Tuesday, December 07, 2010

British police not interested in shoplifters

(Or car theft, for that matter -- but a holocaust denier got 4 years in jail. What you say is more important than what you do, apparently)

High Street chains have launched 600,000 private legal actions against alleged shoplifters in ten years, it has emerged. Big names such as Boots, Tesco, Debenhams, Asda, TK Maxx, Wilkinson, B&Q and Superdrug are demanding a £150 penalty each time in civil actions against alleged thieves.

They adopted the policy after the last Labour government decided police no longer had to pursue criminal prosecutions against many shoplifters. Stores are angry that officers let many thieves go with a warning, while even persistent offenders often only pay a small fixed penalty fine.

The retailers’ ‘civil recovery’ move is designed to shame and punish those involved. People who refuse to pay up after receiving a lawyer’s letter are warned they will be pursued for payment in the county court, which is potentially embarrassing. The legal letters are often sent weeks after the event when the alleged thief involved thought the matter had been resolved.

However, the charity Citizens Advice says the big chains and their lawyers are targeting children and other vulnerable people. It is calling on stores to take a different and ‘fair’ approach to tackling shoplifting. The charity, which receives substantial grants from the taxpayer, claims some of those pursued are innocent, possibly having made a mistake at a self-service checkout.

Of 300 cases reported to Citizens Advice offices, a quarter involved teenagers, with most of those aged under 17. Others included the elderly, single mothers, carers and people with mental and physical disabilities.

The charity’s stance triggered fierce criticism from one of the biggest legal firms involved in ‘civil recovery’. Nottingham-based Retail Loss Prevention effectively accused the charity of wasting public money to support criminals. It said retail theft, including items stolen by employees, was £4.4billion a year and rising.

Retail Loss Prevention managing director Jackie Lambert said: ‘With spending cuts and the country struggling with a recession, are we, as a society, happy for public money to be spent defending in civil courts those caught stealing?’

Citizens Advice chief Gillian Guy said: ‘We do not condone crime of any kind or level, and do not underestimate the cost of retail crime, but in many of the cases the alleged theft is strongly denied.’


Offended by the Offended

Five Live Oak High School students’ First Amendment rights were challenged this year when they were asked to leave school because they donned American flag T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo, an offense one official called “incendiary.” Other students could wear or wave the Mexican flag and any number of other potentially offensive messages, but wearing the American flag in America is just too “incendiary.” To their credit, the Morgan Hill Unified School District did not concur with the suspensions, but the “offended” still got their way.

Unfortunately, in America today, being offended works! It’s become an effective strategy for oppressing the freedom of those who disagree with the offended party. An Iowa Veterans Hospital is removing crosses and Christian symbols from its chapels because ”offended” atheist complainers have successfully intimidated hospital administrators with threats of a lawsuit.

On a more personal level, when a doctor informed a female patient that she was clinically obese and needed to lower her weight, she was offended. Instead of addressing her own weight issues, she attempted to get her doctor reprimanded.

Is this still America? “We the people” are supposed to be free to disagree, dislike you, and even offend you. Face the sad truth, in a free society, there will always be somebody out there who will be offended with anything, everything or at least something that you might say or do.

Don’t let name-calling get to you. Borrowing the words of the GEICO drill sergeant therapist, “Maybe we should chug on over to mambi pambi land and find some self confidence for you!” Grab some tissues instead of intimidating others into compromising our freedom of speech.

The French-born American historian, Jacques Barzun, said, “Political correctness does not legislate tolerance; it only organizes hatred.” Political correctness is the enemy of freedom of speech. What may have began as a crusade for civility has soured into arguments over what is “offensive” and, even worse, censorship. To label someone a bigot or a racist for a comment that offends minimizes true racism. If being offended is enough to squander our freedom of speech, I’m offended by those who are offended.

Too many have forgotten that handy childhood saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me.” Words may hurt and even offend, but they need not have lasting impact. Even with the most hateful of comments, we’re dealing with strong statements, not physical blows.

After all, anyone entering into political discourse should wear a flak jacket and helmet. As a columnist, I’ve been called a simplistic f…ing clown, a right liar, narrow minded, a cruel joke, a two-faced hypocrite, and my favorite—a jackass trying to look like horse. I’ve been asked, “What planet are you living on?” I’ve been told that since I’ve “had enough” of President Obama, I ought to leave the county, the state, and even the country! Such comments go with the territory.

The best response to hateful comments is not a counter attack but to keep expressing your opinions. It’s healthy to learn that you can survive verbal attacks for your views and sleep soundly at night.

When you don’t like what is said, choose to disagree and let their attack slide by or get beyond their name calling and consider changing your opinion. Choosing to be offended is not a constructive choice.

Thankfully, some are protesting “offended” demonstrators. After “offended” students from Michigan State’s Muslim Student’s Association protested the publishing of Danish cartoons portraying the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist, professor Indrek Wichman protested the protest. He sent an e-mail to the association: “I am offended not by cartoons, but by more mundane things like beheadings of civilians, cowardly attacks on public buildings, suicide murders,…the imposition of Sharia law on non-Muslims….” In spite of an immediate uproar from the association and CAIR, the university has stood in support of Professor Wichman, saying the e-mail was private and, as a result, warranted no university condemnation.

So, instead of using the courts or the long arm of the government to ban, threaten, or otherwise punish those who refuse to agree with your views, try exposing the supposed “offending” comments. Treat what you consider “hate” speech with more speech, not legal maneuvering that limits one of our most treasured freedoms. Remember, people you try to silence may not get mad; they may get even and work to censor and control you! When it comes to taking offense, don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you


A really bizarre attack on photography

A Barbie doll is bad because it has got a camera in it

The FBI is warning that a new Barbie doll could be a gift -- to pedophiles. In an alert sent to investigators, the feds warned that the new Barbie Video Girl, which features a camera and an LCD screen, could be used to create child pornography. The camera is capable of filming clips as long as 30 minutes, according to CNN.

The FBI says that the doll is safe if used properly, and it has not encountered any instances of the doll being used to create pornography. "Law enforcement is encouraged to be aware of unconventional avenues for possible production and possession of child pornography, such as the Barbie Video Girl," the document read.

"FBI investigation has revealed instances where an individual convicted of distributing child pornography had given a Barbie doll to a 6-year-old girl," the alert said.

The doll, which retails for $49.99, comes with a USB cable to upload videos to a computer. Investigators say that the combination of a doll packaged with a video camera raises worries. "It's probably a great selling point for kids but something that a child pornographer could convert to his nefarious activities," said Sgt. John Urquhart with the King County, Wash., sheriff's office, according to local TV station KOMO 4. The doll's camera does not have the capability to stream videos online.

The FBI never intended for the alert to become public, but it was inadvertently sent to news media in Seattle.

The doll "plays into these people who prey upon our children's ideals. It frightens me," William Porres, a Tacoma, Wash., grandfather, told a local CNN affiliate.

Barbie Video Girl has been nominated for the 2011 Toy of the Year Award. It is aimed at kids aged 6 and up, according to toymaker Mattel's website. "Capture everything from a doll's-eye-view, then watch it instantly or upload to your computer," the website says. "There's an LCD screen on Barbie doll's back, and a camera lens hidden discreetly in her necklace. Talk about making movies in style!"

The company has downplayed the alert, saying that the danger is theoretical. "The FBI is not reporting that anything has happened," Mattel said in a statement, according to The Washington Post. "We understand the importance of child safety -- it is our number one priority."


Australia: Free speech for charities upheld

A High Court decision last week provided a big win for charities, and another big loss for the Tax Commissioner. At issue was whether an organisation can retain its charitable status and tax benefits while engaging in political debate. The High Court held that it could. This redefined what it means to be a charity, and provided a boost to freedom of speech.

The test case concerned Aid/Watch, a self-described "activist" group concerned with the relief of international poverty. It seeks to achieve its goals through unorthodox means for a charity. Rather than raising money for or engaging directly in anti-poverty initiatives, it campaigns for improvements in the delivery of Australia's overseas aid. It has been sharply critical of government, and has not been shy in proposing major reforms to aid policy.

Australian charities have tended to be wary of such advocacy. They have feared that engaging in public debate could jeopardise their charitable status, and so their entitlement to the income tax, fringe benefits tax and GST exemptions and concessions upon which their livelihood depends. This fear was realised in 2006 when the Commissioner of Taxation revoked Aid/Watch's standing as a charity.

Aid/Watch has spent four years seeking to have the decision overturned. Its legal battle has focused upon the meaning of the term charitable institution in federal tax laws.

In contrast to the modern practice of parliaments seeking to explain key terms with extraordinary precision, charitable institution is not at all defined. This leaves the courts to fill in an enormous gap in the law.

Fortunately, judges have a long history of working out what a charity is. As the High Court recognised, the "modern" starting point lies in the opening words of the Statute of Elizabeth of 1601 as distilled by a 1891 decision of the House of Lords. In that case, Lord Macnaghten found that "charity" in its legal sense comprises four principal divisions: trusts for the relief of poverty; trusts for the advancement of education; trusts for the advancement of religion; and trusts for other purposes beneficial to the community, not falling under any of the preceding heads.

The primary question in the Aid/Watch case was whether its public advocacy fitted into the fourth category as being for "other purposes beneficial to the community".

A majority of the High Court held that Aid/Watch did fit within the definition. The judges found that the group's generation of public debate about how best to deliver foreign aid was a beneficial purpose. Charitable status was not inconsistent with freedom of speech in matters of government and public policy.

The court reached this conclusion after recognising that, like other judge-made law, the definition of a charity can change over time to accommodate new thinking and new social needs. Of central importance was the fact that Australia's constitution provides people with a freedom to communicate about government and politics. This suggested that charities are also entitled to agitate for legal and policy change in pursuit of their goals.

The Aid/Watch decision is merely an interpretation of federal tax legislation. Parliament can change those laws to narrow the definition of what it means to be a charity. However, the High Court's reliance upon the constitution hints at a possible barrier. If the definition of a charity was altered to prevent bodies from engaging in public debate, this could run foul of the constitutional freedom of political communication and be struck down.

The Aid/Watch decision is a good outcome for democracy. It means that organisations such as World Vision, the Smith Family and the Cancer Council can take part in public debate with greater freedom and confidence.

Organisations dedicated to fighting poverty will be able to criticise governments where their policies are inadequate in areas like mental health and homelessness.

Organisations with years of on-the-ground experience of disadvantage, research and education have an important role to play in public debate. Having seen governments come and go, they can take a longer-term, non-partisan perspective on what needs to be done to fix problems and policy challenges. These bodies should not be muzzled by the threat that playing a public role could threaten their status as a charity.



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.


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