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Saturday 25 April 2009
Letters: The education system and children in care
Schools are failing children who have been in care
You report the debate about whether children at risk are better off at home, in foster care or in a children's home and note the abysmal level of support for these children in education and later life (20 April).
A major part of these children's problems is that they tend to be more needy and demanding than other youngsters. They are less desirable as pupils and therefore, even when they are not involved in frequent house moves, are more likely to be shuffled off to the less desirable schools.
I adopted an eight-year-old boy who spent some years of his life in care and had to attend a governors' meeting to consider his permanent exclusion. In his earlier years at the school, he had had some remedial assistance from staff, but the headteacher said this required too much staff time and it was withdrawn and a red-card system introduced.
At the hearing I asked for details of the offences that led to the red cards but could not get a satisfactory reply. The Education Office representative asked about support being given to my son – there was none. At the end of the meeting, the governors confirmed the exclusion. This decision was overturned on appeal, but my son never did go back to a school where the head so plainly did not want him. This all took place 10 years ago and since then he has worked for not much more than six months.
The Government needs to give schools a strong incentive to improve the education of children who are or have been in care both through increased resources and the monitoring of their performance.
Politics of terror for the rich
Those who declare that the Chancellor's increase in the top rate of tax represents "class war" and the "politics of envy" reveal a more disturbing truth about the present economic crisis: the terror felt by the rich and powerful that the Government might take measures to limit, even by a fraction, their personal wealth. This is amid the backdrop of widespread suffering among ordinary workers and business people largely caused by the irresponsibility and greed of the super-rich casino bankers and their cronies in the media, among regulators and, sadly, in government.
I wonder what these people would be saying had the economy suffered the worst catastrophe since the Second World War as a result of action by the trade unions, terrorists, or organised criminals. I imagine they would be calling for at the very least punitive and wholesale legislative and criminal sanctions against the perpetrators of such economic destruction, and possibly the declaration of a state of emergency.
Marginal increases to the higher rate of taxation seem a very gentle and fair response in comparison to the devastation rained down on the unionised coal and steel industries by the Conservatives in the 1980s, when trade unions were viewed to have endangered the economy.
The bubble of invincibility that has surrounded the rich and powerful for so long has finally been pricked, and as the polls show, a public battered by economic misery not of its own making isn't feeling overly sympathetic to their shrill cries of outrage.
Thomas Jefferson reasonably posed the question of whether one generation of men has the right to bind another.
He considered this a question that influenced the fundamental principles of government, and concluded that "the earth belongs in usufruct to the living" and that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it, and by definition that no man can by natural rights oblige the payment of debts contracted by him.
Our government appears to be dismissive of this concept and instead has chosen to saddle our children with the debts of our government's failure to manage the economy and our own profligacy. Gordon Brown will be long remembered, but sadly for all the wrong reasons.
Pangbourne, West Berkshire
In your excellent Budget 2009 supplement (23 April), you chose to interview people who didn't vote in the last election and don't plan to vote in the next. Why should we be interested in their views? They have had no influence on policy in the past and have disclaimed their right to influence it in future.
Russ J Graham
West Kirby, Merseyside
The Chancellor is willing to pay us £2,000 for our 24-year-old Golf but he will take back nearly as much in VAT. In fact, if we decide to buy anything costing more than £13,333 he will be in profit.
Hamish McRae is right to say that New Labour is going down in deceit and dishonesty (23 April), but at least they are taking neo-Thatcherite, free-market ideology down with them, so it's not all bad news.
Too many people, too few answers
Further to Richard Ingrams's exploration of the idea, proposed by Rev Thomas Malthus and others, that the essence of overpopulation is the uncontrolled sexuality of the poor and ignorant (Opinion, 18 April), you have only to flick through the serious newspapers to realise that the poor are not all that good at living to even 15 or 20 years, let alone the threescore and ten which used to be thought the norm. A large percentage of them would hardly have achieved making a single, brief carbon footprint.
But in the "developed" world, we not only get older and older, but have also developed the habit of perpetual consumption. A very unremarkable citizen like myself has bought how many cars during a lifetime? Five? Ten? How many houses? How much furniture and clothing? Holidays abroad – flying, probably? How many of these things does it take each of us to achieve a carbon footprint of 20 or 40? I am now 85, and have been making maybe as many footprints as a whole regiment – for 15 years more than the old norm – and because of efficient medical science and technology, nobody knows how long I might continue.
Like Sir David Attenborough, I accept that there are too many of us, but I suspect it's not the fecklessness of the poor we really need to cut down on. Like him, I don't know how, and suspect that we will just go on and on until . . .
M M Heath
Hard to measure results of torture
Thank you for wisely pointing out that Dick Cheney's demand for the allegedly positive results of torture to be published would need also to show that it was evidence "that could not have been produced in any other way" (leader, 22 April).
To get robust evidence on this complex issue, one would also need to study the damage caused by acting on false evidence. Torture victims will often say almost anything to end their pain.
The upshot is that reliable evidence on the usefulness of torture is exceedingly difficult if not impossible to obtain. That need depress no one. Torture is immoral and unacceptable in a civilised country. The US lost a great deal of high ground when it descended to torture. And the costs of that loss are still being paid, Mr Cheney.
DR PETER DRAPER
I could hardly believe what I was reading. Your editorial "We need to close this ugly chapter" (22 April) congratulates President Obama on his balanced approach to dealing with recent US use of torture techniques, but his decision not to prosecute CIA agents guilty of torture, or those who ordered it, not only fails to bring perpetrators to justice but creates a dangerous precedent of toleration.
And why does an Independent editorial place a higher value on the morale of United States intelligence agencies than the vindication of the human rights of those subject to their torture?
Rathnew, Co Wicklow
Accusations of racism in Israel
The Iranian government is wrong on many things. They've beaten Iranians, tortured them, jailed them without fair trial and murdered them. And President Ahmadinejad is wrong in doubting the Holocaust happened, but he's right about one thing: Israel's treatment of Israeli and Palestinian Arabs is racist.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and UN special rapporteur Professor John Dugard both visited Israel and the Israeli occupied Palestinian territories. Both compared it to the apartheid system they'd lived under.
When an Arab Knesset member proposed a binational state, with citizenship for Jews and Arabs, the Defence Minister Ehud Barak portrayed Israeli Arabs as a "fifth column"' inside the "Jewish state".
Carluke, South Lanarkshire
We are shocked that Adrian Hamilton (Opinion, 23 April) believes Western nations should sit on their hands while the President of Iran addresses the United Nations anti-racism conference and repeats the old Jewish conspiracy lie, pathetically refashioned as the new Zionist conspiracy lie. Moreover, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad openly denied the significance of the Holocaust during his speech. He clearly lists the great tragedies in the history of humanity while omitting the Holocaust.
The EU governments' decision to walk out of the plenary was not sparked by the mention of the word Israel. The walkout shows that these countries reject statements that incite racial hatred and anti-Semitism at a UN anti-racism conference.
As NGOs attending the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, we applaud the action of the member states who decided not to listen to hateful messages by a representative of a regime that abuses human rights on a large scale and brings a genocidal mindset to any meeting table.
Rosalind Preston OBE
Co-chair, Jewish Human Rights Coalition UK, Place des Nations, Geneva
In his attempt to defend Zionism, Dr Jacob Amir asserts that the West Bank barrier is a "security barrier between Israel and the West Bank" (Letters, 17 April). The barrier does not run "between" Israel and the West Bank, but cuts deep into the West Bank.
The Israeli President, Shimon Peres, has said of the barrier: "The line is following a certain vision of the future. When that happens, it stops being a security fence and becomes a political fence. Nobody will admit that it is being built for these [political] reasons; nobody will admit that it is a political line."
Stuart Russell (letter, 23 April) believes that the failure to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has left Tony Blair's reputation "in tatters". Yet the former Prime Minister strides the world stage like a moral colossus. Bizarre.
Inspired by Cockburn
I was surprised that your report on the much-deserved award of the Orwell Prize to Patrick Cockburn (24 April) made no mention of Patrick's father, Claud. It was Claud's political writing, along with that of James Cameron, that inspired me to embark on a career in journalism, taking a graduate traineeship in newspapers beginning at £9 a week, rather than a £60-a-week job in corporate personnel management. And I've never once regretted turning down the big money.
Lib Dem alternative
Chris Gale (letter, 22 April) and Pete Dorey (letter, 23 April) seem to think that the only alternative to a future Labour government is a Conservative one. Surely now is the time to start taking the Liberal Democrats seriously. With politicians such as Vince Cable, they provide a viable alternative, and are finally being given more good-quality media attention. A year before the US elections, few would have correctly predicted the outcome. Are we not capable of changing the face of British politics in the same way?
Give us a leader
Amid the apparently unstoppable demise of our historic freedoms (a still unaccountable upper house populated with apparatchiks, MPs' expenses, police unaccountability and increasing surveillance under the guise of "security"), I am surprised that no leader has arisen to represent and fight for our rights and freedoms. Where are our Nelson Mandelas, Lech Walesas, Gandhis, or even our Wat Tylers? Or has our media and celebrity-obsessed culture now over-ridden the desire for political and personal freedom? Have we arrived at the bread-and-circuses civilisation of ancient Rome?
Olton, West Midlands
New day for England
Instead of St George's Day, why not have Magna Carta Day as our national holiday? It's English, it's historical and it's relevant, especially as a reminder of hard-won freedoms.
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