Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Britain: "Human rights" hit lifesaving car seat law

The British police are really having fun as they politely satirize Britain's stupid "human rights" law

Police are failing to enforce car seat safety laws for children because it may infringe the human rights of the youngsters. Legislation introduced last year says that small children must use a booster seat as well as a seatbelt. But to gather evidence traffic police are supposed to take the children out of the car and measure them at the roadside.

Some forces believe this goes beyond their powers. The North Yorkshire force has refused to implement the law for four months while seeking legal advice. It said yesterday that it will start enforcing the law next week. A force spokesman said that because it was the parents, not the children, committing the offence, it could infringe children's legal and human rights to force them to be measured or give their date of birth.

The law applies to children under 12 and less than 4ft 5in tall. The Department for Transport estimates that it will prevent 2,000 child deaths and injuries each year. Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, said: "The police's time would be better spent outside an infant school advising parents."

Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: "Education is an important part of enforcement but ultimately the police do need to take action and use their enforcement powers."


The British Government won't let people take action against criminals

"Call the police"! What a laugh -- as anybody who has ever called the police knows. And the British police these days seem to be more sluggish than most. You are lucky if they do anything at all. They almost invariably arrive too late. All they do is pick up the pieces after the harm and damage is done

Here it comes - the advice you've all been waiting for. A Home Office minister is going to tell you what to do about crime and anti-social behaviour. Watch your television screens tonight and you will be given the official word on how you - being the concerned, responsible citizen that you are - can take back control of your neighbourhood in the spirit of that rousing governmental slogan, "Don't moan, take action: it's your street too." Let me give you a preview of what you can hear this evening.

Panorama presenter Jeremy Vine asks Tony McNulty, the deeply underwhelming minister for police and security, what exactly the individual should do when faced with a nasty incident in the street. Should he "step in", in the spirit of that admonition to "take action", this being his street and all?

Mr McNulty replies in a tone that sounds rather less enthusiastic than his Government's slogan: "I think the general line must be to get in touch with the authorities and make sure that, if things are as bad as you paint, the police will be there as quickly as they can."

Sorry? Who precisely should be sure that things are "as bad as you paint"? You, yourself? Or the perennially sceptical police? And is the minister implying by this jaundiced phrase - "really as bad as you paint" - that most people's concerns are not actually serious enough to merit official attention?

Mr Vine perseveres with a concrete example: suppose you, the conscientious adult, see a young man aggressively shouting at an old woman. What should you do - retreat and call the police? Mr McNulty responds rather confusingly: "I think you should in the first instance. It may well be [that] simply shouting at them, blowing your horn or whatever, deters them and they go away." So how does it go again? You should "in the first instance" retreat and call the police (who presumably will help you to decide whether things are "as bad as you paint" by suggesting that you might be exaggerating or imagining the circumstances), but then - having so retreated - you are to shout or blow your car horn in an attempt to send the young thug scurrying away like a frightened kitten. Ok-a-a-y.

Mr Vine goes on with his vivid picture of life on the mean streets of Britain: the aggressive-looking young man is hitting the elderly woman, and the police still haven't turned up. What do you do then?

Mr McNulty is now reversing away at full speed from the Government's advice to take action rather than moan. What should you do about the woman being beaten up by the thug? "The same, the same, you must always." What? Wait for the authorities? In desperation, the minister advocates what most of us, in fact, do end up doing under such horrifying circumstances: you must "get back to the police". That is, ring them up again and again, reporting the worsening agony you are witnessing only to be told that they (a) haven't got a car in the area, (b) don't have the manpower to deal with small incidents, (c) will get there as soon as they can (which turns out to be anything from an hour to a day later).

But the minister does have some ideas about what you might helpfully do while the poor woman is being beaten senseless and you are waiting that interminable length of time for the police to show up to do their sympathetic but hugely ineffectual counselling. You can "try some distractive [sic] activities". Such as? Mr Vine offers, presumably not without a hint of sarcasm, "jump up and down", and Mr McNulty replies in the best Blairite demotic style: "I would say you know sometimes that that may well work." And while you are jumping up and down, and repeatedly ringing the police from the position where you have retreated, a safe distance from the thug who is ruining the quality of life in your community, you may wish to contemplate what an absurd mess we are in. When a society is helplessly bullied by its own juveniles, it can only be because that society has chosen to abdicate its responsibilities. It has been the rightful business of grown-ups to control and instruct the young for as long as human beings have lived in organised communities.

So politicians are quite right to say that this is not simply a matter for government: that it is the business of the adult population as a whole to confront the problem. What they seem to have forgotten is that it was government that made it virtually impossible for neighbourhoods to protect and police themselves. "Children's rights" legislation - which in practice amounts to the right of children to behave as badly as they like without fear of interference - has made it a potential offence for any adult to intervene effectively when a minor is misbehaving.

Even strong verbal chastisement can constitute unacceptable victimisation, let alone physical restraint. The adult who attempts to put a stop to destructive or delinquent activity among local thuglets will face the immediate danger of being attacked by the thuglets or by their vengeful and unapologetic parents, and the later one of being charged with assault. So the minister must counsel "retreat", and the helpless summoning of the police to every incident that is threatening to turn nasty. The police, as hamstrung as everybody else by the legal minefield of controlling minors, would rather spend their time on something less thankless and more glamorous, such as "organised crime". But it is disorganised crime - the anarchic, opportunist delinquency of barely pubescent children - that ruins more lives on a daily basis than elaborately planned bank heists.

There was a time, within living memory, when virtually all self-respecting members of society - parents, teachers, police, magistrates and politicians - believed that we were in this together: that there was a confederation of grown-ups who all took responsibility for inculcating social morality and civility in the young.

But then politicians and the criminal-justice establishment were persuaded by social scientists that deprivation was to blame for misbehaviour rather than individuals: never mind that the honest poor had once been very effective at controlling youngsters in their own streets. Out went "judgmentalism" and the enforcement of what a generation of teachers was taught to call "middle-class" standards of behaviour. So this is where we find ourselves - jumping up and down as we retreat from the thug who is beating up an old woman.



Jeff Pierson is a photographer whose action shots of hopped-up American autos laying waste to the asphalt at Alabama dragways have appeared in racing magazines and commercial advertisements.

Pierson's Web site boasted he has the "most wonderful wife in the world and two fantastic daughters." And until recently, he ran a business called Beautiful Super Models that charged $175 for portraits of aspiring models under 18. [Most of whom look pretty close to 18. "Children" is a mere technicality. I would be surprised if any of them are below the "age of consent"]

In a federal indictment announced this week, the U.S. Department of Justice accused Pierson, 43, of being a child pornographer--even though even prosecutors acknowledge there's no evidence he has ever taken a single photograph of an unclothed minor.

Rather, they argue, his models struck poses that were illegally provocative. "The images charged are not legitimate child modeling, but rather lascivious poses one would expect to see in an adult magazine," Alice Martin, U.S. attorney for the northern district of Alabama, said in a statement.

Pierson's child pornography indictment arises out of an FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigation of so-called child modeling sites, which have been the subject of a series of critical congressional hearings and news reports in the last few years. An August article in The New York Times, for instance, called the modeling Web sites "the latest trend in child exploitation."

In addition to Pierson, the U.S. attorney also announced indictments against Marc Greenberg, 42, Jeffrey Libman, 39, partners in a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., business called Webe Web, which in turn ran the now-defunct ChildSuperModels.com site. It was one of the larger sites that featured photographs of child models, allegedly from Pierson, and became the target of a report on Florida's NBC6 affiliate suggesting that it was a magnet for pedophiles.

First Amendment scholars interviewed Wednesday raised questions about the Justice Department's attack on Internet child modeling. They warned that any legal precedent might endanger the mainstream use of child models in advertising and suggested that prosecutors' budgets might be better spent investigating actual cases of child molestation.

"I don't know what the DOJ's trying," said Lee Tien, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group. "The best I can say is that it's puzzling that they would devote investigative and law enforcement resources to something (like this). This is a far cry from what folks normally think of as child pornography."

The Web sites that prompted the indictments are now offline. But copies saved in Google's cache [or here] and through Archive.org show the photographs in question depicted girls wearing everything from sweaters to, more frequently, swimsuits and midriff-baring attire. Parents appear to have given their consent.

Richard Jaffe, Pierson's attorney, said he could not immediately comment because he was in court on Wednesday. Jill Ellis, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in the northern district of Alabama, confirmed to CNET News.com that no nudity was involved. An arraignment for Pierson has been scheduled for December 14 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Armstrong.

Because no sex or nudity is involved, the prosecutions raise unusual First Amendment concerns that stretch beyond mere modeling-related Web sites: children and teens in various degrees of undress appear in everything from newspaper underwear advertisements to the covers of Seventeen and Vogue.

When actress and model Brooke Shields was 15 years old, for instance, she appeared in a racy Calvin Klein jean advertisement featuring the memorable line, "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins." Shields also appeared nude at 12 years old in an Oscar-nominated movie called Pretty Baby that was set in a New Orleans brothel. Similarly, 14-year-old Jodie Foster, wearing revealing clothing, played a pre-teen prostitute in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver.

Sally Mann, named Time magazine's "photographer of the year" in 2001, was attacked by critics for featuring nude images of her own children in a book called Immediate Family. Famed photographer Jock Sturges' photos often feature nude boys and girls on the beaches of California and France--images that are far more revealing than those of swimsuit-clad youths.


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