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Thursday 1 May 2008
Letters: Opium policy
Our opium policy drives Afghans into the arms of the Taliban
Sir: Your article correctly highlights the dangers Afghanistan's heroin trade poses to UK troops and British society at large ("Drugs for guns: how the Afghan heroin trade is fuelling the Taliban insurgency", 29 April). However, the current strategy used to combat escalating opium production levels – forced poppy crop eradication – has destroyed the livelihoods of entire farming communities, driving them into the hands of the Taliban and putting UK troops at further risk.
Oil on the fire for the insurgency, this disastrously futile strategy must be replaced by an effective, pragmatic approach that helps to win back the hearts and minds of the local population and drives a wedge between the farmers and the Taliban.
The medicinal use of opium poppy under a village-based, licensed "poppy for medicine" development model, in which farmers would be allowed to grow their opium and sell it as morphine, could help rural communities sever ties with the Taliban and the illegal drugs market. Such an available and immediate-term solution would allow the necessary leverage for economic diversification, while at the same time providing a much-needed supply to the 80 per cent of the world's population currently lacking access to effective pain relief.
As long as current alternative livelihood strategies are not reaching the three million Afghans currently dependent on illegal opium production, we need to turn to practical, short-term solutions that might turn the tables on the Afghan opium crisis. Sticking to the same calamitous counter-narcotics policies will prove catastrophic to both the Afghan people and the coalition troops serving there.
Director of Policy Research, The Senlis Council, Paris
Palestinian story challenges Zionism
Sir: I suppose some small crumb of comfort can be gleaned from Jonathan Hoffman not repeating the "land without people for a people without land myth" ("Barbican's tribute to 1948 accused of demonising Israel", 30 April). Perhaps we can now all agree that the three-quarters of a million Palestinian refugees did actually exist before the state of Israel and that over 400 towns and villages were demolished by Zionists.
Part of the Zionist imperative has consistently been to deny the Palestinian narrative. It's not surprising therefore that any cultural festival telling that narrative is frightening to them. However, in a year awash with media retellings of the Zionist narrative, the Barbican event seems like at least some attempt at balance.
It's ironic that Mr Hoffman cites the UN resolution in support of a Zionist state. His beloved Israel has not been so defined by subsequent UN resolutions.
The "Palestinian problem" for Zionists is that they continue to exist and resist their marginalisation, expulsion and collective punishment. After the national trauma of the Nakba they are telling their story. Their story, as realised in their films, is a profound challenge to the Zionist myth that Mr Hoffman and his fellow apologists espouse.
Sir: The Barbican states that it will not "bow to political pressure" What do they mean?
Surely as an arts centre, they should be concerned primarily with cultural and artistic matters. It is the Barbican's refusal to recognise the artistic merit of Israel's films and culture for 18 years, coupled with the staging of a historically distorted exhibition, that has turned this into a political issue. They themselves have politicised the issue by the nature of the exhibition which is more political than artistic in impact.
They should also explain just why they think that a Yiddish festival celebrating an old Eastern European Jewish culture has any relevance to Israel or is in any way a remedy for the Barbican's refusal to recognise Israel's achievements, which exemplify modern, dynamic Jewish culture.
Sir: Perhaps the Israeli embassy's spokesman who is offended by the Barbican's exhibition should explain why in his opinion nearly a million Palestinians spontaneously decided in 1948 to leave their own country, their own land, their own homes and their own chattels within a few months of one another. An epidemic of wanderlust, perhaps?
Israel's policy of ethnic cleansing and Jewish takeover of cleansed areas is evident to all travellers to the West Bank today. Readers of your newspaper should go and see for themselves.
Lib Dems tried to save 10p tax rate
Sir: Regarding Professor Simpson's letter of 26 April on the abolition of the 10p tax rate, and his point that the Liberal Democrats did not comment at the time, I would like to set the record straight.
The Liberal Democrats questioned and opposed the tax changes when they were first proposed in last year's Budget. I refer Professor Simpson to Hansard reference 21 Mar 2007: Column 834:
"The Chancellor told us as he sat down, to waves of applause, that he would cut the basic rate of income tax from 22p to 20p. On the face of it, that is a Liberal Democrat proposal and a welcome one. But if one looks carefully, one sees that the revenue to justify that reduction will be obtained from the abolition of the 10p rate. To fund the reduction, income tax will be increased for many taxpayers. One could say that we will be asking the poor to subsidise the rich. That is an example of the sleight of hand that the Chancellor has demonstrated in the past."
In contrast, it has taken back-bench Labour MPs a whole year to complete their U-turn on this issue. Despite their more recent protestations, every single Labour MP who has signed David Chaytor's well-publicised early-day motion failed to join Liberal Democrat MPs in voting against the abolition of the 10p tax rate becoming law on 18 March this year.
Vincent Cable MP
Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, House of Commons
Postal vote hampers election campaigns
Sir: With all the talk about the increase in postal voting (Mary Dejevsky, 29 April), perhaps we should spare a thought for the political parties.
Traditionally the campaign in elections lasted just over one month, from the time the candidates' papers were accepted to the count. That meant that you had sufficient time to get your message across via leafleting or canvassing.
Now, with the postal ballots delivered within two weeks of the election being announced, the chances are that many people will vote straight away and not wait until the last minute. That means that you have really only got about a fortnight to get your message across. There's nothing more frustrating than knocking on a door to be told, "We've already voted."
If you want people to vote, then introduce fair votes in the form of PR and restrict postal voting to those who really cannot vote any other way.
Cllr John Marriott
North Hykeham, Lincolnshire
Save peatlands from wind turbines
Sir: I applaud the Scottish Government's decision to refuse planning permission to the Lewis wind farm. Destroying deep peatland, as would have been the case on Lewis, would create more carbon emissions than it would ever save.
The previous Labour/Lib-Lab Executive had no coherent strategy for wind energy, simply offering lucrative inducements to power companies and land-owners which led to a stampede to erect giant turbines. Hundreds of applications are still in the planning pipeline, many of them in wholly inappropriate locations which would threaten endangered flora and fauna and industrialise some of Scotland's most spectacular landscape.
Peat is a global carbon sink, storing millions of tonnes of CO2 during the tens of thousands of years the peat is formed from rotting plant material. The first thing a contractor does before building a giant windmill on peatland is to drain the area, thus releasing all of the stored CO2 into the atmosphere. The peatland is also subsequently destroyed as a carbon sump, stopping any further carbon storage.
Taken together with the construction of mammoth steel towers, huge glass-fibre blades, vast concrete foundations under every turbine, drains, connecting roads, overhead powerlines and pylons, the carbon footprint from every windfarm built on deep peat far exceeds any environmental saving it may aspire to.
The decision to refuse approval for the Lewis windfarm is hopefully the first of many such decisions. Similar applications for giant windfarms on deep peatland on Dava Moor (Grantown on Spey), and Kergord Valley (Shetland) and in many other locations should all be stopped. Wind energy certainly has a role to play in a diverse renewable energy mix, but it must be properly planned and sited.
Struan Stevenson MEP (Conservative, Scotland)
European Parliament, Brussels
Whatever happens, oil giants prosper
Sir: I worked in the oil and petro-chemical industry when the price of crude oil was $15 per barrel and the seven sisters (the big oil companies) were making enormous profits. We now have the price of crude oil at $120 per barrel and the oil companies are still making astronomical profits. Two of them made £7.2 bn in just three months.
Is this the return of the unacceptable face of capitalism?
Sir: The Prime Minister is right to feel "very worried" about the impact of rising fuel costs on pensioners and low-income families ("The power struggle", 30 April). All of the good progress made by the Government in tackling fuel poverty over the last decade risks being eroded by its failure to revise its fuel poverty strategy in light of rocketing energy prices.
With speculation that prices will rise by as much as 25 per cent later this year, a further million households are at risk of joining the 4.5 million already living in fuel poverty. Most of these are pensioners and low-income families already struggling to survive on state benefits.
We hope that the Prime Minister will hold an urgent summit to get the Government's fuel poverty strategy back on track.
Director General, Age Concern England, London SW16
Sir: I can add to your statistics on the rise in oil prices one which has gone largely unnoticed and which affects many rural communities without mains gas supply. In March last year the price of a litre of kerosene for domestic oil heating was 28.75p. Yesterday I was quoted 56.95p (plus VAT). That would have made an impressive yet depressing graph alongside the others.
A generation that shook the world
Sir: Mark Steel is right about 1968 (Opinion, 30 April). It was about far more than a bunch of spaced-out hippies. I was a sixth former at a small grammar school in Kent at the time. The events of that year have influenced me from that day to this. Our generation shook the world and it was never the same again.
Our generation learned to challenge authority. The only way to make progress and to promote justice is to challenge the status quo when it is unjust, or just doesn't make sense. We need to relearn that lesson today.
So we should challenge big business, big government and vested interests wherever they do not serve the interests of people as a whole. I'm proud of what the "hippie" generation did.
Dipton, Co Durham
Sir: After reading Terence Blacker's article of 29 April, your readers may be interested in the following fact: the RSPCA was founded in 1824, 60 years before the NSPCC. Also the RSPCA required £82m to function in the last year. Sometimes, even now, I think that the priorities are in the wrong order.
Right to be frightened
Sir: I am bemused by the Advertising Standards Authority's decision to curb the Department of Health's "fish hook" advertising campaign against smoking (Extra, 30 April) on the grounds that it could "frighten and distress" children. You report that it garnered the most complaints of any advert in 2007. Both the ASA and at least 774 people are obviously of the belief that there are no benefits in children being frightened or distressed by the potential health risks of smoking.
Sir: It is surreal that the topic of an English patron saint can still generate so much heat. David Owen (Letters, 26 April) slates Oswald most unfairly. Oswald met his death fighting against forces led by the pagan Penda of Mercia and his ally, the Welsh King Cadwallon of Gwynedd. Cadwallon, though a Christian, was a ferocious war leader, responsible for killing Edwin, the first Christian King of Northumbria, and laying waste the land in a war of extermination against the English, where, according to Bede, he did not spare anyone, even women and children. Not many saints there, really.
Beware of real Tories
Sir: P McBride apparently believes that a Government which has increased teachers' pay by 19 per cent in real terms since 1997, implemented the independent review body's pay-rise recommendation this year in full, created 1,300 Sure Start Children's Centres, and recruited 36,000 more teachers and 172,000 more teaching assistants, is a Tory government (Letters, 25 April). P McBride is likely to be unpleasantly surprised if Cameron and his privileged school chums ever get into power.
Glad you brought it up
Sir: What a pleasure to read in the obituary of Richard Alexander (24 April) a reference to the fact he was "brought up" in Eastbourne. I get so tired of people talking about children being "raised" as if they were crops.
M M Deyes
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