Bristol City Council wants to prune bushes and remove cover from an area known as the Downs to improve the landscape and encourage rare wildlife. But its own gay rights group has opposed the move, claiming that cutting back the bushes was "discriminating" to homosexual men who used the area for late night outdoor sex known as dogging. Work on the beauty spot has been temporarily delayed while talks with gay rights groups take place to try and break the deadlock.
The area of the Downs sits at the top of the Avon Gorge, in the upmarket Clifton suburb of Bristol and is home to various species of rare plants and wildlife. But councillors said it had become overgrown over the past 20 years. Thick bushes cover the secluded area next to a street known Circular Road which has become a mecca for gay men and couples cruising for sex.
The area hit the headlines last year when four firemen who disturbed an outdoor gay sex session were reprimanded and fined after they shone torches into the undergrowth.
The Downs Committee commissioned a report as part of ongoing improvements to the shrubland and have proposed cutting back a lot of the undergrowth. The move was strongly backed by local residents who complained about "inappropriate sexual activity" and safety concerns in the area. But during the consultation period last year "equality" concerns were raised by the council's Rainbow Group - an action group of lesbian, gay and bisexual council employees - about the threat to gay rights.
A report on the plans states: "As part of the consultation, concerns were expressed by the council's Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Group (and a small number of other consultees) that this action was potentially discriminating against gay and bisexual men, whose activities on this part of the Downs were objected to by other members of the local community and Downs users." Council officials have been forced to consult with the police and gay rights group the Terence Higgins Trust to ensure there was no discrimination.
Peter Wilkinson, the council's Head of Parks, said: "The general public are unhappy about people taking part in lewd behaviour in public spaces, whether it's between men and women or people of the same sex. "We are working together with the Terence Higgins Trust to make sure any work we will do is sensitive. "We're making sure people know what we are doing so we are not seen to be discriminating."
The $40,000 five-year maintenance scheme was approved in January 2007 and work to remove the bushes is due to begin in the next three months. Peter Abraham, a Conservative councillor, hit out at the anti-gay accusations as "offensive". He said: "How can it be discriminatory to clear land that might stop what is an illegal practice? We need to manage the Downs properly. For a long time we have been told that the scrub land needs to be opened up. "I find it offensive to suggest that by taking this action - which might stop people collecting to carry out what some might describe as illegal acts and certainly offensive behaviour - you are being discriminatory."
The Rainbow Group refused to comment yesterday but said they stood by the comments made in the report.
Police said those having outdoor sex in the area could face criminal charges, and any formal complaints about it would be investigated. A spokesman for Avon and Somerset force said: "Last year saw 250 people arrested throughout the force for offences including outraging public decency to kerb crawling. "Unfortunately there is a minority of people who partake in sexual acts in public places in certain areas which are not only against the law but are also offensive to members of the public."
The HIV charity, the Terence Higgins Trust, said it was in talks with the police and the council over the issue and did not yet want to comment. The Trust has been criticised in the past for handing out free condoms in the area of the Downs where people were engaging in outdoor sex,
A row blew up last October when it was revealed that four fire fighters had been disciplined for allegedly disturbing a gay sex session on the Downs by shining their torches into the bushes. After complaints that their actions were homophobic, the four senior officers from Avon Fire Service were fined $2,000 and transferred to other fire stations.
Demonizing Jesse Helms
Leftists can't argue. All they can do is abuse
Liberals didn't think much of Jesse Helms when he was alive, and their feelings didn't soften with his death. "Jesse Helms, you rat bastard, burn in hell," announced a headline at Daily Kos, the hugely popular left-wing blog; "Please excuse me while I dance upon his grave," gloated another. "I was on Castro and 18th at 9:30 p.m.," reported a poster on Democratic Underground, another popular site, "and there was someone shouting, `Jesse Helms is dead!' To which everyone in earshot burst into applause and cheering, myself included."
In The Nation, the former North Carolina senator was memorialized as "Jesse Helms, American Bigot." For its online audience, The Washington Post resurrected the column David Broder produced when Helms announced his retirement: "Jesse Helms, White Racist."
The invective streamed in from across the pond as well. "There seemingly wasn't a right-wing, retrograde social issue Helms met that he didn't like," wrote Melissa McEwan in a savage essay on the Guardian's website. "It was . . . his unmitigated intolerance toward people of color that will define his legacy.
Well, hating Helms is nothing new. More than 16 years ago, the scholar Charles Horner observed in Commentary that for many people Helms had become a "symbol of the evil against which all enlightened people are automatically ranged." As with the poisonous rhetoric of today's pathological George W. Bush-haters, the point of the virulence expressed toward Helms was typically character-assassination, not contention -- it was aimed at demonizing the man rather than debating or disproving his ideas.
For some liberals, Helms's death had long been a fantasy. "I think he ought to be worried about what's going on in the Good Lord's mind," NPR's Nina Totenberg said in 1995, "because if there is retributive justice, he'll get AIDS from a transfusion. Or one of his grandchildren will get it."
What the left despised most about Helms varied with the seasons. There was his unyielding anticommunism. His visceral opposition to homosexuality. His war on government funding of obscene art. His blackball of William Weld's nomination as ambassador to Mexico. His staunch support of the tobacco industry. And, of course, his segregationist past.
In the one-dimensional demonology of the left, Helms comes across as an unreconstructed racist who dreamed of Jim Crow every night and whose first words each morning were "Segregation forever!" The truth was considerably different -- and more admirable.
Helms was a product of the racist Old South, and came to prominence as a foe of desegregation. "He battled as hard as any of them," editorialized the conservative National Review in 2001, "a shameful legacy, of which he was never ashamed." In those days Helms was a Democrat, as were most Southern segregationists. But by the time he entered Congress in 1973, he had changed both his party and his mind. Far from using his office to roll back civil rights, argued Walter Russell Mead, a noted scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, Helms "deserves to be remembered as one of a handful of men who brought white Southern conservatives into a new era of race relations."
Mead, who grew up in the South, recalled listening as a boy to Helms's "anti-integration, anti-Martin Luther King commentaries on WRAL-TV." But once the battle was over and the civil rights laws were passed, Mead wrote years later, Helms did something "very revolutionary for Southern white populists: He accepted the laws and obeyed them." He shunned violence, hired black aides, and provided constituent services without regard to race. Instead of leading his followers into resistance, Helms "disciplined and tamed the segregationist South," prodding it "into grudging acceptance of the new racial order."
Yet rather than hail his statesmanship and acknowledge his contribution to the civil rights revolution, liberals marked his death by reaching for pejoratives. Helms's sin was not racism; it was his tenacious political incorrectness. Had he been willing to tack left on other issues, his racial wrongs would have been forgiven.
Consider, for a contrast, the treatment meted out to a different North Carolina senator: Helms's senior colleague, the late Sam Ervin. He was beloved by the left notwithstanding his defense of segregation and his vote against elevating Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court. When Ervin died, The Washington Post's front-page obituary began by saluting him as a "hero to many" for his role in the Watergate hearings. His opposition to nearly every civil-rights bill of his career wasn't mentioned until the 24th paragraph -- of a 25-paragraph obituary.
The real Jesse Helms was never the cartoon villain his enemies so loved to hate. But then, he didn't much care what they thought while he was alive. He certainly doesn't care now.
Economic Growth and the Working Class
Stuff that the Left don't even want to think about
For decades, conservative Republicans could not consistently climb out of their political minority status based on their limited government philosophy alone. That changed fundamentally for the long run in 1980, when Ronald Reagan embraced supply-side economics and the Kemp-Roth tax cuts, and campaigned on a vision for robust economic growth. The focus on economic growth and tax cuts transformed national politics into at least a 50-50 battle between liberals and conservatives, and even majorities for Republicans and conservatives by the mid-1990s.
Some neoconservatives are now arguing that Reagan's success was based on his support for maintaining the New Deal rather than a devotion to small government ideology. But Reagan clearly communicated to every voter over and over throughout the 1980 campaign that his "national economic recovery plan" was based on four components -- tax cuts, spending cuts, removing unnecessary regulatory burdens, and sound monetary policy to stop inflation. That was all explicit, up front, and central. Reagan bowed only to pledge never to cut Social Security.
The economic growth component enabled Republicans to appeal consistently to a substantial majority of voters, because economic growth is the most progressive program possible. Growth is the most effective anti-poverty program in world history, shattering the whole notion of poverty over time. The Heritage Foundation publishes reports every year showing the standard of living of the poor in America today is comparable to the standard of living of the American middle class a few decades ago, and of the European middle class today.
Growth creates new jobs and rising wages that pull more and more of the poor out of poverty altogether, and more and more of the working class into the middle class. The poor in America today are almost all either recent low skill immigrants or those who dropped out of high school, bore out of wedlock children as teenagers, or suffer from alcohol or drug abuse. Over time, economic growth will pull these folks out of poverty as well.
Economic growth spreads broader and broader benefits across society. More rapid growth means more rapid development and wider use of breakthrough technologies such as the Internet. It means better health care and medical technology. It means more government revenue to help the poor enjoy these medical breakthroughs as well. It means more resources can be devoted to improving and maintaining the environment.
This process was was recently recognized by Barron's editorial page editor Thomas G. Donlan in his book, A World of Wealth: How Capitalism Turns Profit Into Progress. Donlan writes,
Two centuries ago, even a wealthy man such as George Washington did not have central heating. A hundred years ago, the indoor toilet, the electric light, and the telephone were found in only a few homes that could afford to install them. These inconveniences became middle class necessities and now are commonplace items in virtually every American home, even the poorest.Donlan's no-nonsense book explains basic economics in terms the average person can understand. He starts by explaining, There are two kinds of economists. Those who think the free market always works, except when the results don't suit them; and those who think the free market never works, except when the results do suit them. In my view, the free market always works. Whether the results suit me or you is a matter of taste....The best thing about economics is the free market, and the best thing about the free market is freedom. This is why social goals can always be better achieved by peeling away big government burdens rather than adding new ones. Donlan explains the process of economic growth starting with taxes, saying:
Oddly, if you really want to raise taxes on the rich, you should cut their tax rates the way Congress and President Bush did in 2001, 2002, and 2003. It sounds like a joke but it's the most sensible way to read the results of the Bush years in U.S. tax policy. After the Bush Administration and Congress reduced the top marginal `rates, the people with the highest incomes shouldered a larger share of the tax burden because they made so much more money....Of more importance, the expanding economy generated more revenue from income taxes, sales taxes, corporate income taxes, and social insurance taxes....By fiscal 2007, higher economic growth and lower tax avoidance covered the loss of revenue from lower rates.But the Left argues that economic growth doesn't work anymore for low and moderate income workers, defined as the working class, and the poor. That is because in recent years wages seem to have stagnated among these workers. Historically, wages have grown when productivity has grown, but since 2000 continued productivity growth does not seem to have been reflected in rising wages for working people.
The Left has seized on this as an excuse for more government power, arguing that the market is obviously failing working people. But the Left offers this same response on every issue and development, including the weather (or more precisely its theories about the weather).
Unfortunately, some putative conservative intellectuals are now effectively taking this same position as well. They are arguing that conservatives and Republicans are losing their appeal to working class voters because of this wage stagnation. As a result, conservatives should drop their focus on limited government, free-market Reaganism, which, they say, is failing these voters. They should embrace instead a modern, big government conservatism with Republicans offering the working class government redistribution that will recognize their economic difficulties and their pain, and so win their votes.
How these intellectuals can fail to understand that this is socialism not conservatism is unfathomable. What they are saying is no more than that the free market has failed their politically favored interest group, but look at them in their central planning genius, they know the perfect government intervention to fix it.
There is a reason why wages for unskilled and lesser skilled labor have fallen behind in recent years. That is because the market for this labor is increasingly global, as modern technology allows the work forces of the emerging economies of China and India, and the liberated economies of the former Soviet bloc, to compete in the world market. This is a radical increase in the supply of basic labor, which naturally holds its price in terms of wages down. What should be surprising is that it hasn't had an even bigger effect.
But this is not a reason to abandon the free market. Quite to the contrary, this increased global competition means that there is even less margin for error, or big government fat and waste. We must adhere even more closely to free market policies, and seek even more ardently to maximize economic growth. This is the way, the only way, for American workers to keep earning the highest wages in the world.
In particular, for American workers to succeed in this global marketplace, we must equip them even more with the latest, the best, and the most in advanced, high-tech capital. Such capital investment, enabling workers to produce more, is the key to higher wages and incomes. Taking into account the huge increase in the global supply of basic labor, we need even more of this to get wages for the working class moving up again.
This means that we need even more urgently to rid our tax system of outdated, neo-Marxist, multiple tax burdens on capital investment. Every educated person needs to know by now that the biggest problem in our tax system is the multiple taxation of capital. The returns to a typical capital investment today are taxed once by the corporate income tax. If any of that return is paid to the stockholders, it is taxed again by the individual income tax. When the stock is sold, the returns to investment are taxed again by the capital gains tax. When the investor dies, the capital returns saved over a lifetime are taxed a fourth time by the death tax.
Then investment expenses are not treated fairly either. Every other business expense is deducted in the year it is incurred. But capital investment expenses must be deducted over many years according to arbitrary IRS depreciation schedules.
High tax rates are a problem as well. America now suffers the second highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world, averaging about 40% counting state corporation taxes. The average in the European Union is now 24%, down from 38% 10 years ago. Ireland's corporate tax rate has now long been 12.5%, and Irish workers are progressing towards higher wages on average than American workers. Individual investors can also now find lower tax rates than America's top Federal rate of 35%
Facing this tax gauntlet, investors, at home and abroad, are not going to provide American workers with the latest, best, and most in capital equipment. If Ireland and Estonia offer tax systems that are more hospitable for capital investment, there is no reason why their workers cannot eventually earn more and enjoy a higher standard of living than American workers. We need a reformed tax system that taxes the returns to capital once at a single low rate, allows immediate expensing for capital investment, and maintains low rates for individual investors as well as wage earners.
Another essential way to maximize long-term economic growth is to reduce the soaring cost of energy for our economy. Plentiful, low cost energy supplies will naturally support higher economic output and growth over time than scarce, high cost supplies. But to achieve this result, we need to sharply reduce the wildly excessive regulation that is choking off our energy supplies. The government needs to allow us to drill for more oil and gas on the mainland, in the frozen, lifeless, dark, Arctic moonscape of ANWR, and offshore. It needs to allow us to build more refineries and nuclear power plants. The resulting sharply increased energy supply would reduce energy costs, with the same effect on our economy as a major tax cut.
To the extent we can reduce unnecessary government spending, that along with the resulting lower taxes would further boost our economy. And we need to restore sound monetary policies to short-circuit budding inflation. Contributing to that is the central planning ethanol boondoggle that is harmfully increasing food prices at home and abroad, while contributing much more to runaway government spending through ethanol subsidies than to solving our energy problems. Abolishing the Federal government's ethanol adventure would reduce inflation and unnecessary government spending.
These are the policies that would maximize our economic growth, and do the most to raise wages for the working class, and the poor, and everyone else. Remarkably, we are back to the Reagan economic recovery strategy of cutting taxes, cutting spending, deregulating, and restoring sound monetary policies.
In terms of politics, the working class would respond to such a vision for economic growth as it did in 1980, if the message is explained and driven home. Polls and focus groups show that working people would respond to such a message. When American voters are given a choice on election day between economic growth on one hand and redistribution on the other, they always choose growth.
In addition, Republicans and conservatives should emphasize their enormous achievement in abolishing income taxes on the working class and the poor. Again, the bottom 40% of income earners pay no income tax on net. Instead, they receive net payments from the income tax system. This started with Ronald Reagan's proposal for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in the 1970s. Another important factor was the Child Tax Credit proposed by the Heritage Foundation, now maxed out at $1,000 per child. The tax rate cuts over the years culminating with President Bush's 33% reduction in the lowest rate in 2001 hasve ended with this result. These policies have also cut the share of Federal income taxes paid by the true middle class, as well as minimizing income taxes for thethe middle 20% of all income earners,class as well atto less than 5% of all income tax payments, another major achievement that should be trumpeted.
Republicans and conservatives should emphasize as well that they next plan to phase out payroll taxes on the poor, the working class, the middle class, and everyone else, as well, replacing the tax instead with personal savings and investment accounts that would eventually take over payment of all the benefits that are financed by the payroll tax today. This would transform the payroll tax into an engine of personal family wealth for every family in America, an enormous achievement. Working class families would accumulate hundreds of thousands of dollars in such accounts by retirement, an historic breakthrough in the personal prosperity of working people. Those family funds would provide a new foundation for the future prosperity of working class children as well.
Republicans and conservatives should also promote the idea of eliminating state income taxes as well, on the poor, the working class, and everyone else. Nine states survive today perfectly well without any state income tax, including the large, prosperous, booming states of Texas, Florida, and Tennessee. Working people are voting with their feet by migrating to these states in large numbers, fleeing the high tax states. States without an income tax have higher economic growth, and higher growth in jobs, wages, and incomes.
Now that's an agenda to appeal to the working class. Add to that a pro-growth energy policy sporting lower prices for gas and electricity, the defense of traditional family values, and strong national defense policies that will keep families safe, and conservatives and Republicans should have more than enough appeal to win the votes of the working class.
Everyone's a Little Bit Racist?
Ta-Nehisi Coates has a post about the intersection of race and crime that dovetails with a conversation I had shortly after learning my friend Brian had been shot last week. I got to thinking about how the economic effects of past racism create breeding grounds for new racism-at once more subtle and more difficult to extirpate. And I even found myself wondering whether, paradoxically, the healthy social consensus about the unacceptability of racism doesn't make it more difficult to root out in its less obvious but arguably most pernicious forms.
There are parts of America-DC is one of them-where, for basically economic reasons, most violent street crime is committed by (and, indeed, against) African Americans and Hispanics. This should not be terribly surprising if you think about it for a moment. DC is full of relatively affluent, educated white people and a mix of middle-class and crushingly poor black people. The historical reasons for this scarcely need rehearsing. And as a rule, affluent educated people do not go around robbing poor people with guns. That's what lobbyists are for.
The effect of this over time, as Coates suggests, is not terribly hard to predict. People gradually begin to be a little more alert and guarded if the only other person walking by them on the street late at night is young and black and male. This can be overridden by class signals, of course: Nobody gets nervous walking past the guy in the Armani suit, of whatever race. But hold those markers constant-make it T-shirt and jeans-and race will play into a lot of people's reactions, maybe most people's.
The disturbing thing here is that while these reactions are at least arguably racist in some sense, they're not obviously irrational as a kind of statistical heuristic. In light of the facts on the ground-facts that are themselves substantially the product of past racism-they eventually become instinctive.
If it were limited in context, if it were only a matter of how conscious you are of the guy on the street at night, it might not be a serious problem. But that's not how reflexive reactions like this work. They tend to bleed over into contexts-the temp agency, the corner store-where they are both inappropriate and destructive. And the contexts aren't even all that separable: The skittish convenience store owner may have a statistical reason for being more nervous when a group of black or Latino male teenagers walk in, but the atmosphere of suspicion that creates for the vast majority who have no designs on the till is so toxic it's become a trope. Thinking in stereotypes comes easily to us, and it takes conscious effort to at least keep them cabined away where they will do least harm. And that requires entertaining that uncomfortable thought: I might, in some sense, be a racist.
Which leads me to wonder: Is it possible to be so opposed to racism that it becomes more difficult to root out racism? Just follow me for a second here: What image springs to mind when you think of "racism"? A Klansman burning a cross? Adolf Hitler? George Wallace barring the schoolhouse door? Images like these are iconic, easy to invoke, and extreme. They remain current because they are potent illustrations of where racism leads; their ugliness, their repugnance, is manifest.
There are still, of course, sectors of American society where the crude racism of the epithet and the noose is casually accepted. But, happily, this sort of thing is largely beyond the pale in polite company now. And this makes it beguilingly easy to conclude: "Well, I don't go around slinging racial epithets or fuming with hatred at this or that group. Therefore I can't be one of those awful people. Why, some of my best friends."
But the variety of racism more common today is more subtle than that, and in a way more pernicious for it, since the overt bigot is unlikely to wield much social power. It's the subliminal reaction of the manager looking for a new cashier who, for some reason he can't articulate, just doesn't think the minority candidate seems quite trustworthy enough. It's this person who we most want examining his own attitudes. But to do that means being prepared to start from the difficult premise that even he-educated, urbane, kind, and so on-may indeed harbor racial biases. Like Hitler! Like a Klansman!
Now, there's an obvious way around this, though it should make us uncomfortable for different reasons. We could make a point of talking about race bias and stereotyping in a more gradated way. At one pole is the Klansman. At another, there's that "typical white person" who is more guarded and alert walking past a black guy at 1am on 7th and V than he would be walking past a similarly-dressed white person.
The discomfort here comes from the thought that allowing these gradations entails licensing some forms of racism-regarding them as understandable, even acceptable. And for very good reasons, this is not the kind of conversation we want to have: "So, is this particular instance bad racism or sorta-understandable racism?" There are whole modes of thought we just want to be entirely beyond the pale.
But think about the defensiveness, even outrage, we saw in response to Obama's "typical white person" comment: The point I was making was not that my grandmother harbors any racial animosity, but that she is a typical white person. If she sees somebody on the street that she doesn't know (pause) there's a reaction in her that doesn't go away and it comes out in the wrong way.
Is this really controversial? As a descriptive matter, if we're all honest with ourselves, I suspect it shouldn't be. But it is, in part because we resist these finer distinctions. What at least some whites apparently hear is: "All white people are racist! Like the Klan!" The charge of racial bias, it sometimes seems, only comes in Howitzer gauge. So we end up unable to event talk calmly and seriously about a patently real phenomenon without touching off this sort of defensiveness from people who don't want to be-and shouldn't be-lumped in with full-blown bigots.
So reservations notwithstanding, maybe there's something to be said for acknowledging that, as the Avenue Q song has it, "everyone's a little bit racist." I'll accuse myself here: At 2am on 7th and V, I am not color blind. Maybe that bias is defensible at that time and place. That doesn't mean it's not a bias, or that it's not potentially dangerous.
But once I recognize that this kind of bias, unchecked, could poison my reactions in other contexts, I can at least be conscious of it-can acknowledge that I need to be conscious of it-and try to keep it from metastasizing. I like to think I do. It's hardly ideal-bias domesticated rather than eradicated-but it might be better than letting it fester under cover of denial, or trying to muster some kind of egalitarian concern that the pale dude walking home from the Black Cat might pull a .45 on me. And while I've largely left this in the background, most of the above, mutatis mutandis, probably goes for reaction to class signifiers as well.
The tricky part here is threading our way between, on the one hand, a sort of blunderbuss condemnation that creates a counterproductive incentive for people to conceal their biases even from themselves, and on the other, a lazy complacency about those biases. I don't know exactly how we do that. It seems beyond grotesque to ask the law-abiding black guy on the wrong end of a thousand suspicious glances to indulge the skittish whites. It seems unrealistic to expect the skittish whites to just knock it off.
So consider all this a fumbling gesture in the direction of. some sort of conversation. For the moment, and against my better judgement, I'll leave the comments open for thoughts.
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 blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.