Monday, July 18, 2016

Theresa May, the new British PM, is a grave threat to freedom

Beneath the managerial exterior beats the heart of an authoritarian

Theresa May has become Britain’s new prime minister.  And that should concern us all. Not just those who backed Brexit, and fear that the coronation of May, a Remainer, will mean further delays on triggering Article 50, ending in Brexit lite. It should also worry anyone who values living in a free society. During her time as home secretary, May’s contempt for civil liberties, her mad enthusiasm for using state power to achieve her political ends, was disturbing.

May is the figurehead for what is the most powerful authoritarian faction in today’s political firmament. She keeps alive the bland, technocratic, Third Way politics that began under New Labour, but she combines it with a vaguely socially conservative outlook. In this way, her authoritarian tendencies are constantly dressed up as mere managerial competence. She’s not undermining liberties, really; she’s just ‘getting on with it’ – she’s ‘getting the job done’. To May, the freedoms of the individual fall under the same category as, say, paper shortages, or lazy secretaries: obstacles to efficient management; administrative hurdles to be overcome.

Consider the action she’s taken on drugs. In 2014, against all advice, she banned Khat – a mild stimulant, popular with Somalis and comparable in harm to coffee. But that wasn’t enough. She then introduced the Psychoactive Substances Bill, which came into force in April 2016. The bill effectively prohibits the possession and use of any psychoactive substance – except those on a pre-approved government list. The intention was to crack down on so-called ‘legal highs’ – but the real effect the bill will have is to turn on its head the age-old principle that actions should be legal until made illegal – under May, it seems, actions are illegal until they’re made legal. An important principle of civil society is, to May’s mind, a managerial nuisance: this principle stopped her from ‘getting the job done’, and therefore it had to go.

Then there is her record on immigration. In one recent TV interview, she refused to rule out the deportation of EU nationals following Brexit; and, at her leadership campaign launch, she suggested that EU nationals could be a useful ‘negotiating point’ when talking to Brussels about our post-Brexit deal. Once again, the liberties of millions of people in Britain are, for May, little more than a deal-brokering tool, a card to be played in Brexit negotiations, all, of course, in the name of effective government.

This instrumentalising, technocratic, illiberal attitude is not just a post-referendum development. In April 2016, May oversaw the introduction of new rules according to which non-EU nationals who earn less than £35,000 – well above the average salary – can be deported. She also wrongly deported nearly 50,000 non-EU students, on the false grounds that they had failed English tests. And who can forget the vans, pioneered by May, which cruised around London telling illegal immigrants to ‘go home or face arrest’?

Most worrying of all is her broad-brush, cavalier attitude to what she calls ‘extremism’. For all her talking up of the extremist threat to the British way of life, May has done more harm to British liberties than any sad-act neo-Nazi or wacky hate-preacher ever could. In her speech at the Metropolitan Police conference on counterterrorism this year, she boasted of how she had deprived certain British nationals of their citizenship because she deemed them not ‘conducive to the public good’; she boasted of how her Internet Referral Unit has, since 2010, quietly removed over 90,000 pieces of extremism-related material from the web; and, most ominous of all, she boasted of how the new statutory requirements of the Prevent scheme will require ‘local authorities, the police, prisons, probation services, schools, colleges, and, yes, universities’, to monitor people’s behaviour for signs of extremism.

More recently, she suggested that Ofcom be given unprecedented powers to strike down any TV programme it deems to include ‘extremist content’. This represents, effectively, the transformation of a vast swathe of the public-service workforce into a spying network – all cloaked in the bland, unassuming language of ‘effectiveness’. Again, it’s no big deal; May’s just getting the job done.

All of these ban-happy measures – and much more – were achieved by May in her role as home secretary. Now she will be prime minister, with all the extra power that entails. Looking at her shameful record, we can expect her attacks on civil liberties to resume with renewed vigour. And, of course, she will claim it’s all about getting things done. But if the cost is our hard-won liberties, the job isn’t worth doing at all.


Supreme Court Stands by and Watches as Religious Freedom Is Curtailed

Last week, in a development which is a loss for freedom, pluralism, and tolerance in America, the Supreme Court declined to take up the case of Stormans v. Wiesman.

This should not be a difficult case. It involves pharmacy owners (members of the Stormans family) who do not want to dispense certain drugs that can kill human life in its earliest stages due to their moral and religious beliefs, yet are willing to refer potential customers to nearby pharmacies.

Because the drugs are carried by more than 30 other pharmacies within five miles of the Stormans’ pharmacy, it seems that there is a clear way in this case for conscience to be honored and the customers to receive their drugs. So what is the problem with Stormans’ customer referrals?

The problem is that the state of Washington put in place regulations permitting pharmacies to make referrals for a host of secular reasons but barring pharmacies from referring customers elsewhere for religious or moral reasons.

These regulations were challenged as a violation of the Free Exercise Clause due to their targeting of religious beliefs. The Supreme Court had an opportunity to hear the case, yet declined. Justice Alito (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas) dissented from the court’s denial of review.

In the contraception/abortion debate, much of the discussion often centers on “access” to drugs and services. If there was a genuine issue of access and the need to balance it with the Stormans’ rights, one could understand how there could be different sides to the argument. But here there is not even an issue of access.

Customers could obtain what they want from 30 other pharmacies within five miles of the Stormans’ pharmacy!

So what purpose did the state’s regulations serve?

Washington even admitted that “facilitated referrals do not pose a threat to timely access to lawfully prescribed medications,” and, as Alito observed in his dissent from denial of certiorari, “none of [the Stormans’] customers has ever been denied timely access to emergency contraceptives.”

At the end of the day, the only reason for this law is to disparage the moral objections of those who think differently and force these unwilling pharmacists to play a part in the government’s imposed regime by steamrolling their individual freedom. And now, in permitting a lower court decision against the Stormans to stand, Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Ginsburg apparently see no problem with letting the state of Washington squash religious freedom by barring referrals tied to religious reasons but permitting them for non-religious reasons.

In refusing to hear this case, the Supreme Court missed an opportunity to bolster constitutional liberty in the face of baseless and illegitimate government targeting of religion. Yet the Court felt it important to address such targeting of religion just last year in Holt v. Hobbs.

When a Muslim prisoner was not allowed to a grow a beard for religious reasons, the Supreme Court unanimously found that under a RFRA-type standard the government could not permit non-religious exemptions (such as medical reasons) for beards while denying religious ones. In that case, such an inconsistency on the part of the government showed its policy was not properly tailored to achieve the legitimate government goal of safety and security.

If safety and security could be achieved while offering non-religious exemptions, religious exemptions must be offered as well.

Similarly, as Justice Alito points out in his dissent from denial of certiorari in Stormans, the Supreme Court’s own Free Exercise precedent in Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah holds that regulations which are gerrymandered to target religious exercise are unconstitutional. Yet Justice Kennedy, who authored that opinion, did not side with Justice Alito here. Why the inconsistency?

While the Supreme Court has many reasons for what it does, it doesn’t escape notice that Church of Lukumi Babablu Aye and Holt (both unanimous decisions) both contain claims by members of minority religions. Notably, the so-called “conservative” members of the Supreme Court happily upheld religious rights in those instances.

Their consistency leads them to also do so here when a Christian is discriminated against, while the so-called “liberals” would decline to do so in Stormans (and in other cases involving Christians, such as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby). While it is impossible to know for certain the reason for this trend, the pattern is certainly troubling. And if such a pattern of so-called “conservative” rulings caught the eye of liberal activists, you could be sure they’d point it out.

Such developments, along with others in recent free exercise and RFRA jurisprudence, increasingly show a Supreme Court which now picks and chooses what rights to uphold based on ideology, politics, and the religion at issue, instead of being a neutral arbiter of law.

As Justice Thomas exclaimed in his dissent from the Supreme Court’s opinion in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (a case which struck down state abortion health and safety requirements, and which confirms the Supreme Court’s increased arbitrariness), “[t]he Court should abandon the pretense that anything other than policy preferences underlies its balancing of constitutional rights and inter­ests in any given case.”

The price to be paid for preferring policy over the rule of law is, as Justice Alito put it in his Stormans dissent, is the continued existence of “regulations [which] are improperly designed to stamp out religious objectors.” This price may be acceptable to some for now—at least until it is turned around and applied against them.


At Religious Liberty Hearing, Democrats Unlikely Backers of Atlanta Fire Chief

The story of the former Atlanta fire chief who was fired from his job after publishing a book that addressed marriage and sexuality from a biblical perspective took center stage at a hearing Tuesday on Capitol Hill, with witnesses from both sides of the aisle voicing disapproval of the city’s decision to terminate the decorated public servant.

“I wish we had a bill to protect him,” former Rep. Barney Frank, a Democrat who represented Massachusetts’ 4th District, said of Chief Kelvin Cochran.

Cochran, the former fire chief in Atlanta, was fired from his job on Jan. 6, 2015, even after a city investigation cleared him of any discrimination charges against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. “No one should be fired because of his or her political or religious beliefs that don’t have to do with the job,” Frank said.

The remaining two Democrat witnesses—one of whom was Jim Obergefell, the leading plaintiff in the Supreme Court’s gay marriage case—appeared to agree with the former Massachusetts congressman’s opinion about Cochran. When they were asked to raise their hands if they believed he should have been fired for publishing a book that included his views on marriage and sexuality, no one did.

Despite their support for Cochran, none of the Democrat witnesses, including Frank, went so far as to support the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that would help protect the religious liberty of Americans with traditional views on marriage.

“This is personal,” Frank, who is openly gay, told Republicans of the bill. “This bill empowers people to take my tax money and do things to exclude me and others like me.”

Cochran testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Tuesday for a hearing involving legislation that would protect individuals and organizations who believe in the biblical view of marriage between one man and one woman.

FADA would not apply to Cochran’s case because he worked for the state instead of the federal government at the time he was fired.

However, Cochran told members of Congress that had he worked for the federal government when he published his men’s devotional book, he “would certainly be terminated from employment,” and therefore would depend on legislation such as FADA. Because of that—as the former U.S. fire administrator in the Obama administration—Cochran said he has a personal stake in seeing FADA become law.

“It is my desire to see legislation at the federal, state, and local levels that would protect any American [from being punished] in spite of or because of their belief about marriage and sexuality,” Cochran said.

FADA is limited in its scope, and would not generally apply to private businesses, such as the bakery run by Aaron and Melissa Klein who were ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. However, the measure could affect private businesses who are recipients of federal contracts or grants, licenses or tax benefits, by preventing the government from taking adverse actions against them for holding traditional views about marriage.

Obergefell and Katherine Franke, a professor at Columbia School of Law, strongly opposed the idea of providing specific protections for individuals and organizations that hold views against same-sex marriage.

“I understand that the proponents of this legislation argue that it is necessary to protect churches, clergy, and others who oppose marriage equality for religious reasons,” Obergefell said. “But the First Amendment is already clear on this point. Since the founding of this country, no church or member of the clergy has been forced to marry any couple if doing so would violate their religious teachings. That has not changed since same-sex couples won the freedom to marry.”

Instead, in order to address Cochran’s termination, Frank suggested passing a bill that doesn’t “single out” the issue of same-sex marriage.

“How do you protect him?” Frank asked. “You pass a bill that says no one can be fired because of his or her political or religious opinion that is wholly irrelevant to the job. You don’t single out one particular aspect of one particular religion.”

Democrats didn’t only attack the nature of Tuesday’s hearing, but also, the timing.

“Today is the one-month anniversary of the deadly shooting spree at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 people and injured dozens others,” Ranking Member Elijah Cummings said during his opening statement. “To say this hearing is ill-timed is the understatement of the year.”

Much of the hearing focused on the real-life implications of FADA, and whether the legislation would enable what Democrats called, “taxpayer-funded discrimination.” According to their witnesses’ interpretation of the bill, FADA would allow nonprofits that receive federal grants to build low-income housing to deny same-sex couples access to that housing, for example.

Republican witnesses, including Kristen Waggoner from Alliance Defending Freedom and Matthew J. Franck from The Witherspoon Institute, swore under oath that FADA could not be used for such purposes.

Waggoner accused Democrats of “mischaracterizing” the bill. “It does not allow termination of employees, it does not change existing law,” Waggoner said. “The rights that you have, you would continue to have under federal and state law.”

“No one deserves to be marginalized or driven out of their profession simply because of their beliefs about marriage,” she added.

On Tuesday, Republicans released an updated version of the FADA text. In the new version, for-profit religious broadcasters would also be covered and be protected from having their licenses threatened from the Federal Communications Commission for their belief in marriage between one man and one woman.

At the end of the hearing, both Democrat and Republican witnesses agreed to meet privately with Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., to work out the different interpretations of the bill.


Male and female brains DO react differently: Scans reveal opposite responses in the area that governs emotions and self-awareness

The saying that men are from Mars and women are from Venus has long been used to highlight the differences between the sexes.

Now scientists have shown that the often baffling variations in the way males and females in our species behave could lie in the way our brains are wired.

They have found that men and women have opposite neuronal responses in a critical area of the brain that controls experience of emotions, blood pressure control and self-awareness.

The findings could explain why men and women often present different clinical symptoms in some medical disorders.

But it could also help to explain some of the misunderstandings that seem to occur due to the differences in the way each of the sexes react emotionally.

The research was conducted by neuroscientists at the University of California in Los Angeles, where a team measured the brain activity of participants using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) during blood pressure trials.

While our brains share a common 'template' for connecting the different areas, researchers wanted to find out if there were templates for men and women which could explain behaviours we might typically associate with sexes.

They found men and women had opposite responses in the right front of the insular cortex - the part of the brain integral to the experience of emotions, blood pressure control and self-awareness.

Dr Paul Macey, the lead author of the study, said: 'This is such a critical brain area and we hadn't expected to find such strong differences between men and women's brains.' 

In the study, the male brains showed a higher amount of activation in the area, while the female brains showed a lower response.

Dr Macey said: 'We have always thought that the "normal" pattern was for this right-front insula region to activate more than other areas, during a task that raises blood pressure.

'However, since most earlier studies were in men or male animals, it looks like this "normal" response was only in men. The healthy response in women seems to be a lower right-sided activation.'

Whether this difference is due to how the male and female brains are wired remains a mystery to the researchers. 

Dr Macey added: 'It's possible the women had already activated this region because of psychological stress, so that when they did the physical test in the study, the brain region could not activate any more.

'However, it's also possible that this region is wired differently in men and women.'



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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