Saturday, May 02, 2009

Minnesota Attempts to Censor Internet -- Taxpayer and First Amendment Groups Condemn Action

Americans for Tax Reform and the Media Freedom Project today released the following press release:

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety announced today that it has instructed 11 national and regional internet service providers to prohibit Minnesota residents from accessing almost 200 online gaming websites.

John Willems, director of the MN Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division, warned the thousands of law abiding Minnesotans who enjoy online gaming that today’s announced state action will put their “funds in peril.” Referring to online gaming, Willems added, “I don’t have a law that authorizes it, so it’s illegal,” in a statement that would outlaw even the most mundane daily activities and routines.

“Minnesota state officials have aggressively sought to deter internet freedom over the past few months. First legislators try to tax digital downloads, now bureaucrats want to censor the web,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “This is nanny-statism at its worst – the government barging into a private matter because people are supposedly too stupid to make decisions and take care of themselves. Individual liberty should not be supplanted by the whims of politicians looking to soak even more money from an over-taxed, over-regulated population while feigning concern over safety issues.”

Kentucky is also trying to shut down online gaming by attempting to seize 141 websites. Already having consumed a considerable amount of scarce state resources and taxpayer dollars, that case is now heading to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

“Minnesota’s effort to block access to Internet sites that allow gaming is nothing more than an attempt to block competition the state doesn’t like. If Minnesota state officials were truly concerned about the “societal impact” of gaming they wouldn’t have sanctioned more than a dozen casinos in the state and would be making efforts to close them, too,” said Derek Hunter, executive director of the Media Freedom Project. “In the meantime the Department of Public Safety’s action violates the principles that govern the Internet, that it should remain open and free to legal transactions. Since the federal government has yet to clearly define what constitutes “illegal” online gaming, Minnesota is now seeking to arbitrarily do it. ”


British social workers take baby away even though mother ‘posed no risk’

A baby was placed into care and is facing adoption after a psychologist misdiagnosed the mother’s mental state. The child has been in foster care for six months even though experts have said that the mother posed no immediate risk. A psychologist told Ipswich County Court this week that she had inaccurately assessed the mother as having factitious illness, formerly known as Munchausen’s by proxy. That assessment resulted in Suffolk County Council putting the baby on the childcare protection register.

The diagnosis was based on accusations that the mother had made up illnesses for her son from another relationship, which she denied. The diagnosis was changed after a psychiatrist said that there was no evidence that the mother had fabricated anything about her son. The psychologist said that she had since concluded that the mother had narcissistic personality disorder, where sufferers can believe they are special and have difficulty showing empathy. This disorder was not a barrier to successful parenting, the psychologist said.

The opening up of the family courts to the media means that the details of the case can be published.

Once the baby was born, the mother and father were subjected to regular visits by social workers. The mother told one that her partner would feel like killing them all if the baby was taken away. A few days later the baby was taken into care.

The psychologist said that the baby was removed despite there being no immediate concerns about its treatment. “I understand that there were never any concerns about [its] practical care. There were risks in the long term . . . in terms of consistency of parenting,” she said. She added that the mother craved attention, regardless of the welfare of her baby. The mother would find it difficult “to put the baby’s needs before her own, she said, although there was no evidence she had done this while caring for the baby.

Experts also expressed concern about risks posed by the father.

The court was given insight into the numerous difficulties faced by social services in dealing with the case. All three experts who gave evidence agreed that the parents were evasive and that the father had told substantial untruths on several occasions. When the mother told the father on Saturday that she wanted to leave him, he had taken a knife and gone into another room — with the implication that he would harm himself if they were apart.

Two experts complained that they had not been given enough information about the case — only one of the three had observed the mother, the father and the baby. They emphasised that both parents would need significant therapy to overcome their problems. One of the experts said that the mother had suffered from depression and although she responded well to medication, she did not always take it.

The local authority took a measured approach to the circumstances. While it could have moved immediately to a care plan recommending adoption, it agreed to further assessment of the couple. The baby will be kept in foster care in the meantime, with a further hearing scheduled for July. If assessments are not positive, the child is likely to be adopted.


Swine flu panic and the dramatisation of disease

Recent events show that, while society has the scientific know-how to cope with outbreaks of flu, it still sees disease as a harbinger of apocalypse

Frank Furedi

The explosion of global fear about the outbreak of a deathly flu virus in Mexico is more a response to the dramatisation of influenza than to the actual threat it poses.

There is nothing unusual about the outbreak of flu. Every year, thousands of people die from the flu, and, in normal conditions, society has learned to cope with the flu threat. From time to time, an outbreak of flu turns into a global pandemic, leading to a catastrophic loss of life. However, there is no evidence that the so-called swine flu, which has so far claimed a relatively small number of lives, will turn into a pandemic. Rather, what we are faced with is a health crisis that has been transformed into a moral drama.

Although swine flu is a relatively common hazard of pig-farming, it is worth noting that, so far, health inspectors have not found infected pigs anywhere in Mexico. So why call it ‘swine flu’? The main reason is that the last strain of flu that genetically resembled this one was found among swine. But it does not have to be called ‘swine flu’. The Israeli deputy health minister, Yakov Litzman, says his country will refuse to call the disease by that name because religious Jews do not eat pork. ‘We will call it Mexico flu’, he said. What Litzman’s comments demonstrate is that the name, and image, we give to a disease is principally influenced by culture rather than science.

History shows that how people respond to a crisis determines the impact and the meaning of that crisis. People do not simply ‘suffer a disaster’. They engage with the terrible or threatening event, sometimes adapting to it and sometimes drawing lessons and meaning from it; at other times they can be disoriented and confused by a crisis, but they often learn to reorganise their lives around it, sometimes in a creative way.

In principle, we have all the resources and technical ingredients we need to deal with swine flu. Compared with previous eras, we have a relatively effective warning and tracking system that allows the authorities to take the necessary precautions. Although at present there is no vaccine available to prevent this strain of flu, there are anti-flu drugs that have been shown to work once the virus has been contracted. However, although society has the science and technology to cope with this latest outbreak of flu, its cultural and moral coping mechanisms appear feeble and exposed.

When, on 27 April 2009, the World Health Organisation’s emergency committee raised the pandemic threat level for swine flu from level three to level four (out of a possible six), it was acting on a script that was cobbled together in the early years of the twenty-first century. Since the turn of the new millennium, the term ‘pandemic’ has become normalised and is increasingly used to frame global anxieties and fears. ‘Health alerts’ have been transformed into rituals, through which fear entrepreneurs remind us, in a quasi-religious fashion, that human extinction is a very real possibility. Terms like ‘epidemic’ and ‘pandemic’ appear with increasing frequency in newspapers, and are now used in everyday conversation, too.

This tendency to inflate the dangers that we face leads to a situation where fearmongers now speculate about hundreds of thousands, millions or even billions of casualties occurring as a result of some crisis or disaster. Even highly prestigious journals and media outlets seem incapable of resisting the temptation to spread alarmist high-casualty scenarios. On 5 February 2004, an editorial in the New Scientist warned that a bird flu outbreak, in which the virus was transmitted between people, could kill 1.5billion people. The dramatisation of bird flu really took off with the WHO announcement in December 2004, which exhorted all nations to overhaul their pandemic strategies.

As one study of the campaign of fear around pandemics noted: ‘The heightening of pandemic awareness was achieved through the strategic use of what one can call “scare quotes” in leading scientific journals and press releases, scare statistics, such as the 1968 Hong Kong pandemic which killed 30,000 Britons and over one million people worldwide, [and] scare historical references, such as the flu pandemics of 1918 and 1997.’ (1) In this important study, titled ‘Avian Flu: The Creation of Expectations in the Interplay Between Science and the Media’, the authors drew attention to the strategy of linking current outbreaks of the flu to historic catastrophes, which in turn fostered a climate of panic. In relation to the recent panic about the threat of avian flu, they noted that ‘the shift of emphasis to past pandemics contributes to the rhetoric of fear by imbuing the as-yet minor flu outbreak with historical significance, which obscures the fact that the current strain of avian flu has, as yet, killed only a relatively small number of people who had direct contact with poultry’ (2).

Increasingly, public health officials sound as if they are rehearsing their roles for a disaster movie. They frequently argue that, since we had deathly flu pandemics in the past, it is inevitable that we will face another one very soon. ‘Major pandemics sweep the world every century, and it is inevitable that at least one will occur in the future’, said Professor Maria Zambon, a virologist and head of Britain’s Health Protection Agency’s influenza laboratory. For good measure, she added that ‘we can never be completely prepared for what nature will do: nature is the ultimate bioterrorist’ (3). The fatalistic view of an inevitable global flu catastrophe is made more ominous still by linking it with our anxieties about terrorism. Leading British scientist Hugh Pennington also made this link, when he stated in 2005 that avian flu ‘is the biggest threat to the human race’ and it ‘far outweighs bioterrorism; this is natural terrorism’ (4).

Inevitably, the dramatisation of the flu has spawned various apocalyptic stories about how viruses can be ‘weaponised’ and used to threaten human survival. Such stories warn the public that terrorists might try to infect our nations with bird flu. Consider the Institute of Public Policy Research’s Commission of National Security for the Twenty-First Century: one of its reports speculated that the threat from pandemic diseases such as SARS and avian flu is growing all the time, and because of inadequate preparation ‘a serious disease outbreak or bio-terrorism incident in the next 18 months could tip the global economy from serious recession into global depression’. In line with Hollywood fantasy plotlines, the report invited us to imagine the possibility of a terrorist purchasing ‘genes for use in the engineering of an existing and dangerous pathogen into a more virulent strain’ (5).

Alongside fears about the ‘weaponisation’ of viruses, the internet is awash with rumours about the conspiracy responsible for the current outbreak of swine flu. ‘I find it odd that this recent outbreak of swine flu first appeared in Mexico about the time President Obama was visiting there’, writes one blogger, before asking: ‘Does anyone else find that suspicious?’ And far too many people are replying: ‘Yes.’ Far-right conspiracy theorists describe swine flu as the ‘latest bioterrorism attack by the New World Order’. Left-wing conspiratorial-minded crusaders, meanwhile, blame the Republicans in US Congress for cutting ‘pandemic preparedness’ funds out of Obama’s economic stimulus package. Environmental campaigners point the finger of blame at the big corporations that factory-farm pigs. Everyone seems to have their own version of a Hollywood disaster film, through which they can make sense of the outbreak of flu.

It seems the swine flu outbreak has infected our imaginations, giving shape and tangibility to our anxieties about everyday life. We should give the pigs a rest, and get on with living.


Welfare reform in Australia: Payments to the young will stop for those not learning or earning

A good move -- should reduce the population of ferals somewhat

JOBLESS young Australians who are not training or studying will be stripped of welfare payments under changes to ensure skilled workers emerge from the recession. The federal and state governments yesterday agreed to guarantee training or education places to anyone aged under 25 as part of their Compact with Young Australians, The Courier-Mail reports. Nationally, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd estimates 135,000 Australians aged under 25 could get higher qualifications.

The changes come as the Treasury forecasts that one million people could be out of work due to the recession. Mr Rudd unveiled the agreement in Hobart at a Council of Australian Governments meeting. Mr Rudd said young people who lost their jobs must not become the long-term unemployed of tomorrow. The Government will also crackdown on welfare payments.

Anyone aged under 20 who has not completed Year 12 must be studying or training to get the Youth Allowance, which starts at $203.30 a fortnight. The same conditions will apply to parents seeking Family Tax Benefit A. If young people or their parents want to get government benefits the quid pro quo is that the young person is working or earning a Year 12 equivalent qualification, Mr Rudd said. Anyone aged under 17 must be in full-time school, training, or work.

But Mr Rudd brushed aside questions about whether the training compact would help keep jobless young Australians from being counted in the damaging official unemployment figures.

Australian Industry Group head Heather Ridout applauded the measures, saying the jobs compact would help deliver employment opportunities and skills. The states also agreed to bring forward from 2020 to 2015 the goal of having the 90 per cent rate of students attain Year 12 qualifications.



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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