Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The British Nanny State pulls back, for once

Gordon Brown has rejected a proposal by his top medical adviser for a minimum price of alcohol to tackle binge drinking. The Prime Minister acted after newspapers published details of Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer's, plan, which could result in every can of beer costing at least 1 pound and a bottle of wine a minimum of 4 pounds. The Department of Health gave the idea a fair wind initially, saying that nothing was ruled out and pointing out that Sir Liam had been one of the earliest proponents of a ban on smoking in public places.

Mr Brown made plain that the idea, which would fix prices at no less than 50p per unit of alcohol, was a non-starter. "I do not think this is where we are going," said a source close to the Prime Minister. "The majority of sensible drinkers should not have to pay the price for the irresponsible and excessive drinking by a small minority."

That line was repeated by James Purnell, the Work and Pensions Secretary. "We want to focus on the irresponsible minority rather than I think punishing everyone equally. Clearly we will look at Liam Donaldson's proposals; he's a very eminent person in his field," he told BBC One's The Politics Show. "But we are very clear we don't want to punish the majority for the sins of the minority. I think certainly at a time of economic difficulty that looks like it would be the effect."

Department of Health sources said that it would have come to the same conclusion as Mr Brown but would have preferred to see Sir Liam's ideas debated. "There is no split on the policy," an insider said, "but the truth is, this policy was made this morning in Downing Street. That is their right. They are in charge." Other Whitehall sources denied that the department's approach suggested a split with No 10. "The Health Department has to be diplomatic about this and dealing with Sir Liam. It's easier for No 10 to knock it."

The Conservatives were equally unenthusiastic about raising prices. Andrew Lansley, Shadow Health Secretary, said: "There is clearly a need for action. But it is very important to recognise that we need to deal with people's attitudes and not just the supply and price of alcohol."

He said that Conservative proposals, which include measures to tackle loss-leader promotions and higher taxes on high-alcohol drinks aimed at young people, would address this without penalising the majority of moderate drinkers. "This would seem to be a much better route to go down than distorting the whole drinks market, which in any case may not be legal."

The Liberal Democrat culture, media and sport spokesman Don Foster backed Sir Liam's call. "The Liberal Democrats have long argued that the ridiculously cheap below-cost price of alcohol in some of our supermarkets and off-licences is a key contributor to the problem of binge drinking," he said. "There is clear research showing that putting an end to pocket money-priced alcohol will influence drinking behaviour. While more work needs to be done on the details, we welcome Sir Liam's intervention and hope that the Government will act." Sir Liam's proposal would mean most bottles of wine could not be sold for less than 4.50.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said that the Government had not ruled out taking action on cheap alcohol. She said: "It's clearly linked to people drinking more and the subsequent harm to their health. It would be wrong to make sweeping changes without consideration of all the options suggested by our research published in December. "We need to do more work on this to make sure any action we take is appropriate, fair and effective. Any decisions we make will take into account their wider economic impact during this difficult time and it would not be right to penalise the overwhelming majority of responsible drinkers."

More here

Free Speech, Fewer Lawsuits - A Fight Worth Fighting

In a time of massive Ponzi schemes and widespread financial turmoil, it is important for people to feel they can speak up when they believe that something improper is being done. The protection of free speech was given a big boost this past week with a $545,000 settlement, which wrapped-up over three-and-a-half years of court cases.

During that time, Elizabeth Enney lost both parents, survived a fifth heart surgery and paid more than $300,000 to defend herself against two libel lawsuits ultimately found to have been without any basis in law or fact. The lawsuits were described by Enney's lawyer, Cynthia Counts, as "frivolous." The 11th Circuit scolded the plaintiffs who brought the suits, which tied Enney's life into knots. The court stated in its decision that, "based on a reasonable inquiry, they either knew or should have known that they could not satisfy necessary elements of their cause of action for libel." In other words, the lawsuit should never have been filed in the first place.

Enney's saga began in July 2005, when she e-mailed the board of directors of the Rolls-Royce Owners' Club, a non-profit corporation, regarding a "serious conflict of interest," regarding a $9,000 payment the club made for a computer system. One month later, Enney was named in a $1 million federal libel lawsuit filed in Connecticut by M.S. Koly and Delcath Systems. The libel portion of this lawsuit was dismissed due to lack of jurisdiction. But Enney was then named in a second $1 million lawsuit filed in the Northern District of her home state of Georgia, in July of 2006.

While others might back off, apologize and hope that the lawsuit would disappear, Enney said "I just look at it as my civic duty," to stand up for what is right. Enney comes from a long line of people who have loved and served their country. Her father, Kenneth Enney, served 33 years in the U.S. Navy as a naval aviator. Fulton Lewis, Jr., her maternal grandfather, was a conservative syndicated newspaper columnist and radio commentator in the 1950's. Her brother serves today as a lieutenant colonel in the Marines. Referring to her family as "good old-fashioned salt of the earth," Enney said "I've been a fighter all my life," and I was not going to just walk away."

On April 19, 2007, District Judge Jack Camp granted Enney's motion for judgment and dismissed the libel case, but rejected the motion for Rule 11, which permits for the reimbursement to Enney for attorney fees for the defense of the lawsuit. Charles Tobin, who chairs Holland & Knight's national media practices team and is a partner in the Washington office of the law firm, said there has been "too much predilection to let libel go forward," in the courts. When cases are dismissed, the courts essentially tell the defense to "Get over it," rather than applying Rule 11, he said. According to Enney, even after the dismissal of the libel lawsuit brought against her, she felt "we didn't win anything" in that the plaintiffs had been able to "force me to defend a frivolous lawsuit and nobody won."

By the time of the dismissal, Enney had spent more than $300,000 defending herself. Tobin said that Rule 11 should dissuade plaintiffs from filing frivolous lawsuits, but its value is limited since plaintiffs know that it is only rarely applied. Counts, Enny's attorney, appealed to the 11th Circuit Court, requesting the application of Rule 11. How often is Rule 11 applied? "Once in a blue moon," said Tobin, adding "you have to move heaven and earth" to get the courts to pay attention.

But Counts apparently did just that. The 11th Circuit reversed and remanded the case noting "that the district court abused it discretion by denying Enney's Rule 11 motion." According to Tobin, this is a strong statement by the extremely prominent 11th Circuit Court, and its action on this case "should lead to more fee awards" and therefore fewer frivolous lawsuits. Last September 25, Judge Jack Camp referred the case to mediation. The result - a global settlement approved by Camp on March 10, 2009, which included the $545,000 payment to Enney.

Enney said it is important to her for the case to serve as an example to others, and hopefully dissuade frivolous libel lawsuits. While she was able to pay the legal fees, Enney understands that most people would not have this ability and needed someone else to fight this battle for them.

Her belief is that free speech is one of the cornerstones of our country; her hope is that people will not be afraid to speak. When something needs, as she says, a bit of "sunshine shown on it," Enney hopes those who can pull back the shades will not be afraid to do so. In our country, it is important for us to feel safe to speak up for what is right without fear of a resulting lawsuit. That right was reinforced last week, thanks to Enney.


"Civil Liberties For Our Side Only"

Tom Maguire skewers liberals Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias for "their unsteady commitment to civil liberties." "The topic," Maguire writes,
is the right of Deborah Weinsig, a Citigroup equity analyst who covers retail stocks, to explain to her clients why she thinks that card check will be bad for WalMart.

Mr. Klein:
This is a big deal for two reasons. First, it calls into question the impartiality of Citibank's ratings division. Second, it happened amidst a government-funded bailout of Citibank. This is a moment when you'd expect Citibank to be on its best behavior, both in terms of its political action and its business practices. In fact, they appear to be dispatching their analysts and leveraging their ratings division to oppose a policy that the Obama administration supports.
So much for dissent as the highest form of patriotism. Here is Mr. Yglesias:
But there's a fairly clear case to be made that firms on the public dole shouldn't be engaged in lobbying or political activities.
I would say that it's a polite exaggeration to describe their "commitment to civil liberties" as "unsteady." In fact, their spotty or non-existent commitment calls to mind a very revealing episode from the 1930s in the history of contemporary liberalism, the first bitterly divisive debate inside the American Civil Liberties Union over ... civil liberties. There has been a good deal of talk, much of it uninformed, over Obama's determination to usher in a new New Deal, but we may be able to learn more about the values of current liberals by looking at the 1930s schism in the ACLU over "civil liberties for our side only" than by looking at the National Industrial Recovery Act or the Civilian Conservation Corps.

That schism was caused by the ACLU's intervention in a dispute between the Ford Motor Company and the National Labor Relations Board over limits on the right of Ford, and by extension other employers, to campaign against union organizers. (A nice summary can be found here, especially around pp. 47-50.) "From its inception in 1920," writes William A. Donohue in The Politics of The American Civil Liberties Union, the work just linked, "the ACLU had defended Communists and Fascists, labor agitators and Klansmen, but never once - not for eighteen years - did it defend the free speech rights of capitalists to oppose unions."

It was forced to confront that issue head on in 1938, when the National Labor Relations Board found Ford guilty of "unfair labor practices" under the Wagner Act, and one of those "unfair" practices was distributing anti-union literature to employees.
Do employers have the right to free speech? The NLRB did not find the question difficult. It ordered the company to cease and desist from "circulating, distributing or otherwise disseminating amongst its employees statements or propaganda disparaging or criticizing labor organizations, or advising it employees not to join such organizations."

Government restriction of the right to distribute literature would seem to be a clear First Amendment violation, but, Donohue reports, "the mere suggestion of such a fundamental civil liberties principle was greeted as heresy by members of the ACLU's `non-partisan' staff." A bitter fight then ensued. The ACLU's labor committee initially supported the NLRB.
[ACLU founder and long-time head Roger] Baldwin ... stated that when employers were asking if they too did not enjoy the right of free speech, the [American Civil Liberties] Union said, "No, you have not rights of free speech against unions now because the right to form a union is now a fundamental one under the National Labor Relations Act." When employers asked, "Well, can't we even talk?" most of the board members, according to Baldwin, replied, "No, you can't even talk."
One labor committee member dissented, "suggesting that the same test of coercion used by the NLRB would have to be applied to the statements of government bureaucrats...." He was promptly dismissed, and subsequently he accused the ACLU of a "liberal purge" and resigned from the organization.

Eventually the ACLU board compromised. It half-heartedly reaffirmed its commitment to free speech by stating its opposition to "any interference with the expressions of opinion on the part of employers" but placated its pro-labor faction by also announcing its opposition to "threats" such as "We'll never recognize the United Automobile Workers or any other union," claiming that such statements violate the civil liberties of workers.

This "civil liberties for our side only" approach to fundamental (or not) rights frequently roils the shallow waters of liberalism. How many of those today, for example, who want to muzzle Citibank employees will propose imposing similar restrictions on other beneficiaries of government largesse, such as ACORN?

Readers of DISCRIMINATIONS, I'm sure, will also be quick to see the similarity - indeed, almost identity - of the belief that only progressives should have unfettered free speech rights and the equally unprincipled position that the right to be treated without regard to race, ethnicity, or gender applies only to some races, ethnicities, and genders - and to them only some of the time (when it works to their alleged benefit; at other times, they have the right to preferential treatment).


Embryos and ethics

by Jeff Jacoby

SHORTLY AFTER the president announced his new policy on funding embryonic stem-cell research, CNN's Larry King devoted a special program to the subject. His first guest was Mary Tyler Moore, the international chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, who has long been involved in raising funds and awareness for the treatment of Type 1 diabetes, a disease for which there is still no cure. "I am so pleased with the thought and care that he put into making this decision. I think it's a good one," Moore told King when he asked for her reaction to the president's statement. "What's wonderful too is that this means that the United States will maintain its leadership in things medical and scientific. . . . So this is a very good thing."

Moore's words of praise might not strike you as exceptional, given the widespread approval last week of President Obama's order reversing the Bush administration's restrictions. But Moore wasn't speaking about Obama. Her interview on "Larry King Live" followed President Bush's stem-cell decision, which was announced in a televised address on Aug. 9, 2001. Also joining the conversation that night was Christopher Reeve. His take on Bush's policy was "a little bit more mixed," he acknowledged. "However, I think it is a step in the right direction. I'm grateful for that to the president."

For eight years Bush's critics caricatured him as a Bible-thumping yahoo for whom ideology routinely trumped science, so it might be difficult to remember that the policy he articulated in 2001 was anything but a knee-jerk rejection of scientific progress. The commentator Charles Krauthammer-- a graduate of Harvard Medical School, a quadriplegic, and a former member of the President's Council on Bioethics who did not agree with Bush's decision -- recalled it a few days ago nonetheless as "the single most morally serious presidential speech on medical ethics ever given." In it, Bush explained why "embryonic stem-cell research offers both great promise and great peril," conscientiously laying out the arguments for and against supporting such research with tax dollars. In the end, he concluded that federal funding could be justified for work on existing stem-cell lines, but not for research that would require the destruction of additional human embryos. Bush's decision had clearly been reached after much deliberation and consultation. "I don't think he did it just politically," Reeve observed. "I do believe he really thought about it."

Obama had an opportunity last week to deliver an equally thoughtful speech. He could have explored the moral dilemmas involved in exploiting a living embryo to advance scientific knowledge. Instead he resorted to political rhetoric and ill-disguised scorn for his predecessor.

The president rejected the "false choice between sound science and moral values" that supposedly characterized the Bush policy, and declared that his administration would "make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology." Promoting science, Obama said, means "letting scientists . . . do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion" and "listening to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient."

But science is not an unqualified good, and scientific ends do not justify any and all means. It is not "manipulation" or "coercion" or "ideology" to insist that scientific research -- especially when funded by taxpayers -- be restrained by moral and ethical guardrails. The absence of those guardrails can lead to such abominations as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which government doctors -- with the support of the American Medical Association -- deliberately withheld medical treatment from infected black men in order to better understand the natural progression of venereal disease. Those who raised ethical qualms about the study were disregarded by the Public Health Service -- an example of what Obama might call rejecting the "false choice between sound science and moral values."

Like most Americans, I don't believe that microscopic human embryos deserve all the legal protections of personhood. But whether it is right to kill such embryos for the sake of medical research is not just a question about science; it is also a question of moral and political judgment. Public officials are called on to make those judgments, not to simply defer to whatever scientists say they want. Obama blithely concedes that "many thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose, this research." Yet at no point did he articulate or address those concerns, let alone attempt to allay them.

"If human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable," Dr. James Thomson, the pioneer of embryonic stem-cell science, told The New York Times in 2007, "you have not thought about it enough." Thomson's remark has been widely quoted, but it seems not everyone has gotten the message.



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 readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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