Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Where is the Je Suis Chelsea march?

The Chelsea fans on the Paris Metro have spurred on football’s censors

Last week’s Copenhagen shootings have provoked another bout of phoney libertarian posturing. We saw the same gushing lip service paid to the principle of free speech after the Charlie Hebdo massacre last month. Everyone wanted a slice of the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ action, including those without a libertarian bone in their bodies. Every right-thinking person, it seemed, fully supported the right to offend, insult, ridicule and blaspheme. Naturally, we shouldn’t have believed a word of it. You only have to look at football to see how hollow the commitment to freedom of expression really is.

Exhibit A, m’lud, is the race row which has blown up over the video clip of Chelsea fans behaving oafishly on the Paris Metro. The video shows fans singing ‘We’re racist, we’re racist, and that’s the way we like it’, and pushing away a black passenger trying to board the train. It has provoked widespread condemnation. Chelsea FC issued a statement saying: ‘Such behaviour is abhorrent and has no place in football or society.’ The club is appealing for witnesses and says it will impose banning orders on the fans involved. London’s Metropolitan Police say they will ‘examine the footage with a view to seeing if we can apply for football-banning orders’.

This incident has been gleefully seized on by those who believe that racism in football never really went away. Scratch the surface and you’ll still find ugly bigotry. ‘We know that prejudice is on the increase and that in itself leads to hateful attitudes and this sort of conduct’, said Kick It Out chairman Lord Ouseley. ‘There is a greater shame here because we foolishly, naively, believed the issue of racism among our football supporters was a thing of the past’, laments Neil Ashton in the Daily Mail. The Guardian’s Barney Ronay says the incident is no surprise. ‘[F]or decades this kind of thing has happened, continues to happen, and most troubling, appears to be happening a little more now’, he writes.

I think we need a sense of perspective here. The video appears quite shocking to us precisely because it’s extremely rare to hear overtly racist chants sung by football fans. It’s certainly not something you’re likely to hear at Stamford Bridge. And we also need to bear in mind that this was a handful of fans – a tiny fraction of the 2,000 supporters who travelled to Paris. We’ve come a long way from the bad old days when Chelsea fans booed one of their own players, Paul Canoville, because of the colour of his skin. One isolated, unpleasant incident certainly doesn’t signify a resurgence of racism.

I think we can all agree that the ‘we’re racist’ chant was abhorrent. It is indisputable that the behaviour of those Chelsea fans was puerile, idiotic, rude and boorish. But should it be a crime to sing insulting and bigoted songs in a public place? Not in a free society. Should behaving like a complete uncouth moron on public transport be an arrestable offence? As I said, not in a free society. Freedom of speech: it’s not such a difficult concept to grasp, is it? In a free society, we don’t lock people up for expressing opinions which cause offence. We don’t arrest people just because they have insulted us. And we certainly don’t impose criminal sanctions for behaving like dickheads in public. If those supporters had kicked or punched passengers on the train, then they should of course have been charged with assault. But being rude, insulting and odious on public transport should not be a criminal offence.

I’m struck by the deafening silence from the advocates of civil liberties on this question. Where, one wonders, are all the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ types now? David Cameron described the Paris Metro incident as ‘extremely disturbing and very worrying’. Yes, that’s right, the same David Cameron who went on the Charlie Hebdo march last month and who told Channel 4 News that we should be ‘allowed to offend people’. In a similar vein, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg was also grandstanding as a champion of free speech after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. ‘You cannot have freedom unless people are free to offend each other’, he said. ‘We have no right not to be offended.’ Admirable sentiments, but shouldn’t that freedom extend to football fans singing racist songs? Are some forms of offensive speech more worthy of defending than others? Is it okay to lampoon jihadists but completely verboten to chant a stupid racist ditty?

Much as it might stick in the craw, the freedom to offend should apply to bigoted football fans, too. You can’t be selective about which forms of expression should be permitted. You can’t be ‘Je Suis Charlie, but…’. We can’t make exceptions or impose conditions. Freedom of speech should have no ‘get out’ clauses. Does that mean we turn the other cheek to racist chanting involving football fans? Certainly not. We should argue with, rebuke and confront the idiots. But arresting people for singing songs that we find distasteful has no place in a free and democratic society.


The real dodgers are those obsessed with tax avoiders

I’ve not broken the law. I’ve not done anything illegal. But morally, morally…’ Comedian Jimmy Carr’s deadpanned quip during a gig in 2012, when his involvement in a tax-avoidance scheme was generating a lot of political heat, captures what appears to be the connundrum at the heart of the ongoing arguments over tax avoidance. That is, tax avoidance is legal, as anyone fingered for it is quick to point out -  it simply means paying as little as the law requires. But that doesn’t make it right, as anyone crusading against it is equally quick to point out. Because morally, morally…

Those claiming that they’ve done nothing wrong, as the Tory donor Lord Fink did last week, following Labour leader Ed Miliband’s suggestion that Fink’s tax affairs were ‘dodgy’, are seemingly up against the political class as a whole. Over the past six-or-so years, politicians from across the political spectrum have all been singing from the same hymn sheet: tax avoidance is a moral issue. Its perpetrators may be adhering to the letter of the law, but they’re violating its spirit.

As early as 2010, the Lib-Con coalition was already busy framing tax avoidance as a moral issue, announcing several legislative changes designed to tackle the issue, including the introduction of a General Anti-Avoidance Rule (GAAR). The GAAR, which was passed into law in 2013, overturned the precedent set by the 1936 Duke of Westminster case that asserted no one could be compelled to pay more tax than is required by statute. This meant that paying as little tax as required, while not illegal, was no longer acceptable. The terrain for moral intervention was opened up. Politicians were quick to take advantage, be it prime minister David Cameron taking time out of a diplomatic visit to Mexico in 2012 to denounce Carr’s tax affairs as ‘morally wrong’, Chancellor George Osborne using his 2012 Budget announcement to condemn tax avoidance as ‘morally repugnant’, or Miliband declaiming a year later that ‘[tax avoidance] is scandalous, it’s got to change. The next Labour government will change it.’

Such has been the moralising mood music around the tax affairs of wealthy individuals and large, largely unpopular corporations, such as Starbucks and Google, that it is now almost taken as a given that how much tax one pays is a moral issue. It’s about paying your fair share. It’s about honouring the social contract. It’s about putting in what you’re getting out. And those who are not playing fair, those who are exploiting tax laws to reduce their liabilities, those who are ‘aggressively’ paying as little as legally possible, are now ripe for vilification.

But are things really as clear cut as the tax moralisers make out? In one sense, tax avoidance is unavoidably a moral issue. That’s because the Byzantine intricacies of the tax code (1,200 pages and counting), replete in loophole-creating exemptions, allowances and incentives, have transformed the straightforward legal requirement to pay tax into a choice as to how much tax to pay. It is then up to individuals and companies (time and money for accountants permitting) to decide what to pay. But even then, there is nothing inherently virtuous about paying more tax than the state legally requires. And there is nothing morally worthy about lining the state’s coffers. After all, while the state uses tax revenue to provide many vital public services, it also spends billions on the latest weapons of mass destruction and, yes, bank bailouts. Perhaps, just perhaps, those avoiding paying more tax than legally required are spending their saved cash on something more worthwhile than an Apache helicopter.

So while it’s not clear that how much tax one pays is the index of moral worth that campaigners and politicians have been cracking it up to be, there’s no doubt that it has been constructed as a moral issue. It may not be a moral issue, like murder or lying, but it is represented as one. Why has this happened? Why has an issue that, 10 years ago, was a wonkish concern for political pedants, a nostrum beloved of the socially inadequate and Lib Dems, been transformed into one of the dominant themes in the run-up to this May’s General Election?

The answer lies in the way Britain’s political elite, and its media cheerleaders, responded to the economic crisis. That is, since the sub-prime mortgage crash in 2007 began popping credit bubbles throughout Western economies, the prevalent narrative that emerged has involved greedy bankers and gullible, stuff-wanting citizens. This made sense for a clueless elite. Faced by deep-seated structural problems in the economy, structural problems for which they and their predecessors were culpable, they were only too happy to avert their eyes.

But their gaze also needed another object on which to focus blame. So what brought the economy to its current interminably stagnant impasse, according to this story, was the bad behaviour and selfish decision-making of individuals: bankers lied and cheated; the authorities were too weak to resist; and the gullible, Visa-wielding masses were all too happy to go along with it all. And this story has largely prevailed. The economic crisis has effectively been painted as a crisis of morals, a product of the immoral behaviour, principally, of those in the financial sector.

Given the strength of this narrative among politicians and pundits alike, it is no surprise that the political answers to these economically straitened times are framed in equally moralising terms. Impersonal economic forces are not the problem here; it’s wealthy personages wot dunnit. And this is where tax avoidance comes in. So moralised has the economic crisis become, that politicians can only envisage solutions in moral terms - that is, in terms of individuals ‘doing the right thing’, cutting back, paying their fair share, indeed paying as much tax as is legally possible. Tax avoidance has become the big issue not simply because of the economic crisis, but because the response to the economic crisis has been so myopically moralistic.

The problem is that this massive displacement activity, this eagerness to recast economic problems, from a failure to cut the deficit to the continued inability to restore conditions of growth, as a moral issue, an erring on the part of selfish individuals who just aren’t giving enough back, leaves the real problems untouched. If those currently banging on about the tax affairs of the rich really did care about raising tax revenues, they would concentrate on raising the volume of wealth that can be taxed. But that would require a tough look at the economy, at the dearth of productivity, and at how it might be possible to restore conditions of growth. It would require serious investment, risk-taking, and nerve. These are not qualities today’s political class have in abundance. So, instead, they continue to project blame, singling out individuals for moral censure in the hope they’ll increase their payments to the state.

This obsession with tax avoidance is not the mark of a morally enlightened society. It is the mark of a society that is refusing to face up to the real problems in its midst. There is no moral clarity to be gained from gawping at individuals’ tax returns, only moral scapegoating.


US satirists have been ‘de-fanged’

There cannot be an iron-clad rule that you cannot go “there”’, said Pulitzer Prize-winning artist and illustrator Art Spiegelman yesterday evening at the French Institute Alliance Francaise in New York City. He was speaking at After Charlie: What’s Next for Art, Satire and Censorship?, co-hosted by the PEN American Center and theNational Coalition Against Censorship.

After navigating through the airport-style security to get into the event (such is the state of fear now associated with anything Charlie Hebdo), the audience was greeted to a striking backdrop to the stage, featuring a rolling montage of classic and contemporary satirical cartoons from old Mad front pages to the now infamous Charlie Hebdo covers.

Spiegelman, best known for Maus and In The Shadow of No Towers, subversively vaped throughout the evening. He was joined on the panel by Molly Crabapple of VICE, Francoise Mouly, art director of the New Yorker, and French cartoonist Emmanuel ‘Manu’ Letouzé. Having a panel of French and American speakers provided some initial discussion on the relative differences in the history and state of satire, particularly in the form of cartoons, between the US and Europe. It was somewhat depressing to hear Spiegelman describe the current situation of satire in the US as one in which cartoonists now largely self-censor. He said cartoonists had been ‘de-fanged’.

But one wonders if that is not the direction that Europe is going in now, too? Even after giving a solid defence of the need to understand cartoons and satire in the political and historical context in which they are drawn and presented, Manu almost seemed to be suggesting that censorship of artistic expression when outside of a valid context is okay.

That, unfortunately, became a theme of the evening. At every opportunity for the panel to really stick the knife into those seeking to censor, they stepped back. It is somewhat troubling when, even on a panel of ‘liberal’ satirists, no coherent argument is ventured for the need to support the right to be offensive or to push back against censorship. But then again, this is no longer a surprise.

As Mouly herself pointed out, it was the liberal-leaning papers in the US that most shied away from republishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons for fear of causing offence. At a time when a relatively mainstream magazine like the New Yorker can become the focal point for satirical and rebellious artistic expression in the US,  then it’s clear that the de-fanging described by Spiegelman is a reality.

Spiegelman seemed most animated and most inspiring when describing the times in his career which have made him most want to push back against any restriction on his artistic expression. He stressed the importance of the medium of art and the cartoon in satire and how it was often born either from youthful rebelliousness or a street graffiti culture in which people were pushing against the status quo. But today, we are more likely to hear about an illiberal right-on mob demanding that a piece of art be banned because it is deemed offensive (such as the protests around The Death of Klinghoffer at the New York Met last year) or about a campus removing a statue to protect the emotional safety of its students.

Spiegelman’s career has undoubtedly run the gamut of provocative subjects. From his 1993 New Yorker cover in response to the NYC Crown Heights riots, to the 2006 cover of Harper’s Magazine in response to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammed cartoons (a cover which meant Spiegelman joined Hitler on the list of authors banned by Canadian bookstore-chain Chapters Indigo), he has a long history of pushing back against the offence-seekers. But for today’s young artists and aspiring satirists, the confidence to draw and comment on the politics and events of the day, no matter how juvenile, puerile or just downright offensive, needs to be reasserted.

When I arrived at this event and saw the backdrop of provocative cartoons and the resumés of the panel, I was excited. It seemed that the stage was set for an impassioned defence of the right to be offensive. Unfortunately, I left feeling cheated. If we are going to stand up for true free speech and complete freedom of expression, now is not the time to mince our words. As we have argued on spiked repeatedly, free speech and the freedom to draw satirical cartoons should come with no ifs or buts. That is the only way to secure a healthy future for art and satire.


Former Fire Chief Sues Atlanta, Mayor for Firing Him ‘Solely’ Because of His Beliefs About Marriage

Former Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran filed today a federal lawsuit against the city of Atlanta and its Mayor Kasim Reed alleging they terminated his employment because of his belief in traditional marriage.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, states Cochran’s was fired “solely” because:

    …[Cochran] holds religious beliefs concerning same-sex marriage and homosexual conduct that are contrary to the mayor’s and the city’s views on these subjects, and because he expressed those beliefs in the non-work-related, religious book he self-published.

Cochran had been a firefighter since 1981 and was appointed Atlanta’s fire chief in 2008. In 2009, President Obama appointed him as U.S. Fire Administrator for the United States Fire Administration in Washington, D.C. In 2010, he returned to serve as Atlanta’s fire chief.

Cochran is a devout Christian and active in his community as a member of Elizabeth Baptist Church, where he serves as a deacon and teacher.

On Jan. 6, 2015, after writing and self-publishing a book which briefly mentions homosexuality as one among many sexual sins from a Christian perspective, the city of Atlanta and Mayor Reed suspended Cochran without pay, subjected him to “sensitivity training” and ultimately fired him.

Although a city investigation found that Cochran has not discriminated against anyone throughout his career as fire chief of Atlanta, the city still fired him, citing the need for tolerance of diverse views.

“I respect each individual’s right to have their own thoughts, beliefs and opinions, but when you’re a city employee and those thoughts, beliefs and opinions are different from the city’s, you have to check them at the door,” said City Councilman Alex Wan, a leader in the campaign to oust Cochran, to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in November.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith, is defending Cochran in his lawsuit against the city and mayor of Atlanta.

Kevin Theriot, a senior counsel for the organization, said today in a press release:

    "Every American should be concerned about a government that thinks it can fire you because of what you believe. If it can happen to Chief Cochran, a distinguished firefighter who attained the highest fire service position in the United States, it can happen to anybody".



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, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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