Saturday, February 05, 2005


How about that! The Federal Dept. of Housing is hitting on Berkeley's policy of giving its assistance mainly to blacks. It looks like "affirmative action" CAN get too gross to be tolerated. Some excerpts:

Suggesting that Berkeley's public housing program unfairly favors African Americans, federal officials are urging the city to recruit people of other races and, specifically, UC Berkeley students. The recommendations - some of which Berkeley officials have criticized -- stem from a routine fair-housing compliance review conducted in July by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Berkeley Housing Director Stephen Barton said he was stunned' when he got the Oct. 13 letter of preliminary findings from HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity recommending, among other things, that the city recruit UC Berkeley students. Barton said he had called another city housing official in disbelief -- "and I laughed." Still, he is taking HUD's letter very seriously because the agency pays for the city's housing program, which operates 61 rental units and distributes more than 1,700 rental vouchers to qualifying people with limited income.

Charles Hauptman, regional director of HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in San Francisco, said his agency had only issued preliminary findings and was in the midst of negotiating with Berkeley over possible remedies. "The numbers are what the numbers are. We try to be objective," said Hauptman, who predicted his agency would work out a corrective plan with Berkeley in about 30 days. Asked about the idea of seeking out UC Berkeley students, Hauptman said simply, "We'll talk to them about that if that's something they want to address."

In its letter to the city, Hauptman's office pointed out that while the 2000 census showed 15.7 percent of Berkeley's low-income population was African American, 74.2 percent of the people getting Section 8 rent vouchers and 87 percent of tenants in city-owned rental units were African American. By comparison, Asians were 30.5 percent of the city's low-income population but 3 percent of the Section 8 recipients, and whites were 41.5 percent of the city's poor but 22 percent of the voucher recipients. Barton this week sent a letter disputing some of HUD's conclusions, particularly the need to focus on university students, many of whom he said received financial support from their parents.

More here


Because we have grown accustomed to an easy, comfortable life, and because the risks that we now face can appear genuinely frightening, we have as a society become a lot more risk-averse. There is an increasing use of the "precautionary principle" - the idea that it is better to err on the side of caution, even if this means letting opportunities slip by.

The precautionary principle has unfortunately crept into everyday policy. Governments today are increasingly legislating and regulating with a view to minimising all risks, no matter how trivial. Take the preoccupation with obesity. Western populations are getting fatter, which has health implications. At the last federal election both major parties released policies to tackle obesity. The Liberals suggested after-hours exercise programs for schoolchildren; Labor wanted to ban junk-food advertising during children's TV shows.

These initiatives are well-intentioned, but it is devastating for personal responsibility when the most basic decisions of what to eat and when to exercise are delegated to government. True, the main focus in Australia so far has been on children, but isn't it the parents' or guardians' role to raise their children so that they learn about self-control and a good diet? Rather than government banning the ads, shouldn't parents be teaching their children how to respond to them?

The banning instinct does not stop at obesity. In Victoria, following two incidents where broken glass was used as a weapon in pub brawls, the police chief commissioner proposed a ban on glasses in pubs and nightclubs as the best way to prevent injuries. In NSW, the Premier, Bob Carr, announced a $1100 penalty for people who buy alcohol for friends who are intoxicated. The message in both cases is that drinkers should no longer be expected to control their alcohol intake, or to behave with restraint.

Instead, pubs must prevent risk by serving beer in plastic glasses, as if at a children's party, and friends must under pain of law determine when others have had enough.

In the risk-averse society that is emerging, government is making it its business to anticipate and prevent every foreseeable negative event. This is the precautionary principle gone mad; nothing is to be allowed to go wrong. When a population is encouraged to depend on government to protect it from risks, personal dignity is threatened and the principle of limited government disappears. Before World War I, the federal government passed an average of 23 new pieces of legislation each year. Today, that has risen to average 178. As time goes by we become increasingly regulated and monitored, which means we lose the habit of self-reliance.

The clearest example of this is the growth of the welfare state, the ultimate government risk-minimisation strategy. In 1965, only 3 per cent of working-age adults relied on welfare payments as their primary source of income. Today, that figure is 16 per cent, or one in six people. The less we are required to look after ourselves, the more government assumes the task for us. And for all the cost, the erosion of liberty, and the learned helplessness, preventive government policies do not even work.

In the case of childhood obesity, for example, research suggests that it is parents - not government or advertising - who have the greatest effect on their child's weight.

Effective or not, politicians keep spending money as "proof" they are "doing something" even though in many instances there is very little they can do. And the more preventive programs fail in their declared objectives, the stronger the pressure to bring in more controls. The philosopher David Hume wrote: "It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once". Instead, governments - often with the best of intentions - just chip away at our freedoms.

We need to recognise that, even in our modern world, we cannot eradicate all risks and all dangers, and that the attempt to do so signals a path to totalitarianism, not happiness. It is better to be left to make our own mistakes than to be smothered in the suffocating embrace of a paternalistic state.


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