Sunday, August 26, 2012
A masked man on a motorbike and my chilling brush with Surveillance Britain
Official Britain criminalizes ordinary people rather than bother with real criminals
The man on the motorbike seemed to come from nowhere. One minute I was loading my car at the start of a bank holiday weekend, the next I was being photographed by a sinister figure in black who looked like a vigilante.
At first I thought he was wearing a balaclava beneath his motorcycle helmet, but it turned out that he had a scarf wrapped around his face, leaving just a slit for his eyes.
He didn’t engage in conversation. He simply took out a digital camera and snapped a photo of my car, which I had pulled out of its space further down the road, and — as there was a neighbour’s car outside my house — had parked half-overlapping her car and half-overlapping an empty motorcycle bay, so that I could load my suitcases.
Apparently this was an offence. The fine I received in the post a few days later was for ‘obstructing the street’, even though the street was deserted.
When I rang my local council to complain, a jobsworth told me that if someone had been taken ill and an ambulance had arrived at that moment it might not have been able to pass by at speed and they could have died.
I told them to get a grip. You could have got two buses through the space. They didn’t care. I had been caught double-parked outside my own house, in an empty street, on a bank holiday for a minute-and-a-half — and they were going to throw the book at me.
Welcome to Surveillance Britain.
Yesterday, a report revealed just how much our freedoms are being trampled on by local councils and their new-found love of covert methods.
Town halls have launched an astonishing 9,600 spying missions on the public in the past three years, using laws meant for investigating terror suspects.
A total of 345 councils have used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 9,607 times since 2009 — the equivalent of around nine spying missions a day.
Some 26 local authorities have used it to spy on dog owners suspected of letting their animals foul pavements. A further seven have used the powers to investigate suspected breaches of the smoking ban.
Suffolk County Council conducted a ‘test purchase of dating agency services’. Another council investigated a fraudulent escort agency.
Why? What business is it of the local council if men are losing money to shady pseudo-prostitution services who take their credit card details over the phone and then don’t send the girl? Surely that is their own look-out.
The report, A Legacy Of Surveillance: Calling Time On The Grim RIPA, is by the excellent think-tank Big Brother Watch. All those who are worried about the erosion of civil liberties in this country should read it. Look up your local council and see what they have been up to.
You might find that householders who put their bins out at the wrong time in your neighbourhood are being spied on.
This is a breathtaking outrage, not least because the Government has repeatedly made it clear to local authorities that they do not have the right to fine people for minor misdemeanours to do with household rubbish disposal.
Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, has even written to councils to tell them to refrain from imposing refuse fines for infringements such as putting wheelie bins in the wrong position, because the fines are not legal.
However, far from setting an example by upholding the law themselves, councils continue to try it on, hoping that we do not know our rights and that we will pay them their pettifogging fixed penalties.
Those putting out their rubbish too early are being caught by motion-activated cameras on lamp-posts and even hidden inside tin cans, if you please.
Were the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau writing today, his famous quote would read: ‘Man is born free, and everywhere he is on CCTV.’
A culture of snooping is developing that goes beyond even the use of RIPA, which the Government, to its credit, is trying to crack down on by requiring councils to apply for court orders before they can use it.
In Lambeth, south London, where I live, there were only two RIPA uses last year, for investigating the misuse of disabled blue badges. But an insidious atmosphere of surveillance prevails, aimed at petty offences.
Parking wardens no longer wear uniforms, but zoom around on little motorbikes wearing plain clothes so you can’t see them coming.
Meanwhile, the following is a list of the bylaws on a warning notice at my local park:
‘Keep your dog under control’; ‘Pick up your dog’s mess’ ‘Cycle only on marked cycle routes’; ‘Put your litter in a bin or take it home with you’; ‘Be courteous to other park users’; ‘Do not allow your dog to harm or disturb wildlife’ (This includes squirrels, which are technically vermin, but the council will still prosecute you if your dog catches one); ‘Do not allow your dog to enter the lake’; ‘Do not use barbecues’; ‘Do not pick flowers or damage trees or plants.’
A lot of these are pretty subjective. Walking on grassland invariably results in some sort of plant being damaged. And the faded cycle markings on the paths are virtually impossible to follow correctly.
Part of the reason for all this moralising from councils is a desire to control, of course. Catching a squirrel-botherer or sticking a tag saying ‘Contamination!’ on a garden waste sack when there is a small piece of cellophane inside it — as happened to me — no doubt gives the town hall bureaucrats immense job satisfaction.
But there is a deeper, more malevolent reason, too. One has to ask why, if the authorities can use this technology to patrol wheelie bin placement, they cannot use it to catch street gangs in the midst of burglaries, or dealing drugs on estates.
Could it be because householders pushing their bin out too early, or dog walkers in Hunter wellies who have allowed their spaniel to chase a water rat are sitting ducks to be tapped for money?
Gang members take months to put through the courts and, even if convicted, rarely cough up when served with a fine.
This would explain why even Tory councils are guilty of using RIPA, because it really isn’t about ideology — which would surely see Conservative-led authorities shun such Soviet measures — but about what the budgets require.
Hard-pressed local authorities know which side their bread is buttered. There is simply no money in chasing the real trouble-makers. And so, as the criminals go unpunished, the hapless, law-abiding folks who always pay are the subject of an increasingly merciless assault on their civil liberties.
While there are obvious exceptions — no one who complains about benefit fraud can object to JobCentre Plus making use of surveillance 34,093 times between 2009 and 2012 to catch out benefit cheats — most of these fines have nothing to do with maintaining safety and propriety.
If Lambeth was really concerned about me being dangerously double-parked, for example, then a parking warden should ask me to move on, not photograph my car before driving off, leaving me still ‘blocking’ the road.
Councils refer to their spies as ‘covert human intelligence sources’. In many cases they are council employees — dog wardens, parking attendants or trading standards officials — but they can also be schoolchildren, recruited to go undercover to test for the under-age sale of alcohol or cigarettes.
A few months ago, a leaflet came through my door asking me to be a neighbourhood warden. This turned out to involve snooping on my neighbours and reporting them for littering and other minor offences. No thank you.
Presumably, though, there are residents doing this, patrolling the streets, telling tales to the authorities about undesirable behaviour.
How long, therefore, before we start being fined by Big Brother not just for doing the wrong thing, but for saying the wrong thing?
For cracking what is deemed to be a bad taste joke, perhaps, as we walk down the street with a friend, or on our mobile phone, thinking we are having a private conversation?
Not very long, if we carry on like this.
Religion boosts mental health, research says
Religious people have better mental health than non-believers, new research has revealed. Those who follow a faith, regardless of which one, have enhanced well-being, which scientists attribute to their spirituality.
And doctors could take advantage of this relationship by tailoring treatments and rehabilitation programs that accommodate a patient's religious beliefs - especially among mental health sufferers.
Professor Dan Cohen, of the University of Missouri in the United States, said: 'Our prior research shows that the mental health of people recovering from different medical conditions, such as cancer, stroke, spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury, appears to be related significantly to positive spiritual beliefs and especially congregational support and spiritual interventions.'
He said that those who seek spirituality may help them come to terms with mentally challenging situations, like stress or neuroticism. He said: 'Spiritual beliefs may be a coping device to help individuals deal emotionally with stress.'
The researchers used three surveys to determine if correlations exist among people's mental and physical health, personality factors, and spirituality in Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Catholics and Protestants.
Across all five faiths, results showed a higher level of spirituality was related to better mental health, particularly lower levels of neuroticism and greater extraversion despite how often the patients participated in religious activities.
The researchers believe spirituality may help people's mental health by reducing how self-centred they are and developing their sense of belonging to a larger whole.
Spiritual interventions - such as religious-based counselling, meditation, and forgiveness protocols - could enhance spiritually-based beliefs, practices, and coping strategies in positive ways.
Many different faiths encourage spirituality, even though they use different names for the process - a Christian monk would not say he had attained Nirvana - but they may be referring to similar phenomena.
The researchers say the selflessness that comes with spirituality enhances characteristics that are important for adopting a global society based on the virtues of peace and cooperation.
Professor Cohen said: 'In many ways, the results of our study support the idea that spirituality functions as a personality trait. 'With increased spirituality people reduce their sense of self and feel a greater sense of oneness and connectedness with the rest of the universe.
'What was interesting was that frequency of participation in religious activities or the perceived degree of congregational support was not found to be significant in the relationships between personality, spirituality, religion and health.
'Health workers may also benefit from learning how to minimise the negative side of a patient's spirituality, which may manifest itself in the tendency to view misfortune as a divine curse.'
Christian Woman Fired from Burger King for Wearing Skirt Instead of Pants
More intolerance of Christians
A Grand Prairie, Texas, Burger King is being sued for religious discrimination after a Christian teen wasn't allowed …A Texas teenager is suing Burger King for religious discrimination, saying that the fast food giant fired her, a conservative Christian, for wearing a long skirt, rather than uniform pants, to work.
Ashanti McShan was a 17-year-old high school senior when she applied for a job as a cashier at the Grand Prairie Burger King in August 2010, according to the lawsuit filed on her behalf this week by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. During her interview McShan, who is a Pentecostal Christian, said that her religious beliefs forbid women to wear men's clothing, so she would need to be able to wear a long black skirt rather than the standard-issue uniform pants. The Burger King employee interviewing her "assured her that she could wear a skirt to work," the lawsuit says.
But when she arrived for orientation, another store management told her that she could not wear a skirt "and that she had to leave the store," in spite of her explaining that there was a religious issue at stake, according to the lawsuit.
"The result of the foregoing practices has been to deprive Ashanti McShan of equal employment opportunities because of her religious beliefs and observances as a Christian Pentecostal," the lawsuit states. The incident could be a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars religious discrimination in the workplace.
"I've seen cases where an employer has denied a religion accommodation, and it's something where you could see how it could cause a problem," Equal Employment Opportunity Commission trial attorney Meaghan Shepard, who is representing McShan, told The Dallas Morning News. "The legal standard is 'undue hardship,' and in this instance it was a very simple request -- to be able to wear a long black skirt and not black pants -- and it was initially granted. And then she shows up at orientation, on time, and is then told by the manager to leave and that she couldn't wear a skirt. She was responsible, tried to get in touch with someone higher in the franchise, and they never responded to her. In our eyes, it was so clear-cut. She's a very sweet, articulate young lady who was just trying to work her senior year in high school."
The lawsuit seeks "appropriate back pay with prejudgement interest" for McShan, even though she was asked to leave the store before she started her first shift, as well as punitive damages and an injunction.
"Accommodating Ms. McShan's religious beliefs would have been simple and cost the company nothing," Shepard said in a statement. "Management's failure to comply with federal law deprived this teenage girl of the opportunity to work during her senior year of high school."
Pentecostal Christians believe in a strict, literal interpretation of the Bible. Deuteronomy 22:5 specifically states: "The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God."
"We haven't come far enough in our respect of religious liberties at the workplace if we have employers saying that uniform policies trump a religious observance without articulation of any hardship posed by letting an employee 'hold the pickles' and 'hold the lettuce' while wearing a skirt," EEOC regional attorney Robert A. Canino said in a statement.
School Under Fire For Allowing Churches to Feed Football Team
A Wisconsin-based group has accused a Georgia high school football coach of violating the First Amendment by allowing local churches to prepare meals for his team.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the superintendent of Walker County Schools demanding an “immediate investigation” into Ridgeland High School football coach Mark Mariakis.
The FFRF is a Wisconsin-based group whose purpose is to “protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.”
They are demanding the school system launch an investigation into allegations that Coach Mariakis allowed local churches to prepare pre-game meals for his football team. They also allege that the coach prayed with his team, used Bible verses in motivational speeches and on team shirts and participated in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“Taking public school football teams to church, even for a meal, is unconstitutional,” wrote FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel. “This program is an egregious violation of the Establishment Clause and must cease immediately.”
Seidel said taking school children to churches and having ministers “present the Gospel of Jesus Christ” and having the food blessed “shatters the protections the First Amendment put in place.”
The Walker County School system released a statement acknowledging they have received the letter and are reviewing its contents.
The FFRF said a local individual complained about a longstanding tradition of local churches providing meals to the teenage football players on game day. The complainant said a minister would typically deliver remarks “about the Christian religion.”
“The fact that Mariakis visits several churches instead of one does not mitigate the violation,” Seidel wrote.
The Chattanooga Valley Baptist Church is scheduled to provide a meal for the football team in late October.
Richie White, the church’s youth director, said he was quite surprised to hear that an outside group had issues with feeding children.
“It would be interesting to see what part of the Constitution we violated by simply offering a meal to fellow Americans,” he told Fox News. “These are kis from our area that we do love and we do care about.”
White said several members of the church youth group are on the football squad – and it’s been a tradition to show their support for school athletics.
“We as Christians don’t force our religion on anyone,” he said, suggesting that perhaps Christians are treated differently.
“We’re being persecuted because we believe there is a God who created us,” White said. “I don’t think there’s an equal playing field because we base our lives and our views on the Scripture.”
Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, and a national commentator on social issues, said it’s time for Christians to stand up against the attacks from the FFRF.
“The Freedom From Religion Foundation has dedicated itself to perverting the very real First Amendment freedom of religious expression for an imaginary freedom from religious expression,” he told Fox News. “It is time for all Christians to push back against the attempts of atheistic groups and judicial activists to erase our constitutional right of freedom of religious expression.”
Ken Klukowski, special counsel for the Family Research Council said the FFRF has a long history of going after public displays of religion. Their mission, he said is very clear.
“They believe all religious faith is inherently and irredeemably harmful to human society,” Klukowski told Fox News. “It’s not their mission to separate church and state. It’s their mission to eradicate religion from American culture altogether.”
He said the Wisconsin-based group wants a “purely secular environment.” “They pursue it with a militant zeal that is foreign to most people in this country,” he said.
That may be the case, but according to Klukowski – they may in fact have a case against Ridgeland High School.
“If they are suing on behalf of one of the students, even though they should not prevail, they could,” he said.
It’s unclear based on the letter sent to the school district whether the complainant is a student or member of the local community.
If, for example, the student was a member of the football team and objected to attending a local church, the FFRF could have a case – primarily because of the makeup of the Supreme Court, he said.
“If our law pertaining to religious liberty under the Constitution is anything resembling what it was for the first two centuries of our national life, then they wouldn’t have a prayer,” he added.
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. 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.