Wednesday, October 03, 2012
"Anti-fascists" are killing free speech
Activists who call on the state to arrest and imprison 'fascists' for their speech crimes should look up irony in the dictionary
‘This court decision should be celebrated by all anti-racists and anti-fascists… to ensure that the only place fascism has in this century is in history textbooks.’
Are Britain’s anti-fascist groups so blinkered, so convinced that the state is on their side and that they are the bearers of the Truth, that they can make statements celebrating the curbing of someone’s free speech without even the slightest twinge of irony? That statement was made by the North Staffordshire Campaign Against Racism and Fascism, in response to the news that Michael Coleman, a former far-right British National Party councillor in Stoke-on-Trent, had been given an eight-month suspended prison sentence and 240 hours of community service for the crime of posting his thoughts on his blog.
It is true that Coleman’s thoughts were unpleasant and that not many people will share them. Writing on his blog in the aftermath of last year’s rioting in English cities, Coleman claimed that ‘London darkies have reacted with violence’. ‘The darkies have exposed their true nature in siding with criminality’, he said, before elaborating at length on his belief that the ‘darker races’ are very different to the paler races.
His nauseating comments were spotted by a Labour councillor, Joy Garner, who is currently standing for election as Staffordshire police and crime commissioner. She dobbed him in to the police. ‘I make no apology for having been the individual who initially raised this with the police’, she boasted on her website. She said the problem with Coleman’s blog posts is that the ‘overwhelming majority’ will have found them offensive. ‘I will always defend the right to freedom of speech, but as with all rights, with it comes responsibility. It can no way be accepted as responsible to use language characterising an entire race as being more predisposed to crime than others.’
So Garner will always defend the right to freedom of speech so long as the speech expresses something she finds agreeable. If your words don’t conform to what Garner considers ‘responsible’, then the debate is over and the police will be asked to knock on your door.
This is what happened with Coleman. He was summoned to a police interview and was charged with ‘intending to cause racially aggravated harassment, alarm or distress by displaying writing, a sign or other representation, which was threatening, abusive or insulting’. On Friday, at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court, Judge Robert Trevor-Jones sentenced Coleman to eight months’ imprisonment (suspended), claiming that his words had the potential to ‘fan the flames’ in Britain following the English Riots. Clearly, in the judge’s view, Britain’s populace is so riot-prone, and its white working classes so latently racist, that one poorly written blog post could be enough to unleash violence.
The councillor and the judge’s belief that they have the right to determine what kind of speech is acceptable is chilling, and unfortunately increasingly widespread in political and media circles today. Yet how many social, scientific, political and cultural revolutions might have been halted in their tracks if earlier generations had applied the Garner logic of criminalising ideas that the ‘overwhelming majority’ find unacceptable?
One of the most depressing aspects of this all-out attack on freedom of speech and political expression is that a former far-right councillor has now been granted access to the moral high ground. The censured Coleman is posing as the defender of democratic values, pointing out that: ‘Posting an article on a personal blog could never be construed as harassment, not in a free country. This is political correctness in law form… My forefathers fought in two world wars to protect the freedom we have today. I will be damned if these hard-won freedoms will be taken away in the twenty-first century.’ He has a point. It’s just worrying that it has been left to him - a far-right activist not very interested in liberty - to make it. Such has been the left’s abandonment of the ideal of freedom of speech that it can now be co-opted by elements on the hard right.
You’d think it would be unnecessary to have to point out to liberal campaigners who want to shut down ‘fascists’ that one of the first things Hitler did when he came to power was clamp down on freedom of speech and the press. They should heed the arguments put forward by the Stoke-on-Trent daily newspaper, the Sentinel, which pointed out that ‘what was a good day for Coleman’s political opponents might turn out to be a very bad day for British liberty’.
But Garner, it seems, has no intention of taking free-speech pleas on board. If she manages to become police commissioner in Staffordshire, she plans to take a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to ‘hate crimes’ on the grounds of ‘race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, nationality, age, sex or gender identity’. Such hate crimes also include speech crimes, like the ones committed by Coleman. How far will such zero tolerance go? How long before fat people, gingers or ‘chavs’ are included in the list of people Garner wishes to protect from offence? There would be no offensive blog posts, no edgy jokes, no inconsiderate public banter.
Free speech is not divisible; either we have it - all of us, including people who don’t like ‘darkies’ - or we don’t. Given that free speech is the very cornerstone of a proper democracy, the criminalisation of Coleman raises an important question about who poses the greatest threat to democratic values these days: is it a moronic BNP member, or a potential police commissioner and her supporters who seem keen to punish anyone who says something they find offensive?
British mother who was jailed for slapping children is freed after judge says her actions were 'similar to those of many loving parents across the land'
A mother jailed after her children told social workers she smacked them was freed from prison last night. A judge said her actions were no worse than those of ‘many loving and caring parents throughout the land’.
He criticised the junior judge who had jailed her for 18 months and ordered that she should be released immediately.
The decision at the Appeal Court came after the mother, who cannot be named, admitted ‘excessive chastisement’.
Police discovered she had slapped her sons on three occasions over a seven-year period and also once banged two of their heads together.
One of the children was 15 at the time she slapped him. Only one of the incidents caused physical injury, a bruised ear.
The case highlights the draconian penalties that parents can suffer if they breach strict laws that ban the smacking of children.
Anyone found to have hit their child hard enough to leave a mark can be jailed for up to five years under laws brought in by the last Labour government.
Lord Justice Elias, who sat with Mr Justice Coulson and Mrs Justice Thirlwall, said: ‘An offender must be sentenced only for what she has been found guilty of. This was plainly an unhappy home but she is not being sentenced for being a bad mother or an incapable mother or of being incapable of controlling her children.
‘Only one of these offences caused physical injury. The other incidents are similar to actions taken by many loving and caring parents throughout the land in moments of stress.
‘They may regret it afterwards, but parenting is a difficult skill.
‘It is said that the judge gave insufficient weight to her previous good character and was unjust in saying that she had shown no remorse, because there was evidence she was very upset at the time.’
The Appeal Court judges were told the woman, who is in her 30s and from a town near Cardiff, was jailed in July.
Judge David Wynn Morgan, sitting at Cardiff Crown Court, handed her an 18-month sentence after she admitted four counts of cruelty to a person under the age of 16.
She was investigated by police after one of her sons falsely told social services that she attacked him, leaving him with bruises.
The child later admitted this was a lie to get more contact with his estranged father.
However, officers discovered that she had slapped her 15-year-old son in the face during an argument in 2010 and also slapped two of her sons in 2003. In a fourth incident the struggling mother also banged the heads of two her sons together after she broke up a fight between them.
Her barrister, Ruth Smith, said she ‘couldn’t cope’ with her children and the only injury which was caused in all of this was a bruised ear on one occasion.
She added that there was ‘clear evidence she had been a victim of domestic violence’ herself and appealed for leniency.
Ordering the woman’s release, Lord Justice Elias added that the sentencing judge ‘took his eye off the ball’.
He said: ‘There were occasions when the children had made allegations which had subsequently been disproved.
‘We think that the premise of the sentence imposed by the judge was incorrect. If he had focused on the particular incidents, only one of which caused physical injury while the others may be seen as chastisement going beyond its bounds, a sentence of 18 months was too long.
‘We think the right thing to do now would be to give her a sentence of five months imprisonment that would secure her immediate release. ‘No valuable purpose would be served by keeping her in prison any longer.’
Under a 2004 law introduced by Labour, a smack should cause no more than the reddening of the skin. Senior politicians including Boris Johnson have attacked the current law as ‘confusing’ and said it undermines the role of parents.
Former education minister David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, said he believed the ban contributed to last year’s riots in London and elsewhere through a lack of discipline in the home.
He called for a return to Victorian laws on discipline, saying parents needed to be able to use corporal punishment to control unruly children.
The 2004 law says anyone who causes injury to their children with a smack is guilty of actual bodily harm. But, in 2007, a senior judge said parents should be allowed to slap their children when chastising them.
Lady Justice Hallett made the comments as the Appeal Court upheld a ruling that a couple accused of slapping and kicking their daughter could keep their three children. She said: ‘Reasonable physical chastisement of children by parents is not yet unlawful in this country.’
Troll-hunters are the real menace to the internet
Yes, online trolls often ruin debates and annoy the hell out of people. But it is their censorious critics in the media who truly harm internet culture
Anyone who has spent any time on the internet, which is pretty much everyone, will know that there are a lot of World Wide Weirdos out there. Loitering in online discussion forums or skulking in the Twittersphere, they’re always ready to rage, primed to bash out a 140-character screed or INAPPROPRIATELY CAPITALISED PARAGRAPH on why everything in the whole world sucks, especially YOU. If you’re lucky - and by lucky I obviously mean unlucky - they will email you directly to tell you you’re a cunt, that your teeth should meet their cricket bat, and that the reason you are so stupid is because you were raped by a priest. That has happened to me - no, not being raped by a priest, but finding those messages stinking up my inbox.
That’s life in the internet age, I suppose, and yes, it can be annoying (especially when you see that there are 700 comments on an article you’ve written, but then discover that 692 of them were written by the same three people arguing until four in the morning over whether ‘ZaNuLabour’ or the ‘ConDems’ were the most evil government). Yet it turns out that, amazingly, there is something even more irritating on the internet than these so-called trolls. And it’s the troll-hunters, the celebs, commentators and coppers who have made it their business to chase down trolls, expose them to public ridicule, and sometimes even haul them before a judge. Okay, a troll can sometimes ruin a half-decent online debate or dent a journalist’s sense of self-worth by sending him a snotty, borderline obscene message *sniffle* - but that’s nothing compared with the potential impact that troll-hunting is having on the free flow of ideas and argument on the web.
Trolls - defined by Urban Dictionary as people who ‘post a deliberately provocative message to a message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument’ - are rarely out of the news. From the 17-year-old twat on Twitter who sent stupid messages to British diving champ Tom Daley to the fashion among celebrities for ‘confronting one’s troll’, trolling is a hot topic. The idea that the internet is awash with spectacularly uncouth provocateurs is gaining ground. Much of the commentary on the trouble with trolls could easily double up as a rough draft for a movie about a Martian invasion, with its claims that these message-board botherers are ‘besieging our culture’ and ‘invading’ the internet.
Inevitably, following the pleas from everyone from MPs to celebrities to hilariously spineless journalists that Something Should Be Done about trolls, the law is now sticking its nose in. Louise Mensch, chick-lit novelist turned part-time politician turned full-time wife of Metallica’s manager, demanded action against trolls after she was bombarded with threatening messages by a 60-year-old freak in a beard. Anti-troll action is already being taken. Earlier this year a Welsh student called Liam Stacey was imprisoned for two months for trolling the then very ill footballer Fabrice Muamba. Tom Daley’s troll was arrested in a dawn raid, because apparently sending 140-character insults to a pretty diver is as lethal as having a bomb in your shed or a Kalashnikov under your bed, the sort of things that normally earn one a knock on the door from the Old Bill at 6am. And now we’re informed that Britain’s Director of Public Prosecutions is planning to issue ‘guidelines’ for prosecutors on when ‘criminal charges should be brought’ in relation to trolling incidents.
Well, I can save the DPP the bother of having ‘a series of roundtable meetings with campaigners, media lawyers, academics and law enforcement bodies’ by telling him right now when prosecutions should be brought against people for writing things on the internet - never. It is none of the law’s business what you or I or the unbelievably annoying hoggers of online message boards say. Thought, speech, belief, debate: these are not arenas in which the state should have authority. You might not like what people say on the internet, or how they say it, but tough. If I went into a bookshop and tore up all the tomes I find annoying or offensive, half the shop would be in ruins - but I don’t do that because a) people would think I was mad, and b) I recognise that freedom of speech means being surrounded by, and sometimes subjected to, ideas or outlooks that make you feel uncomfortable, even nauseous. That’s actually one of the best things about free speech - it stops you becoming intellectually complacent or smugly dogmatic by opening your eyes and ears to other, sometimes outlandish ways of thinking. If a bookshop, or the internet, was restructured to make it agreeable to my tastes alone, I’m sure I’d like it for a while, but in the long term my brain, or what John Stuart Mill called my ‘mental and moral powers’, would become knackered through lack of exercise. I’d basically turn into an idiot.
Many troll-hunters claim they are only calling for civility, not conformism; they aren’t censuring people for their views only for their sometimes OTT vulgarities and borderline harassment. This is highly disingenuous. Because one of the most striking things about the troll-hunting lobby is how much it conflates irrational prejudice with what it considers to be undesirable political views, treating both as things that ought to be cleaned up and potentially banged up. So a Guardian columnist recently wrote about ‘Islamophobic’ trolling on the internet, which he said includes everything from online racists referring to Muslims as ‘goat-fuckers’ to ‘progressives’ prejudice’, such as when trolls ‘slam Islam as oppressive of gay and women’s rights’. Hold on - branding Muslims ‘goat-f*ckers’ is clearly just a bonkers prejudice (though even that should not be banned), whereas criticising Islam for being repressive is the expression of a political view. In depicting certain, un-PC critiques of Islam as ‘trolling’, troll-hunters explicitly attempt to delegitimise political views they find distasteful.
Likewise, last year a group of feminist writers launched a campaign to tackle ‘misogynistic trolling’ on the internet, which apparently includes everything from ‘threats of rape’ to comments that are ‘strongly and personally antagonistic towards feminism’. Here, something that is potentially the business of the law - the threat of rape - is lumped together with something that is an entirely legitimate intellectual pursuit: the ridicule of feminism. Increasingly, everyone from Louise Mensch’s emailing stalker (who really was a threatening harasser) to people who simply spend their days in online discussion boards ‘denying’ climate change can be branded a ‘troll’. What we’re witnessing is a pretty Orwellian conflation of potentially physical menace with unpopular political views, the mashing together of irrational harassment with the expression of a political outlook, so that it all becomes ‘trolling’. When even political positions like ‘progressive prejudice’ or ‘antagonism towards feminism’ can be called trolling, it seems pretty clear that a deep and profound censoriousness is at work here, and that the invitation to the DPP to clarify when people may be prosecuted for spouting off on the internet is an even more worrying prospect than we thought.
There is a really weird inversion of reality in the trolling debate. Celebrities with massive public platforms and journalists with prominent soapboxes from which to proclaim their beliefs are depicting themselves as the poor little victims of the mob, effectively, of ordinary people who, horror of horrors, now have the ability to express themselves instantly. It all rather echoes the upsurge in intolerant handwringing that followed the development of the printing press, when God-botherers in pointy hats effectively said: ‘You mean the little people will be able to read books?!’ Today, troll-hunters are really saying, ‘You mean I have to put up with the little people telling me what they think, being abusive, and expressing thoughts that me and my friends have agreed are obnoxious?!’ Yes, that’s right - you do.
The Internet doesn't need more regulation
Two cases on data roaming and net neutrality deal with similar economic issues: Will more regulation improve the market for Internet-based communications?
Last Thursday, the D.C. Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on whether to uphold the Federal Communications Commission’s so-called “data roaming” rules, which would impose new open-access regulations on wireless broadband companies. The issues at bar—including whether imposing such a requirement on an Internet carrier amounts to “common carrier” regulation—are similar to the issues the court will face when it rules on the FCC’s net neutrality regulations next year. The economic issues in the two cases are also closely related: Simply put, will more regulation improve the market for Internet-based communications?
The case for a heavier government hand is grounded in the idea that the U.S. market for broadband services is insufficiently competitive. As a result, critics say, the United States is lagging behind the rest of the world, and broadband Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have incentives to discriminate against their competitors. But the facts don’t support either argument.
According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), nearly nine out of ten U.S. households have a choice of fast broadband connections from at least two wireline broadband providers. Consumers clearly know they have choices: According to the FCC, one out of six switch companies every year, and 37 percent switch every three years. The numbers are even higher for wireless: Somewhere between a fifth and a third of all subscribers switch carriers every year. For context, that means consumers switch carriers about twice as often as they switch operating systems (e.g. from iPhone to Android or Windows).
Competition is intensifying with the rollout of 4G wireless networks, which are delivering speeds of up to 12 Mbps, fast enough to compete with landline connections.1 At least six major mobile providers are in the process of deploying such networks.
The fact that consumers can and do switch providers helps explain why ISPs are constantly upgrading their networks. According to the FCC, during the last year, “the actual increase in experienced speed by consumers was even greater than the increase in advertised speed—from 10.6 Mbps to 14.6 Mbps—an almost 38 percent improvement.” 2 The fact that consumers have choice is also evidenced by the fact that ISPs are among the biggest ad spenders. If you have heard the terms U-verse, Xfinity, and FiOS, it’s because AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon are all among the ten largest U.S. advertisers.
What about the international comparisons you’ve read so much about? The facts are that there are more homes connected to optical fiber in the United States than any other Western country, that the United States has the world’s largest and fastest cable modem networks, that the United States leads the world in the number of 3G wireless subscribers by a wide margin, and that nearly half of the world’s next generation wireless 4G subscribers are Americans. In short, the United States is a world leader on every front.
Critics like to draw comparisons with small, densely populated countries like Hong Kong and South Korea, where big government subsidies combined with low build-out costs led to early deployment of fiber networks. But that was then and this is now. According to recent testimony by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, more than 80 percent of U.S. households have access to 100 megabit or faster Internet connections (from the cable company, the telephone company, or both), a statistic which puts the United States “at or near the top of the world.”
The United States is also at or near the top when it comes to consumer satisfaction. According to the FCC, a remarkable 93 percent of U.S. consumers are satisfied with their home broadband service, and more than half are “very satisfied.” UK regulator OFCOM reports that more U.S. consumers are “very satisfied” with their fixed and mobile broadband providers than in any other country surveyed.
Supporters of the FCC’s rules are hard pressed to point to any actual examples of market failure. The major wireless companies had negotiated data roaming deals even before the FCC issued its new rules; and when it comes to net neutrality, the only example of an actual problem (a small North Carolina company temporarily blocked access to VoIP services) occurred more than seven years ago.
Value creation in the Internet ecosystem depends on firms working together to generate the products and services consumers want. Broadband networks are only valuable when combined with content, devices, applications, and other broadband networks. The more compelling these combinations of products are, and the more seamlessly they work together, the more people will sign up for broadband connections. Arguably the biggest development in the mobile broadband world this year is the release of the iPhone 5, which will dramatically increase the demand for the mobile carriers’ new LTE networks.
Handwringing aside, in the real world ISPs aren’t likely to discriminate, even against their competitors. Consider, for example, the success of Amazon, Hulu, iTunes, Netflix, and other over-the-top video distributors (OVDs). Despite the fact that these firms compete directly with ISPs (like Comcast and Verizon) for video revenues, their traffic continues to flow unimpeded over the Internet, and OVDs are growing by leaps and bounds. In November 2011 alone, 167 million unique online video viewers streamed 21.9 billion videos.
Open access is not the exception, it’s the rule: Broadband ISPs carry traffic that “competes” with their own products every day, from ring tones and music to map applications and online games. They do it for the same reason that Microsoft makes a version of Word that runs on Apple computers, and that text messages originating on iPhones can be read on devices that run on Android and Windows: Consumers expect it.
In its reply brief in the net neutrality case, the FCC claims the authority to engage in “prophylactic” regulation—as well it might, since it certainly hasn’t demonstrated the sort of market failure that would justify government intervention. To the contrary, the Internet marketplace has been working just fine without the FCC’s new rules, and it will continue to do so if the court wisely decides to strike them down.
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.