Sunday, July 24, 2011
The photography phobia again
'Big Brother' British police warn bird lover: You could be sued for filming parakeet cull (... and whatever you do, don't give the photos to a newspaper)
A bird lover who is battling to save rare parrots says the police tried to ban photographs he took of Government officials destroying their nests. Simon Richardson, who is campaigning against a cull of monk parakeets, said he was shocked when police told him he could be sued for thousands of pounds for invading the officials’ privacy.
Mr Richardson stood in his street and took pictures of Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs staff as they removed nests from a tree in his neighbour’s garden.
Several hours later, two uniformed police officers visited his home and allegedly told him he could face prosecution under privacy laws. Mr Richardson, who runs a business analyst company, also claims he was told that if he published the pictures in a newspaper, the police would take action.
He believes the policeman who admonished him was wrongly referring to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which says ‘everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence’.
His version of events has been backed by another campaigner who overheard his conversation with the officers. Kate Fowler, from the animal rights group Animal Aid, described the police as ‘heavy handed’ and ‘smacking of Big Brother’.
Earlier this year, Defra launched a £90,000 eradication programme targeting the South American birds that began breeding in the mid-Nineties after escaping from an aviary close to Mr Richardson’s home in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire. Though common internationally, the UK population of the bright green birds is thought to number only 100 to 150.
Defra says the birds, which are often kept as pets, pose a danger to crops and pylons because they build large communal nests, as well as to other species.
In response, Mr Richardson began a ‘Stop The Monk Parakeet Cull’ to save the population of 33 parakeets in Borehamwood and has
collected more than 2,300 signatures on a petition.
Defra arrived at his neighbour’s property on May 23 and spent five days removing the nests. Mr Richardson took the pictures on May 24. He said: ‘The birds were nesting in the tree at the end of my neighbour’s garden and from the road you could see a cherry-picker going up and down. My neighbour allows Defra on to his property.
‘I took pictures from the road, went and did some shopping, and when I came home there was a police car outside my house. About five minutes later there was a knock at the door and there were two police constables.
‘One said: “Regarding the filming you were doing, I should advise you that you are liable to be sued for thousands of pounds for invasion of privacy. Furthermore, were your pictures to appear in the local paper, we would become officially involved.” I was quite shocked about this and the way he said it, because it was like a threat.
‘I asked who had reported me and they said it was Defra. I got advice from a barrister and he said the police had no business saying I was liable to be sued because being sued is a civil matter. ‘The barrister said that what the policeman was probably referring to was Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which is the right to a private family life and does not apply in this case.
‘If the Defra workers were concerned about being identified in a newspaper because they feared for their safety or for professional reasons, then the police should have explained that to me and I would have completely understood.’
When police knocked, Mr Richardson was on the phone to Ms Fowler, who said: ‘The words the policeman said were a little menacing. It smacks of Big Brother.’
A Hertfordshire police spokesman said: ‘The officers were called to prevent a breach of the peace and while they gave advice to the householder about taking photos, there was no threat to be sued by the Constabulary. We’re sorry for any confusion.’
A Defra spokesman said: ‘Staff contacted the police when they became aware of an individual trying to photograph them.’ He added that staff did not advise police about any potential prosecution under privacy laws.
Slump in growth brings long overdue blitz on red tape in Britain
Fairly minor but a move in the right direction
Ministers will this week launch a new drive against the red-tape strangling high-street shops - including the rules governing what can be sold to children - as figures show Britain's economy is still in the doldrums.
Figures to be published by the Office of National Statistics are expected to show the economy shrinking in the second quarter of 2011 - a period which included bank holidays for Easter and the Royal wedding.
The first quarter of the year saw growth coming in at 0.5 per cent - with ministers braced for a fall to around 0.2 per cent for the second quarter, piling the pressure on the coalition as it seeks to deliver its programme of public spending cuts.
George Osborne, the Chancellor, uses an article in The Sunday Telegraph to vow the government will "stick to our plan" of deficit reduction and to "go for growth". He says more must be done to stop businesses being "weighed down" in red tape. "When we're faced with choices in government, we should always choose growth," he argues.
Ministers will this week seek to ease pressure on the crucial retail sector by announcing a major simplification of the various laws governing the sale of "age-restricted" goods. They will outline plans to simplify the current regime which sees more than 20 separate pieces of legislation affecting what can and cannot be sold to different age groups. In total almost three-quarters of the current regulations are set to be done away with altogether while others will be combined.
For example, it is currently an offence to sell most fireworks to people under the age of 18, while "caps" for toy guns can be sold to 16 year-olds. Christmas crackers cannot be sold to those under 16, while it is also illegal to sell most knives - including kitchen knives - to anyone under 18.
Computer games have age restrictions of 12 and 15 while the those over 17 can buy cross bows and air rifles. Retailers are also banned from selling aerosol paints party poppers, liquor chocolates and petrol to minors.
Laws governing the sale of "poisons" are also likely to be changed or done away with because they currently apply to retailers who sell common household cleaning products.
A coalition source said: "There will not be a free for all in terms of selling dangerous goods to young people - far from it - but there is an urgent need for the current complexity of laws and regulations to be greatly simplified."
The blitz will be trumpeted by ministers as the first concrete results from the coalition's 'Red Tape Challenge', launched by David Cameron in April, which invited businesses to use a website to demand changes to burdensome regulations.
Ministers see the retail sector as crucial in helping the economy recover. Last month retail sales rose 0.7 per cent but this was on the back of heavy discounting by leading stores. The sector has also had to cope with the increase in VAT to 20 per cent which came in earlier this year.
Mr Osborne said: "In the end, if we don't have a successful, growing and competitive economy we won't be able to achieve anything else. So at a time like this, when we're faced with choices in government, we should always choose growth. "That means doing without that new regulation, however worthy its purpose. It means changing our planning system, so the presumption is in favour of new economic development not against it. "It means reducing the costs of employing people, so more people get work. It means rewarding enterprise and supporting businesses in the tax system.
"You may be surprised, but none of these things are easy to do. For every piece of regulation, there's a pressure group arguing for it."
Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, wrote in an article for the PoliticsHome website: "Last year's recovery has already been hugely undermined by George Osborne's policies. "Our economy has seen no growth at all over the last six months, while other major countries have grown much faster.
"The reasons why our recovery has stalled since the autumn are clear. Consumers and businesses have reined in their spending and investment plans as they anticipate spending cuts and tax rises which go too far and too fast.
"The VAT rise in January has added to the squeeze on hard-pressed families and pensioners. And consumer confidence has taken a huge knock since last spring when the Tories invented the deceit that, like Greece, Britain was somehow 'on the brink of bankruptcy'."
Official political correctness much worse in Germany than in Australia
By Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich, a German economist now living in Australia
FORMER career civil servants and central bankers seldom have star potential. Their work rarely excites the public and their pictures do not usually appear on front pages. This would have been Thilo Sarrazin's fate as well. A former state treasurer in the city of Berlin and director of the German Bundesbank, Sarrazin was mainly known to political insiders.
All of this changed last August when he published the book Germany abolishes itself (Deutschland schafft sich ab). Within months the provocatively titled tome of 464 pages, laden with statistics and footnotes, became the best selling non-fiction book in German post-war history. More than 1.5 million copies have been printed to date. Its author developed into an unlikely media star whose name recognition in Germany now surpasses the Pope and the chancellor.
Sarrazin's media success may be unlikely but it can be explained. In a media society governed by political correctness, he did not play by the rules. Perhaps because Sarrazin was used to speaking his mind behind closed doors he believed he could also get away with it in public. As it turned out, that was too optimistic an assumption.
The main points Sarrazin made in his book were neither particularly new nor were they factually incorrect. Like many authors before him, he pointed out that German society is ageing and shrinking because of low birthrates. He also offered a blistering critique of the welfare state, which he claimed had created a persistent, uneducated underclass.
Sarrazin then dared to suggest that due to the availability of welfare entitlements for the poor and career incentives for the rich the great majority of children are now born to parents from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
Finally, he explained how Germany's haphazard immigration system had failed to attract high potentials and instead became exploited by poorly educated migrants. The additional point that Muslim migrants are segregating from mainstream society, again backed up by unambiguous statistical data, was the icing on the cake of Sarrazin's assault on everything that the guardians of political correctness regard as sacred.
The media and Sarrazin's former colleagues in the political class were quick to condemn the book and its author. The empire of political correctness was striking back.
Before the book had even been released, Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the attacks on Sarrazin. "The book," she declared, was "not helpful", as if that had ever been a requirement for new publications. Of course, Merkel had not read it as she was frank enough to admit. Neither did she intend to, as she told a newspaper weeks later.
What was the slogan of George Orwell's Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty-Four? "Ignorance is strength." Quite.
Politicians from Sarrazin's own Social Democratic Party accused him of "economism" and "borderline racism". Protestant church leaders condemned the book's "cynical view of humanity". Left-leaning intellectuals protested against Sarrazin's alleged eugenicist, biologist and social Darwinist views.
Judging by the reactions he provoked, Sarrazin had turned himself from a respected member of society into a political pariah overnight. The witch-hunt did not even stop the chancellor and the federal president from pressuring the Bundesbank, still a formally independent institution, to sack its board member. In the end, however, it was Sarrazin who resigned from his position because he could no longer stand the stress, but not before being formally acquitted by the bank of all allegations of professional misconduct. In this way he also spared his employer from becoming further embroiled in the scandal.
Despite the whole affair it had triggered, the book at the heart of the debate is a remarkably sober account of Germany's social, economic and political problems. Reading through it, it is hard to understand how this dry and often technical analysis could ever have triggered such passionate reactions. But maybe that is because at the time few commentators gained an unfair advantage over their colleagues by actually reading it.
In this sense, the Sarrazin debate is revealing about the political climate of Germany. Apparently, it is enough to touch on a few taboo subjects to prevent a reasonable discourse. From an Australian perspective, however, Sarrazin's purported crimes against political correctness are hard to understand. With most of Sarrazin's positions he would find himself in the bipartisan mainstream of Australian politics.
Welfare reforms in Australia were controversial when first proposed. Started under the Hawke and Keating governments, they were extended under John Howard. Today, a welfare state based on mutual obligations and the principle of employment first are shared by both main parties.
In a similar way, Australia's basic immigration policies are not disputed between Labor and the Coalition, despite the excitement over illegal arrivals. Both sides of politics recognise that for migration into Australia to be successful it is important to ensure that potential migrants have the language and professional skills necessary to succeed in Australia. Nobody would consider it racist to say that a basic proficiency in English should be a requirement for prospective migrants.
It is quite likely that with these two very basic propositions on welfare reform and immigration policy, widely accepted across the Australian political spectrum, you would be considered an extremist in Germany. The rules of political correctness as applied in many European nations now consider it discriminatory to ask whether migrants can economically contribute to their host societies. And to question the unconditional right to welfare payments is seen as an assault on human dignity.
When a society can no longer seriously debate political issues, controversial as they may be, it is not just a blow to freedom of speech. It also undermines a nation's capacity for economic reform. Truths may sometimes be painful and feelings may be hurt, but a society that cannot stand vigorous debate risks becoming stale and stagnant.
Sarrazin was not a dangerous extremist but just worried about his country's future. Rightly so, as the reactions to his book show.
Australia: Another case of regulation hurting those it is supposed to help
CHILDCARE centres have slashed their number of baby places by 20 per cent in the wake of federal government reforms that require them to increase staff ratios.
Under reforms that took effect in January, centres have to provide one carer for every four children, instead of one to five, but the industry has responded by cutting placements instead of putting on extra staff.
Already in extreme shortage, childcare places for children aged under two have become even scarcer, a survey of 120 Sydney childcare centres by Childcare NSW has found. "Overall we have found there has been a 20 per cent reduction in available placements," Childcare NSW president Vicki Skoulogenis said. "Parents are at the point where they can't afford childcare, and are seeking alternative care or backyard and unregulated care."
Lienna Mandic, who runs five daycare centres, has reduced baby placements in her centres for economic reasons. "At Quakers Hill we had five baby places, and now we have four because we could not put on another staff member for one baby. I had 10 places at Glenmore Park, it's gone to eight and I had 15 at Guildford and now it's 12 just to meet the ratios," Ms Mandic said.
Roxanne Elliott from care forkids.com said the industry had made it clear offering child care for babies was becoming too expensive. "There's always been a critical shortage for under-twos but, from a business perspective, the industry has indicated it might not be cost-effective to offer placements," Ms Elliott said.
John Owens, who runs two child care centres in Naremburn, said despite putting up fees $10 a day for babies, he could not afford to continue to offer places for under twos. "We will look at reducing our baby numbers because we can't afford it," Mr Owens said.
The impact is being felt by mothers like Emma Grogan who put her name down at several centres when she was five months' pregnant, but, with her maternity leave up in three months, is still without a place for her daughter Lilliana.
"It's ridiculous, this is my first baby - she is nine months' old and I started looking over a year ago, and they have all said I have to go on a waiting list," the 35-year-old business consultant from Leichhardt said.
Federal Child Care Minister Kate Ellis hit back, saying: "We will not let relentless fear-mongering on the cost impacts of these reforms distract us from delivering the right outcomes for Australian children and their families".
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.