Thursday, December 01, 2011
'Parliament, not Leveson, should set British Press rules': Leading judge questions role of inquiry
One of the country's most senior judges last night questioned the role of the Leveson inquiry into the future of the Press.
Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger said that the job of setting up rules to regulate the Press should be done by Parliament and not by a judicial inquiry.
Lord Neuberger also threw a question mark over the right of MPs on the Commons Culture Committee, which is investigating phone hacking, to decide on whether individuals have been guilty of criminal activities.
His remarks, in a speech on the need for properly drawn up laws, amount to the first public doubts over Lord Leveson's inquiry from colleagues in the judiciary.
Lord Neuberger, who as Master of the Rolls is England's leading civil law judge, conducted an inquiry earlier this year into the development of privacy law.
He said yesterday that 'all hell broke loose' over phone hacking after the 'particularly revolting incident' in which News of the World journalists are said to have hacked into the phone of murder victim Millie Dowler, an act that encouraged her parents to believe she was still alive.
'It was right and proper that the Government then acted firmly and promptly,' he said.
'It was sensible to deal with the question of the appropriate long-term response in a considered way, by referring the issues for consideration, rather than leaping in with legislation or regulation, as happened with MPs' expenses.'
But he added: 'We do nonetheless seem to have ended up in a somewhat paradoxical situation.
'The issue of what sort of rules should be in place in the future to regulate the Press and its relations with politicians is being dealt with by a judge with assessors, whereas the question whether certain individuals were in some way privy to the hacking is being investigated by the House of Commons, through a committee.
'It might be thought that issues of future policy were for the legislature, whereas the question whether an individual was in some way privy to a crime was for the courts.'
The Master of the Rolls continued: 'Unusual circumstances result in unusual consequences, but at least we do not have the threat of knee-jerk legislation, as we did when it came to parliamentary expenses.'
‘Sometimes a police state is a good thing’
The Twitterati’s unhinged hounding of ‘racist tram lady’ confirms how intolerant the tweeting herd can be
‘Ok so this women’s been arrest[ed]. I guess my video was a success. This has caused quite a bit of hype.’
So tweeted Kelly Hollingsworth, who used her mobile phone to record a now infamous video of a woman in her thirties, with a toddler on her lap, shouting racist abuse at fellow passengers on a packed tram in Croydon, London. Hollingsworth posted the video on YouTube on Sunday and, within 24 hours, it had notched up over 100,000 views. Before long, a Twitter hashtag #MyTramExperience (based on the title of the video) was trending all over the UK. Dozens of people tweeted the video to the British Transport Police (BTP) and assisted them with their hunt for the mysterious woman. Within hours of the tweeting frenzy, the BTP announced that they had arrested a 34-year-old ‘on suspicion of a racially aggravated public order offence’; she has now been charged and the YouTube video has been viewed almost 2.2million times.
Welcome to a twenty-first-century Twitch Hunt. That term, coined in 2009 by spiked editor Brendan O’Neill, sums up this Orwellian modern phenomenon, where a mob of illiberal liberals on Twitter work with the authorities to silence those who dare to utter words that offend their sensibilities. This was the case with Daily Mail writer Jan Moir following her comments about the late Boyzone star Stephen Gately, and it happened again with celebrity controversialist, Kenneth Tong, who wrote pro-anorexia tweets. The horrible racist comments made by ‘tram lady’ - police have charged a woman called Emma West in relation to the incident - are, of course, of a different order to what Moir and Tong did and said, yet this woman has similarly experienced the wrath of the Twittermob.
No one would argue that tram lady’s comments were excusable. She was rightly condemned and challenged by her fellow travellers. Indeed, in many ways the video of this incident offered an excellent example of how these kinds of tense situations can be resolved informally. Disproving the Twitterati’s claim that the tram incident shows that racism is still rife today, in fact many of the passengers – both black and white – challenged the foul-mouthed shouter.
That wasn’t enough for the Twittermob, however, who wanted a piece of the action. They instantly expressed their moral fury, passing judgement without pausing for thought. Almost immediately upon seeing the video, people were tweeting it to the cops and naming the potential culprit and the place where she apparently works. Even Labour Party leader Ed Miliband joined in, asking followers to help ‘identify the woman shouting racist abuse on a tram in London’. Following the arrest of a suspect, tweeters showered the transport police with praise. ‘Sometimes a police state can be used for the powers of good. Well done, @btp_uk!’, said one tweet. ‘That’s social media at work for you, an arrest in the afternoon of the video hitting the TT in Twitter!’, said another.
Other tweeters called on the police to ‘lock her up and throw away the key’ and ‘save her child’. Literally hundreds of people, with no indication that they were joking, tweeted that the woman should be sterilised, deported, punched, kicked and shot. Some suggested she should be shot between the eyes, others that she should be shot in her ovaries. Other Twitterers expressed a preference for hanging her or said she should be ‘put down’ like a dog. Fittingly for Twitch Hunters, there were also demands that she be drowned or burnt at the stake.
Rising above all this unhinged online fury, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the kind of racism exhibited by racist tram lady is remarkably rare in twenty-first-century Britain. Far from being representative of the Daily Mail outlook or of ‘Broken Britain’, as many tweeters claimed, the reason the video is shocking is because such openly racist speech is, thankfully, a very odd thing these days. As one person tweeted, ‘Wowww hard to believe people like her still exist in Britain today’.
According to rumours in the Croydon area, the woman in question was ‘going through a breakdown’ when the footage was filmed. She certainly appears unwell, or at least drunk, in the video. But that won’t stop the Twittermob from letting rip; they never let anything as insignificant as facts or context get in the way of their mass screech for the hanging, drawing and quartering of a witch. At a time when moral certainties are few and far between, the useful thing about Twitch Hunts is that they provide people with a moment of extreme moralistic clarity, where they can gang together and demonstrate their ‘liberal’ credentials by tweeting: ‘I HATE HER.’
For all the sound and the fury generated by this video, this remains simply an isolated case of a possibly unstable woman shouting out obnoxious comments. One Twitterer tweeted at Kelly Hollingsworth, the woman who recorded the video, ‘If I was on that tram with that racist woman, I’d have thrown her off the tram while in motion, then fostered her child’. Hollingsworth responded: ‘LOL we all could see she weren’t worth it.’ If only the rest of Twitter had adopted that kind of response.
Rather than showing that ‘racism in Britain is as rife as ever’, as one person tweeted, the #MyTramExperience Twitch Hunt actually reveals the rise of a different backward trend: the tendency for herds of intolerant Twitterers to act like coppers’ narks, to make a massive deal out of their own shallow moralistic indignation, and to be utterly contemptuous of the idea that the public is more than capable of dealing with isolated incidents of racist abuse when they arise. The hounding of this woman was not a great act of anti-racist activism – it was the virtual equivalent of children chasing the local crazy lady through the streets and shouting ‘Nutter!’ or ‘Cow!’.
Banned straight players settle with gay softball group
A gay softball organization has agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to three players who were disqualified from its 2008 Gay Softball World Series because of their perceived heterosexuality.
And as part of the settlement announced Monday, their team will be awarded the second-place trophy it was denied at the time.
The men — Stephen Apilado, Laron Charles and John Russ — filed the federal lawsuit against the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance last year, claiming they had been discriminated against because they were bisexual, not gay.
They had played for years on a San Francisco-based team called D2. Rumors had persisted that the team was stacked with straight ringers, and when they made it all the way to the finals of the 2008 tournament in the Seattle area, others filed a protest, accusing D2 of exceeding the limit of two heterosexual players per team.
Tournament officials convened a protest committee and brought in five D2 members for questioning. In a conference room filled with about 25 people, many of them strangers, the players were asked questions about their sexuality and private lives. The protest committee then voted on whether the men were gay.
Two were determined to be gay, but the committee found Apilado, Charles and Russ to be straight. The organization said that at the time, the men never identified themselves as bisexual, were evasive or refused to answer questions about their sexuality. Minutes of the hearing say that Charles claimed to be gay but acknowledged being married to a woman, and Apilado initially said he was both gay and straight but then acknowledged being more attracted to women.
The men said they weren't given the option of stating outright that they were bisexual, even though the organization considered bisexual players to be gay for roster purposes. They and their team were disqualified. One observer at the hearing commented, "This is not a bisexual World Series. This is a gay World Series."
NAGAA said the settlement came after the organization won a series of motions limiting what claims the players could present at trial.
The players initially asked the court to throw out the roster limit on straight players as discriminatory. But U.S. District Judge John Coughenour ruled that the organization had a constitutional right to limit the number of straight players as a means of promoting their message that openly gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals can thrive in competitive sports.
The judge said the case could proceed to trial because questions remained about the way the softball association applied its rule, including whether the questions asked at the hearing were unnecessarily intrusive. The trial was set for next month.
"We have been vindicated by the judge's First Amendment rulings," said Roy Melani, NAGAAA's commissioner. "This lawsuit threatened not only the purpose of our organization, but also its future. We fought hard to protect ourselves and our core identity and I am relieved this issue is finally behind us."
Since the lawsuit was filed, NAGAAA has added language to its rules clarifying that bisexual and transgender players are fully welcomed participants in its events. As part of the settlement, the organization said disqualifying D2 was not consistent with its goal of welcoming bisexual players.
"NAGAAA regrets the impacts the 2008 protest hearing had on plaintiffs and their team," the settlement reads.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights, which represented the men, welcomed the changes but said they should go even further. The group still wants NAGAAA to delete its roster limits on straight players, on the grounds that it encompasses gay players who are in the closet or who choose not to put a label on their sexuality.
Charles said he's looking forward to playing more softball.
"It means a lot to me that NAGAAA is going to recognize our second place finish in 2008," Charles said in a statement. "I look forward to continuing to play ball with my friends, teammates and community in NAGAAA's tournaments."
European culture of entitlement is mercifully absent Down Under
I am currently in Jerusalem, wondering whether I will be able to make it to London later this week. There is a public-sector strike scheduled for Britain tomorrow, which is expected to close schools and hospitals and there is talk of up to 12-hour delays in getting through immigration at Heathrow.
Britain certainly does not have the worst-performing economy in Europe. However, it is likely that there will be another recession in Britain next year - due primarily to the failure of the nations of continental Europe to resolve the problems caused by the euro zone crisis. Right now, Margaret Thatcher's decision not to take Britain into the European single currency in the 1980s looks better by the day.
At a time of economic downturn and rising unemployment, the public-sector unions have taken a decision to strike for better retirement benefits for their members, who already enjoy relatively secure employment.
Many private-sector workers, whose taxes finance public-sector employees, can only dream of the pension entitlements about which the public-sector unions are demonstrating. The culture of entitlement, which has had a devastating effect on the economies of many European nations, remains a fact in Britain.
Writing earlier this month in the London Telegraph about the crisis in Europe, Kevin Rudd [former Australian PM] asked: "How did Europe get into such a difficult situation?" The Foreign Minister's answer was direct and accurate. Namely "for years now, some European governments have been spending more than they earned and running up unsustainable levels of debt". He argued that "this has been manageable in the past because banks were willing to lend to governments and economic growth had been strong enough to keep the interest bill paid". However, the global financial crisis changed all that.
The concept of governments spending more than they obtain in revenue is common to social democratic and conservative administrations. Yet it is more a phenomenon of social democracy. For example, in Britain today the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, and the shadow chancellor of the exchequer, Ed Balls, advocate greater spending and borrowing as the way of resolving current economic difficulties. The Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, with the support of coalition partners the Liberal Democrats, advocates long-running cuts to government spending and a clampdown on schemes and benefits as an entry to lifelong welfare.
It seems that [former Australian PM] Rudd's position on economics has changed dramatically in recent times. When prime minister in February 2009, he wrote a widely quoted article in The Monthly titled "The Global Financial Crisis". Here Rudd maintained that the economic crisis "is the culmination of a 30-year domination of economic policy by a free-market ideology that has been variously called neo-liberalism, economic liberalism, economic fundamentalism, Thatcherism or the Washington Consensus".
Rudd went on to proclaim "the great neo-liberal experiment of the past 30 years has failed" and to advocate for social democracy. He wrote that "Labor, in the international tradition of social democracy, consistently argues for a central role for government in the regulation of markets and the provision of public goods".
Well, you can't have it both ways. In early 2009, Rudd argued the essential cause of the economic crisis was neo-liberalism, which is sometimes referred to as economic rationalism and is associated with expenditure restraint and debt reduction. In late 2011, Rudd argues that the essential cause of the economic crisis is deficit spending, funded by debt.
Australian politicians and senior bureaucrats cop a lot of criticism. Yet, a brief time in western Europe or the US serves as a reminder of how well Australia has been governed over the past three decades.
In the final years of Malcolm Fraser's government, John Howard commenced the first tentative step towards financial deregulation. The cause of economic reform was embraced by the Hawke and Keating governments between 1983 and 1996 and followed by Howard and Costello until 2007. When the global financial crisis arrived in 2008, the Australian economy was in good shape and Australia was not afflicted by overspending, funded by debt.
During his years as prime minister between December 1949 and January 1966, Robert Menzies was no economic reformer. But in the early 1950s, Menzies and his Coalition colleagues made a conscious decision not to take Australia down the road of from-cradle-to-grave social welfare.
Consequently, Australia never adopted the ethos of entitlement which still affects western Europe and parts of North America. It is this concept which has bankrupted so many governments and which explains the public-sector strikes scheduled for this week in Britain.
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 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.