Thursday, March 10, 2016
CA's Knee-Jerk Bill Forbids Travel to Un-PC States
More Homosexual tyranny
Hopefully, this Californian lawmaker puts more thought into the other bills he introduces. This week, Evan Low, a Democrat, introduced a bill that would ban California state employees from traveling to states that passed a version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. “No one wants to send employees into an environment where they would be uncomfortable,” Low reportedly said, as if hurt feelings are enough to hamper the state’s ability to cooperate with other members of the union. But here’s the kicker: the lawmaker doesn’t know how many states his little bill would affect. Furthermore, the bill would only apply to government employees.
Governors and lawmakers like him could still jet into places like Indiana on the California taxpayers' dime. This isn’t the first time Low introduced a bill for the gay-rights community. Last May, Low co-authored a resolution with two other California lawmakers responding to the FDA’s blood donor guidelines that forbid sexually active homosexuals from donating blood. After the press conference, Low walked to a blood drive and was rejected for donating blood because he is a homosexual. It would be one thing if the state wanted to enter into a decision about what policy is good, ethical and accommodates a plethora of beliefs, but this bill is simply an emotional response that blindly follows an agenda.
No, breastfeeding is not an economic issue
New studies claiming 'breast is best' have gone way too far. It's now politically correct
New mothers are used to being bombarded with the message that ‘breast is best’. A long list of supposed benefits are trotted out: breastfeeding will reduce the risk of diarrhoea, ear infections, obesity, diabetes and various other diseases, as well as increasing the child’s intelligence. Mothers are told breastfeeding will reduce their risk of breast and ovarian cancer, as well as helping to lose their baby weight faster.
But two recent papers in the Lancet (here and here) have gone even further. They argue that choosing not to breastfeed is associated with cognitive deficits, resulting in global economic losses of $302 billion every year, equating to 0.49% of the gross world national income. The papers advise that scaling up breastfeeding to be almost universal would prevent 823,000 child deaths. They also argue that breastfeeding is needed for the achievement of many sustainable development goals and is ‘essential … for building a better world for future generations in all counties, rich and poor alike’.
Bold claims. But do they stand up to scrutiny? The authors have used systematic reviews and meta-analyses of epidemiological studies from low-, middle- and high-income countries to look at the short- and long-term effects of breastfeeding on a range of health and cognitive outcomes. They found consistent associations between breastfeeding and some early health outcomes (such as diarrhoea, respiratory infections and ear infections), but these were only found in the first two years of life and mainly in low-income countries. No evidence for breastfeeding’s impact on allergies, eczema, blood pressure or cholesterol was found and evidence for type-2 diabetes and obesity was inconsistent. They also highlighted an effect on child IQ, but do not mention recent studies that challenge this connection.
There are many problems with relying on epidemiological evidence to draw conclusions of this magnitude. Epidemiology – looking for patterns of associations across populations – is a good starting point, but it can rarely conclusively demonstrate cause and effect. Rather, it should trigger questions about how and why two things might be linked and be used to develop hypotheses to test.
For example, breastfeeding might be associated with reduced risk of respiratory infections because breast milk has a protective effect. But babies with respiratory infections are also likely to have more difficulty breastfeeding, making a switch to bottle-feeding more likely (reverse causation). Another factor, like the baby going to nursery, might account for both cessation of breastfeeding and exposure to infections. While researchers attempt to control for confounding factors, this is never exhaustive and is an imperfect approach.
The effect of confounding factors is apparent in many studies. A recent meta-analysis looking at breastfeeding and IQ found that breastfed children had, on average, an IQ 3.4 points higher than other children. However, once the effect of the mother’s IQ was included, this dropped to 2.6 points. In the better quality studies, the difference was 1.7 points. Furthermore, the effect on children over 10 years of age was about half of that on younger children – challenging the idea that there are significant long-term benefits of breastfeeding on cognitive development. Similarly, another study looking at developmental trajectories of cognitive development in a large, nationally representative sample of British twins found very limited evidence of an advantage in breastfed girls (but not boys) at the age of two years, but no evidence of a longer-term effect.
A key flaw with most studies is that they measure differences that occur between families; differences that could account for both patterns of breastfeeding and health and cognitive outcomes. A recent study looked at this by comparing siblings within families, where one was breastfed and the other was not. Associations between breastfeeding and health and cognitive outcomes at age four to 11 years were dramatically reduced and not significant using this method – suggesting that breastfeeding was not playing a direct, causal role in longer-term outcomes.
Given the inconsistent results and variable quality of much of the research on breastfeeding, the calculations underlying the economic projections made in the Lancet papers should come under some scrutiny. The authors start by assuming that breastfeeding causes an increase of 2.6 IQ points. They then take figures that suggest that a 15 point difference in IQ relates to a 12 per cent difference in hourly earnings (or 16 per cent in low- and middle- income countries) and calculate the loss in earnings due to non-breastfed babies having a 2.6 point lower IQ. This relies on the spurious assumption that there is a linear relationship between IQ and earnings. This suggests that the difference in income between someone with an IQ of 100 and someone with an IQ of 97.4 (both around average IQ) is simply a sixth of the difference between a person with an IQ of 100 and someone with an IQ of 85 (IQ in the lowest 15 per cent of the population). But it also assumes that a small change in average IQ across the population would have a causal effect on the job market and general economic landscape. That the authors can boldly describe ‘estimated economic losses from cognitive deficits associated with…infant feeding practices’ (my italics) suggests that the ‘breast is best’ message has taken precedence over any sort of critical evaluation of the evidence.
Furthermore, the potential costs of breastfeeding are not considered (which, for a health economic calculation, is a strange omission). Committing to six months of exclusive breastfeeding is a big undertaking for many women, especially in countries like the US where most mothers work outside the home, have little maternity leave and limited flexibility at work. Extended breastfeeding may involve a decision to change to part-time work, which will have an impact on career progression and lead to a reduced income. The studies also fail to mention that, in reality, this ‘choice’ is not available to many poorer women. A woman might decide that holding and playing with her baby is more beneficial than spending hours every day hooked up to a breastpump to produce enough milk for the child during daycare. She might decide that having enough time with her other children is more important than exclusively breastfeeding the baby, or that it’s more important for dad and other family members to be able to feed and bond with the baby early on. Breast is not best for every family.
But perhaps the most depressing aspect of these papers is the assumption that nudging women towards breastfeeding is the best way to tackle economic inequality and lack of development. Exclusive breastfeeding might prevent deaths due to diarrhoea in low-income countries, but this primarily reflects the fact that many people still do not have access to safe drinking water. Extended breastfeeding might help women space pregnancies, but this is only in the absence of access to contraception. Arguing that failure to improve breastfeeding rates will result in ‘major losses and costs that will be borne by generations to come’ rests on the assumption that large-scale economic development, and improvements in living conditions and access to medical care, is not possible or desirable for other parts of the world. It also seems patronising to argue that low-income countries should increase rates of breastfeeding to solve their problems. In fact, the rate of breastfeeding is already very high (over 90 per cent of infants in low-income countries are still breastfed at 12 months) and may be limited by factors such as avoiding HIV transmission from mother to baby.
The Lancet breastfeeding series puts together a culture of low expectations about development, an evidence base that is inconsistent and of variable quality, and a whole load of assumptions in order to produce impressive-sounding but questionable figures. This is not particularly helpful, either in terms of clarifying the science or providing advice to mothers. There is a fine line between providing information and stigmatising mothers who are making difficult decisions to care for and financially support their children, while also fulfilling their own potential. Telling women that bottle-feeding not only damages their child’s health, but also the world economy, is both spurious and unhelpful.
After the busted witch-hunt, the botched cover-up
Ignore the police spin and remember the lessons of Operation Elveden
At the end of last week, the Metropolitan Police announced the official end of Operation Elveden, the huge police campaign against alleged corruption in public office that led to the arrest and failed prosecution of dozens of tabloid journalists. Yet in a bid to spin the humiliating end of the Elveden debacle, the Met declared that it was ‘certainly not an attack on journalists or free media’ in Britain, insisting instead that it had been a worthy police operation on behalf of victims of crime. Such nonsense might even be funny if the Met had not tried to do such serious damage to press freedom in Britain.
Operation Elveden was the biggest witch-hunt against journalists in a supposedly free society in modern times. Under Elveden, the Met arrested 34 tabloid journalists from the Sun and the defunct News of the World, accused of paying for confidential information, many in floorboard-ripping dawn raids on their family homes. Along with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the police then tried to have these journalists jailed for doing their jobs – that is, revealing information that our secrecy-obsessed authorities want to keep hidden from public view. They wanted to nail tabloid journalists not for telling lies, but for revealing hidden truths.
Through Elveden the Met and state prosecutors effectively tried to make up a new law, specifically framed to fit-up reporters and editors. They dusted off the centuries-old common-law offence of misconduct in public office (originally framed to deal with crown officials such as Thomas Cromwell of Wolf Hall fame, not prison officers and lowly civil servants) in order to prosecute public employees who sold information to the press. More than 30 of them were convicted and many were jailed.
Then the authorities added on the newly minted offence of ‘conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office’ to enable them to prosecute journalists receiving this information, who were not of course public officials at all. Their attempted fit-up failed because the British public, represented by juries, refused to go along with the witch-hunt and repeatedly found the accused ‘guilty’ only of being journalists. Of the 34 tabloid journalists dragged from their homes and through the courts, only two have been convicted. One of them pleaded guilty as part of a sentencing deal, having also admitted to phone-hacking offences. The only reporter actually found guilty by a jury, Anthony France of the Sun, was not sent to prison; he is now appealing his conviction, and in the light of Elveden’s collapse it would be extraordinary if he is not successful.
As we have insisted on spiked all along, we are always being lectured about how journalists are ‘not above the law’; the lesson of the Elveden debacle is that they cannot be treated as ‘beneath the law’, either.
Now the Met has made a final desperate attempt to cover up their Elveden humiliation, with the help of their tabloid-bashing allies in the BBC and elsewhere. First, they claim that they had no choice but to prosecute after ‘having received from News International what appeared to be evidence that crimes had been committed by police officers’.
It is certainly true that as part of the panicked reaction to the phone-hacking scandal, which led to the closure of the News of the World, something called the Management Standards Committee, set up by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, did the wrong thing by handing over thousands of internal emails to police that were subsequently used in Elveden. That does not explain or excuse the extraordinary lengths the authorities went to in their crusade to criminalise tabloid journalists for doing their jobs.
Then the Met claim that actually the failed Elveden witch-hunt has been a success anyway, since it has stood up for ‘400-plus victims’. As top media lawyer Gavin Millar QC (who has often defended the Sun, as well as me and LM magazine in our 2000 libel case) responded, misconduct in public office is ‘essentially a victimless offence that exists for public-policy reasons, so all this talk of “400 victims” is quite unbelievable’.
‘Unfortunately’, Millar went on, ‘we live in a culture where people are always characterised as “victims”. But it totally undermines the concept if you talk about serial killers and child murderers [who were the subjects of some of the leaked stories] being “victims” of a free and open press.’ As Dominic Ponsford, editor of the Press Gazette, adds: ‘In nearly all cases, those stories were in the public interest, or at the very least they did no demonstrable harm. That is why the prosecutions of journalists all collapsed.’
In a last bid to spin Elveden, the Met and the BBC now insist that the prosecutions of journalists actually ended because more senior Appeal Court judges pointed out that the law on the ‘public interest’ had been misapplied. So apparently it all turned out to be a good thing, because it helped to clarify the standing of journalists and the ‘public interest’ in a free society.
Tell that to the reporters and editors whose careers were blighted and lives put on hold while they were left in limbo on police bail for years on end, before facing trial and, in some cases, the prospect of retrial. The reason the Appeal Court made that judgement was because juries had already thrown out so many cases. The standing of a free press was defended by the democratic wisdom of jurors, not the elite insights of the judiciary, who still feel it is their exclusive right to define what might be in the interest of the public to know.
The humiliating collapse of Elveden’s witch-hunt is a victory for a free press, but the fight continues. From the moment senior Met officers asserted at the Leveson Inquiry that there was a ‘culture of criminality’, of making illegal payments, at the Sun – before a single journalist had been tried, never mind convicted – this crusade has demonstrated the true contempt in which the UK state holds the popular media and the populace. Just days before the official end of Elveden, Met chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe had the gall to tell a committee of MPs he found it ‘odd’ that jurors had failed to convict tabloid journalists as instructed by the police and CPS.
Elveden is over at last, but the lessons should not be forgotten. Anybody who wants to see more state involvement in the regulation of the media should be reminded of what the state has tried to do to press freedom over the past five years. Anybody who wants to take a stand for free speech today, in our universities or elsewhere, should be reminded that it is an indivisible liberty that must be defended for tabloid hacks as seriously as for high-minded academics. And any UK politician who tries to pose as a friend of freedom should be put on the spot about their support for press freedom.
As Millar said, it is one thing to ‘question the ethics of whether a journalist or news organisation were justified in paying for information, or whether it was in the public interest’ (to which my answer is: the strongest moral and public-interest case is always on the side of press freedom). But ‘what makes this different is that the Met took journalists into the criminal-justice system. If you look at the countries with the worst press freedoms in the world – Russia, China – these are the nations where criminal proceedings are taken out against journalists.’
Yet the supposedly freedom-defending UK police spent millions pursuing their campaign to criminalise tabloid journalists and sanitise what one top prosecutor called, in open court and with open contempt, ‘the gutter press’. Some might think that, to coin the Met chief’s phrase, ‘odd’. Others of us might think it far more revealing about police priorities and political aims than all their sugar-coated public statements.
Corbyn is right – prostitution must be decriminalised
We shouldn't punish sex work. We shouldn't celebrate it, either
It doesn’t seem to take much for Jeremy Corbyn to fall out of favour with his own party. This time the Labour leader has come under fire for his comments about prostitution. Speaking to students at Goldsmiths University in London at the end of last week, Corbyn said he favoured decriminalising prostitution: ‘I want to be [in] a society where we don’t automatically criminalise people. Let’s do things a bit differently and in a bit more [of a] civilised way.’
Corbyn is right to call for decriminalisation. Under the Sexual Offences Act and the Policing and Crime Act, it is technically legal to sell sex in private in Britain. But soliciting for sex in a public place, kerb-crawling, owning or managing a brothel and pimping are all illegal. Corbyn’s comments follow the release of the ‘Commission on the Sex Buyer Law’, produced by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade. The commission proposes criminalising the buyers of sex (normally men) rather than the sellers of sex (predominantly women). It suggests making it a criminal offence to ‘pay for sex, attempt to pay for sex, pay for sex on someone else’s behalf, and engage in a sexual act with a person knowing or believing they have been paid to participate’.
Though Corbyn made clear that his comments were personal, and not representative of the Labour Party view, many of his fellow MPs have taken him to task. On Twitter, Harriet Harman wrote: ‘Prostitution’s exploitation and abuse not “work/an industry”. Women should be protected and men prosecuted.’ Labour MP and full-time faux-campaigner for women’s rights Jess Phillips tweeted: ‘Man says we should decriminalise a known violence against women. Why did it have to be this man. #shedstear.’
Critics of decriminalisation think of themselves as champions of womankind. Some feminists who want to keep prostitution criminal even call themselves ‘abolitionists’, quite outrageously, and falsely, comparing themselves with those who fought to abolish slavery. In the process, they don’t only engage in fantasies about their own historic role – they also strip women of their moral agency and autonomy through comparing them to slaves: people who had no control over their lives. Sex trafficking is illegal – and should remain so. But making life harder for women who choose to use their body in a way that some people disapprove of, and making out that such women are enslaved, is an attack on women’s freedom, and on the very idea that they have the capacity to make choices.
When feminists say that the largely poor women who engage in prostitution have all been coerced, that such work can never really be consensual, they are demeaning women far more than they are the male buyers of sex. They’re treating them as moral infants, in need of rescue.
Far from being on the side of liberal abolitionists who fought to free people from enslavement, feminist campaigners for criminalisation are on the side of the state having more power over women’s bodies and how men and women may engage in sexual intercourse. They’re diminishing freedom, not expanding it. Supporting decriminalisation doesn’t mean approving of prostitution – it merely means believing and arguing that the state should not have the power to tell consenting, non-trafficked adults what they may do with their bodies.
As campaigners for decriminalisation point out, stripping away the laws around prostitution would allow women to sell sex in a safer way. They wouldn’t have to go underground and they could access healthcare or report criminal behaviour without fear of getting into trouble. And yes, criminalising the male buyers of sex is just as likely to make life less safe for prostitutes as criminalising the women would: women who want to make money from sex would still need to sneak around. But there’s more to this than safety. Arguing for criminal sanctions as a means of making prostitution more difficult and dangerous is an argument against a woman’s freedom over her own body. A woman is prevented, through the enforcement of a law, from engaging in a sexual transaction. That is authoritarian.
However, just because a woman should be free to sell sex legally, that doesn’t mean we must condone prostitution. Any fool could tell you that the vast majority of sex workers do not enjoy the same luxurious lifestyle celebrated by Belle de Jour. Prostitution is a consequence of poverty for many women. Some supporters of decriminalisation argue that sex work is like any other form of waged labour; some even say that selling sex boosts self-confidence and is a preferable form of employment to working in a supermarket. Such claims ignore the reality of prostitution – that the majority of women who end up selling themselves for next to nothing have few other money-making options, and most sex workers cannot charge anywhere near the same rates as the likes of Belle de Jour.
Often, working-class women who are public about selling sex are called ‘survivors of prostitution’, whereas middle-class proponents of sex work are described as ‘empowered’ and ‘confident’. These caricatures of women with complicated backstories ignore the fact that prostitution is often neither life-threatening nor confidence-boosting – it’s just pretty unpleasant. Selling your intimacy, your entire body, is not the same as selling your labour behind a till or even breaking your back sweeping floors. It’s different. We can argue for decriminalisation while recognising that prostitution is not a nice choice for women to make – but it’s one that many make nonetheless, using their free will.
But Corbyn is right – we should decriminalise prostitution. The reluctance to have the hard argument about women’s bodily freedom, and why we should limit state interference in sex, shows how patronising the debate has become. If we truly believe that women should enjoy the same freedoms as men, then we must demand that the state relinquishes its control over women’s bodies – whether in the sphere of prostitution or abortion.
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.