Letters: Not lazy Greeks but lax central banks are to blame for the euro crisis


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So the general conclusion is that Greece will default on its debt (Andreas Whittam Smith, 15 September). That is not really such a surprise, but what is strange is that just a few weeks ago the ECB was busy pumping millions into Greece by buying bonds which, it is now confirmed, have practically "junk" status. That's not very responsible for a central bank, is it?

It seems that computer keys have replaced the printing press, with central banks simply clicking on the "buy" button rather than needing paper and ink to print bank-notes.

It jarred with me when Andreas Whittam Smith compared Germany's fear of inflation with the "stab-in-the-back legend". Hyper-inflation was certainly not fiction, and the inflation of the 1920s is not the only frightening financial memory that the Germans have.

I have friends here in Cologne who are in their eighties and can tell stories of the immediate post-war period (until the currency reform in 1948), a time when you had to cycle out to farms to beg for food, had to empty your cupboards of valuables in order to barter for scraps and had to get up at five o'clock in the morning to queue for fish, only to find that the person in front of you bought the last one.

It was just 10 years ago that Alan Greenspan used "cheap money" as the solution to the dot-com bubble. That led to the real-estate ("junk mortgage") bubble. So now the central banks should not be surprised that their policy of "cheap money" (implemented since 2008) has led to other bubbles which are now violently bursting all around us.

In my view, this has got nothing to do with lazy Greek olive farmers but everything to do with irresponsible central banks and governments who have rolled over and done the bidding of the finance industry.

My hunch is that the missing Greek money is not buried under olive tries or in shoe-boxes under Greek pensioners' beds but rather rather sitting in Zurich, Luxembourg or the Cayman Islands in the bank accounts of various corporations, tycoons, and officials.

Alan Mitcham, Cologne, Germany

The unprecedented intervention of the US President into an EU internal crisis is all the more hard to take when the US census board has declared that there are over 46 million people living below the poverty line in the USA. Messrs Obama and Geithner should get their own country's economy together before lecturing us in Europe.

Paul Doran, Dublin

Andreas Whittam Smith quotes an article in Bild that says approvingly that German taxi drivers (unlike Greek ones) give receipts. And so do they here. In London a moderate tip will often secure you a handful of blank ones.

Tony Woolf, London NW6

I would like to suggest that the EU flag is modified to show a black disc in the centre. This will appear as a large hole when displayed.

Keith Nolan, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim, Ireland

Unfair advantage for developers

The hollow nature of the Conservatives' claims to "conserve" anything could be illustrated with a map showing those developments that would have taken place during the last decade had the current proposals to relax planning laws been in place.

Any presumption in favour of development tips the scales towards those with the deepest pockets. Time and again local opposition is worn down by the relentless reintroduction of previously rejected plans. A 10-year ban on that might redress the balance, or a requirement that the legal costs of both parties (subject to independent review) are met by the developer.

The question which is never addressed by government or developer is where and when does the process stop? Land is finite. Greed sadly is not.

Christopher Dawes, London W11

Terence Blacker is plain wrong to suggest that planning reforms are a builders' bonanza (13 September). The Coalition Government is committed to safeguarding the natural environment and has made this very clear in the draft planning framework by ensuring strong protections for the Green Belt, ancient woodlands, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and many other natural areas.

Our proposals are vital to create the new homes and jobs we desperately need and the suggestion that the draft is biased towards developers is factually incorrect. An adviser group of four experts represented a wide range of interests including one who is a director at the RSPB and another the chairman of the environment board of the Local Government Association.

Along with protections for the environment our planning reforms go further by putting power into the hands of communities so they decide for themselves the areas they wish to see developed and those that should protected, in contrast to being imposed upon by top-down targets.

This is an open consultation and we very much want to hear all views to secure a planning system that protects the interests both of today's communities and of generations to come.

Bob Neill MP, Local Government Minister, Department for Communities and Local Government

Your leading article on housing speaks of the apparent anomaly of "300,000 homes that have been empty for longer than six months".

The vacancy reserve is an essential ingredient in the operation of the housing market. Just how low it could become is impossible to know. What is the average time it takes from vacation to marketing and completing the purchase of an owner-occupied property, particularly where there are complications involved in the process such as matrimonial break-up or death? Local authorities and social housing agencies should achieve vacation rates of about half what the owner-occupied sector might achieve.

It might be uncomfortable to suggest that vacant homes are an inevitable ingredient of a housing-need exercise but the operation of the housing market demands that it be so. Strange that we have to build new homes in order for some to lie empty.

Nick Moreton, Birmingham

Johann Hari's contrition

I have just read with some pleasure Johann Hari's act of contrition in your newspaper (15 September). It is of course sad that this personal crisis should have befallen him, but I dare say I am not the only Independent reader who thinks he had it coming to him. On many occasions I have been appalled not only by his self-righteousness and the obvious moral superiority felt towards many of his subjects, but by the transparently melodramatic strategies employed in stage-managing the sympathies of his readers.

It is true that a conversational sentence does not always sit comfortably within the context of a written article. However, Mr Hari's excuse that his substitution of old quotes for new comments was designed to give the reader "the clearest possible representation of what the interviewee thought" firstly insults the interviewee (who could be forgiven for believing that he or she knew most clearly what they meant), and secondly the reader, who is denied the opportunity of making his or her own mind up about what the interviewee was trying to say.

Mr Hari's public apology, his handing back of the Orwell prize, his return to journalism school and his temporary absence from The Independent bear all the melodramatic hallmarks of his journalism: the gesture, the flourish, the deep sigh and the hankie dabbed to the eye. Whether or not these are actually meaningful, and will result in a more sober, considered Johann Hari remains to be seen.

John Tozer, London N16

Over the last three years I've been an avid reader of Johann Hari's articles. I've always found his work informative, provocative and entertaining. He consistently presents arguments that challenge many myths and assumptions, shining a spotlight on issues that require examination, and ridiculing the corrupt, cynical and absurd.

Above all, Johann's articles can inspire through clearly articulating logical and ethical arguments that get lost in the small-minded foghorn media. We need more not less of him.

There is no doubt that the plagiarism he's admitted to does deserve criticism. However, it is not surprising that his response has been one of openness and genuine self-criticism and apology. The quicker he returns to the fray the better.

Neil Hopkins, Pencoed, Bridgend

I am writing in support of Johann Hari. He went overboard in denouncing himself and The Independent went overboard in suspending him.

"Plagiarism" is generally understood to mean passing off someone else's words as one's own. This he has not admitted to doing, nor, so far as I can tell from either article, has he been accused of it, yet the word is still attached to his case.

I hope his columns will soon return, since his humane and rational voice is badly needed. Stand tall, Mr Hari: the good you've done immeasurably outweighs the bad.

Katherine Perlo, Edinburgh

As I see that Johann Hari will ultimately retain his position at your paper, perhaps you could clarify exactly what would be required for someone to get sacked from The Independent.

William Kellar, Cambridge

How despot uses religion

Nicholas Crampton (letter, 9 September) congratulates the Assad regime on its religious tolerance. Is this the same regime that only last week trashed a main mosque in Kafarsuseh in central Damascus, and beat up the imam? Unfortunately for this religious leader, he gave his support to the Syrian people, to their brothers and sisters who are dying in many areas of Syria every week.

Each week the imams are given a list by the security forces on what they are allowed to say to their congregations. Security people even stay inside the mosques to intimidate religious leaders to follow their instructions. They have infiltrated every area of Syrian life to control and maintain their position. Christians are tolerated only because the regime needs them in order to strengthen its own power base.

I spent six years in Syria, much of it in Hama. I have many friends there, both Christian and Muslim. They mix with each other, visiting each other's houses. I also have many Druze friends in Damascus and Sweida the south, and Ishmaili friends in Salamiya in the north. They have their own areas, but all are now involved in their revolution against this vile regime.

The revolution in Syria is about a fight for basic human rights: the right to live in a free and just society that is free of endemic corruption. This revolution is not about religious differences. Don't make this struggle into a Muslim-against-Christian story.

June Liveley, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire

We are snooped on all the time

We should not be so surprised by attempts by private investigators to get their hands on private data, as in the case of Steve Whittamore.

The previous government rode roughshod over individual subjects' right to the confidentiality of their personal information. Not only did the Government seek to establish vast national databases for ID cards, medical details and digital communications; firewalls that stopped data collected for one purpose being used for another have been torn down.

The range of bodies and individuals entitled to pry has been widely extended. Surveillance data is collected without restriction. Automatic number plate systems collect details of many car journeys and face-recognition software is to be deployed.

If data is collected on this scale it will be lost or stolen. It already has been. Is the Government to be allowed to collect information in this quite unnecessary and intrusive manner, yet expect non-governmental bodies to display self restraint?

John Henderson, Winchester

Rock songs with no nonsense

I must protest against Nicholas Lezard's rather waspish comment that young people in the 1970s turned to Johnny Rotten's music because they were "disaffected with the status quo ... or Status Quo" ("The problem for old rockers who don't die before they get old", 10 September).

Rotten's ire was aimed at the bloated triple concept albums of Yes, or the detached pretentiousness of Pink Floyd. Quo's stripped-down three-minute rock songs were far more in line with punk's ethos than much of the other chart music around at the time.

Writing in The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Rock, Nick Logan and Bob Woffinden ask if Status Quo are the "true progenitors of working-class punk heavy metal". Despite almost universal derision from the "serious" music press they are still packing venues and providing two hours of no-nonsense rhythm and boogie. Far more than can be said of any latter-day butter salesmen.

Stan Broadwell, Bristol

Free speech over 9/11?

I was incensed to hear that Liverpool Football Club are to discipline their player Nathan Eccleston, about his Twitter comments that he disbelieves the official 9/11 story. He is entitled to his opinion.

Both the UK and the US are supposedly free countries where alternative viewpoints can be expressed without fear of drastic consequences. The Statue of Liberty stands in the very city where the 9/11 atrocity occurred. It's good to see a young man such as Eccleston taking an interest, rather than displaying the usual apathy.

Shaun Walton, Bugbrooke, Northamptonshire

Good value for a 50p tax rate

It is quite right that a high-earning company director should pay at least half of his income in taxes: the state has done at least half of his work. It has educated him and his staff, provided the necessary transport and financial infrastructure and protected him against theft and extortion. If you disagree, try setting up a business in a country where the state does none of this and see what proportion of your income you retain.

Ben Ambridge, Manchester

Common language

In regard to Middle America's knowledge of the world in the 1960s (letters, 15 September). I can relate my own experience of requesting a day off to pick up my wife (a Cold War GI bride) who was coming in from London. My boss granted my request, but asked, with a pitying look in his face: "How well does she speak English?"

I replied: "Well enough to be understood."

George D Lewis, Brackley, Northamptonshire


Surely "Sorted Potatoe Chips" (letter, 14 September) have been sautéed?

Jenny Macmillan, Cambridge

Perspectives on bringing up children

No time for family life if both parents must work

It is indeed difficult to avoid being sucked in to consumerism, as a Unicef report has warned, but we have a government which encourages it.

It would seem that the Government would like all of us to work hard to lift ourselves out of poverty, while cooking our children delicious healthy meals and making sure they get their five a day, not forgetting to read to them every night, spend quality time playing with them, make time to talk to them and maintain a good relationship with our spouse.

I think my seven-year-old could spot the problem here; a report from Unicef is superfluous. After a day at work and often a commute the average person can't be bothered to peel a potato, let alone get the Lego out. No wonder many feel guilty and assuage that guilt in the quickest, easiest way by taking a shopping trip or giving the children free rein with the Argos catalogue.

If the Government really wanted happier children they would pay a parent to stay at home at least in the formative years and make it a realistic expectation for families to be able to live and especially to buy a house on one wage.

Angela Elliott, Hundleby, Lincolnshire

Junk food on the internet

Protecting under-16s from exposure to junk-food advertising is eminently sensible, but the inconsistencies that dog current marketing regulations need to be tackled too ("Advertising ban won't stop 'brand bullying' ", 15 September).

Food and drink ads that are withheld during kids' TV are relentlessly promoted to youngsters online because of feeble marketing rules. Social networks, online games, emails; they're all fair game for food companies looking to market products high in saturated fat, salt and sugar.

Let the Government take a strong lead on this issue and introduce regulations that draw a clear line between healthy and unhealthy food and cover all forms of marketing.

Betty McBride, Policy and Communications Director, British Heart Foundation, London NW1