Monday, June 08, 2009

UK faces backlash over 'libel tourists'

US politicians try to protect citizens from British court, claiming foreigners use law to bring expensive defamation cases

American politicians are pushing through free speech laws to protect US citizens from libel rulings in British courts that have been accused of stifling criticism of oligarchs and dictators. The development follows claims that foreigners flock to the UK to begin hugely expensive defamation cases even though they have little to do with this country.

Claimants who have indulged in so-called “libel tourism” include a Ukrainian businessman who sued a Ukrainian language website based in his homeland for £50,000, simply because its contents could be viewed in Britain. An Icelandic bank successfully sued a Danish newspaper in the British courts for publishing unflattering stories about the advice it gave to clients, despite collapsing six months later.

Now lawmakers in several American states, including New York and Illinois, have moved to block the enforcement of British libel judgments in the United States. Congress is also considering a bill that will allow defendants of foreign libel suits to counter-sue for up to three times the damages sought by a claimant if their right to free speech, enshrined in the First Amendment, has been violated.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Greenpeace, Global Witness, Index on Censorship and representatives of Oxfam and Christian Aid are all known to be alarmed by the way UK courts are being used to challenge their reports. “Our libel laws have made Britain a place where any of the world’s bullies and wealthy celebrities can wander into court 13 \ and launder their reputations,” said Mark Stephens, a partner at the law firm Finers Stephens Innocent, which advises many non-governmental organisations (NGOs). “In the US you can still be sued but claimants pay for their own lawyers, fewer spurious claims go to court and freedom of speech is enshrined in law by the First Amendment. Some NGOs are seriously considering moving their publication people out to the States to protect themselves.”

London has long been regarded as a claimant-friendly place for libel actions because defendants are deemed “guilty” until they have proved their innocence, the opposite of the usual burden of proof in criminal cases. Damages are also typically higher in the UK and the costs so expensive that defendants often feel compelled to settle out of court, even though they may be in the right. Because there is no legal aid for such cases, the government has allowed libel and privacy claimants to sue under “no win, no fee” arrangements. This enables lawyers to claim a 100% “uplift” on their normal rates. One of London’s leading libel lawyers charges up to a total of £1,200 an hour.

“The reports NGOs (write) take many months, even years, to put together and rely on anonymous sources who fear for their lives,” said Jo Glanville, of Index on Censorship. “These are not people you can just pull into a courtroom. “By contrast, many of these libel tourism claims are not about disputing factual errors, they are really about shutting up critics who have exposed serious abuses.”

Global Witness, an environmental and human rights pressure group, faced legal action in London from Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso, son of the president of Congo-Brazzaville. The NGO published a report, based on Hong Kong court papers, which suggested Sassou Nguesso had bought more than $100,000 of designer clothes and other luxury goods using a credit card paid for by public funds. Sassou Nguesso hired Schillings, a London law firm, in an attempt to suppress the report. His application for an injunction did not succeed, but Global Witness has been left with legal costs of £50,000.

The Commons culture, media and sport select committee is conducting an inquiry into libel, privacy and press standards. “I have been left in no doubt that the high cost of libel claims is having a damaging effect on the good work of some NGOs,” said John Whittingdale, its chairman. Jack Straw, the justice secretary, has also admitted that no-win no-fee agreements for claimant lawyers are having a serious effect on free speech.

Mr Justice Eady, a High Court judge, has delivered a series of rulings that have bolstered privacy laws and encouraged libel tourism. He awarded Max Mosley, the Formula One president, privacy damages of £60,000 over the News of the World’s exposé of his sex life.

Most recently, Eady has been accused of “stifling” scientific debate after he ruled in favour of a trade body for chiropractors against a science writer who had accused the body of promoting “bogus treatments”. Eady said that Simon Singh, the writer, had effectively accused the body of dishonesty.

In a landmark decision five years ago Eady gave judgment for Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi banker, who had sued Rachel Ehrenfeld, an American academic. She suggested in a book that the banker had links to the financing of terrorist groups. Ehrenfeld had not published or promoted the book in this country but 23 copies sold over the internet were shipped to Britain. She decided not to defend the case, but Eady ordered her to pay £130,000 in costs and damages.

He also ruled that any copies of her book must be pulped. This judgment almost single- handedly launched the American freedom of speech backlash against UK libel laws.


BOOK REVIEW of United in Hate: The Left’s Romance with Tyranny and Terror, by Jamie Glazov. Review by BRUCE S. THORNTON

Jamie Glazov exposes the Left’s long history of cozying up to political murderers

The long romance of Western leftists with some of the bloodiest regimes and political movements in history is a story not told often enough, and Jamie Glazov’s United in Hate tells it particularly well. Glazov, managing editor of FrontPage, holds a Ph.D. in U.S., Russian, and Canadian foreign policy. He also is an immigrant from the Soviet Union, where his parents were active in the dissident movement. Both intellectually and personally, he’s well qualified to document and expose the Left’s destructive behavior.

United in Hate begins with a brief survey of the many leftists who since 9/11 have rationalized jihadist terrorism and blamed the United States for the attacks: “From Noam Chomsky to Norman Mailer,” Glazov writes, “from Eric Foner to Susan Sontag, the Left used 9/11 to castigate America,” seeing the 3,000 dead in Manhattan as “merely collateral victims of the world’s well-founded rebellion against the evil American empire.” But similar attitudes are also found in the Democratic Party itself. From Jimmy Carter’s courtship of Hamas to the Democratic congressional leadership’s eagerness to declare the Iraq War a failure—even as millions of Iraqis voted in free elections—the presumably “moderate” Democratic leadership has regularly created obstacles to defeating a murderous jihadist ideology that opposes every ideal the liberal Left supposedly embraces.

Before returning to the subject of Islam and the Left in greater detail, Glazov surveys the long history of the Left’s “useful idiocy.” Western political pilgrims to post-revolutionary Russia gushed like schoolgirls over Lenin and Stalin, even as torture, terror, and famine were inflicted on the Russian people. New York Times reporter Walter Duranty stands as perhaps the quintessential fellow-traveler, killing news reports of famine and writing that Ukrainians were “healthier and more cheerful” than he had expected, and that markets were overflowing with food—this at the height of Stalin’s slaughter of the kulaks. Today’s Times continues to list Duranty among the paper’s Pulitzer Prize winners. Other abettors of terror and famine, both famous and obscure, make their appearance in Glazov’s hall of dishonor. They include George Bernard Shaw and Bertholt Brecht, who, he writes, “excused and promoted Stalin’s crimes at every turn,” and American sociologist Jerome Davis, who said of Stalin, “everything he does reflects the desires and hopes of the masses.” The same delusions clouded the vision of Western fans of China’s Mao Tse-tung, whose butcher’s bill of dead, tortured, starved, and imprisoned eclipses Hitler’s and Stalin’s combined.

The next generation of leftists in America, the so-called “New Left,” may have become disillusioned with the Soviet Union after Khrushchev validated every anti-Communist charge, but they still clung to the ideology that had justified and driven Communism’s crimes. They simply shopped around for new autocrats to worship. Castro’s Cuba became, and to some extent has remained, the Shangri-La for starry-eyed American leftists, despite its half-million political prisoners—“the highest incarceration rate per capita in the world,” Glazov points out—and its execution of 15,000 enemies of the state. Vietnam for a time inspired pilgrimages as well, lauded by intellectuals like Susan Sontag and Mary McCarthy despite the Viet Cong’s bloody record of torture, forced depopulation, and murder. The bloody dénouement of Saigon’s fall—the purges, executions, refugees, and a holocaust in neighboring Cambodia—soon diverted the Left’s adulation to the next revolution de jour, in Nicaragua. Fans of the thuggish Sandinistas, or the “sandalistas,” as critics dubbed these “political tourists,” did not seem to mind the regime’s 8,000 political executions, 20,000 political prisoners, forced population relocations, or regular use of torture on state enemies. Indeed, about 250,000 Americans went to Nicaragua to work for the Sandinista government.

In 1990, the Sandinistas faced a reasonably fair election and were voted out of power. When China began easing toward greater economic freedom, the only full-blown Communist regime left besides Cuba’s was that of North Korea’s lunatic Kim Jong Il, whose mad dictatorship even American leftists struggled to idealize. However, some found in the resurgent Islamic jihad the next supposed victim of American imperialism and capitalism that, Glazov writes, “would fill the void left by communism’s collapse.” The first stirrings of this unholy alliance between leftists and jihadists were visible after the Iranian revolution of 1979. Again displaying a remarkable myopia about their new heroes’ crimes—the mullahs in Iran killed more people just in the span of two weeks in 1979 (about 20,000) than the hated Shah had in 38 years—Western radicals like French philosopher Michel Foucault indulged both their noble-savage idealization of the non-Western “other” and their usual adolescent worship of “revolution.”

The Left’s flirtation with Islamists is particularly bizarre. Unlike Communist tyrannies, which at least paid lip service to the ideals of social justice and equality, the jihadists in word and deed continually displayed their contempt for feminism, human rights, cosmopolitan tolerance, and democratic freedom—everything the Left claims to stand for. Yet American feminists, who can become enraged over a single masculine pronoun, find all sorts of rationalizations for gender apartheid, honor killings, genital mutilations, wife-beating, polygamy, and other medieval sexist abuses sanctioned by Islam, Glazov shows. Duke professor Miriam Cooke, for example, asserts, “What is driving Islamist men is globalization,” and she praises female suicide bombers for manifesting “agency” against colonial powers. In response to the high incidence of Muslims raping Norwegian women, Professor Unni Wikan of the University of Oslo recommends that Norwegian women wear a veil. And Nation columnist Naomi Klein calls on leftists to join in solidarity with Muqtada al-Sadr, the Iraqi Shiite who has fomented violence against the American military and fellow Iraqis. The only villain in the leftist melodrama remains the capitalist, colonialist, imperialist, Christian West. Hence the surreal sight of American feminists marching against the Iraq War and George W. Bush, though the hated president had freed more women than all the activists and women’s studies professors combined.

Glazov’s repeated exposure of such irrational hypocrisy is his book’s most valuable achievement. Less useful, to my mind, are his psychological explanations. Some leftist “true believers” might hold their convictions because they fuel “the rage and fury that is already at the root of [their] psychological makeup.” But this can’t be true of all of them. I’ve known plenty of sweet, mellow leftists. Glazov is on firmer ground when he focuses on larger cultural trends such as noble-savage multiculturalism, the transformation of Communism into a “political religion” that compensates for the decline of faith, and the adulation of the violent, “authentic” revolutionary inspired by Romanticism. This broader, less personal analysis of pathology also helps explain the jihadists’ motives. “Misogyny and the fear and hatred of women’s sexuality” perhaps might explain the actions of individual terrorists, but the doctrines and traditions of Islam, as Glazov correctly points out, are ultimately explanation enough.

United in Hate is a valuable aid for those wishing to understand one of the strangest spectacles in history: a large number of a society’s most privileged people, who enjoy unprecedented freedom, education, material well-being, and leisure, relentlessly attacking the institutions and ideals that make such benefits possible—and extolling enemies who seek to destroy all of these goods. Americans should closely heed the warnings of United in Hate.


The Roots Of Liberalism

The movement may be 100 years old, but conservative ideas are even more deeply rooted in America's history

A near quadrupling of the federal deficit in 2009 alone. The nationalization of the Detroit automakers. The reduction of the biggest banks in the country to mere factotums. Plans to force legislation through Congress this very summer that would amount to a government takeover of health care, which makes up one-seventh of the entire economy.

May I ask a question? Where does President Barack Obama's agenda come from? Just a generation ago, you will recall, Reagan revitalized the nation, and then the Soviet Union, long calcified and staggering, at last collapsed. Free markets were good; statism, futile. Didn't everybody learn that lesson? Didn't it prove, in some utterly basic way, decisive?

I repeat, where does Obama's agenda come from? Charles Kesler knows the answer. Obama's agenda, he explains, has emerged from a set of beliefs about the proper role of government that date so far back in American history that a lot of people--your correspondent included, though Kesler is too polite to name him--simply overlook them.

"The 20th century was really the liberal century," says Kesler, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, and the editor of the Claremont Review of Books. "Conservatives came on the scene very late--remember, there was no organized conservative movement until William F. Buckley Jr. in the '50s--but the liberal effort to expand the state dates back 100 years. What Barack Obama is trying to do is complete an old project."

Liberalism, Kesler argues, established itself in three distinct stages. The first wave, which Kesler calls "political liberalism," rolled in just after the turn of the last century.

The liberals in this first wave, also known as progressives, "regarded the Constitution and the old forms of American politics as outmoded," Kesler says. Whereas the old order valued "tranquility," a word that appears in the preamble to the Constitution, progressives valued movement, dynamism, change. They wanted "to take the American people in hand, showing them the New Jerusalem."

President Woodrow Wilson, a leading progressive, spoke often of his "vision," introducing a term that has now become central to our understanding of presidential politics. Wilson believed, as Kesler puts it, "that to become a leader you have to have a vision of the future and communicate that vision to the unanointed, mass public. You have to make them believe in your prophetic ability."

The second wave of liberalism, which Kesler calls "economic liberalism," crashed over the country during the Great Depression, informing Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.

Economic liberals quickly came to consider the original Bill of Rights insufficient. Americans, they believed, needed a second set of rights--economic rights. "A right to a job, a right to health care, a right to a home, a right to an education. All these things," says Kesler, "became as fundamental to liberals as the rights to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' that we find in the Declaration of Independence."

Kesler calls the third wave of liberalism "cultural liberalism." It roared in during the '60s, right along with the birth control pill, psychedelic drugs, no-fault divorce, free love and hippie festivals like Woodstock. Liberals, Kesler argues, now came to believe that "the purpose of government is to take charge of your necessities so you can live in a new kind of freedom, the freedom of liberation, which is really freedom from responsibilities."

They also came to believe in identity politics. "Women's liberation," Kesler explains, "could not be the liberation of individual women alone. It had to be the liberation of the sisterhood. Individual homosexuals could not be fully liberated. They needed the support of their peers. So what began as individual kinds of liberation became group forms of liberation."

Which brings us back to Obama's agenda. In his eagerness to expand the role of the federal government in the economy--the commandeering of the Detroit automakers, the plans to rush through national health care legislation and the whole list of outrages with which I began this column--Obama is simply elaborating an "economic liberalism" that dates back some eight decades.

In his nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, a step calculated to appeal to Hispanics and women, the chief executive is merely playing upon the identity politics of a "cultural liberalism" that has been with us for almost half a century.

And in presenting himself as a transcendent, almost messianic figure--in championing "Change We Can Believe In"--Obama is displaying the style of leadership advocated by "political liberals" such as Woodrow Wilson, a man born four years before the Civil War.

"Conservatives," says Kesler, "made the mistake of assuming that the victory Reagan won was a permanent victory. But the liberal victories of the past century changed American politics deeply."

What, then, are conservatives to do? "Conservatives today," says Kesler, "need to go back to the deeper sources of the American political tradition, rediscovering the founders, and Lincoln, who was always looking back at the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Conservatives need to go back to the order that liberalism was invented to replace."

Liberals have Woodrow Wilson, the welfare state and the hippie movement. Conservatives have the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Abraham Lincoln. This is a fight from which conservatives need not shrink.


Government Fundamentalism

In the last year or so, when I have advocated free-market solutions to specific problems, I’ve more and more frequently been dismissed as a “market fundamentalist.” By hiding behind that term, the person on the other side deftly avoids actually addressing the specific case I’m making.

But an even bigger problem is the use of the term “fundamentalist.” I understand Christian fundamentalists to be people who, as Bryan Caplan writes in The Myth of the Rational Voter, “ignore or twist the facts of geology and biology to match their prejudices.” So wouldn’t a market fundamentalist be someone who distorted facts to make the case for markets? We can certainly imagine such a person, but I’m not one—nor are many of the people who are strong advocates of free markets. It’s not that I think markets will always work perfectly. It’s just that they work so much better than the coercive solutions that are proposed by those who call me a “market fundamentalist.” Of course, there are times when standard free markets might not work well, but in many of those cases, voluntary charitable activity and simple fellow feeling fill the gap. We don’t think of it as a market transaction, for example, when a stranger in a strange city gives me directions to my hotel. But it certainly is an exercise of his freedom, and it generally works pretty well.

Government Fundamentalists

What should we call people who seem to regard government as the solution regardless of the evidence? I propose the term “government fundamentalists.” How would you identify a government fundamentalist? One characteristic would be a tendency, after the person points out market failures, to argue for government intervention as the solution. Rarely does anyone who proposes a government solution spell out how the incentives will be set up so that the government will actually solve the problem. Even many economists who are strongly committed to free markets will agree that economic freedom can underprovide defense from foreign attackers because of the notorious free-rider problem: Those who refuse to pay will get the same defense as those who pay, giving all an incentive not to pay. The possible result is that national defense is underprovided. But I’ve yet to find an advocate of government provision of defense who can explain how incentives will be set up so that government actually defends us and doesn’t simply engage in national “offense,” picking fights with a dictator in Iraq or a demagogue in Panama, to cite two examples of the U.S. government’s so-called defense.

But given that even some passionate advocates of economic freedom approve of government solutions to problems caused by market failure, we need another characteristic to distinguish government fundamentalists. Here’s the characteristic I propose: a tendency to advocate government solutions even in the face of evidence that those very solutions have not worked.

Take the tax on gasoline. The original idea for taxing gasoline was that users of roads would pay for them. Even at its best, though, the gas tax was not a great solution. The revenues were put in a big pool and politically allocated. There was no necessary connection between where people valued having roads and where roads were built, a connection that automatically would have existed had the revenues been collected with tolls. Tolls, after all, are prices not taxes.

It got worse. In the late 1960s, governments started diverting some gasoline-tax revenues to other uses. The first big diversion was to government-run mass transit that couldn’t survive on its own without subsidies. Later, more funds were diverted for bicycle lanes and lanes on roads and freeways that were dedicated to money-losing bus service. So the whole idea of user-supported roads has been steadily undercut.

Moreover, in response to higher gasoline prices, people have reduced their driving and shifted towards higher-fuel-economy vehicles. Because the federal tax on gasoline is in cents per gallon, revenues fell slightly, from $21.053 billion in fiscal year 2007 to $20.982 billion in fiscal year 2008, a drop of $71 million. In most years, by contrast, revenue grows as the number of drivers grows.

What should be done? If you notice how politicized road construction is, if you notice that a gasoline tax that was supposed to be used only for roads is now used for other things, and if you notice that the shift to higher fuel economy is reducing the growth of revenues for road-building, you might consider a market solution. You might consider taking the issue out of politics, allowing private entrepreneurs to build roads and charge tolls for their use. You might realize that doing so would forever free road construction and maintenance from the vicissitudes of gasoline tax revenues and from the politically powerful governments that grab the funds for their money-losing projects.

More Government Will Fix Failed Government?

But what do many people advocate when they notice this problem? Higher gasoline taxes. If you assume that government solutions are better than free-market solutions, you would naturally conclude that the gasoline tax should be increased. But if you are to avoid being a government fundamentalist, shouldn’t you actually look at the evidence on how well or badly gasoline taxes and government provision of roads have performed? Shouldn’t you also look at the how well or badly toll roads work?

That’s not what many people have done. Take political writer Thomas Frank. In a January 28 article in the Wall Street Journal, “Toll Roads Are Paved with Bad Intentions,” Frank wrote that few state governments “are willing to raise the gasoline taxes which pay for the repairs” to government-owned roads. In other words, Frank sees that there is no necessary connection between the need for repairs and the willingness to raise gasoline taxes. Isn’t this failure to fund roads a strike against government-funded roads? Not in Frank’s mind. He points out a problem with an incomplete system of toll roads: Tolls will price some drivers out, and some of these drivers will then spill over to nontoll roads. But this wouldn’t be a problem if all roads were toll roads. Frank, though, does not consider such a system.

Economist Jeff Hummel recently captured the essence of government fundamentalism this way: If markets don’t work, have government intervene. If government intervention doesn’t work, have government intervene further.

Notice the irony. Many free-market economists like me are quite willing to admit that markets don’t work perfectly and to examine and accept government solutions if their advocates can show how governments can be motivated to actually carry them out. And yet we are called market fundamentalists. On the other hand, many people who call us that are unwilling to change any of their views about the efficacy of government intervention no matter how badly the intervention works. Who are the fundamentalists here?



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, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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