Thursday, May 06, 2010

Secret trials still common in Britain

One year after ground-breaking reforms that were meant to open thousands of hearings to the media, more family courts are now more closed to public scrutiny, it is claimed today. Media organisations and lawyers both say that the campaign to open up the family courts has largely failed.

Changes rushed through Parliament before the election was announced will also make it even more difficult than before to report on the family courts. They predict that as a result, even fewer cases than now will be reported and only then, giving the broad gist of proceedings, rather than any detail.

One family lawyer, Rachel Atkins, of Schillings, told The Times that the recent changes were “a misguided and politically motivated fudge which has understandably satisfied neither side”.

The media could not report proceedings and the public was intimidated by the “possible threat of the media in court” from seeking access to justice. “Nowhere is this more apparent than in cases involving children,” she said.

The changes left uncertain what could be reported; would increase costs as litigants sought to block press access and, in some cases, imposed new limitations on what could be reported, she said.

Last autumn Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, pledged to bring in a new reporting regime that would make it easier for the press to report family cases, name witnesses and have access to evidence. But widespread and concerted opposition from senior judges downwards and including children’s groups led to his plans being substantially diluted. Provisions that slipped through in the “wash-up” of legislation in the final days before the last Parliament was dissolved leave proceedings still subject to anonmity provisions, including witnesses.

Further reforms to allow the media access to evidence will not be considered for another 18 months and will depend on the outcome of a review of the existing regime.

Mike Dodd, editor of Media Law, said that the proposals, which give local authority officials, social workers and medical staff automatic anonymity, are so complex that they will “reduce reporting of family cases, rather than increase it.”

The changes that were implemented had achieved the opposite effect from that originally wanted by Mr Straw, he added. “Rather than open family proceedings involving children to greater scrutiny, they succeeded in producing so-called reforms which surround attempts to report cases with a complex series of caveats and conditions.”

Far from boosting public confidence in family courts, he added, the provisions would undermine it.


British Judge frees burglar facing jail term... so he can go home to look after his DOG

A convicted burglar was let out of prison so he could take care of his dog. Daniel Reaney walked free after pleading with a judge to allow him home because there was no one to look after Staffordshire bull terrier Vinnie.

The 31-year-old criminal had been remanded in custody for ten days after being accused of assault - while already out on bail for burglary. But Judge David Pugsley decided to 'break all the conventions' and bail Reaney again on Tuesday.

That decision has been met with incredulity by critics who said there were other ways to deal with the dog - named after the burglar met football hardman turned actor Vinnie Jones.

Reaney is due to be sentenced tomorrow for five offences including burglary and had been warned he was likely to be jailed.

So when he appeared in court via a video link on the assault charge this week, he pleaded for three days of freedom to take care of the dog. He told Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court: 'He's a Staffordshire bull terrier. He's lovely, he's like a child to me. 'I've had to get someone to go in to feed him for me, but I need to sort something out for him. I know I'll probably be sent to prison on Friday.'

Reaney claimed to have mended his ways. 'I've turned my life around, I've been doing voluntary work,' he said.

The bail application was opposed by prosecutors, who pointed out that Reaney was already on bail at the time of the alleged attack.

Judge Pugsley released him, adding he would be sent to prison if he failed to turn up at court tomorrow. He said: 'I'm breaking all the conventions here, but I'm going to grant you bail until Friday. I will reserve any breaches to myself, but I believe you will be here.'

Peter Chadwick, a member of Staffordshire Police's Citizens Panel, said: 'I'm a dog lover, but I don't think the judge was right to let him out. I'm sure something else could have been sorted out for the dog.'

Last night Reaney, of Middleport, Stoke-on-Trent, said he had made arrangements for Vinnie and was 'grateful' to the court.


Lies of the Ethics Industry

How the champions of "good government" suppress speech and sow cynicism

Our 21st century politics might be regarded as an ethical golden age—at least in contrast to the corruption of the 19th century, when senators were on railroad payrolls and urban machines pilfered public treasuries. Yet according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, only 22 percent of citizens now trust government "almost always or most of the time."

Ironically, the trust deficit is partly a result of the very transparency rules adopted to encourage confidence in government. Enacted after some idiots in Richard Nixon's White House broke into the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee—apparently guided by the aphorism "nothing's too cheap to steal"—transparency laws were supposed to shine light on the influence of cash. Which they did. But they also left an even bigger impression that money is the root of all public policy evil.

Four groups now work to convince us we have the worst government money can buy: (1) an ethics industry spawned in Washington by Watergate, which features nonprofits lobbying for regulation of speech they don't like; (2) journalists who collude with ethics purveyors, writing cheap-and-easy stories fitting a corruption narrative they create; (3) politicians, especially Democratic Progressive Era throwbacks, who think evil-doing can be stopped with new and better rules and who pander to the ethics industry, the media, and (ironically) to citizens convinced that Democrats are just as sleazy as Republicans; and (4) citizens, frustrated by the budget-busting consequences of the free lunches we accept from politicians.

The usual suspects will be familiar to viewers of TV news features devoted to topics like “keeping them honest” and “it’s your money.” A self-described citizens’ lobby, Common Cause, was founded in 1970. It spawned a series of other “Goo-Goo” (good government) nonprofits, including Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen in 1971; the Center for Responsive Politics in 1982, which massages finance records from candidate and PAC reports and feeds the information to friendly journalists who repeat “follow the money” as a mantra; and the Center for Public Integrity, created in 1989 by former 60 Minutes producer Charles Lewis, who launched investigative studies that focused on money as a one-size-fits-all explanation for bad politicians and policy.

The Goo-Goos reflect the Progressive Era faith that non-partisan elites, armed with ever-expanding rules and great expertise, can serve stupid people better than greedy elected officials can. And to make matters worse, every one of their failures to legislate political morality has only encouraged ethics-mongers to propose new-and-better “reforms.” Common Cause and its sister organizations want to limit political speech that they disapprove of—i.e., speech by evil corporations. And these crusading groups all share a common cause: Goo-Goo self-perpetuation. After all, those press release writers have mouths to feed, too.

Anyone in a college journalism program during the past several decades has been advised to “follow the money” as a key to political behavior. With that limited wisdom, a young reporter quickly learns she can make the front page with a story suggesting a money-policy nexus.

Assisting journalists in these exposés of political cash are their friends in the ethics industry, ready to supply “studies” and “reports,” which often mis-aggregate donations and expenditures (figures lie just like politicians do, and liars frequently employ figures). The Goo-Goos are always prepared with sky-is-falling quotes about the dire consequences of money impinging on democracy.

What never seems to occur to journalists—especially those in the non-real world of editorial boards—is that their own publishers spend unlimited cash to speak, cash they’ve accepted from their advertisers, who usually happen to be big bad corporations.

With progressivism still their dominant theology, Democrats constantly campaign for more “reform” of money in politics, occasionally joined by “maverick” Republicans like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). But just like religious Republicans who get caught in the wrong beds or bathrooms, Democrats pay the hypocrisy price when they’re discovered with cash in their freezers or embarrassing gifts from criminals.

The Democratic-progressive dream is public financing of elections, an incumbent protection racket that would allow them to wage permanent campaigns with taxpayer-funded congressional staffs—all while appearing to equalize spending for electoral opponents, courtesy of your tax dollars.

Finally, the public’s disappointment with government can be traced to the most likely suspects of all: the public itself. Dangerously armed with a willingness to suspend belief in the law of supply and demand, the people are always eager for a free lunch of entitlement spending, while for dessert they blast politicians for running up giant deficits.

The thus-embattled citizen then turns on the TV and reacts with fury to stories by cable-babblers, pandering to their audience of political spectators with pretensions of keeping those sleazy pols honest.

Lost in this televised Kabuki theater is any serious attempt to address the really big public policy problems facing the country, including massive entitlement payouts for the elderly, the bipartisan jobs program known as national defense, and gigantic interest payments on the national debt. Who actually believes that removing money from politics will help fix any of that?

It all recalls the old cartoon strip character, Pogo, who declared: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”


Tea Partiers Defined by principle, not just protest

Tea Partiers defy the descriptions of their detractors

Many pundits and pollsters are working overtime to neatly identify and package the Tea Party movement and those who participate in it. Opinions and approaches are legion, creating more of a fog than a clear picture. As commentators and reporters strive to uncover deep hidden meanings, shocking revelations or even simply interesting angles for their stories, what is being overlooked are the plainly stated, published principles of the Tea Party movement. They are simple and finite: fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets. This threefold purpose is the only solid foundation for grasping the Tea Party movement. It also is the source of the movement's ever-growing expansion and power.

Some, like Frank Rich of the New York Times or Dana Milbank of The Washington Post continue to paint Tea Partiers as violent, racist rednecks. Commentators such as these try to come across as offering some measure of detached observation and analysis, but their words generally betray their motives. In an attempt to control the narrative concerning the Tea Party movement, they have launched ill-conceived verbal attacks, attempting to taint the public's opinion in a negative way.

For instance, Frank Rich's unfortunate comparison of Tea Partiers' protests against Obamacare to Kristallnacht not only was baseless fear-mongering, it fabricated a historical congruity where none exists.

Others, like The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson, strive to present a comprehensive picture but achieve caricature, not truth:

"A 'movement' that encompasses gun nuts, tax protesters, devotees of the gold standard, Sarah Palin, insurance company lobbyists, 'constitutionalists' who have not read the Constitution, Medicare recipients who oppose government-run health care, crazy 'birthers' who claim President Obama was born in another country, a contingent of outright racists (come on, people, let's be real) and a bunch of fat-cat professional politicians pretending to be 'outsiders' is not a coherent intellectual or political force."

As such, Mr. Robinson completely misses the nature of the political force endowed in the Tea Party Movement.

In general, the media's attempt to portray Tea Partiers as racists has fizzled. Despite the presence of multitudes of cameras and microphones at the moment of claimed racial slurs on Capitol Hill on the weekend of the health care reform vote, no audio or video evidence has been discovered. No corroboration has been offered by anyone present, including the members of Congress who were the purported victims of racial invective. The dearth of proof continues despite the fact that Andrew Brietbart has offered a $100,000 reward to anyone who steps forward with verifiable evidence. Media outlets ran with reported anecdotal evidence but appear to have done little fact-checking. One can only conclude the evidence doesn't exist and that the actuality of the event was different from what was portrayed in the media.

Likewise, attempts to identify Tea Partiers as violent also have fizzled. There have been no reports of violence at Tea Party events. There have, however, been violent acts against those protesting Obamacare by those who favor it. For instance, at a town-hall health care meeting in St. Louis on Aug. 6, 2009, Kenneth Gladney, a black man selling American and "Don't Tread on Me" flags, was assaulted by men wearing SEIU (Service Employees International Union) shirts. On Sept. 3, 2009, Bill Rice, a 65-year-old man protesting Obamacare at a rally in Thousand Oaks, Calif., had his finger bitten off by a young Obamacare supporter. It seems Tea Party types have been the victims, not the perpetrators, of violence.

In recent weeks, pollsters have turned their attention to the demographics of the Tea Party movement. This scientific approach has yielded a more reliable snapshot of Tea Party participants. The initial picture departs considerably from the long-held assertions of the pundits. Members of the Tea Party movement were nearly universally dismissed as uneducated, racist rubes. This was propagated as unassailable, gospel truth. All this changed, however, on April 14, when the New York Times published the results of a poll it conducted with CBS, revealing that Tea Partiers generally are better educated and wealthier than the general public. Since then, we have witnessed many pundits suddenly turning on a dime, now dismissing Tea Party members as aloof elites, out of touch with America's common man.

A Quinnipiac University poll published on March 24 found that 55 percent of Tea Partiers are women, dispelling the myth that most are cantankerous old white Republican men who remain angered at the results of the 2008 presidential election because of racial bias. Further, a Gallup Poll taken March 26 through 28 found that 43 percent are registered Independents and 8 percent are registered Democrats. At a combined 51 percent, these put Republicans in the minority, at 49 percent.

Other commentators also have had a more rational approach through which they have striven to find a historical or sociological perspective through which to view the Tea Party movement. In her April 18 New York Times article, "Tea Party Supporters Doing Fine, but Angry Nonetheless," Kate Zernike attempts to link the Tea Party movement to "'60s-era conservatives" ). She veers way off course, however, when she quotes Rick Perlstein: "[T]he widest gulf between Tea Party supporters and others - Republicans and the public in general - are in their responses to questions about social issues, from gay marriage to abortion to immigration to global warming." These issues are inconsequential to the movement. Although they may be personally important to individuals associated with the Tea Party movement, they are not encompassed in the movement's agenda.

The power that the Tea Party movement wields is not its influence on social issues. It did not emerge from nothingness in the spring of 2009 out of concern over these. The power of the Tea Party movement resides in the primacy of its threefold focus: fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets; in its promise to elect officials that embrace these principles; and in its participants' strong resolve to remain a loose-knit grass-roots movement. The magnitude of its power will be revealed this fall on Election Day. For now, its power is mostly stored as potential energy, but we already have had glimpses of just how powerful this movement is in the election of Sen. Scott Brown, Massachusetts Republican, and the nearly endless delay in the vote for health care reform, finally accomplished only in classic Rube Goldberg style. After Nov. 2, its power will continue to be visible in its promise vigilantly to monitor officeholders and to keep them accountable to these principles.

One question that keeps getting raised is whether the Tea Party movement is more of a conservative phenomenon or a libertarian one. There's a good reason onlookers feel they are getting mixed signals: The Tea Party movement forms a realm in which the two easily can converge. With a focus on fiscal responsibility and limited government, absent social issues such as abortion, gay marriage, legalization of marijuana, immigration, global warming, the deployment of our military abroad, gun control, etc., libertarians and conservatives have found wholehearted agreement and have formed a powerful coalition to bring about change in Washington - change our Founding Fathers would have believed in.



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 or 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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