Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The battle over eminent domain is a civil rights issue

Few policies have done more to destroy community and opportunity for minorities than eminent domain. Some 3 to 4 million Americans, most of them ethnic minorities, have been forcibly displaced from their homes as a result of urban renewal takings since World War II.

The fact is that eminent-domain abuse is a crucial constitutional rights issue. On Tuesday, the Alabama Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will hold a public forum at Birmingham's historic Sixteenth Street Baptist church to address ongoing property seizures in the state. The church was not only a center of early civil rights action, but also, tragically, where four schoolgirls lost their lives in a bombing in 1963.

Current eminent domain horror stories in the South and elsewhere are not hard to find. At this writing, for example, the city of Clarksville, Tenn., is giving itself authority to seize more than 1,000 homes, businesses and churches and then resell much of the land to developers. Many who reside there are black, live on fixed incomes, and own well-maintained Victorian homes.

Eminent domain has always had an outsized impact on the constitutional rights of minorities, but most of the public didn't notice until the U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 ruling in Kelo v. City of New London. In Kelo, the Court endorsed the power of a local government to forcibly transfer private property to commercial interests for the purpose of "economic development."

The Fifth Amendment requires that such seizures be for a "public use," but that requirement can be satisfied, the Court ruled, by virtually any claim of some sort of public benefit. Many charge that Kelo gives governments a blank check to redistribute land from the poor and middle class to the wealthy.

Few protested the Kelo ruling more ardently than the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In an amicus brief filed in the case, it argued that "[t]he burden of eminent domain has and will continue to fall disproportionately upon racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, and economically disadvantaged." Unfettered eminent domain authority, the NAACP concluded, is a "license for government to coerce individuals on behalf of society's strongest interests."

Some earlier civil rights champions, by contrast, often ignored, or worse helped to undermine, the rights of property owners. Ironically, the same U.S. Supreme Court which handed down Brown v. Board in 1954 also issued Berman v. Parker, in which the Court allowed the District of Columbia to forcibly expel some 5,000 low-income African-Americans from their homes in order to facilitate "urban renewal." It was Berman that enabled the massive urban renewal condemnations of later decades, which many critics dubbed "Negro removal" because they too tended to target African-Americans.

Four years ago, the city of Alabaster, Ala., used "blight" as a pretext to take 400 acres of rural property, much of it owned by low-income black people, for a new Wal-Mart. Many of the residents had lived there for generations, and two other Wal-Mart stores were located less than fifteen miles away. Several of the landowners, particularly those who lacked political clout and legal aid, ended up selling out at a discount.

In the three years since Kelo, 42 states, including Alabama, have enacted new laws limiting eminent domain power, but many of the new laws contain loopholes that make them easy to circumvent. Some 19 states have forbidden takings for "economic development" but continue to permit the exact same kinds of condemnations under the guise of alleviating "blight" a concept defined so broadly that virtually any property the government covets can be declared "blighted." If takings end up becoming a key constitutional rights issue for minorities in the 21st century, it will be fitting that the crusade against them begins in Alabama, where their victims have suffered most greatly. And there are few better places to kick off the debate than the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where the modern civil rights movement was born.


Please send more complaints

Otherwise how will Canada's taxpayer-funded hate police manage to keep their cozy sinecure?


Last week's letters page included a missive from Jennifer Lynch, Q.C., chief commissioner of the Canadian "Human Rights" Commission, defending her employees from the accusation of "improper investigative techniques" by yours truly. Steyn, she writes, "provides no substantiation for these claims," and then concludes:
"Why is this all important? Because words are important. Steyn would have us believe that words, however hateful, should be given free rein. History has shown us that hateful words sometimes lead to hurtful actions that undermine freedom and have led to unspeakable crimes. That is why Canada and most other democracies have enacted legislation to place reasonable limits on the expression of hatred."
Hmm. "History has shown us that hateful words sometimes lead to hurtful actions that undermine freedom and have led to unspeakable crimes." Commissar Lynch provides, as she would say, "no substantiation for these claims." But then she's a "hate speech" prosecutor and, as we know, Canada's "human rights" procedures aren't subject to tiresome requirements like evidence. So she's made an argument from authority: the great Queen's Counsel has risen from her throne in the Star Chamber and pronounced, and let that suffice. Those of us who occupy less exalted positions in the realm might wish to ponder the evidence for her assertions.

It's true that "hurtful actions that undermine freedom" and lead to "unspeakable crimes" usually have some fig leaf of intellectual justification. For example, the ideology first articulated by Karl Marx has led to the deaths of millions of people around the planet on an unprecedented scale. Yet oddly enough, no matter how many folks are murdered in the name of Marxism-Leninism, you're still free to propound its principles at every college in Canada.

Ah, but that's the Good Totalitarianism. What about the Bad Totalitarianism? You know, the one everybody disapproves of: Nazism. Isn't it obvious that in the case of Adolf Hitler, "hateful words" led to "unspeakable crimes"? This argument is offered routinely: if only there'd been "reasonable limits on the expression of hatred" 70 years ago, the Holocaust might have been prevented. There's just one teensy-weensy problem with it: pre-Nazi Germany had such "reasonable limits." Indeed, the Weimar Republic was a veritable proto-Trudeaupia. As Alan Borovoy, Canada's leading civil libertarian, put it:
"Remarkably, pre-Hitler Germany had laws very much like the Canadian anti-hate law. Moreover, those laws were enforced with some vigour. During the 15 years before Hitler came to power, there were more than 200 prosecutions based on anti-Semitic speech. And, in the opinion of the leading Jewish organization of that era, no more than 10 per cent of the cases were mishandled by the authorities. As subsequent history so painfully testifies, this type of legislation proved ineffectual on the one occasion when there was a real argument for it."
Inevitably, the Nazi party exploited the restrictions on "free speech" in order to boost its appeal. In 1925, the state of Bavaria issued an order banning Adolf Hitler from making any public speeches. The Nazis responded by distributing a drawing of their leader with his mouth gagged and the caption, "Of 2,000 million people in the world, one alone is forbidden to speak in Germany."

The idea that "hate speech" led to the Holocaust is seductive because it's easy: if only we ban hateful speech, then there will be no hateful acts. But, as professor Anuj C. Desai of the University of Wisconsin Law School points out, "Biased speech has been around since history began. As a logical matter, then, it is no more helpful to say that anti-Semitic speech caused the Holocaust than to say organized government caused it, or, for that matter, to say that oxygen caused it. All were necessary ingredients, but all have been present in every historical epoch in every country in the world."

Just so. Indeed, the principal ingredient unique to the pre-Hitler era was the introduction of Jennifer Lynch-type hate-speech laws that supposedly protect vulnerable minorities from "unspeakable acts." You might as well argue that Weimar's "reasonable limits" on free speech led to the Holocaust: after all, while anti-Semitism is "the oldest hatred," it didn't turn genocidal until the "reasonable limits" proponents of the day introduced group-defamation laws to Germany. 'Tween-wars Europe was awash in prototype hate-crimes legislation. For example, the Versailles Conference required the new postwar states to sign on to the 1919 Minorities Protection Treaty, with its solemn guarantees of non-discrimination. I'm sure Canada's many Jews of Mitteleuropean origin will be happy to testify to what a splendid job that far-sighted legislation did.

More here

Hatred of Technology

But it's all theory. Who cares about silly old facts?

Susan Greenfield's lower lip pouts as if to blow a raspberry. Then, in soothsaying mode, the solemn utterance: "The global cyber world promises a more reassuring, safer option than the messy world of in-your-face three-dimensional life. But the IT technologies are already blurring the cyber world and reality." The hooded eyes readjust from Delphic oracle to larky chick as she flashes a face-splitting grin. "There are people," she chortles, "who can't believe, eh! that the planes crashing into the twin towers were actually real, eh!" The punctuating "eh!" prompts you to agree.

Professor Greenfield, promoter extraordinaire of science, has written a book that makes routine auguries - global warming, economic downturns - look like mere gloomy hand-wringing. A specialist in brain degeneration, Greenfield is predicting that our teen generation is headed for a sort of mass loss of personal identity. She calls it the Nobody Scenario. By spending inordinate quantities of time in the interactive, virtual, two-dimensional, cyberspace realms of the screen, she believes that the brains of the youth of today are headed for a drastic alteration. It's as if all that young grey cortical matter is being scalded and defoliated by a kind of cognitive Agent Orange, depriving them of moral agency, imagination and awareness of consequences.

"They are destined to lose an awareness of who and what they are: not someones, or anyones, but nobodies, eh!" That expressive mouth widens again, the lower lip ripens. "The time is well nigh," she says, "to explore the impact of these technologies." ....

Greenfield has elaborated a theory about the influence of IT on young brains. Given the time young people spend gazing into screens, small and large - reckoned to be from six to nine hours daily - she believes the minds of the younger generation are developing differently from those of previous generations. "The brain," she says, "has plasticity: it is exquisitely malleable, and a significant alteration in our environment and behaviour has consequences."

She sets out a catalogue of repercussions: the substitution of virtual experience for real encounters; the impact of spoon-fed menu options as opposed to free-ranging inquiry; a decline in linguistic and visual imagination; an atrophy of creativity; contracted, brutalised text-messaging, lacking the verbs and conditional structures essential for complex thinking. Her principal concern is how computer games could be emphasising what she calls "process" over "content" - method over meaning - in mental activity.

Her theory goes like this. The more we play games, the less time there is for learning specific facts and working out how those facts relate to each other. This can result, she maintains, in a failure to build highly personalised individual conceptual frameworks - the whole point of education and the basis of individual identity. If the purpose of a game, for instance, is to free the princess from the tower, it is the thrill of attaining the goal, the process, that counts. What does not count is the content - the personality of the princess and the narrative as to why and how she is there, as in a storybook. Greenfield avers that emphasis on process in isolation becomes addictive and profoundly mind-changing.

Here is her hypothesis. A natural brain chemical called dopamine is involved in all forms of addiction. Dopamine contributes to feelings of wellbeing on attaining a goal, especially when gratification repeatedly deferred is finally delivered. Falling levels of dopamine accompany the opposite situations, when gratification has been frustrated (for example, waiting for a phone call that never comes).

The area of the brain crucial to the dopamine hits is called the nucleus accumbens, which is associated with the prefrontal cortex, an area at the front of the brain. An under-functioning prefrontal cortex is linked with types of behaviour marked by total absorption in the here and now, and an inability to consider past and future implications. According to Greenfield, excessive dopamine can reduce the activity of brain cells in the prefrontal cortex, leading to its partial shutdown. She is speculating that the intense subjective "here and now" feeling, prompted and accompanied by dopamine "rewards" in computer play, creates a euphoric, self-centred ego boost, the pleasure of which can lead to craving and addiction.

What lasting effect does this repeated neglect in the prefrontal cortex have on the brain, and hence the mind? "Excessive dopamine hits might reduce activation in the prefrontal cortex, and in so doing tip the balance away from awareness of the significance, the meaning, of our actions," she says. So playing games in which I slaughter scores of all-comers with my trusty sword, as in the Tarantino movie Kill Bill, deals not with the significance of beheading and disembowelling of hordes of Japanese villains, but with the process - the action separated from meaning and consequences. "When those teenagers kicked that goth girl to death in the park recently," she says, "was it like a computer game for them? The buzz of the moment? Were they thinking of her as a person with feelings, with parents and siblings? Were they thinking of the implications for themselves the next day?"

For the mind to operate fully, Greenfield asserts, the prefrontal cortex must be active, and content must be a high priority. The world and oneself are then redolent with meaning. How do the young attain unique and enriched identities? "Through the world of focused conversation, nursery rhyme repetition, recitation and rote learning, of reading and writing interspersed with bouts of physical activity in the real world, where there are first-hand and unique adventures to provide a personal narrative, personalised neuronal connections. This is education as we have known it."

And what if "education as we have known it" fails? It will lead, she predicts, to the ultimate triumph of process over content: the Nobody Scenario. "For the first time in human history, individuality could be obliterated in favour of a passive state, reacting to a flood of incoming sensations - a `yuck' and `wow' mentality characterised by a premium on momentary experience as the landscape of the brain shifts into one where personalised brain connectivity is either not functional or absent altogether." .....

Greenfield tells me that she has friends who have faith and she quizzes them endlessly - Ed Stourton, the broadcaster, Jack Valero, Opus Dei's spokesperson in Britain, and a neighbour whose faith is helping him and his family overcome a serious illness. She pauses outside New College. This is the college of Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and professional antagonist of religion.

That Delphic lower lip is active again. "I'm not at all saying that all religious believers are fundamentalists; but what distinguishes the believing brain of the extreme kind - I mean the fundamentalist and the totalitarian - from the non-fundamentalist brains," she ventures, "is the emotion of disgust, eh. "The anti-Semitic imagery of the Nazis was associated with a virus, a stealthy and elusive infection [What complete and utter nonsense! The Nazis just applied German thoroughness to a belief that had been normal in Europe for centuries]. So combating such a difficult enemy in the struggle for community hygiene isn't just a punch-for-punch slugging it out. The enemy is a sickness. You've got to be on constant guard. You don't just get angry with disease - you destroy it, exterminate it." She nods towards New College. "The invisible viral foe could invade your body and, most importantly, your brain. That's the language used by Dawkins, who's developed non-belief into a belief system all of its own, and who constantly refers to religion as a virus." ....

For people in midlife, she asserts, the identity problem is affluence. "The reason we crave more clothes, cars, goods, brands, is that they'll say something about us, symbolise our distinct, preferably superior identity." [Typical Leftist boilerplate]


A Leftist to be missed

By Mark Steyn

The Australian columnist Pamela Bone died of cancer this weekend. She was a feminist, an atheist and most of the other -ists you might expect from a western woman of her general disposition (she was a recipient, among many other awards, of something called the "UN media peace prize").

But in her final years she came to see that the Islamization of the west represented a profound challenge to everything she believed in. It began fairly tentatively. She seems almost to be thinking aloud in this piece for the Melbourne Age on the British subjects born and bred who self-detonated on the London Tube:

In Melbourne the day after September 11, Muslim students at a state high school danced on the desks with glee. What are these young people being taught by their decent and law-abiding parents? Literature being sold at a store attached to a Brunswick mosque tells Muslims they should "hate and take as enemies" Jews, Christians, atheists and secularists, and that they should "learn to hate in order to properly love Allah". How many Muslims complain when they see this kind of hate literature? Did the large Sydney audience complain when Sheikh Feiz Muhammad charged recently that because of the way they dressed, women had only themselves to blame if they were raped? No, they applauded him.
The column ends as follows:
Perhaps it is time to say, it's been wonderful, but a few things need to be made clear. Perhaps it is time to say, you are welcome, but this is the way it is here.
"This is the way it is": That kind of talk is anathema to the multiculti elites in Oz, Canada, America, Britain and Europe. But Ms Bone saw no good in tolerant multiculturalists colluding with the avowedly unicultural and intolerant. She was especially tough on the two-tier sisterhood:
LET it be recorded that in the last decade of the 20th century the brave and great movement of Western feminism ended, not with a bang but with a whimper... I don't hold much hope on this International Women's Day of seeing big protests in Australian cities against female genital mutilation; or against honour killings, stonings, child marriages, forced seclusion or any of the other persecutions to which women are still subjected. The fire of Western feminism has quietly died away, first as a victim of its success, lately as a victim of cultural relativism, of anti-Americanism and reluctance to be seen to be condemning the enemies of the enemy.
She summed up the strange alliance between western progressives and a theocratic tyranny that stones women and executes homosexuals in this piece:
Why, in short, have Left and Right changed places?
I didn't agree with Pamela Bone on most things, even at the end. But she understood in a way that too few of the left do that her culture and her civilization need defending and that the relativist mush of the age (not to mention The Age) is insufficient to the task. I shall miss her, and I wish there were more like her.



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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