Saturday, May 30, 2009

The egregious bloodymindedness of bureaucratic Britain

Bureaucrats have contempt for those they have power over. It was only the intervention of a Member of Parliament that squeezed some semblance of decency out of them. In Britain, yellow lines beside the kerb indicate that parking is not permitted there

Ruth Ducker always legally parks her Volkswagen Golf around the corner from her house, so it came as a shock when she discovered it had disappeared from its spot - and in its place was double yellow lines. Her confusion deepened when Lambeth council claimed to have no knowledge of where her car was.

It took three weeks for the council to admit its contractors were behind the disappearance, and then add insult to injury by telling the 44-year-old graphic designer she owed more than £800 in fines. In fact the car had been carefully lifted out of the way for the double yellows to be painted in Gordon Grove in Camberwell, then replaced on the new restrictions by the contractors responsible. The same day a different set of parking enforcers spotted the 'illegally parked' car, and had it towed away - after photographing it on the newly painted double yellows.

Mrs Ducker had left the runabout without its battery, meaning she knew that it had not been stolen. She said: 'My little VW disappeared a week before Christmas. I had parked for years on an unrestricted stretch about 40 yards from my home. When I returned on 19 December to replace the battery my car had disappeared and yellow lines had suddenly appeared. There’s no way I could have driven onto those lines. 'Initial inquiries with the council found no trace of the car. It was three weeks before I received my first official notification.'

It took a further two months and the involvement of her local MP Kate Hoey to make the council back down and waive the fines, which by now totalled £2,240. 'What they did was disgraceful,' said Mrs Ducker. “I’m very grateful to my MP. When I saw the photos of my car on the yellow lines I was furious. 'I knew that to pay up would be an admission of guilt, so I decided to fight them. But I didn’t get the car back until the middle of February and they offered a paltry £100 to compensate for lost road tax, insurance and inconvenience. Needless to say I still haven’t received a penny.'

In a letter to Ms Hoey the council said contractors had told them the 'vehicle may have been lifted in order to facilitate the painting of lines' and admitted residents had not been advised of the planned work. The letter also confirmed that penalty notices were not due to be issued until the day after Mrs Ducker’s car was removed. Lambeth council blamed a 'breakdown in communication' between its contractors and has now offered Mrs Ducker £150 compensation.

A council spokesman said: 'This was an unacceptable case and when the council became aware of it we acted to cancel all the charges. We are very sorry for the distress this has caused Mrs Ducker. 'We have raised the case with our contractors in order to avoid something like this happening again in the future. While one case like this is one case too many, this is very much an isolated incident, and all our figures show that in general parking is becoming fairer in Lambeth.'


Pregnant Women Have No Right to Their Jobs

By John Stossel

Sales consultant Holly Waters says she was a top performer for the drug maker Novartis. But when she was about go on maternity leave, she was fired. "I was seven-and-a-half months pregnant. There was no way I was going to be able to go out and find a job at this point," she told me for my ABC special "You Can't Even Talk About It."

Waters knew the law is on her side. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act makes it illegal to fire, or not hire, a woman because she is pregnant. The law even restricts workplace speech. Employers are warned that in a job interview they must never ask questions like, "Might you start a family?"

If Congress thought the law would end claims of workplace discrimination, it was wrong, as usual. Companies are increasingly being sued. Even a maternity-clothing chain was sued. Waters's lawyer, David Sanford, filed a class-action lawsuit against Novartis. "If you get pregnant, you're in trouble at Novartis," he told me. Novartis denies wrongdoing and points out that Working Mother magazine named it one of America's 100 best companies for women.

Sanford claims that his $200-million lawsuit will teach Novartis and other companies not to discriminate.

But Carrie Lukas says such lawsuits do more harm than good. Lukas is also a working mom, vice president of the Independent Women's Forum. "If my employer decides they no longer want me as an employee, then it should be their right to fire me." she told me. "I understand the desire for people to have government step in and try to protect women, but there's real costs to government intervention."

These costs are rarely talked about publicly. But once Congress creates protected groups, some employers avoid hiring members of those groups. After the Americans with Disabilities Act became law, it was assumed more disabled people would enter the workplace. But a study by economists at MIT found employment actually "dropped sharply."

Likewise, "pregnancy protection" creates problems for women. "Sometimes laws that are intended to help women like me actually end up hurting women like me," Lukas said. "All of a sudden, a potential employer is looking at me and thinking, 'She just might turn around and sue us.' That makes it less likely that I'm going to get hired. You raise the cost of hiring a woman like me."

And while some pregnant women work harder than any man, she says, let's be honest: Most pregnant workers impose costs on employers. "Responsibilities are shifted each time I go to a doctor's appointment," Lukas said. "That means I'm unavailable to do whatever work needs to be done during that time, which means one of my colleagues is often picking up the slack."

As free-market economists have long suggested, there's a way to resolve such a conflict: voluntary exchange for mutual benefit. Carrie and her employer made a deal that works for both of them. She works fewer hours and earns less money.

I confronted Sanford with the idea that lawsuits he files actually harm women because companies view them as potential lawsuit bombs. He was unfazed: "If they do take that position, they'd be violating the law. If companies lose money because of it -- and they may -- that's not necessarily a bad thing from a societal perspective."

I think it's a very bad thing. Employment and productivity matter. But viewers agreed with him. I got hate mail: "It is unbelievable that ABC would consider airing this piece! ... This turns back the clock 30 years, and Betty Friedan is rolling in her grave!" "What in the heck is wrong with you, John Stossel? This kind of backwards thinking only exists in third world countries." "Fire Stossel."

How would the job market work without discrimination laws? "You don't have to hire me, and I don't have to work for you," answers Carrie Lukas.

Who would hire pregnant women? "Plenty of employers. ... Women are incredibly productive members of the workforce," Lukas said. "We have a lot to offer. If an employer is going to discriminate against enough people, it's going to be bad for them in the long run. It's a bad business practice. And that's the best way to prevent discrimination."


While Christian population dwindles in Muslim Middle East, it thrives in Israel

Pope Benedict XVI's journey through Jordan, Israel and the West Bank prompted Ethan Bronner, Jerusalem bureau chief for the New York Times, to report on the declining Christian population across the Middle East. But his May 12 story, "Christians in Mideast Losing Numbers and Influence," misleads on crucial facts about this troubling trend among Palestinian and Israeli Christians. (The article also appeared May 13 in the International Herald Tribune.) First, while the Christian population is diminishing throughout the Middle East, including the Palestinian areas, the opposite is true in Israel – a key fact Bronner inexplicably ignores.

Second, contrary to Bronner's article, Palestinian Christians are not emigrating simply because of the "economy, economy, economy," but largely as a result of systematic Muslim persecution. Again, Bronner neglects this significant factor directly related to the topic of his story.

The thrust of the Times story is that all societies in the Middle East are inhospitable to Christians, who have little future anywhere in the region. Sadly this is true in the Muslim-dominated nations surrounding Israel but it's not the case in Israel itself.

The Situation Across the Mideast: As Bronner notes, the Christian population throughout the Middle East has been declining for decades. In 1914, Christians constituted 26.4 percent of the total population in what today is Israel, the Palestinian areas, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, while by 2005 they represented at most 9.2 percent (Phillipe Fargues, "The Arab Christians of the Middle East: A Demographic Perspective," in Christian Communities in the Arab Middle East, Andrea Pacini, ed, Oxford University Press, as cited in Justus Reid Weiner's Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.)

The Ignored Exception: The exception to this regional trend is Israel, where the Christian population has thrived.

As documented in the Central Bureau of Statistics' Statistical Abstract of Israel 2008 (Chart 2.2), in the last dozen years, Israel's Christian population grew from 120,600 in 1995 to 151,600 in 2007, representing a growth rate of 25 percent. In fact, the Christian growth rate has outpaced the Jewish growth in Israel in the last 12 years! In 1995, there were 4,522,300 Jews in Israel, and in 2007 there were 5,478,2000, representing a growth rate of 21 percent – 4 percent less than the Christian population grew during the same time....


Must not favour your own citizens?

A FRENCH anti-racism group has filed a legal complaint against the Louvre museum, arguing that a policy to allow free admission to European young people is discriminatory.

Earlier this year, French President Nicolas Sarkozy deflected accusations that he was not committed to culture by proudly announcing that EU citizens between 18 and 26 would be allowed free entry to national museums.

The Louvre, which houses one of the world's finest art collections, is the most visited museum in France and duly applied the measure along with other institutions, including the Palace of Versailles.

But the campaign group SOS Racisme has filed a legal complaint claiming that by focusing on EU citizens, the policy deliberately excludes young people of other nationalities and breaches human rights legislation.

The group's vice-president, Samuel Thomas, described the preferential treatment for Europe's young adults as "the translation of an ideology of the extreme right". The group said it would file legal complaints against other museums that had adopted the policy.

Earlier this month Culture Minister Christine Albanel was questioned on the policy by a Paris MP from the Green party. Ms Albanel said she was "fully aware" of the problem of young non-European adults living in France who wanted to visit museums. She added that she had asked officials in her ministry about the possibility of extending free entry to non-EU citizens aged 18 to 26 who could provide a resident's permit or French student card.

France has debated the model of free access to permanent national collections, but has shied away from any sweeping measure.



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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