So Greece and Italy have each a new prime minister, Lucas Papademos and Mario Monti. To which not just you and I but damn near every Italian and Greek responds, "Who?"
Neither Papademos nor Monti has ever held an elective office, or even run for one. Neither has been a minister. Neither has developed, or sought to develop, a public following from their careers as economic technicians, chiefly on the European supra-national level. Yet each is about to lead a major nation.
Papademos and Monti are something new: national leaders elected by the markets. Imposed, not as proconsuls by foreign occupiers, but by the European banking community and by the finance ministers of the eurozone powers – chiefly, Germany and France.
We have elevated "the markets" to the position of gods, or maybe demigods. But what is needed is a good dose of economic atheism to look at what is really happening.
There is no "eurozone crisis" but another banking crisis (or a continuation of the last one) as our PM seems to have just dimly realised. We really are "all in this together" and the Europhobes need to understand that, with our top-heavy international banking industry, we will probably suffer far worse than our fellow Europeans across the Channel and the North Sea. Continuing the way we are going is to condemn ourselves to another Great Depression.
"The markets" are just a mob of people out to make as much money as possible from human misery. The difference between them and the looters in August is that the August mob only destroyed a handful of buildings whereas "the markets" destroy whole countries.
"The markets", however, are creatures of the state and are subject to the law. It's time for our masters to get a grip and control them – "regulate" in government-speak.
Start with gambling instruments, such as credit default swaps and selling short, which are one of the main reasons that the market has become so volatile. Angela Merkel placed a ban on short selling last year; it can be done, even though the pigs at the trough will squeal in pain. We just need politicians with the guts to do it.
Port Solent, Hampshire
Warnings were given when the euro was set up that it would eventually fail, driven as it was by political imperatives and not by economic principles.
The euro project was always driven by French aggrandisement and funded by German post-war guilt. Fortunately a new generation of Germans is now getting over the trauma of the last war and many must rue the day they were ever drawn into the grandiloquent euro scheme by the French.
The extraordinary tenacity with which many European politicians want to hang on to the euro looks quite pathetic. The sooner the euro is buried, the sooner countries in the EU can get on with strengthening Europe as a trading common market – which is all it ever should have been.
Walsall, West Midlands
It appears that the populations of both Greece and Italy, and world markets, are reassured by the introduction of technocratic government – government by technical experts. The implication seems to be that the governments of the rest of the world haven't a clue what's going on.
Socrates: "I think it is by knowledge that one ought to make decisions, if one is to make them well, and not by majority rule." – from Plato's Laches (184e).
The press are guilty, but who else is hacking?
I am delighted that the Leveson inquiry has started – and I hope that it produces practical proposals for the regulation of the media as well as for the conduct of the relationships between the police and the press and between politicians and the press.
However, following the recent decision of a French court to fine Électricité de France €1.5m and to imprison two of its staff for spying on Greenpeace campaigners, I am beginning to wonder if the practice of hacking and improper surveillance goes beyond the media to a much wider group of multinational corporations.
Is illegal hacking a common practice of big businesses that are spying on competitors or seeking to discredit those who question their behaviour? If so, the Leveson inquiry, although useful, will not go far enough.
Mary Ann Sieghart is right about privacy and the red-tops ("Victims of press intrusion pay, the perpetrators get away with it", 14 November). The problem is not whether regulation is statutory or imposed by the media industry, but that it is toothless.
Judgments, apologies, retractions and "clarifications" should be printed in the same position, type size and column-inches as the originally offending piece, rather than in six-point type at the bottom corner of page 39. In extreme cases, the paper should be taken off the streets entirely for a day or more. Fines which represent a small percentage of a day's profits were never useful.
Goring Heath, Reading
Injured soldiers face discharge
No matter how embarrassing it may be for the MoD ("MoD denies further Army job losses", 12 November), there can be no doubt that it will discharge injured soldiers. To state otherwise is mendacious, or at least misleading.
Armed forces have to be fit to fight and there is no longer either the money or slack in the system to continue to employ those unfit to fight. It has always been the case that if those injured are unable to regain full fitness they are discharged – how can it be otherwise?
While every recruit must now enlist in the full knowledge that they will go to war, they must also know they will be discharged if injured and face the realities of civilian life without the welfare and health care available to them in-service.
Unlike the Defence Medical Services, the NHS cannot and does not provide a sophisticated occupational service.
The MoD has greatly improved its physical and mental care of those injured on operations. It has also held on to injured service men and women much longer than ever before, which may have given the impression that even if injured their military future was assured. It has never been thus, nor ever will be.
Lt Col (Retd)
Professor of Military Psychiatry
Charity shops a sign of wealth
I'm not sure either Mary Portas or Mary Dejesky understands charity shops (2 November). Charity shops are the huge success story of modern retail; even with their privileged status, they would not fill our high streets unless they were massively popular.
But their core clientele are not, as Mary Portas imagines, the same people who shop in boutiques seeking to spend their money ethically. Neither are they the poor and desperate. The really poor usually abhor second-hand, and with the price of clothes in Tesco so low, you can have new for the same or little more.
The heartland of charity shops is the well-off middle-class area, where the well-heeled rotate their wardrobes frequently, and their less affluent, more bohemian neighbours enjoy the thrill of the chase. Down the length of a nearby high street, there are thriving branches of every well-known charity shop cheek-by-jowl with Laura Ashley, Joules, Orvis and Fat Face as well as independent shoe shops, lingerie specialists and gents' outfitters.
The street boasts bakers and butchers, a gun-and-sporting shop, independent ironmongers, half a dozen cafes and a chocolatier, plus other assorted tokens of good commercial health.
The money taken in these charity shops, where the stock changes frequently, must be phenomenal. But if the management tried for the slick Mary Portas approach, with accompanying high prices, they would be empty.
For the core charity-shop customer is a prospector; uninterested in tat at low prices, but repelled by Mary Portas-style too-tightly edited stock and high prices. They're lured by the chance of finding a vintage coat, a well-fitting skirt or the perfect sweater hiding among the M&S separates.
In really deprived areas like decayed industrial towns, little gets cast away, charity shops are few, grubby and depressing and rows of vacant shops are boarded up. Charging charity shops business rates won't fill the empty premises with butchers, bakers and greengrocers.
The duty women cannot avoid
Terence Blacker (8 November) asserts that if women earn more than "their man" then the men in question are at last "free of the grim yoke" of responsibility.
While women behave in a grown-up manner, he suggests, men can finally "enjoy an interestingly experimental youth". This, Mr Blacker seems to suggest, redresses the balance, and is what women have been able to do in the past when their traditional husbands looked after them.
Except women have always been the ones left holding the baby, and still are, improved salary or not. If Mr Blacker wishes to celebrate a real gender role-reversal he will no doubt joyfully embrace nappies, lack of adult conversation and a patronising exclusion from all society that doesn't revolve around children or the kitchen.
The Rev Sharon Grenham-Toze
Not enough women on top? Henrietta Cubitt (letter, 11 November) speculates about a parliament with over 50 per cent of women. Time for a women-only political party?
If we assume for a moment that a referendum in England, Wales and Northern Ireland confirms that we don't mind the Scots weakening the Union by spitting their dummy and leaving in a marked manner, can we also assume that work is under way to redesign the Union Flag? I have tried rubbing out the blue bits, but it really does look rather odd.
Saffron Walden, Essex
I was absolutely flabbergasted to read your leading article "We need green space, but houses more" (12 November). On page 14 of the same edition it says that there are enough brownfield sites to build 1.5 million houses. You don't contest that in your editorial, you simply ignore it.
Eveline van der Steen
This may be a blow to Angela Merkel, but, and with due respect to Scorpion (Crossword, 12 November), halloumi is not a Greek cheese, it is a Cypriot cheese.
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