Thursday, May 28, 2009

British town halls will no longer bow to 'compensation culture' with plans afoot for thousands of new adventure playgrounds

Town hall chiefs performed a U-turn yesterday by calling on parents to shake-off the 'cotton wool culture'. Local Government Association members pledged they would 'not bow to the compensation culture' and vowed to press on and build thousands of adventure playgrounds.

However, local authorities have for years been behind bans on traditional games such as conkers and snowball fights, amid health and safety fears. In 2006 alone, 33 laws and more than 1,000 regulations were introduced designed to reduce possible risks faced by youngsters.

Experts have warned that anxious parents are raising a generation of 'battery-farmed kids' denied the independence, experience and education that comes from exploring the outdoor world. Just one in ten children play regularly in parks, fields and woods according to a survey commissioned by Natural England. Yet 81 per cent say they would like more freedom to play outside.

To address these concerns, the LGA is to sweep away the 'no ball games' culture with zip wires, tree houses and tunnels installed in parks. Council-run holiday schemes are also offering activities such as BMX biking and surfing. More than 3,500 playgrounds will be built or refurbished by 2011 under a £235million Government scheme.

LGA chairman Margaret Eaton said: 'Children playing outside is a fundamental part of growing up. 'We do our youngsters no favours by wrapping them up in cotton wool. Town halls are determined not to bow to the compensation culture.'


Those generous California taxpayers again

In 1992, after he stopped wearing clothes to his UC Berkeley classes, Andrew Martinez was something of a walking only-in-Bezerkeley joke as the campus' own Naked Guy. But his life was no laughing matter.

Around 1997, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. In 2003, he was arrested for assaulting a staff member at a halfway house where he was a resident. He spent the next two-and-a-half years in Santa Clara County jail, its acute psychiatric unit, Napa State Hospital, and Atascadero State Hospital -- until at age 33, he killed himself by suffocating himself with a plastic bag in a jail cell on May 18, 2006.

Last week, Santa Clara County announced that it settled a wrongful death lawsuit and would pay $1 million to his mother, Esther Krenn. The county also agreed to notify families when inmates try to kill themselves or have a breakdown, which the county's lead Deputy County Counsel John Winchester told The Chronicle's Henry K. Lee it already had been doing informally.

On Tuesday, California voters rejected five budget measures on the special election ballot. Yet this settlement demonstrates how impossible it is to expect state and local governments to deliver leaner, smarter services. The incentives in government reward spending, not saving.

To start, $1 million seemed an awfully large sum to award a mother for a son with little to no earning power. Granted, the system fails whenever a mentally ill person kills himself in jail. But if you agree with Krenn's complaint that county staff "were deliberately indifferent" to Martinez's safety, violated his civil rights and wrongfully caused his death, it's still hard to understand what value there is for mentally-ill inmates in seeing $1 million go to Krenn's and attorney Geri Lynn Green's bank accounts.

"The value is the idea of the value of a schizophrenic's life. There are 18 million people in this country who suffer" from serious mental illness, Green told me. "They can work. They can become productive members of society. They can become taxpayers."

Sorry, but Martinez didn't even last in a halfway house. Winchester told me that the county settled because, "The cost to pursue the case through trial may have exceeded the county's insurance deductible" of $500,000. The insurance covered the other $500,000.

In her suit, Krenn had named the county, various local agencies and 11 staffers in their individual and official capacities -- which meant huge legal bills for the county. And you never know if a kooky jury might award an even larger bonanza to the Naked Guy's mom.

Walter Olson of noted that "as soon as you sue people personally, the atmosphere changes. There is fear in the office. Everyone is more grateful to the lawyers for getting that off the plate. That translates into higher settlement values, and the lawyers count on that."

It's not clear if the family-notification policy that was part of the settlement will save a single life -- because the inmate has to consent to treatment, and many mentally ill inmates may not want their families to know they need treatment.

There is another effect, however, of policy by litigation, Olson noted: It adds up. With excessive litigation, law-school clinics and government bodies choosing to settle because it's "near-term" cheaper, jail policies constantly are rewritten until you see "a way of running jails and prisons that very few people would have designed from scratch," Olson noted. "Outside management by litigators" amounts to "management by no one at all."

Let us not forget the other laws at play in this saga. Specifically, Martinez had the right to refuse a plea bargain and the legal ability to fight attempts to treat his mental illness.

Green railed against "incarcerating mentally ill folks" and "criminalizing a health care problem" when an individual really needs help. Treatment, she said, was "just what he wanted; it just wasn't available to him."

That's not what prosecutor Dana Overstreet told me. "The rest of us all recognized that this is someone who was insane at the time he committed his crime" and that he "did not belong in prison" and needed to be in a mental health facility. Her office was working on a "not guilty by reason of insanity" plea with Martinez's public defender, she added, but "the missing piece is getting him on board."

(By the way, the county did not even call Overstreet before settling with Martinez's mother.)

A mentally ill person can use the system to fight needed treatment -- and if he harms himself in the process, it's a jackpot for mom. This is the same mother who on Monday told Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson, "The Naked Guy thing didn't bother me because I knew there was a lot of thought behind it and he meant well."

Because Martinez killed himself in jail, she gets $1 million. Attorney Peggy Doyle, who has represented municipalities, noted, "Some tragedies seem inevitable, the only question being when and where they finally happen. The unpredictability doesn't make them any less tragic. It does make them more prone to litigation. For the defendant, there can be a luck-of-the-draw factor."

For the taxpayers, for the mental health workers and criminal justice officials caught in this snare, the cards were losers. Taxpayers can be squeezed and county workers can be accused, but they cannot win.


Respect or Revulsion?

In his much ballyhooed commencement address at Notre Dame, President Barack Obama urged protagonists in the abortion debate to respect the opinions of those whose views differ from their own. Should abortion opponents respect the views of those who advocate abortion on demand? Absolutely not!

Abortion is an act of wanton barbarism perpetrated on an innocent child. In a saline abortion, the unborn child is poisoned and scalded in utero by toxic chemicals, resulting in the delivery of a dead baby. In a dilation and evacuation, the child is systematically dismembered and sucked from the womb piece by piece with a powerful vacuum. In a partial birth abortion, an intact child is delivered partially from the womb, only to have its skull pierced, its brains sucked out, and its head crushed before the rest of its tiny body is finally delivered.

If a child should somehow miraculously survive one of these Mengele-like attempts to end their existence, a number of abortion proponents—Barack Obama included—believe that the child should be killed on the table rather than permitted to enjoy the life that they refused to yield in the womb.

Pray tell, Mr. Obama, what is it about the opinions of those who advocate these acts of wanton violence that is worthy of respect? Please, don't wrap your response in the rhetoric of "choice." We aren't talking here about the right to choose between chocolate and vanilla. We are talking about the so-called right to choose to kill an innocent child. Where on God's green earth or in the Constitution does that "right" come from?

A gifted communicator like you knows that people resort to euphemisms when they want to conceal the ugliness of that which they advocate. And as a skilled advocate, you know that "choice" is a euphemism for "I want to be free to kill my innocent child," but no "pro-choice" politician is willing to say it.

Your attempt to invoke the virtues of "tolerance" in this discussion is merely more rhetorical manipulation. Your side hasn't shown any tolerance toward the opinions of judicial candidates whom they feared might chip away at Roe v. Wade and its progeny. Would you have pro-lifers emulate the "tolerance" of your supporters at N.O.W. or N.A.R.A.L. toward folks like Robert Bork, John Roberts, or Sam Alito? Perhaps you would have them model the "tolerance" of your friends on the Left like Perez Hilton toward the opinions of people like Carrie Prejean (Miss California)?

Mr. Obama, your supporters advocate zero tolerance for the opinions of those who discriminate on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation, but they seem to have no problem with the opinions of those who advocate discrimination on the basis of age, size, or location. Do those classifications provide a rational basis for discrimination? Are the opinions of those who advocate discrimination on the basis of such categories more worthy of respect than those who advocate discrimination based on the other categories? Would you honestly have us believe that those who are older have more worth than those who are younger; that big people are worth more than small ones; or that our membership in the human family depends on where we happen to reside?

Mr. Obama, by your own measure, you are guilty of bigotry—and worse. You not only affirm the right to discriminate against human beings because they are young, small, and in the womb—you embrace the "right" to destroy them. Which is worse—to discriminate, or to destroy based on "unalterable characteristics of our human existence?"

No doubt you would have the pro-life community at least respect the sincerity with which you hold your convictions. Sorry, we can't even affirm that. Sincerity is not the measure of truth. You may sincerely believe that taking poison will heal you, but you will be sincerely wrong and sincerely dead—as are 50 million unborn children since 1973.

The debate over abortion is not going to go away, Mr. Obama. At times, it will become emotional and raucous and loud as it did at Notre Dame—as it should be when the lives of human beings are at stake. Perhaps one day you will search your heart and realize that you have aided and abetted a terrible wrong of gigantic proportions. Perhaps one day you will change your mind and seek to protect the least among us. Then, and only then, will pro-lifers respect your opinion


Senior judge blames slow police response times for Britain's 'vigilante culture'

A senior judge has warned of a rise in vigilante crimes caused by slow police response times. Richard Bray said citizens were increasingly taking matters into their own hands because of lack of confidence in the forces of law and order. He was speaking as he sentenced a father and his sons for attacking a man they thought had vandalised their car.

Mr Bray, a circuit judge at Northampton Crown Court, said: 'Nobody bothers to phone the police any more. They go round and sort it out themselves - and I know why. 'It is because the police do not actually come round so people go out themselves and deal with it.'

A police pledge, to which all 43 forces in the country have signed up, promises that in urban areas police will arrive within 15 minutes and in rural areas in 20 minutes. But Judge Bray's scathing comments make clear he feels they are falling short of those commitments.

The attack which prompted his outburst occurred last year when Henry Smith, 48, and his sons Ian, 23, and Jamie, 19, decided to take revenge for damage to their car. The men, from Kettering, went to a nearby house and punched a man to the ground. Ian Smith and his brother then punched and kicked him on the floor, leaving him with injuries to his face, teeth and mouth. Both admitted grievous bodily harm at a previous hearing.

Ian Smith was given a suspended jail sentence of 50 weeks and ordered to pay £1,000 to the victim. Jamie Smith received a 40-week suspended sentence and ordered to pay £1,500 compensation. Their father had pleaded guilty to affray and was ordered to pay costs. They were ordered to complete 390 hours of unpaid work between them. Matthew Sinclair, of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: 'It is refreshing to hear a judge accept the extent to which ordinary people are being forced to fend for themselves thanks to the failure of the criminal justice system. 'This will continue so long as the police are forced to respond to the priorities of politicians rather than ordinary people. They'll spend their time trying to meet arbitrary and distorting targets rather than trying to catch serious criminals.'

A spokesman for the Home Office said it did not keep figures on how quickly officers responded to callout times, despite its pledge. The spokesman added that it was not possible to keep specific figures on vigilante crime.

A Northamptonshire Police spokesman said: 'The judge is entitled to his opinion but it is one we do not share. In the case he refers to, the incident in question was not reported to us so we were not in a position to respond. 'We invest heavily in officers, staff, training and technology to ensure members of the public can be confident of receiving a good service from Northamptonshire Police.'



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 is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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