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Monday 18 August 2008
Letters: Legalising drugs
The 'war on drugs' has failed and prohibition is now the problem
The article by Julian Critchley on the need to legalise drugs (Opinion, 15 August) and the subsequent correspondence (16 August) highlight the problem of getting the Government to accept that the so-called "war on drugs" has failed, and that prohibition is a major part of the problem.
For those of us who have been at the forefront of helping people with drug problems for many years (in my case, as a GP and founder and first chairman of Druglink, the Swindon drugs advisory service), we feel desperate that after 20 years of campaigning, there is no political change.
There have to be two major pieces of work. The first is a clear and respected academic social and medical study of the causal effect of prohibition on drug-related crime and its impact and cost, and on the morbidity and mortality of drug users.
This study should be commissioned and "owned" by politicians from all political parties. We cannot, and should not, depend on anecdote to change people's minds, and I have many, including deaths of four young people in my practice over a six-year span caused ultimately by the prohibition of drug use.
Second, based on that research, those cross-party politicians have to be persuaded to collaborate over a drugs policy, using all the advice they can get from front-line workers and users, and make that a policy they can all sign up to, rather than kowtowing to the right-wing press to ensure they get into power at the next election.
This problem is far too important to be tossed around like a political football. So many young lives are being damaged or destroyed as a result of drug use being seen as a criminal activity rather than a social and public health problem.
Dr Nick Maurice
Actions to takeagainst Russia
Who's to blame for the war in Georgia and South Ossetia is now irrelevant. Georgian forces may have committed war crimes but, since their defeat, Russian forces and their militia allies are the ones responsible for such crimes. Russian claims to be withdrawing from Georgia are empty.
Pro-Russian Chechen, Ossetian and Abkhazian militias are burning Georgian villages, raping women and stealing from and firing at journalists, UN staff and aid workers while Russian troops let them. Georgian men and boys "of military age" are being taken away or killed.
The EU and the US aren't prepared to put troops in to stop this, given the risk of a major, possibly nuclear, war. But there are still actions we can take. One would be a UN General Assembly motion calling for an immediate withdrawal of Russian forces and militias allied to them from central Georgia, along with the deployment of UN peacekeeping forces on the border between South Ossetia and Georgia and in a corridor from Tbilisi airport to South Ossetia to protect civilians and allow humanitarian aid. This won't have the weight of a Security Council motion but it's the next best thing and Russia would be unable to veto it.
A second motion could call for the future of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to be determined by referendums organised by the UN on independence from Georgia or autonomy within or re-unification with it. If they vote for independence they can hold their own referendums on whether to join the Russian federation.
Russia should be suspended from the G8 economic policy-making group and refused entry to the World Trade Organisation. Finally, EU governments could refuse to pay for Russian oil or gas until Russian forces and allied militias comply. This would hurt Russia's economy even more than the EU's. They may redirect some exports to China and the far East, but the price they get for them would drop.
Georgian and Ossetian civilians shouldn't have to pay with their lives for the ambitions of Saakashvili, or Putin.
Prime Minister Tusk's decision to site US interceptor missiles on Polish territory ("Moscow issues nuclear warning to Poland", 16 August) seems calculated to exacerbate tensions with Russia. But the further decision to add Patriot misslies and a permanent US military base on
Russia's doorstep is an overtly provocative gesture, bearing all the hallmarks of a US strategic manoevre. The US has already established 800 military bases in 63 countries, with 250,000 US military deployed worldwide. It also claims military "ownership" of space. Adding yet another base, so close to the Russian border, can only add weight to views that the present US administration is seeking to cement its stranglehold of global geo-political hegemony.
Most Poles I speak to, while having a historical wariness of Russia, have expressed deep concern at having a foreign military base in their country. Opinion polls have shown the majority to be against. But world media reports nothing of this and Mr Tusk's Civic Platform party seems only to be able to see the world through US-tinted glasses. Is Poland to become another pawn of US global ambitions, another US "protectorate", like Georgia?
Sir Julian Rose
Adrian Hamilton rightly objects to the attempt by our Nato-indoctrinated political class and commentariat to use Saakashvili's ill-fated adventure in south Ossetia to revive the Cold War (Opinion, 14 August).
For them, the only acceptable Russia is one that dares not pursue its national interest in its near-abroad. The only legitimate near-abroad, in their eyes, is our own. This appears to be everywhere and anywhere.
I am writing mainly to congratulate you on your recent coverage of the disturbing and distressing South Ossetia/Georgia conflict. I am aware that too often people write letters of complaint, but rarely to praise.
I have been thoroughly disgusted by the coverage of many UK news outlets, leading me to pledge never to buy certain titles ever again. So many outlets have decided to take a one-sided, simplistic view, with echoes of Cold War paranoia, agendas and prejudices. The one haven in this time of spin and subterfuge was The Independent. You have not treated your readers as idiots, or tried to spoon-feed half-truths, rumour, propaganda and misinformation as fact. You have objectively covered the complex situation, given balanced reportage and level-headed comment; for that I must say thank you.
It has been refreshing to be treated as an adult by a newspaper. You've gained at least one extra reader due to your coverage, and may you continue to report the news in such a balanced way, instead of trying to frame it, as so many others seem to have done during this sad time.
Dr Stephen Leah says the Baltic states "have substantial Russian populations which could be used by Russia in an attempt to subvert their independence" (letters, 15 August). True, but those populations also have genuine grounds for complaint.
In Latvia's desire to preserve its native tongue, a full passport is denied to those who fail a stiff language test. Thus, many ethnic Russians, though born in Latvia, are reduced to semi-citizenship. It is strange that the UK chooses to ignore this discrimination practised by a fellow-member of the European Union.
Puzzled by theprice of food
When I started farming in 1980, the best price we got for wheat was £110 per ton; if the value of wheat had kept up with inflation it would now be worth about £340 per ton. Last week, I was bid £110 per ton for my wheat, a 45 per cent fall since March.
Yes, you did read that correctly; wheat is the same price that it was 28 years ago. Could someone please explain how this could contribute to a record rise in inflation and a reported 40.9 per cent rise in the price of bread?
A year ago, we were told the flooding would cause a shortage of basic foods and this would lead to higher prices. I had a leaflet from the Conservative Party saying retailers have increased food prices 37 per cent since last year. Now that farmers are harvesting bumper crops, when will food prices come back down?
Immington, North Lincolnshire
The dangers of fossil-fuel plants
A week of intensive media coverage over some of the side issues of burning coal for our future electricity supplies has failed on its most basic level to put across the facts of what a new generation of fossil-fuel power stations means for mankind and our planet.
First, it does not matter whether Kingsnorth's new generation capacity is fitted with carbon capture, since most of the greenhouse gas emissions from coal (about 90 per cent) occur at the mine or in the delivery system. Carbon capture at the point of combustion is merely a dangerous figleaf gullible people would like to believe in. Most of coal's short-term greenhouse gas emissions are methane. Most of coal's carbon emissions are long-term, from disturbed strata and spoil dumps.
Second, storing CO2 for our future generations to cope with, is the kind of morally repugnant idea more usually associated with nuclear waste; we have no right to impose that burden because of our unbridled greed for energy, cheap only at the point of use. The two known safe carbon stores are coal seams and carbonate rocks, neither of which we can create.
Third, we do not appear to have realised what rising temperatures and sea levels of the order calculated by scientists (if that warming continues or accelerates) means in terms of disaster for billions of people. The actions of the nation state and its three worst 20th-century dictators, could look like a Sunday school outing gone slightly astray in comparison.
We must not be blinded by greed. There is plenty of solar energy available for all mankind, and to spare, in a variety of harvestable forms. Eschewing the mega-solutions and going for mini, and micro-generation, could free us from energy sources (and dictators) to which we have become dangerously, possibly terminally, enslaved.
Kingsnorth protesters have vowed to return to disrupt construction of a new coal-fired power station if the government foolishly grants it authorisation. I shall join them.
In the European Parliament, it is my job to steer through legislation to promote carbon capture and storage technology. My support for this was not hugely welcomed when I spoke at the climate camp last week. But in our opposition to conventional coal we had common cause.
The carbon dioxide emissions from a new Kingsnorth will be equivalent to those saved by every wind-farm so far built in the country. If it goes ahead, how then do politicians try to persuade people of the need for expensive measures to save energy, promote renewables and buy low-carbon cars? We risk them saying in response, "Why bother?"
Chris Davies MEP
(Liberal Democrat, North-west England), Stockport
If Professor John Guillebaud (letters, 13 August) is correct, and one fewer birth is one fewer human to trash the planet, a truly green government would not be encouraging population growth by handing out billions in child benefit. In fact, shouldn't it be replaced by giving a benefit to couples without children?
Step too far
I sympathise with Dennis Leachman (letters, 15 August), who is annoyed by the electronic voice on the London Underground, and wonders how long it will be before they start warning us not to fall down the stairs. In our station, this already happens. As you approach the platform, a message is activated as soon as a foot steps on the stairs, "Passengers are reminded to always use the handrail, and take care on the stairs". I wonder how the staff can put up with the constant repetition, let alone the equally irritating split infinitive.
Jonathan Phillips seems unaware of the difference between mass and force (letters, 15 August). The units of pressure are not kilograms per square metre, but newtons per square metre or pounds-force per square inch. Units are essential for BMI: a man 1.83m tall and weighing 74kg has a perfectly healthy BMI of 22kg/m2. If he expressed himself as 6ft and 11st 9lbs, his BMI would be 0.32 stones/ft2. Both are correct and the unit is everything.
I am saddened to hear about the butterfly impoverishment in Michael McCarthy's garden in France. The day of his recent notebook (15 August), I looked at the buddleias in our North Yorkshire garden and counted eight different species: small, large and green-veined whites, peacocks (11 at one time), red admirals, commas, meadow browns, and a small tortoiseshell. That's eight in a country with only half a hundred species against the hundreds there are in France. Then again, it was the first warm, sunny day for about a week.
Terence Blacker's assertion that The Village People were a "gay" group ("Smooth Phelps is no match for macho Mark", 15 August), is wide of the mark. The Village People may have had a large gay following, but only one original member was gay, the "cowboy", I believe.
Just wrap up
Angela Elliott, responding on 14 August to a 9 August letter "Talking of signs", will share my relief at reading, on the wrapper of a small bar of dark chocolate, the helpful instruction "Unwrap and enjoy". Thank goodness for the advice not to try eating the wrapper.
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