, suburban avenues and village streets we witness the ceremonial burning of megawatts of electricity as we bathe the darkest depths of winter in glorious light.
But lo! Can it be that every bulb on every ladder-climbing Santa and every red-nosed reindeer is of the incandescent variety, and due to be banned? Will a tradition that dates back almost to the last century be lost for ever? Must there be a return to the days went all that could be seen above our deep and dreamless streets were silent stars going by?
We can but hope.
All in this together
Sir: Was it really not possible for The Independent to find a single Asian, black or female person with something to say about the coming recession ("Business as usual", 5 December)? It will affect us all.
Sir: Fortunately, Joseph Conrad hasn't been quite as completely ignored as your article (3 December) suggests. The Docklands Museum launched the year of celebrations with a Conrad Study Day on Conrad's 149th birthday; the Maritime Museum hosted part of the annual Joseph Conrad International Conference in July; the British Film Institute had a season of films of Conrad's novels in November; and the Bath Royal Scientific and Literary Institution celebrated the 150th birthday with a Conrad lecture and there are still the events at the National Portrait Gallery.
Professor Robert Hampson
Head of Department of English, Royal Holloway, University of London,
Grave news from Iran
Sir: The report that Iran halted its nuclear weapons programme four years ago is, of course, a crushing disappointment ("Iran still a danger to world peace, says Bush" 5 December). What do these people think they are playing at? We must warn Iran in the strongest terms that, if it refuses to restart its programme forthwith, it will face military action for refusing to read the script.
Long Eaton, Derbyshire
Selling off Scotland
Sir: Congratulations to Terence Blacker ("Local democracy is fine if you do as you're told", 5 December) for drawing attention to the appalling behaviour of the Scottish government and press over the Trump golf course proposal. To this list should be added the BBC who, whenever the matter comes up, include a spokesman for the Trump organisation, but never the genuine objections to the proposal. It appears that the main ambition of national politicians and their acolytes is to sell our country to the highest bidder.
Dr R M Morris
Sir: Recently I received a letter from a government department informing me that I am entitled to a Bevin Boys veteran's badge for my national service in the coal mines during the Second World War. The badge will be issued in March 2008. I was demobbed from the coal mines on 9 July 1946, nearly 62 years ago. Is this a record for the receipt of a badge from a grateful government?
Treharis, Merthyr Tydfil
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