Letters: US hope

Can the US live up to the world's audacious hope?
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The Independent Online

If the much-publicised holes in Barack Obama's shoes and trousers are for real, then his make-do-and-mend approach to dress is appropriate for these hard economic times and, judging by his latest statements, gives us an indication of how he will lead the US.

With businesses toppling like dominoes, US citizens will be encouraged to tighten their belts and make do until the economy recovers. Concerning foreign affairs, Obama wants to use "smart politics" to settle or avoid conflicts, and he intends to mend the Muslim fences that Bush broke down. After what many would call the nightmare of the last eight years, America looks set to become a more frugal, talk- first, peace-loving country. In theory, that is. The reality is that America has long been the richest nation on earth and its people will soon tire of making do. They are also born flagwavers and, with 9/11 still fresh in their minds, may not take kindly to a president negotiating with Muslim countries that give shelter to extremists. For Obama to get those countries on side, and force the extremists into the open, will require a long-term project dependent on the US showing military restraint – enough to have John Wayne spinning in his grave.

At the moment, Obama is giving hope to many people worldwide, but that will count for little at home if the recession is lengthy, or terrorists strike again on US soil. Much has been written about "the mountain he has to climb", but his biggest challenge will be keeping the support of an over-sentimental, gung-ho, are-we-there-yet American public.

Alan Aitchison

Wakefield, West Yorkshire

We need the new Heathrow runway

Your editorial on Heathrow's third runway (16 January) was subtitled "The example of our European neighbours shows there is another way." So let's examine their example: Schipol has six runways, Charles-de-Gaulle four, Orly three, Frankfurt three – but this very week, planning permission for a fourth has been granted.

You say: "Our domestic transport infrastructure is a disgrace compared with that of many of our European peers." Indeed, it is very rare to wait for a landing slot at their airports. Next time you are enduring the standard half-hour holding-pattern delay at Heathrow, I suggest you try telling the European peer in the seat next to you why you oppose a third runway.

Anthony Illingworth


At last, a government prepared to treat air transport seriously. The new third runway at Heathrow will do wonders for the UK economy in these troubled times.

But it is only fair to ensure that people adversely affected by the air transport industry should also benefit. Perhaps the Government should consider turning the whole area around Heathrow into a giant industrial estate as it has been rendered virtually uninhabitable over the past few years by not only aircraft noise but also the pollution and stench of aircraft fuel.

As it is, the people of Sipson should be grateful for being offered considerable compensation to relocate from what is neither a particularly attractive nor an historically significant village.

John Eoin Douglas


The debate over the expansion of Heathrow airport by means of a third runway seems to lack a sense of proportion. The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change has given its expert opinion that, at present, aviation contributes less than 2 per cent of all man-made CO2. Thus, extra flights at Heathrow will have no significant effect on global warming.

China, India and the United States are the real culprits, as they contribute much more CO2 than little England and by poorly regulated activities other than flying.

J Cox

Teddington, Middlesex

Regarding some of Mr Hoon's "environmental" requirements for allowing the expansion of Heathrow, we notice the frequent use of the word "intention". For example: "The intention to set a new target of reducing UK aviation emissions below 2005 levels by 2050"; and "The intention to bring in incentives for new capacity to be given to cleaner, quieter aircraft."

Quite apart from the road to hell being paved with the better sort, isn't "intention" merely shorthand for "subject to confirmation by BAA and the airline industry"?

Ian Ralls

Cambridge Friends of the Earth

Residents living close to the enlarged Heathrow will have fewer rights than voles. In the planning phase of Terminal 5 water voles were found to be in residence. They were evicted and relocated to an enhanced habitat on another site.

When the third runway becomes operational few believe that more planes and vehicle traffic will mean less air pollution. Residents who find themselves living close to the airport won't enjoy the type of enhanced habitat that Heathrow voles have been given.

Lyn Wood

New Malden, Surrey

Only well-off job candidates wanted

Johann Hari (14 January) is absolutely correct to highlight unpaid "work experience" or "internship" placements. The trend is especially pernicious in media and politics.

After graduating from Oxford in 2007 I had to work for three months unpaid and a further six months on less than a living wage before eventually being offered a salaried position. Without financial support from my parents this would have been impossible, and I would not have been able to enter the career I wanted to.

There is a huge barrier to the issue ever being fully acknowledged, since media organisations (including left-wing newspapers) are among the worst culprits. MPs (including socialist MPs) are equally at fault, and there is little likelihood of them campaigning on the issue.

It is hardly surprising that the majority of the public hold the political class in such contempt, when its membership is so blatantly limited to a tiny proportion of society.

Jonathan Knott

London N4

I fear that Johann Hari is mistaken in believing that public-sector recruitment is fair and open. Application forms ask for demonstration of a large number of competences, and there is a definite art to completing them in the required manner. Successful applicants are those who have been given the best advice on how to complete the application form.

When my daughter completed her degree course the only work she could get was as an agency temp with a government agency, paid barely more than the minimum wage. After 15 months the job she was doing was advertised by the agency.

She was told she could apply and the application asked her to demonstrate 23 competences. She was told that the interviewers could not take account of any ability to do the job she had done as a temp because this would create bias. She could however ask a member of staff to review her application to advise on whether it was good enough to have a chance of getting an interview.

Apart from the payment of a minimal wage this does not seem to me to be so different from the work experience scam described by Mr Hari.

Vaughan Clarke

Colchester, essex

The big obstacleto literacy

Graham Stringer MP has complained about the "dyslexia industry", claiming that dyslexia is a myth. I know from my own family that dyslexia is a fact. Mr Stringer compares the high literacy rates in Nicaragua and South Korea with the failure of the UK.

English spelling is the biggest obstacle to literacy. Spanish, which is the language of Nicaragua, has a comparatively transparent spelling, and the hangul alphabet in which Korean is written is recognised as the world's best. The Anglo-US speaking nations have an appalling record when it comes to comes to literacy. Their governments should grasp the nettle and reform the spelling.

Robert Craig

Weston super mare, somerset

Moral objection to hunting with dogs

Tim Bonner, of the Countryside Alliance (letter, 13 January) demonstrates yet again how disingenuous he and his hunting friends are, with his vague comments about "controlling wild mammal populations" and issues of cruelty.

Although opposition to hunting with dogs stems from differing viewpoints , including concerns about cruelty, the single most relevant reason why the ban must remain – and be strengthened – is that hunting with dogs for pleasure is morally repugnant.

In a civilised society it is indefensible for individuals to be allowed to obtain their pleasure from inflicting fear, injury, and death upon other creatures. It is precisely for that reason that we long ago banned bear-baiting and public executions.

W P Moore

Fakenham, Norfolk

The euphemism "managing" the wild mammal population actually means, in most cases, ruthlessly killing predators that threaten the mass production of non-native bird species as cannon-fodder for recreational shooting.

In fact, foxes cause fewer losses to intensively reared game birds than traffic and less cost to the rural economy, by a factor of thousands, than rabbits. In any case, hunting makes no difference to the fox population, which, unless it is intensively culled, is self-regulating on the basis of territories – which is why hunts can return year after year to the same place to find a fox.

As is obvious when you witness it, hunting is an addiction: it is the desired "high" of chasing and killing a living creature which is the necessitating cause. If they believe there is nothing wrong with this, why don't they own up to it?

Denise Ward

Stroud, Gloucestershire

I would be interested to know what Tim Bonner's justification is in calling a question in the Ipsos-MORI poll biased. The question he refers to, in a poll jointly commissioned by the League, IFAW and the RSPCA, asks: "Do you think fox hunting should or should not be made legal again?" To which 75 per cent of respondents answered: "No, it should not be made legal again."

I fail to see what Mr Bonner's problem with this question is. It is in no way leading or emotive. The real issue here is that these figures publicly show that support for the Hunting Act is strong and the vast majority of the public think hunting is cruel.

Louise Robertson

League Against Cruel Sports

Limekilns, Fife

The cost of greed

Desperate Dave is absolutely correct when he says that doing something about the recession will be a cost to society. Society has to pay for three decades of unmitigated, uncontrolled, unregulated greed. The other option is to do nothing, which will cost our children's children and society as a whole a lot more, for a lot longer.

Duncan Anderson

Immingham, North Lincolnshire

No objection to water

Your leading article "Wrong messages for our children" (29 December) is wrong to attribute to the British Soft Drinks Association the suggestion that tap water may be contaminated. BSDA makes no such claim. The scientific content of BSDA's Liquids Mean Life programme was written and reviewed by leading experts. The programme has been drawn up in accordance with best practice on the provision of educational materials, and it mentions no companies and no brands.

Richard Laming

Communications Director

British Soft Drinks Association

London WC2

Supporting role

Gordon Elliot (letter, 19 January) is critical of Kate Winslet's part in The Reader being classed as a supporting role. Having seen the film, it seems reasonable to me that the other major role, played, as it happens, by two actors, edges ahead as the leading role.

Barrie Spooner


Bias against the mail

Government claims to support postal services ("Mandelson fails to quell Royal Mail revolt", 15 January) would be more credible were it not for measures it has itself taken, in common with many powerful organisations, to penalise correspondents who communicate by letter rather than email, the latest example being HM Revenue and Customs ruling that postal tax returns must be forthcoming three months earlier than online submissions. Such action is made more deplorable by the fact that it particularly targets the elderly, who have often retired before acquiring the necessary electronic skills.

Dr Robert Heys

Ripponden, West Yorkshire

Blamed again

As a Canadian from Ottawa I sincerely hoped that Bush would not start to bomb it (letter, 19 January) should the investigators find that the cause of the US Airways near-disaster was a flock of Canadian geese. My first response on reading about the event was to think "Here we go again" and to recall the popular song from South Park: "Blame Canada".

Margot Kafno

London NW5