In Britain you now need a licence to dispose of your sandwich wrappings
Britain is beginning to make the Soviets look libertarian
Today's edition of Warden Hodges' Britain comes from Liverpool, where war has been declared on the illegal disposal of industrial waste. Every firm in the city is getting a visit from enforcement officers working for a public-private agency set up by the council. Last week it was the turn of Frank Hughes, who runs a small scaffolding hire company. The inspector asked him how he disposes of his waste.
Frank said he doesn't. He explained that scaffolding is a relatively simple business which doesn't generate waste. But you must eat lunch, the inspector retaliated. I bring sandwiches, Frank told him. And before you ask, I take the wrapping home with me. In which case, you're breaking the law, the jobsworth informed him. Sandwich wrappings are classified as industrial waste within the meaning of the Act. You need a licence to dispose of them.
And since you don't have one, you are committing a criminal offence. Frank would be hearing from the litigation department in connection with this heinous crime and could expect a minimum fine of $600. With that, the official ticked all the relevant boxes and goose-stepped his way out, another job well-done. Frank wrote to me in despair. 'I am not making this up,' he assures me.
I don't think you are for a moment, guv. It wouldn't have surprised me if the inspector had produced a roll of CSI-style crime scene tape, cordoned off the building, declared the whole business off-limits, called for armed police back-up and ordered Frank to cease trading immediately. 'Enviro-crime' is the new 'hate crime'. All must be punished, all the time.
Many councils have already hired teams of environmental crime enforcers. In Salford, they have started patrolling the streets looking for any emptied dustbins still on the pavement at 11am. Offenders are issued with fixed-penalty fines. This is particularly distressing for pensioners and for mothers with young children who return from shopping trips to discover they have been nicked. How are people out at work expected to bring in their bins before 11am? Has that occurred to the morons at the Town Hall?
I shouldn't have thought so for a moment. And even if it did, it would be considered a bonus, increasing the potential for punishment and revenue-raising. These are just two, tiny examples of the perverted manner in which those we pay to perform straightforward duties go out of their way to persecute us. By tonight, my inbox will be full of dozens more.
Prevention of illegal dumping is a noble pursuit. No one wants chemicals poured away in suburban gutters, or asbestos casually chucked over the fence of the local children's playground. Too many country hedgerows and city side-streets are besmirched by fly-tipping, an unpleasant but inevitable side-effect of scrapping weekly rubbish collections in the name of saving the polar bears.
But that's no excuse for the Sandwich Stasi. It takes a pedantry bordering on extreme mental illness to define greaseproof paper used for wrapping a round of cheese and pickle as 'industrial waste' - let alone demanding that someone has to possess a licence to dispose of it. Similarly, having the pavements cluttered with empty dustbins isn't particularly desirable. But fining people for not bringing them in by mid-morning is outrageous. What are they supposed to do - take an hour off work or stay at home until the dustmen have been?
Of course, none of this would be necessary if councils hadn't ended the traditional method of rubbish collection. Some of us can remember when dustmen came round to the back of your house, carried your bin to the cart, emptied it and then returned it to whence it came. Now you are expected to wheel your own bin to the front gate - and woe betide you if you don't leave it in exactly the place designated by the council. Even a few inches out and they'll refuse to empty it. Then the 'environmental crime' wardens will come along and issue you with a fine.
Those charged with waste disposal in Britain have taken leave of their senses. They have forgotten that they are public servants. They see themselves as evangelical environmental warriors and the rest of us are their enemy. They now exist purely to bully, fine and punish us.
It is nothing short of monstrous that hard-working, law-abiding small businessmen like Frank Hughes - the backbone of the nation - can be treated in this fashion. While he is doing everything he can to battle through a recession not of his making, his taxes are going towards paying the salary and pension of a jumped-up, otherwise-unemployable twerp who proposes to fine him $600 for 'illegal disposal' of a sandwich wrapping.
For two decades, this column has made a career out of exposing the unbending lunacy and sheer bloody-mindedness of British bureaucrats, but the monster marches ravenously on. At a time when we can least afford it, we are being bled white to finance the Sandwich Stasi and hundreds of thousands of index-linked, spiteful, self-righteous parasites. In another life, these are the very people who would have been loading the cattle trucks to the concentration camps. To the scaffold with the lot of them.
Republican rallies: the myth of a crazed mob
The liberal media's depiction of McCain supporters as a Weimar-like gang of rednecks shows their own fear of the white working class
Republican John McCain's campaign made clear at the start of last week that it would raise questions about Democrat Barack Obama's character. Trailing in the polls and unable to make up ground on the issue of the economy, McCain was looking for a way to turn the contest around - and `going negative' on Obama was his answer.
His vice-presidential running mate, Sarah Palin, kicked off the new message in a speech in which she criticised Obama for `palling around with terrorists' - that is, Bill Ayres, one-time member of the Vietnam-era Weather Underground. McCain made similar criticisms at a rally on Monday, but didn't touch the topic when he was face-to-face with Obama during the primetime debate on Tuesday, and then resumed the character attacks the next day.
But the McCain-Palin approach didn't work. The week's discussions were not really about Obama's ties to Ayres or any other questionable associations or views he might have. Instead, all of the talk in the media was about angry crowds at Republican rallies, allegedly stirred up by McCain and Palin's `hate campaign'.
At a rally in New Mexico on Monday, McCain asked the crowd `Who is Barack Obama?', and video footage shown afterwards suggests that someone shouted the reply: `Terrorist!' (1) At a Palin rally in Florida on the same day, as the VP candidate was describing the Obama-Ayres link, a member of the audience reportedly yelled `Kill him!' (though it wasn't clear whether `him' referred to Obama or Ayres) (2). The next day, while Palin was criticising Obama on the issue of Afghanistan, a rally-goer called out `Treason!' (3)
What began as media coverage of a few cases of anti-Obama ranting turned into an all-out game of `find a freak' - especially by amateur video camera operators. One video of Republicans entering a McCain-Palin rally in Ohio highlighted an individual referring to Obama as a terrorist because of his `bloodlines' (4). Another featured a man on his way into a Pennsylvania arena holding up a monkey doll with an Obama hat (5). One video showed people from Kentucky - `drunken rednecks', as the video-maker called them - saying `we do not need an Arab president'; it quickly did the rounds in the media last week, even though it was originally posted on YouTube in June (6). All three videos became viral and received far more attention than the McCain campaign's `Obama is risky' advertisements.
Of course, all of these expressions are obnoxious and any one is one too many. But they were fairly isolated instances: thousands of people attended the rallies, but the media chose to focus on the few individuals shouting out insults and threats. Worse still, these individuals were presented as being typical of the entire audience. White working-class people at the rallies were now portrayed as members of an angry, crazed mob. Greg Sargent of the website Talking Points Memo referred to `the unhinged frenzy gripping crowds at McCain-Palin gatherings' (7). Liberal New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote about `Weimar-like rage at McCain-Palin rallies' and warned that `each day the mob howls louder' (8). Apparently, all it takes is a few nutjobs sounding off to declare that we're witnessing the rise of a fascist movement.
What's more, these relatively few cases led many to express their fears that one from this mob would go beyond an outburst of violent rhetoric, and actually try to assassinate Obama. Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates calls it `the unthinkable', and says the attacks on Martin Luther King's character before his assassination are `the ghost that the McCain campaign is summoning' (9). John Lewis, civil rights veteran and congressman from Georgia, also referred back to the Sixties. He said McCain and Palin are `sowing the seeds of hatred and division', and likened the atmosphere at Republican events to those featuring George Wallace, the segregationist former governor of Alabama and 1968 presidential candidate: `George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights.' (10)
Frank Rich argues that `the McCain campaign has crossed the line between tough negative campaigning and inciting vigilantism' (11). And pro-Obama blogger Andrew Sullivan writes that: `This is a moment of maximum physical danger for the young Democratic nominee. And McCain is playing with fire. This is getting close to the atmosphere stoked by the Israeli far right before the assassination of Rabin.' (12)
Obama himself has, for a long time, dismissed such fears, citing his Secret Service detail: `I've got the best protection in the world, so stop worrying.' (13) That hasn't stopped talk of assassination from being an undercurrent among his supporters (see Please kill this Obama `assassination porn', by Brendan O'Neill). Now this discussion is more out in the open.
But these fears are not expressions of reasonable concerns about Obama's security: as Obama himself notes, he has presidential-like security, and the odds of anything happening remain extremely low (although, of course, it is always a possibility, as with any candidate). Instead, his supporters' worries really represent their fears of the white working-class population. The Democrats - once seen as the party of the mass of working people - are cut off from, and suspicious of, what once was their base of support. Rather than living among the working class and representing its interests, they are distant and live in fear of it.
Even the criticisms of McCain and Palin for using inflammatory rhetoric that could ultimately result in violence are, at bottom, condemnations of the working class. Critics are essentially saying: don't McCain and Palin know that they are playing with a dangerous group that is easily led to violence? Liberals know that the idea that Obama is a terrorist is absurd, that most people don't believe it to be true, and even that the McCain campaign is not explicitly saying such a thing. But some of them worry that there is a mob out there that is stupid enough to take McCain's and Palin's criticisms of Obama as a cue to become violent.
You can blame the McCain camp for many things, including running a lacklustre campaign that has very little to say about the key issues of our time, such as the financial crisis. You can also say that McCain's decision to `go negative' and attack Obama's character smacks of desperation (if this was such an important issue, why wait until the last few weeks to bring it up?). But it's not true, as many have suggested, that he and Palin seek to incite violence against Obama. Yes, Palin does use the word `terrorist' when she tells her line about Obama and Ayres, but there's a very long way from that to saying `Obama is an Islamic terrorist'.
At the beginning of the week many wondered how the Obama campaign would defend itself from the McCain attacks. In the event, they did not have to answer direct challenges, because all of the focus was on the Republican rallies. With allies from the media, they have managed to depict any McCain and Palin reference to Ayres or Obama's qualifications in general as being tantamount to inciting violence. But in reality, the Obama campaign and its supporters are the ones who have incited fears - fears of a dangerous, reckless white working class. This may work to get their man elected in November, but it comes at the price of further alienating a group that is sceptical about, if not outright hostile, to the Democrats. Thus the Democrats may find that they win the election battle, but, in doing so, they have damaged their chances of winning the governing war.
There's a God-shaped hole in Westminster
Today's politicians - whose favourite summer reading was The God Delusion - have never been more fearful of faith
The Archbishop of Canterbury likes to say that religion is getting increasingly political just as politicians become ever more interested in subjects that have traditionally been the domain of religion. For once, he has never been more right. This week the House of Commons will vote on government proposals to allow the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for scientific research. At the same time, MPs are pushing for changes to the law on abortion. The assisted suicide of the rugby player Daniel James has reopened the debate about euthanasia. The rows over headscarves, the blasphemy law, science education and Lords reform all show how the boundaries have been blurred.
Meanwhile, in the City, Mammon has been exposed as a false god whose worshippers seem to have been sacrified on the altar of the credit crunch. There is a yearning for answers that go beyond interest rates, targets and the public sector borrowing requirement. The bishops have started bashing the bankers. Yet politicians, of all parties, have never been more fearful of faith. It was Alastair Campbell who famously told a journalist: "We don't do God." He forbade Tony Blair to end his television address to the nation in the run-up to the Iraq war with the words: "God bless you."
Certainly, politicians find it easier to "come out" as atheists than to profess that they have a religious faith. Nick Clegg, David Miliband and George Osborne have all said recently that they do not believe in God - something that would be unthinkable in the United States, where presidential candidates compete to win over religious voters. Although David Cameron sends his daughter to a church school, he describes his faith as being "like Magic FM in the Chilterns", something that fades in and out, as if he is rather embarrassed by the whole idea.
There is a curious mismatch here. MPs place their hands on a Bible when they swear the Oath of Allegiance on taking up their seats; prayers are said every day in Parliament - and yet the favourite book for politicians on holiday last year was The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins' atheist tract. It would be hard to find an MP who prefers the God-fearing C.S. Lewis to the divinity-baiting Phillip Pullman.
There has been a believer in Downing Street for the past 11 years. Tony Blair, the first prime minister since Gladstone who slept with a Bible beside his bed, once said that his Christianity and his politics "came together at the same time" - he even claimed that "Jesus was a moderniser". Gordon Brown, who keeps a moral compass under his pillow, regularly cites his father's sermons in his speeches. He wants the markets to rediscover the importance of ethics.
But the cynical hothouse of Westminster is dismissive of the idealism of faith. Most Labour MPs agree instinctively with Karl Marx, that religion is the opium of the masses. As for the new Tories, it is just not right for their Converse trainer image if the Church of England is still seen as the Conservative Party at prayer. It is as if the end of ideological divides has weakened the wider power of belief.
The creeping secularisation of politics was one of the factors that pushed Ruth Kelly, a devout Roman Catholic, into resigning her Cabinet position. It was not only that she disagreed with the Government's proposals on stem-cell research - and as a backbencher she will be able to vote against them tomorrow. She was also disturbed by the way in which her membership of Opus Dei was seen as something weird and even rather dangerous; and she disliked the way in which Mr Blair's Christianity was mocked during the war in Iraq. "The debate in Britain has become incredibly secularised," she explained earlier this month. "Religion is seen as something a bit strange, in the margins. Politics is much the poorer for that because you want people who believe in things to go into politics."
In policy terms, the assumption in Whitehall is that it is bad to believe. The Government's "statement of British values" is unlikely to make any mention of faith; the Department for Communities and Local Government guidelines for councils on what to tell new residents include lots about queuing but nothing on Christianity. A report published by the Church of England earlier this year accused the Government of "deep religious illiteracy" and of having "no convincing moral direction"
When Alice Thomson and I interviewed Phil Woolas last week, his comments on immigration hit the headlines - but it was his suggestion that the Anglican Church would be disestablished that got Downing Street in a jitter. The minister's claim that the link between Church and State would be broken within 50 years because "a modern society is multi-faith" was potential dynamite, with implications for the monarchy, the armed forces and the judiciary as well as Parliament. In fact, Mr Brown has already started to break the link between Church and State - he has given up the power to appoint bishops and is considering a plan to abolish the Act of Settlement, which ensures that only a Protestant can succeed to the throne - but he had hoped to move to the point of disestablishment by stealth.
It would be wrong to suggest that Britain is any longer a Christian country in terms of the population - only 7 per cent of people regularly attend an Anglican church. Yet neither is Britain a secular State like France. Its history, culture and constitutional settlement are based on the link between Church and State. Earlier this year, Nicholas Sarkozy criticised the French republic's obsession with secularism and called for a "blossoming" of religions. "A man who believes is a man who hopes," he said. It is ironic that politicians in this country have abandoned belief - at the very moment that the people need hope.
Racial Preference on the Ballot
Well-funded opposition moves against efforts to ban preferences
While choosing between tickets featuring Barack Obama or Sarah Palin this November, voters in Colorado and Nebraska will also be able to bury the idea that blacks and women in America still need special help to get ahead. In those states, the ballot will carry civil rights initiatives to end race and gender preferences in public hiring and education. Led by Ward Connerly's American Civil Rights Institute, the measures would take a chip out of racial preferences that have committed the same kinds of discrimination they were designed to prevent.
If passing laws to ban discrimination sounds like a triumph for civil rights, you wouldn't know it from the heckling of opponents, who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep the measures off ballots around the country, using tactics from lawsuits to voter deception to defeat the plans. Efforts in Missouri and Arizona were blocked by challenges to signature gathering. In Missouri, a dispute with Secretary of State Robin Carnahan over the ballot language left the Missouri initiative with only 90 days to collect 200,000 signatures. In Arizona, signatures went uncounted or were declared invalid on questionable grounds. Offending signatories were nixed for offenses as grave as writing the wrong date, or signing "Jim" instead of "James."
In Nebraska, the measure made the ballot despite activist groups funded by four heavy hitters, including Warren Buffett, ad-exec Richard Holland, attorney Dianne Lozier and financier Wallace Weitz. The quartet provided a hefty portion of the bankroll for Nebraskans United, a group that ran ads trying to scare voters away from signing petitions by suggesting the signers might be subject to identity theft. The group also challenged the ballot initiative in court, claiming its language ("The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group . . .") amounted to "dirty tricks" that would confuse Nebraska voters. According to the group's Web site, the initiative "appears to be civil rights friendly -- but it actually works against civil rights."
The front-loading of efforts to keep the initiatives off the ballot wasn't an accident: Opponents know they probably can't win in the voting booth. In Nebraska, a poll done for the American Civil Rights Institute found that 71% of Nebraskans say they support the amendment. The support easily gets a majority across party lines as well, with 65% of Democrats indicating support.
In Colorado, activists tried to qualify nearly identical initiatives for the ballot in order to confuse voters on which was the real one. A measure that would have preserved affirmative action narrowly failed to qualify for the ballot. Despite the hoopla, supporters of the initiative to ban preferences expect it to pass comfortably in November.
Similar initiatives have passed in recent years in some of the country's most reliably Democratic states like California and Washington, to good effect. In California, Proposition 209 hasn't resulted in the reductions of minority enrollment that many predicted. While the number of black students declined at the Berkeley and UCLA campuses, systemwide minority enrollment increased between 1997 and 2007 while graduation and retention rates improved.
Defenders of group-based preferences have long warned that minorities couldn't succeed in a system that doesn't give them special advantages. But far from turning back the clock for African-Americans and women, ending preferences will allow minorities and women to take the full credit for their accomplishments. Barack Obama and Sarah Palin have shown the roads are open.
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, OBAMA WATCH (2), 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 readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.