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Saturday 3 March 2012
Letters: Ironies of Israel's new submarine
Your report concerning the possible strike on Iran's nuclear facilities by Israel (29 February) might have alluded also to Israel's apparent attempt to obtain "second strike" facility.
Currently undergoing sea trials is a new Dolphin class submarine built for Israel by a subsidiary company of ThyssenKrupp in Kiel – one of three to be delivered. This submarine, 68 metres in length and understood to be capable of carrying nuclear weapons, is the largest submarine built in Germany since the Second World War. It is claimed in the German press that these new submarines have the advantage both of being more difficult to detect, and to have less need to break surface, as they run on fuel cells. The apparent intention is to mount a permanent patrol off the coast of Iran.
Perhaps of equal interest is that one third of the purchase price of a third submarine to be built will be paid for by Germany, up to a maximum of €135m as part-reparation – this was revealed in a Wikileaks report from the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. The reparation element seems to relate to Israeli claims against the GDR before reunification.
The disparity between reporting of Iran's nuclear policy and the almost total silence concerning Israel's nuclear weapons and its refusal to either join the Non-Proliferation Treaty or even to allow international inspection must be a matter of incredulity in Middle Eastern states, if not in Europe.
And just to heap irony upon irony, according to the Jerusalem Post in 2010, the Iranian state holds a 4.5 per cent stake in ThyssenKrupp.
Professor of International Law
University of Kent Canterbury
So Israel may be planning to launch an unprovoked attack on suspected nuclear weapon-making facilities in Iran, and won't even forewarn their biggest sponsor and ally, the US, before it does so ("We won't give US advance warning of Iran strike, says Israel", 29 February).
If Israel does go ahead and attack these suspected targets in Iran, does this mean that Iran is then allowed to attack the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons facilities Israel has at sites like Dimona? Which – unlike the suspected sites in Iran – have been built in total secrecy and are subject to no inspections whatsoever by any international agencies?
The hypocrisy of the West regarding Israel beggars belief. This is a country which has been allowed to accumulate a vast and reportedly unsafe nuclear, chemical and biological arsenal in secret, and continually defies countless UN resolutions.
Yet not once has Israel been threatened with international sanctions, and it continues to behave with impunity.
Michael W Cook
Don't blame fuel prices on 'Big Six'
You have proposed a windfall tax on the profits of the "Big Six" energy firms, based on the rise in domestic-energy bills over the past six years and levels of executive remuneration as evidence of excess profits.
This rise in bills can be explained by a near-doubling of energy prices over the period; Brent oil was around $60 per barrel in 2006 and was trading at nearly $120 per barrel at the end of last week. Further, Government policy contributes around 7 per cent to a typical bill.
The largest of the UK-quoted Big Six companies had an annual turnover of between £15bn and £22bn from 2006 to 2010, and annual profits of £1.4-£2.4bn. This represents average earnings per share of around 8 per cent and a dividend of around 4.2 per cent per share, the difference being reinvested in the future of the business.
A windfall tax on the Big Six energy firms may be populist journalism, but it will erode investor confidence and reduce reinvestment in the UK energy industry and negatively impact on our competitiveness in emerging renewable-energy technologies.
Last November my energy supplier sent an estimated bill for £179 and reduced my monthly direct debit from £100 to £89. This is notwithstanding that they can email me for readings at any time.
Yesterday, three months on, I sent in meter readings and received an immediate bill for £610 and a note that the monthly direct debit would rise to £98 including £3 for underpayment.
Given that I have previously authorised the supplier to ask for readings by email, it seems that the poorly estimated reading and reduction in monthly payments was a cynical attempt to retain my business.
It isn't fair to lay the blame for the death of the "eat or heat" pensioners entirely at the door of the power companies. My council rent has just been increased by almost 10 per cent, for the second time in two years, because of the "government's Social Rent Reform policy".
Why doesn't the Government cut out a layer of bureaucracy by simply paying any pension rises or tax benefits directly to the councils? They are going to take it anyway.
In "Fuel poverty death toll massively underestimated" (29 February) you assert that "7,800 people die during winter because they are unable to afford to heat their homes properly". Your article misrepresents the evidence, and implies that we disagree on the issue, which we do not. For the past 25 years, it has been acknowledged that only a minority of excess winter deaths are caused by fuel poverty.
Other causes include flu, air pollution, and people venturing outdoors with insufficient protection. A recent WHO review suggests that indoor cold may account for 30 per cent; last year's review by Sir Michael Marmot suggested a little over 20 per cent. Crucially, however, and missed by your report, not all deaths from indoor cold result from fuel poverty. Many households for whom affordability of warmth is not a primary burden also live at temperatures below safe levels.
It is as yet not clear what share of this 20-30 per cent range is due to fuel poverty. It is thus sensible to be conservative, but last year's interim report from the Fuel Poverty Review suggested that even if one takes a lower bound of 10 per cent of all excess winter deaths, the implication is that fuel poverty causes more fatalities than road accidents.
Those of us working in this area cannot be sure what the most reasonable lower bound is, since there is insufficient evidence. But debate about precise numbers is a distraction from the crucial mission; namely preventing deaths attributable to fuel poverty from occurring year on year.
University of Ulster
London School of Economics and Political Science
Modern sea-goers are namby-pamby
Fifty years ago I was a crew member on a freighter that broke down in the Indian Ocean. There were 86 of us on board – 74 crew and 12 passengers. I was 17, and there were others who were even younger.
We were adrift for eight days, some 500 miles south of Socotra, one of the hottest places on earth. The ship wasn't air-conditioned; but that was irrelevant as for the entire eight days the power supply was intermittent at best.
Fresh water was strictly rationed so we were issued with salt-water soap, the showers having been hastily rigged to supply sea water. But without any power the showers wouldn't function, so we drew our bath water straight from the sea. Somehow the galley managed to supply three meals a day and we kept ourselves clean.
No assistance was called for; indeed, none was offered as, apart from ourselves and probably the owners in London, no one knew we were there. It was left to our engineers to effect repairs, which they did in appalling conditions. Eventually the engines were restarted and power restored, although water rationing continued until we reached Adelaide in South Australia over a fortnight later.
None of our families knew what was happening, and we accepted it as all part and parcel of the job. So I have to ask: why all the media hysteria surrounding such an insignificant event as the breakdown of the Costa Allegra (report, 28 February)?
Ships occasionally break down. Are we all becoming more namby-pamby in our air-conditioned, feather-bedded world? Or is it, following the Costa Concordia tragedy, just another media dog-with-a-bone issue being used to further vilify a long-established and well-respected Italian shipping company that until recently had a proud maritime tradition?
Terence Roy Smith
UK citizens' rights trampled by all
England increasingly resembles a small vessel adrift on a violent sea between two large rocks. On the one side is the US, who seemingly ride roughshod over the human rights of our indigenous population as in the case of Mr Tappin. On the other side is Europe, whose Human Rights Act disenfranchises the law-abiding Briton and leaves us vulnerable to those who wish us harm. The ship's officers and crew, represented by Parliament and the police and paid by the passengers, are running in circles while the ship heads for the rocks.
Grow up about gay relationships
Mr Halliday's suggestion (Letters, 1 March) that gay marriage takes society down a slippery slope to the acceptance of bestiality, paedophilia, and necrophilia is degrading and utterly offensive to gay people (Letters, 1 March). Two adult men or two adult women can have a deep and loving relationship on par with any heterosexual marriage, while the same type of relationship is clearly more problematic with a corpse, an animal or a child.
I can't be bothered to explain this any further, but will leave Mr Halliday with the word "consent" which may help him to begin to think about this issue.
Kenneth Roper (letter, 29 February) needs to be more careful with his terminology. He says that we "murder" dolphins and whales. No, we don't. Murder is the deliberate, unlawful killing of another human being. I also doubt that dolphins and whales "do their level best to be helpful and friendly to us", wonderful and charming creatures though they are.
My wife and I have been eating biscuits for a total of some 120 years, but have never come across "Graham crackers" (Concise Crossword, 27 February). We put up uncomplainingly with Americanisms in the news and features pages; is it too much to ask that the crossword could be left unsullied?
Trust no one
Can you tell me if I have this right in light of recent experience? To summarise: we cannot trust the press, the banks, the police, Members of Parliament, the Church or the NHS to give us the truth. Is there anyone that we can trust?
Springfield Green, Essex
I was shocked to learn that only 50 per cent of the adult working population are adequately numerate (report, 2 March). What on earth are we going to do about the remaining 40 per cent who lack these skills?
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