Sunday, January 20, 2008

British Left attacking the role of fathers

Doesn't a child need a father? Since in vitro fertilisation was first regulated in 1990 doctors have been required to consider the welfare of the baby, including "the need of that child for a father". This is one of the few ethical principles in IVF law and has served as a reminder that the welfare of the child is more important than the wishes of the would-be parents.

But no longer, it seems. The Government is seeking, in a new Bill in the House of Lords, to delete that obligation. Instead, IVF providers will have to consider "the need for supportive parenting", a change that is both unacceptable and inappropriate. The phrase "supportive parenting" will mean little to the public. Because it is speculative it will be difficult for practitioners to interpret, and it adds nothing of substance to the existing requirement to have regard to the welfare of the child. There is no reason to change the current approach, which works well.

A substantial amount of research has demonstrated that fathers make a distinctive contribution to child rearing, without which children are generally the poorer. If we believe that the welfare of children is important, it would be irresponsible to allow the law to move backwards and lose explicit reference to fathers.

The need to have regard to the role of fathers is not discriminatory. It has not and does not prevent same-sex couples from receiving IVF - the numbers of lesbian couples having such treatment is increasing. It simply asks those assessing IVF patients to consider the need of a child for a father, an eminently sensible provision that sends out a vital signal about the centrality of fathers.

This is an important principle of non-discrimination. It upholds equality of parenting and equal respect for both sexes in their roles. We all want to see women fulfilling their wish to become mothers, but one cannot overlook the contribution made by half the human race to the upbringing of the next generation.

At a time when many argue that Britain is suffering from a crisis of fatherlessness, this proposed change conflicts with the efforts being made to remedy the situation. The Government is encouraging paternity leave, compels fathers to pay maintenance, has ended the anonymity of sperm donors and wants them to register their names on birth certificates.

Britain has been successful in the field of advanced reproductive technology because the regulations governing it have kept the confidence of the public. That confidence will be jeopardised if this principle, which the great majority regard as important, is abandoned.


Class War and Wal-Mart

It doesn't take a degree in marketing to see that Wal-Mart has an image problem among the chattering classes. Few corporations in recent decades have been subjected to more relentless criticism, disdain, and fevered condemnation than what is regularly heaped upon the Arkansas-based retail giant. Wal-Mart has become the poster boy for everything that its opponents love to hate about the modern economy. From its use of nonunion labor to its "low" wages, to its marketing of inexpensive foreign goods, Wal-Mart is uniquely singled out as the most monstrous example of everything that is thought to be wrong with American society today.

Opposition to Wal-Mart takes many forms. At the local level, elections are organized to keep Wal-Mart stores out of town, and local activists sport "Mall Wart" bumper stickers. Planning commissions are filled with local officials who view Wal-Mart as something that is to be at best tolerated, but who frequently and openly condemn the retailer as a monstrosity. Nationwide, anti-Wal-Mart propaganda is widespread in academia while media productions such as the lengthy "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" work to portray the company in the worst possible light. National labor unions could scarcely loathe Wal-Mart more than they already do, and both left-wing and right-wing populists of all stripes rail against the retailer for its selling foreign goods, its alleged war against "mom and pop" stores and its supposed use of tactics such as browbeating suppliers, "dumping" of goods, and other nefarious business practices.

Interestingly however, we rarely hear about Wal-Mart's competitors when they engage in identical business practices, and this is not just because Wal-Mart is bigger than all of its competitors. Wal-Mart seems to elicit an emotional response that many of its competitor's lack, and this emotional response is driven not so much by what Wal-Mart does, but by who and what it represents. Take this passage from a recent edition of The American Conservative:
Wal-Mart began in Bentonville, Arkansas in 1962 as a single store and has grown to be the world's largest corporation and employer. Target and Kmart opened their first stores the same year; the difference between them and Wal-Mart was, and is, the latter's single-minded focus on offering the lowest possible prices all the time, not just during sales, no matter what it takes. Sam Walton banked on the addictive power of "too good to be true" bargain pricing to grow his business by cannibalizing existing retailers. It has worked-and in the process helped transform America from the workshop of the world into a nation not even of shopkeepers but of shop assistants ("sales associates").
Clearly, this analysis could be applied to Home Depot, or Target, or Kmart, or the new Sears superstores, or any other of the hated "big box" stores that dot the landscape. The allegation that only Wal-Mart uses low prices as a supposedly evil business tactic is patently absurd, yet the author manages to get away with it because her readers are no doubt inclined to assign some kind of unique evil to Wal-Mart alone. In addition, an anti-Wal-Mart site makes this proposal:
If you have a choice, choosing anyplace other than Wal-Mart helps keep the monster in check. It doesn't have to be some mom-and-pop store. Shopping at Target helps the balance, too. Every dollar diverted from Wal-Mart is one dollar less of influence the company has.
Shopping at Wal-Mart's competitors is apparently fine just as long as one doesn't shop at Wal-Mart itself. Ever. No reason is given for this singling out of Wal-Mart beyond a naked and irrational repugnance of Wal-Mart and everything it stands for. This loathing of Wal-Mart as unique among big-box retailers is perennially on display as Home Depots and Targets are opened with little to no opposition while Wal-Marts are rewarded with a bevy of anti-Wal-Mart yard signs and protests across the countryside.

While the sheer volume of anti-Wal-Mart articles, books, and documentaries are no doubt a factor, Wal-Mart's woes can also be traced to another phenomenon: its catering to low-income customers. Alone among major retailers, Wal-Mart is primarily identified with small towns and low-income shoppers. One often hears jokes about unwed mothers shopping at Wal-Mart and about the long lines endured while some customer at the front of the line fumbles with her WIC vouchers. The fact that Wal-Mart recently began selling fine wines was a source of much bemusement among pundits and late-night talk show hosts.

Home Depot and Target certainly don't suffer from the same image, and the fact that those with means avoid Wal-Mart while the penurious take advantage of the low prices offered there, means that Wal-Mart has become irrelevant and contemptible to those who write columns or sit on planning commissions or pontificate on matters of labor and economics. Essentially, Wal-Mart is associated with tacky poor people, while the middle and upper classes can reserve for themselves the more respectable environs of other retailers.

If we look deeper, we find that Target, Home Depot, Kmart, and others engage in more or less identical labor and retailing practices as Wal-Mart. Target's average wages are no higher than those of Wal-Mart. Target's health care options are no more lucrative. Target imports foreign goods just as much as any other retailer (including Wal-Mart) yet this seems to trouble few. Few big-box stores pay their sales associates "high" wages, and all rely on keeping costs low by finding the least expensive (imported or otherwise) goods available. These facts are often pointed out during the occasional anti-Home Depot or anti-Target protest, but they're generally ignored.

Wal-Mart's connection to small towns and low-incomes is not an accident, of course. Wal-Mart has long marketed itself to small-town residents, and those with medium to low incomes. Only recently has Wal-Mart begun opening stores in central urban areas, and in many small towns, Wal-Mart is the only large retailer to be found. This focus on cornering the discount-store market in small towns across America has no doubt contributed to the fact that Wal-Mart's revenues are now four times those of Target, but this strategy has also created an image of Wal-Mart that has not helped it much with the people who spend their days trying to influence public opinion.

For most of its history, Wal-Mart naively assumed that if it minded its own business, local and national pundits and politicians would leave it alone. Microsoft once made the same mistake. Yet, during the last several years they've figured out that their image with both local and national elites is important if Wal-Mart wants to protect its interests from official and heavy-handed meddling from outside. This is an unfortunate but inexorable reality.

Wal-Mart has begun to hire lobbyists and has made public relations and public affairs - for the first time in its history - a company priority. These measures would not be necessary if governments were not routinely threatening Wal-Mart with restrictive new laws and regulations, but Wal-Mart has seen the writing on the wall. And while a correlation doesn't prove causation, we've also begun to see Wal-Mart abandon its highly successful homey and unsophisticated image for a slicker, more urban, and more Target-like appearance. This may prove unfortunate if it means that Wal-Mart will no longer cater to the low-income shoppers who have so long benefited from its discount goods, but the change is undeniable.

Consider the Wal-Mart television ads of the late 1990s and early 2000s. The emphasis is on prices, and on family budgets and living on a small income. The formulas for Wal-Mart's advertising in this period were simple: regular focus on the low prices while profiling large families with small incomes. Most recognizable during this period were the famous smiley face commercials. One 1999 ad featured the smiley face slashing prices to the tune of the Rawhide theme. The tone is friendly with the focus always on prices. Then there were ads featuring mothers and parents who talked about how they shopped at Wal-Mart because it let them feed and clothe their families for less money. This 1998 commercial features a mother of four:

During the late 1990s Target made a conscious decision to distance itself from the Wal-Mart clientele and to appeal to a more young, hip, and (slightly) higher-income demographic. Target was still a discount store, but its image changed substantially throughout the '90s. And it became more and more a place where the young, educated, and fairly well-moneyed could imagine themselves shopping.

Here are two recent ads from the last decade that well typify the image that Target has recently cultivated: Note the kitsch and the lack of any mention of prices or families or practical considerations of any kind. Everyone knows that Target is a discount store. The idea is to convince you that it's a stylish discount store.

One can buy discount paper towels and dog food at both Target and Wal-Mart at similar prices while being served by minimum wage workers. Yet, few would confuse the two stores. One is simply more charming than the other from the point of view of those who are prone to have contempt for discount retailers, so Target becomes a place where a congressman's twenty-something children (if not the congressman himself) might actually shop. In their minds, however, Wal-Mart remains relegated to the realm of the impoverished and unstylish. The fact that Wal-Mart is perceived as useless by those with money and power has, not surprisingly, led to political problems for the retailer.

The general bias against Wal-Mart extends far deeper than any generic bias against capitalism or against Wal-Mart's success. The people who hate Wal-Mart seem to have few scruples about shopping at Bed, Bath & Beyond or Target. Even if Target enjoyed a market share similar to that of Wal-Mart, it's difficult to imagine the same culturally based disdain being directed with nearly as much passion at Target as has been the case for Wal-Mart.

These socio-economic biases are not noticed only by those who oppose Wal-Mart. Its customers have not been oblivious as Wal-Mart has made changes to its image. In a recent article on Wal-Mart's abandonment of its layaway program, MSNBC painted a picture of widespread shopper condemnation of the change:
"I always believed that they're always trying to give us the lowest prices and they're not for the rich man, you know?" said Jennifer Reynolds, a 28-year-old mother of four who used to depend on layaway for her children's school uniforms and holiday gifts. "I just can't believe that they would get rid of layaway and say, 'Here, well, here's a credit card.'"
The layaway change was portrayed as one piece of a larger movement away from Wal-Mart's traditional clientele. Shoppers also remarked on recent changes in Wal-Mart's image through new marketing items within the stores and with the merchandise itself. According to the article, one Wal-Mart customer and stockholder noted that the abandonment of layaway "hasn't helped reputationally, and it hasn't helped especially with their core (low-income) customers."

It's difficult to say how well these comments represent the feelings of the typical Wal-Mart customer or stockholder nationwide, but anyone who has seen recent Wal-Mart ads has certainly seen the change they've noticed. Recent ads have clearly been focusing more on a younger, wealthier, and more stylish crowd than the traditionally themed ad of five to ten years ago: Note the change in visual style and the fact that the ads now feature people who live in nice houses and buy high-end electronics. Note also that Wal-Mart has recently changed its motto from "Always Low Prices. Always," to "Save Money. Live Better," which sounds a lot like Target's motto of "Expect More. Pay Less."

It's not clear to what extent Wal-Mart's decision to change its marketing is directly tied to its government relations strategy, but it is clear that Wal-Mart is moving away from its traditional strategy and target demographic. Given that Wal-Mart has recently begun to pay attention to its government relations and public relations with a much more keen eye, it isn't outlandish to see its recent moves as an attempt to combat the traditional image which has produced so little sympathy among those with money and power.

If Wal-Mart does in the long run cease paying attention to its low-income customers, that will indeed be unfortunate, and all the more so if the change was motivated by political pressure. Historically, Wal-Mart marketing has been all about the low prices. And its low prices have made many goods available to many households that could not afford such goods before. Wal-Mart has set the standard for all large discount stores. All seek now to price themselves as close as possible to Wal-Mart's prices, and even those consumers who don't shop at Wal-Mart end up benefiting from the price competition.

In spite of what any pundit or city councilperson says, Wal-Mart has long served its low-income customers well, and it has improved the lives of many by making food, toys, tools, and clothing more affordable for millions. Being hated by the wealthy and powerful is perhaps the high cost of serving those with low incomes, and Wal-Mart will no doubt continue to encounter resistance from those who don't need its services for some time to come.


The Feminists and the Jews

Of the three women pictured here, one is the President of the Supreme Court, the second the Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the third is the Speaker of the Parliament. Women in positions of real power, and all are members of a Middle East government. Any magazine committed to feminism, the empowerment of women, and the evolution of women's rights in the Middle East would hunger for such a photo, or so you would think.

Yet, MS. Magazine refused to publish these photos of Dorit Beinish, Tzipi Livni, and Dalia Itzik, three Middle East women whose society does not treat women as chattel and encourages the development of their full human potential. The problem for MS was that these are Jewish women, holding office in Israel, and the caption beneath the photo reads, "This is Israel." This is not the face of Israel the left wants people to see. This is not the David (Palestine) and Goliath (Israel) commonly depicted in news footage of Palestine children throwing stones at Israeli Jeeps and tanks. This not the probably contrived photo of Israelis "shooting" Muhammad Dura, as his father uses his own body to cover him. This is not the phony "massacre" at Jenin with the destruction and carnage at Grozny.

Today's political left has embraced an authoritarian mindset that bifurcates the world into distinct stereotypic groups. This is the mindset that dominates our politically correct universities and has produced generations of students who have been indoctrinated into seeing the world as divided into one of the oppressed and oppressor.

All of the world's ills-in this distorted view -- are the consequence of the actions of the oppressor class: whether heard it the sanctimonious babble that Hurricane Katrina was caused by the Bush administration's refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocols, or the absurd proposition that American led globalization is now responsible for all the economic ills in the world. This is the mantra of indoctrination being chanted in our institutions of higher education.

And for the left, the leading force behind globalization is the conspiracy of investment bankers, international financiers and conglomerates, and, of course, the media-all simplistically translated once again as "the International Jew."

So, why should anyone be surprised that Ms. Magazine, which bills itself not just as a magazine but a feminist social movement, should refuse to run an ad, however accurate, that would depict Israel in a way that would be incongruous with leftist propaganda? After all, the vitriol the ad is reputed to have created among the staff is the natural course of the creation of the new feminist authoritarian type-The Femi-Nazi.

Jewish liberals regrettably see anti-Semitism as a disease of the right, unmindful that the National Socialism, grew out of the German Worker's Party, and that Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia were not at opposite ends of the political continuum but adjacent to each other The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was not an unholy alliance but an instinctive one.

The need to create scapegoats is a natural tendency for all movements that mobilize true believers. It makes no difference if the movement mobilizes itself in the interests of race or class, or even gender. Such movements require simplistic solutions to complex problems. And all such movements use hatred as the great unifier.

Whether it is the male, white people or the economic system, if there is no victimizer, there is no victim. In today's leftist fantasy, all victimization ultimately traces itself back to the international Jewish capitalist. As a recruiter for the Green Party unabashedly said to me at our local farmer's market, "So what if Iran gets the bomb. The only people they'd use it against are Jews. Who cares about them?" Well, obviously not the Green Party, or for that matter the political left.

My liberal Jewish friends and supporters of Ms. Magazine and its advertisers should ask themselves this simple question: From what other country would Ms. Magazine refuse to put three women on its cover? From China which occupies Tibet? From Mozambique where dictatorship has run amuck? From any of a number of societies where women are treated as chattel, mutilated, and denied the rudiments of self determination? Israel and Israel alone is shunned.


Arab terrorism now OK?

The Bush Doctrine -- born on Sept. 20, 2001, when President Bush bluntly warned the sponsors of violent jihad: "You are either with us, or you are with the terrorists" -- is dead. Its demise was announced by Condoleezza Rice last Friday.

The secretary of state was speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One en route with the president to Kuwait from Israel. She was explaining why the administration had abandoned the most fundamental condition of its support for Palestinian statehood - namely, an end to Palestinian terror. Rice's explanation, recounted here by The Washington Times, was as striking for its candor as for its moral blindness:

"The 'road map' for peace, conceived in 2002 by Mr. Bush, had become a hindrance to the peace process, because the first requirement was that the Palestinians stop terrorist attacks. As a result, every time there was a terrorist bombing, the peace process fell apart and went back to square one. Neither side ever began discussing the 'core issues': the freezing of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the right of Palestinian refugees to return, the outline of Israel's border, and the future of Jerusalem.

"'The reason that we haven't really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is that we were stuck in the sequentiality of the road map. So you had to do the first phase of the road map before you moved on to the third phase of the road map, which was the actual negotiations of final status,' Rice said. . . . What the US-hosted November peace summit in Annapolis did was 'break that tight sequentiality. . . You don't want people to get hung up on settlement activity or the fact that the Palestinians haven't fully been able to deal with the terrorist infrastructure. . .'"

Thus the president who once insisted that a "Palestinian state will never be created by terror" now insists that a Palestinian state be created regardless of terror. Once the Bush administration championed a "road map" whose first and foremost requirement was that the Palestinians "declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism" and shut down "all official . . . incitement against Israel." Now the administration says that Palestinian terrorism and incitement are nothing "to get hung up on."

Whatever happened to the moral clarity that informed the president's worldview in the wake of 9/11? Whatever happened to the conviction that was at the core of the Bush Doctrine: that terrorists must be anathematized and defeated, and the fever-swamps that breed them drained and detoxified?

Bush's support for the creation of a Palestinian state was always misguided -- rarely has a society shown itself *less* suited for sovereignty -- but at least he made it clear that American support came at a stiff price: "The United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state," Bush said in his landmark June 2002 speech on the Israeli-Arab conflict, "until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure." He reinforced that condition two years later, confirming in a letter to Ariel Sharon that "the Palestinian leadership must act decisively against terror, including sustained, targeted, and effective operations to stop terrorism and dismantle terrorist capabilities and infrastructure."

Now that policy has gone by the boards, replaced by one less focused on achieving peace than on maintaining a "peace process." No doubt it *is* difficult, as Rice says, to "move forward on the peace process" when the Palestinian Authority glorifies suicide bombers and encourages a murderous yearning to eliminate the Jewish state. If the Bush Doctrine -- "with us or with the terrorists" -- were still in force, the peace process would have been shelved once the Palestinians made clear that they had no intention of rejecting violence or accepting Israel's existence. The administration would be treating the Palestinians as pariahs, allowing them no assistance of any kind, much less movement toward statehood, so long as their encouragement of terrorism persisted.

But it is the Bush Doctrine that has been shelved. In its hunger for Arab support against Iran -- and perhaps in a quest for a historic "legacy" -- the administration has dropped "with us or with the terrorists." It is hellbent instead on bestowing statehood upon a regime that stands unequivocally with the terrorists. "Frankly, it's time for the establishment of a Palestinian state," Rice says.

When George W. Bush succeeded Bill Clinton, he was determined not to replicate his predecessor's blunders in the Middle East, a determination that intensified after 9/11. Yet he too has succumbed to the messianism that leads US presidents to imagine they can resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Clinton's legacy in this arena was the second intifada, which drenched the region in blood. To what fresh hell will Bush's diplomacy lead?



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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