Thursday, November 18, 2010
Australia: OK for a lesbian to be a bigot?
Hollywood star Portia de Rossi has been accused of hypocrisy after Sunrise host David Koch revealed she refused to be interviewed by him because he is a man.
The Australian-born actress appeared on the top-rating Channel Seven morning program on Tuesday to publicise her new memoir, Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain, but would speak only to Koch's female co-hosts, the network said. A Seven spokeswoman this morning confirmed de Rossi's no-men policy, saying Sunrise producers were told her stance was "not just for Australia, it's for around the world".
Koch took to Twitter yesterday to vent his frustration, accusing the star of double standards. "Portia de Rossi would only be interviewed by a woman. Am I weird in thinking that's strange. Be outrage if a man made that a condition," Koch wrote. "Portia has campaigned, quite rightly, for gay rights and equality. Then insists on only being interviewed by women. Hypocritical? U tell me?"
Radio network Austereo today confirmed it had tried to secure an interview with de Rossi by presenters Hamish and Andy this week, but was told the star's preference was to speak to a female. Presenter Fifi Box conducted the interview yesterday instead.
Austereo public relations manager Chelsea Kelly said the program was not advised of a blanket ban on men. "The word used yesterday to us was 'preference' - it was her preference to speak to a woman," Kelly said. "The reason we were given for that was because her book and the context of her book is about women's issues and the pressures on women to be thin and it was just a better fit if the interviewer was a woman. "We didn't have a problem with it. The boys [Hamish and Andy] were quite happy to let Fifi do the interview."
In her book, de Rossi, the wife of US talkshow host Ellen de Generes, details her battle with an eating disorder and her struggle to come to terms with her homosexuality.
British High Court considers barring Christian foster parents
Clergy argues, 'This 'equality' privileges homosexual rights over those of others'
The stunning, benchmark case of a Christian couple told they may not be able to be foster parents under new laws dictating sensitivity to homosexual children is now awaiting judgment from Britain's High Court.
Owen and Eunice Johns of Derby, England, had cared for more than a dozen foster children through 1993, but when in 2007 they wished to resume foster care, they were required to reapply with their city council.
In the interval, however, Britain passed the Sexual Orientation Regulations and the Equality Act, which led a social worker to question whether a Christian couple would be "fit" to care for a potentially homosexual child.
Mrs. Johns told London's Daily Mail, "The council said, 'Do you know, you would have to tell them that it's OK to be homosexual?'" "But I said I couldn't do that," Johns continued, "because my Christian beliefs won't let me. Morally, I couldn't do that. Spiritually I couldn't do that."
The Johns appealed to the courts, hoping it would force their council to clarify whether Christians with traditional views on sexual ethics would be forbidden from adopting foster children.
The groundbreaking legal collision of homosexual "rights" and the freedom of religion has generated extensive public attention, including an open letter from several British clergy signed by former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey of Clifton.
"The High Court is to be asked to rule on whether Christians are 'fit people' to adopt or foster children – or whether they will be excluded, regardless of the needs of children, from doing so because of the requirements of homosexual rights," the clergy write. "This 'equality,' however, privileges homosexual rights over those of others."
"There is a 'clash of rights,' which the court must settle," the clergy continue. "If the court believes that those with traditional Christian views on homosexuality can be discriminated against, the state has taken a position on a moral question, namely that such religious belief is problematic." They conclude, "We trust and pray that common sense and justice will be done."
The Christian Legal Centre, which campaigns for religious freedoms, is representing the Johns. "The case will decide whether the Johns will be able to foster without compromising their beliefs," the CLC said in a statement. "The implications are huge. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of Christian foster carers and adoptive parents hangs in the balance."
Andrea Minichiello-Williams, director of the CLC further told the Mail, "That the court even needs to consider this is a remarkable reversal in the concept of the public good and the traditional definition of sexual morality."
Ben Summerskill of the lesbian, "gay" and bisexual rights charity Stonewall, however, told the newspaper the interests of a child should become before the "prejudices of a parent." "Many Christian parents of gay children will be shocked at Mr. and Mrs. Johns’s views, which are more redolent of the 19th century than the 21st," Summerskill said.
Britain's High Court, which is similar to a federal district court in the U.S., heard testimony earlier this month and is expected to take up to six weeks to hand down its decision.
In the hearings, the Derby City Council was represented by Jeremy Weston, who told the court that the Johns' application had technically never been decided and the council was also waiting for judicial review of the case. "The city council needs clarity on this matter," he said. "It defends diversity and equality and has treated the Johns as it would have treated anyone else. It would be inappropriate for the council to approve foster carers who cannot meet minimum standards."
Weston also said, however, "It would be difficult and impractical to match children with Mr. and Mrs. Johns if they feel that strongly."
Weston added that the Johns' application could also be ultimately denied should the Johns be found "unsuitable" for other reasons, including "if Mrs. Johns' attendance at church twice on a Sunday would limit available time [to care for children]."
Let’s blow Britain's free speech restrictions sky-high
Note to Twitterers: freedom of speech must extend to offensive comments as well as jokes about airports
Doncaster Crown Court’s decision last week to refuse the appeal of a man convicted of making threatening statements on Twitter is bad news for freedom of expression. Many Twitter-users have pointed this out. Yet events over the past year suggest that while Twitter can be used to demand free speech – as the reaction to the appeal verdict shows – it can also echo the censoriousness that runs through society today.
Paul Chambers, a 26-year-old finance manager, had been planning a trip to Ireland to meet a woman he’d met online when he heard that Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster was closed due to snow. He posted the following message on his Twitter account: ‘Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!’ Nothing more than a casual expression of frustration that was not in any way intended to be taken seriously by anyone: just the kind of think-out-loud remark that is made all the time on Twitter. Indeed, the very purpose of the website is to allow such spontaneous, informal messaging.
The remark was drawn to the attention of the head of security at Robin Hood Airport, who also did not take it seriously. Nonetheless, the incident was passed on to the police and, in January this year, Chambers was arrested on suspicion of making an apparent bomb hoax. As Chambers described in an article for the Guardian in May: ‘Call me naive or ignorant, but the heightened state of panic over terror issues was not something I considered as relating to me in any way – until I was arrested, shoved into a police car in front of colleagues, hauled off to Doncaster police station, and interviewed for the rest of the day. My iPhone, laptop and desktop hard drive were confiscated during a search of my house. It was terrifying and humiliating.’
However, as legal commentator David Allen Green noted in May, while the authorities wanted to prosecute Chambers, actually proving that his off-the-cuff remark amounted to a bomb hoax would have been extremely difficult. So instead, Chambers was charged under the Communications Act 2003 with making a menacing communication, an offence created with the aim of protecting women from nuisance phone calls.
He was convicted in May and ordered to pay £1,000 in fines and costs. As a result of the case, he lost his job and his plan to work as an accountant has been ruined. However, surely someone along the line would understand that his post had been in jest? Not a bit of it. On Thursday, at Doncaster Crown Court, Judge Jacqueline Davies declared: ‘Anyone in this country in the present climate of terrorist threats, especially at airports, could not be unaware of the possible consequences.’ She ruled that Chambers’ Twitter message was ‘menacing in its content and obviously so. It could not be more clear. Any ordinary person reading this would see it in that way and be alarmed.’ Not only was Chambers’ conviction confirmed, but he was saddled with paying the additional costs of the appeal.
The ruling brought outrage from other, high-profile Twitter users, including comedians Dara O’Briain, Stephen Fry and David Mitchell. By Friday, a thread was raging on Twitter with users re-tweeting Chambers’ original statement under the hashtag #IAmSpartacus - a nod to the finale of the Kirk Douglas movie when the defeated slave army all claim to be Spartacus in solidarity with their leader, even though they knew they risked being executed. This tweet meme soon became a news story in its own right.
The ruling against Chambers is of course a bone-headed one and a threat to the freedom of social network users to speak their minds. Although tweets are broadcast to the world, they are still a personal matter that should not be regulated by the state. As such, the #IAmSpartacus response is to be welcomed as an instinctive reaction to the use of the law in this manner.
However, while the reaction to Chambers’ experience is a healthy one, it relies rather heavily on the facts of this particular case. It would be better to argue that any expression of opinion should be regarded as being protected from state intervention. For example, take the case of Gareth Compton, a Conservative councillor in Birmingham. After hearing the Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown talking on BBC Radio Five Live about human rights, Compton tweeted: ‘Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing, really. #R5L’
Compton is, not unexpectedly, being hauled over the coals by his party for his off-colour remark. But the comment was every bit as tongue-in-cheek as Chambers’, though even less amusing. Yet it is clear there is far less sympathy for Compton, who was arrested on Thursday under the same law that Chambers was convicted under. To his credit, former Lib Dem MP Evan Harris noted the similarities between the two cases, arguing that in relation to the 2003 Act, ‘a change in the law is needed because the chill on irreverent expression on the internet will remain’ regardless of the outcome of the two cases themselves.
But what if Chambers or Compton hadn’t been joking? Allowing the authorities to decide what may or may not be said online is a bad idea, full stop, even if the comments made are widely deemed to be offensive.
Moreover, as the reaction to Jan Moir’s comments in the Daily Mail about the late Boyzone singer Stephen Gateley showed, Twitter users can just as easily be censorious in one context and upholders of free expression in another. Moir’s article was widely regarded as anti-gay, provoking a storm of angry commentary from Stephen Fry and Charlie Brooker, particularly on Twitter. With a thousand appeals to the Press Complaints Commission to take action against Moir, there seem to be some things which, in the eyes of the Twitterati, you are not allowed to say (see I am offended, therefore I am, by Tim Black).
Let’s hope that both Chambers and Compton are eventually exonerated, and that the 2003 Act is changed to remove this cloud hanging over free comment online. More than that, we need to accept, as a society, the right of anyone to express a view, no matter how much it is deemed offensive to some.
The 77% of income fallacy
When Congress returns next week for a "lame-duck," post-election session, Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-Nev) will try to muster the 60 votes he needs to block a filibuster of a vote on the misnamed Paycheck Fairness Act. It would be better titled the Paycheck Rareness Act, because it would make paychecks rare by driving small firms out of business and sending larger corporations overseas.
This bill would thrust the government deep into compensation decisions of employers. Its declared purpose is to close the alleged "pay gap" between men and women. That gap is mostly a statistical artifact, a false conclusion-and a rallying cry for feminist lobbyists who are well paid to advocate bills like this one.
Passed by the House of Representatives in January 2009, if the Senate concurs the bill is certain to be signed by President Obama. If it is not passed by the Senate, then, as the frantic feminists warn, there would be no chance of its being enacted next year because the House will have a Republican majority.
The complaint that the feminist organizations love to bandy about is, as the National Women's Law Center asserts on its Web site, www.nwlc.org, "Today, women make just 77 cents for every dollar a man makes..."
That is a spurious conclusion. It omits weekly hours of work, overtime, which is more typically earned by men, education, experience on the job, and time in the workforce. When all of these factors are accounted for, the difference is about five cents on the dollar. And, yes, discrimination against women may-or may not-explain some of that nickel, but the "gap" is far smaller than is alleged and does not merit Congress's imposing a new, cumbersome and costly layer of record-keeping on employers, and inviting more litigation.
The bill would require all employers with more than two employees and $500,000 of gross revenues-no small business exception here-to submit data on sex, race, national origin, and earnings of employees to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, even if no complaint has been filed. The threat of litigation about pay differences between men and women would raise the potential cost of employment, discouraging hiring.
At a Hudson Institute conference on Wednesday, Jerry Savitz, owner of Darby's Restaurant in Belfast, Maine, said, "No one in Belfast has heard of this bill, and when I told them, they were appalled. To hire a lawyer and comply with these regulations would drive me out of business."
Employers would face administrative costs that would silently discourage the hiring of those women who might catch the attention of EEOC investigators. This would particularly affect unskilled, inexperienced women who would start at lower rates of pay, and women who might be expected to take time out of the workforce for children, reducing their future productivity compared with men.
The bill would impose litigation costs on employers even as employees are represented with no out-of-pocket expenses by trial lawyers hopeful for a big slice of a big settlement. The result would be, as former Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao described it at the Hudson conference, "a tsunami of lawsuits and tremendous uncertainty," adding to the estimated $300 billion a year America now spends on litigation.
First, women would be included in class-action suits against employers unless they specifically opt out, raising the costs of litigation whether or not the EEOC finds for the complaining employees.
Second, courts could levy heavier penalties on employers. Under the law now, employers found guilty of discrimination owe workers back pay. Under the pending bill, they would have to pay uncapped punitive damages, with a quarter or a third going to plaintiffs' lawyers. Even innocent employers would be under pressure to settle rather than fight, raising costs of business.
In fact, most employers are innocent of gender discrimination. Of the 942 pay-discrimination complaints filed with the EEOC in 2009, only 4.6% were found to have "reasonable cause," meaning that they merited full-blown investigation.
Third, the bill would allow employers to defend differences in pay between men and women only on the grounds of education, training, and experience-- if these factors were also justified on the grounds of "business necessity." This standard could prohibit male managers with college degrees from being paid more than female cashiers with high school diplomas, if college degrees were not consistent with "business necessity."
Fourth, the bill would put all places of business of an employer in a county, say a local grocery chain, under the same pay standard, even if no complaints were received.
Now, employees who do the same work in one location have to be paid equally. Including all locations would mean that employees in high cost, or unpleasant areas, where the employer has to pay more to attract workers, have to be paid the same as those in low-cost, more pleasant areas. Identifying the same work is hard to do for different jobs in different locations. The intent may be to raise wages of employees at the lower end, but the practical effect is likely to drive up employment costs and encourage layoffs.
One way for some employers to avoid the penalties in the Paycheck Fairness Act would be to move jobs offshore, especially if there is an offshore plant that can be expanded. If the bill were signed into law, the United States would be the only industrial country with this type of legislation.
America leads the world in opportunities for women, and 60% of adult women are in the labor force. The latest unemployment rate for adult women, at 8.1%, is lower than that for men, at 9.7%. Women are closing the pay gap because their education is increasing; they earn well over half of all B.A.s and M.A.s awarded, half of Ph.D.s, and half of professional degrees in law and medicine.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would narrow opportunities for advancement as employers reduce employment. With jobs and the economy now topping Americans' worries, Congress needs to think about how to make America a more welcoming place to create jobs, rather than how best to drive jobs away.
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, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or 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.