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Wednesday 9 June 2010
Letters: Spending cuts
Cuts: unfair to blame Labour
Dominic Lawson and Steve Richards (8 June) have given excellent critiques about the proposed cuts in public spending. Mr Richards comes to a succinct conclusion that it is possible to be united and wrong, while Mr Lawson has exposed the insincere side of Mr Cameron's blaming of the Labour government.
The former Chancellor, Alistair Darling, had made it known that, if the public expenditure were not cut, the current national debt could rise from £772bn to £1.4 trillion. Mr Cameron was quite insincere to claim that Labour had hidden such information, since one would only need simple arithmetic to work out the interest charge as £70bn per annum.
At the same time, the figure of £772bn excludes the cost of rescuing RBS and HBOS. The sale of their shares could recoup a substantial portion of the debt, but Mr Cameron would like to conceal this from the public for the time being.
Alistair Darling has clarified that much of the current debt has arisen from government borrowing to save the economy from collapse and the rest represents the consequences of decisions on public spending that were supported by the Tories. It is really unworthy of Mr Cameron to treat the public as incapable of seeing the true picture. The country should be grateful for the swift and well-meant actions taken by Labour to avoid the financial collapse that might well have occurred if the Tories had been in charge of the affairs at that time.
To top it all, Mr Osborne wishes to have public views on the areas where the cuts can be made. It is like asking convalescing patients, who have not got their strength back, about reduction in their medicines and nourishment. Labour would have rightly waited to apply stringent fiscal measures.
Dr Satish Desai
South Croydon, Surrey
I read that the Government is likely to cut heating benefits for expats living in "hotter climes". One might have expected a deputy prime minister with a Spanish wife to know it's a myth that Mediterranean countries enjoy a balmy climate throughout the year.
I live in central Italy, 2,500 feet above sea-level, and in winter it's much colder than England. Oil and electricity are considerably more expensive than in the UK. Each winter we spend around €2,000 on eight tons of wood to run the central heating.
As a retired English lecturer whose modest pension has been reduced by around a third owing to the collapse of the pound against the euro, I take comfort from the fact that not only is my income tax – still paid to the UK Government – helping to fund the bonuses of the directors of state-owned banks, but that the £14m saved by cutting expats' winter-fuel allowances may enable the Government to increase them.
Montefalcone Appennino, Italy
With the Government demanding swingeing cuts and tax rises to rebalance public-sector finances, it seems only fair and reasonable that the Government should immediately publish a detailed plan as to how public money will be recovered from the banks within no more than 10 years.
Measures could include repayment of loans, selling shares in nationalised banks for maximum possible profit and extraordinary tax levies. I look forward to soon reading the Government's proposals for addressing what must be a matter of deep concern to the public.
Nether Stowey, Somerset
Please, Mr Osborne, cut off my left arm. I do tend to use the right rather more. Thank you for giving me this choice. Of course, it may be more difficult to make when you get to my legs.
Schools set free of bureaucracy
I knew the new Secretary of State for Education was moving fast, but for Alan Darley (letter, 29 May) to suggest that this vision of dystopia through academy schools is what Micheal Gove brings us is quite wrong.
Tony Blair introduced the academies, most of which appear to be operating quite successfully without the world coming to an end, and achieving outstanding status in inspection. The letter from Michael Gove has only offered "academy freedoms" to outstanding schools. Why would additional funding be equated to lower wages and a loss of rights? Why would the best-run schools in the country suddenly turn into such monstrous places because they have been given 10 per cent more money and the same freedom that other schools already have?
That successful schools would also suddenly dump the curriculum for easy qualifications and instant gain when they are at the top of the performance table already is also quite silly, as is the belief that academies are not required to provide a broad and balanced education.
Darley is not wholly accurate in his final statement that "this is the end of state education as we know it". Actually it's a return to a highly successful version of state education (the grant-maintained system) that the last government removed, and in doing so made hundreds of teachers redundant.
There is from my perspective a mood of eager anticipation, excitement and a sense of great relief in schools at the moment. We are, for the first time in a decade, being trusted once more to educate children without the constant barrage of bureaucracy and policy imposed as a knee-jerk response to the front pages of the daily papers. We may well be facing a revolution of freedoms in the way we, as professionals, serve our children and their needs.
Cheadle, Greater Manchester
Michael Gove's jolly plan to allow "outstanding" schools to opt out of local authority control and become fast-tracked academies is causing havoc for those left behind. I wonder if he has really thought it through.
I am a governor of what used to be rudely called a "bog-standard" comprehensive in Bath – a small boys-only school. It has been obvious for some time that Bath had too many schools for the number of pupils it possessed and it had been planning to reorganise by amalgamating two schools on the north side of the city, and turning ours into a co-educational school.
Now, at a stroke, one school has declared UDI and left the others stranded. We cannot go forward, we cannot go back. Is this what he really intended to happen? That seven schools should be damaged for the sake of one school deciding that it didn't like the greater good but could only see its own selfish ends?
Israel and its enemies
Queen Rania of Jordan asks: "Did this outrageous attack take place to preserve Israel's security or to sustain the blockade itself?" (Opinion, 7 June.) The most obvious answer is clearly: "Both." The Israeli blockade is in place to safeguard Israel's security. While the world has gone into hysterical overdrive denouncing Israel's actions, what is most needed at this time is quiet reflection to examine the facts and the reality of the situation.
Gaza under Hamas is a self-declared enemy of Israel, committed, by its own charter, to the total annihilation of the State of Israel. This is not mere rhetoric, as can be seen by the 4,000 rockets that have been fired into Israel since Hamas seized power.
The bottom line is that Hamas is at war with Israel. It would be sheer madness, and a dereliction of Israel's responsibilities towards its own civilian population, for it not to impose a blockade under these circumstances. What is outrageous is for Hamas to claim victimhood when it is they who have instigated the blockade itself by their terrorist acts.
The quick solution to the blockade is not more flotillas but for more pressure to be exerted, not on Israel, but on Hamas to renounce terrorism, recognise the State of Israel and accept previous agreements made with the Palestinian Authority.
On the day that Hamas agrees to come to the conference table with Israel and ceases its provocative, belligerent actions and behaves like a responsible neighbour, the blockade will end, and Gaza can go on to become the Riviera of the Middle East.
Rabbi Frank Hellner
If Ben Saul-David (letter, 7 June) wishes to make historical justification for the Israeli actions against the so-called Gaza flotilla, he should learn something about history. There is simply no comparison with the total war situation between nation-states, as in the Second World War, or the American action to stop Soviet nuclear weapons from reaching Cuba.
If, as he implies, the flotilla might have been secretly smuggling in weapons rather then humanitarian aid, how come the Israelis have not displayed anything more dangerous then a gentleman's razor-blade? No hidden tanks, guns or nuclear bombs!
Not only is the reality that the blockade is not working, and indeed is only breeding resentment and fresh recruits for Hamas, but the current generation of Israeli military and political leadership (if that is the right word) have again displayed incredible incompetence, arrogance and stupidity compared to their predecessors in the first two decades of Israeli history.
The terrible crimes committed against the Jewish people in the past are not justification for Israel to defy international law, or hold an entire people hostage and in poverty. Ben Saul-David must know perfectly well that a measly weekly 15,000 tons of "humanitarian supplies" (but no concrete to rebuild their homes or hospitals, or writing paper and stationery for schools) is barely enough for 1.5 million people.
By justifying Israel at all costs, and not accepting their own mistakes, wrongdoing or natural justice, people like Ben Saul-David are probably not just condemning the Palestinian people to continued misery and bitterness, but perhaps undermining and endangering the very foundations and future of the Jewish State they seek to defend.
Ben Saul-David, referring to the US embargo on Cuba, complains that "Israel is accused of international criminality for doing precisely what John Kennedy did, impose a naval blockade to prevent a hostile state from acquiring lethal weaponry."
Incorrect. The government of Israel stands indicted of having armed members of its military establishment hijack a civilian vessel in international waters and murder nine civilians on the high seas.
Dr Andrew Crawley
Christ Church, Barbados
Rob Sharp (Timelines: Blockades, 4 June) claims that in 1962 Khrushchev threatened to launch a nuclear attack on the US from Cuba.
Oh, no he didn't. US aerial photography discovered that Soviet missiles were being erected on Cuba and Kennedy challenged Khrushchev to remove them, which spiralled into the most dangerous nuclear showdown. In the end, thankfully, Khrushchev backed down and removed them and the US later removed some of theirs from Russia's borders. The incident was not over any threatened nuclear attack.
Table dancing in cause of satire
With regard to the article "Is it arrivederci to cleavage and sexism on Italian TV?" (5 June), we would like to provide a little more detail about the TV show Striscia la Notizia and the role of women (as presenters, contributors and dancers) within the programme.
Striscia la Notizia is a satirical variety show that has consistently led the way in exposing an endless stream of criminal and otherwise inappropriate behaviour in our country.
As part of the programme's cast, two young women (known as veline) dance on a table and are essential to the structure of the show, in that they serve as a reminder that this is entertainment.
The term velina became widespread during the Fascist period and was used to indicate news issued by the Fascist authorities and sent to a newspaper, with the aim of conditioning its output.
The veline of Striscia la Notizia were created as a living parody of the covers of authoritative Italian news magazines in the 1980s that made frequent use of semi-naked young women in order to sell more copies. The veline have the job of introducing the daily promotion, that is part of the programme, and to dance to a 30-second music clip during each episode. Despite being born as a parody and a criticism of the mute female assistants on traditional TV shows, the term velina, somewhat surprisingly, is now often used by the media as a symbol of the sexism of Italian television and linked to the sexual-political scandals that have recently rocked the country. However, we want to underline that none of the real veline who have worked on our show has ever been involved in any of these scandals.
We would also point out that there are a number of female faces that appear on Striscia la Notizia, including our Sicilian correspondent Stefania Petyx, one of the show's leading lights. She is not only widely appreciated by critics, but has also won many of Italy's leading prizes for journalism. With enormous courage, she reports on the activities of the Mafia, such as the 2007 report she made from outside the home of Mafia boss Totò Riina.
M Malone writes (letter, 5 June) that my claim that Britain is the the second biggest contributor to the EU budget is "unjust and totally incorrect". The fact is that Britain's net contributions (contributions to the EU minus money received from the EU) amount to €57bn, second only to Germany's €86bn. As Mr Micawber knew, it is the net figures that count in a budget.
In your article on the NHS offer of cash rewards for losing weight ("Pounds for Pounds", 7 June) you report that two-thirds of the volunteers failed to reach their target. Apparently though, reasons for this were advanced by "a growing body of experts". A case of "Don't do as I do, do as I say"?
Christopher R Bratt
Perspectives on who needs guns
In defence of my garden
Paul Stevens (letter, 7 June), commenting on the shootings in Cumbria, thinks no one but those with a "massive inadequacy" would want to own a gun. The massive inadequacy that underlies the presence in my home of three rifles – two "legal limit" air weapons and a .22 firearm – is the devastation caused in my garden by rabbits from the neighbouring fields. I have also shot rats and would shoot grey squirrels if they appeared. Corvid species are not yet a problem. Nothing gets shot for fun.
The air weapons have a maximum practical lethal range of about 25 metres and the .22 about 80 metres, using sub-sonic ammunition to keep the noise down.
I net a proportion of the veg patch but rabbits are prone to burrowing. I have a lurcher that catches some. We have local ferret owners who thin the rabbits out from time to time. I could trap or snare the rabbits and then club or drown them, but that seems to me to indicate a want of compassion. In the future I hope to move to a small farm and anticipate the need for a rifle with an effective range of 300-400 metres, possibly with a night vision scope, for foxes.
Rifles in civilian hands do have bona fide uses and are not necessarily evidence of psychopathology. You can't spot a rabbit or a fox and book a fully tooled-up professional marksman for a week next Tuesday – you have to do the job yourself, then and there.
Haydon Bridge, Northumberland
No US gun laws here, please
I had to read Don Schwarz's letter (7 June) twice before I realised that he was actually advocating people "bearing arms" in an everyday situation, in the expectation that they might have been able to shoot back at a Derrick Bird.
I hope that most people join me in finding it ludicrous that a cyclist, a mole-catcher, a solicitor, a farmer, an estate agent and others going about their normal business would have been carrying a handgun, if only our "antiquated gun laws" had not forbidden it.
As an American, I disassociate myself from this way of thinking, along with many others from my country, and grieve with the residents of the Cumbrian communities.
Michele R Taborn
Had Derrick Bird shot dead a taxi driver in the middle of one of the towns or cities on the Continent it is unlikely that he would have lived to kill any others, because those areas are constantly patrolled by officers who, unlike those in the UK, are uncluttered by various accessories, but carry on their belts a basic firearm and are immediately available to deal with situations requiring the use of guns.
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