Riots Down Under

The latest chatter in cyberspace.
Dec. 12 2005 6:03 PM

Riots Down Under

Bloggers discuss recent race riots in Australia, a lawsuit that suggests the government might keep some laws secret from the public, and the legacy of the late, great Richard Pryor.

Riots down under:Thousands of white Australians bullied and beat people they believed to be Arabs in a Sydney suburb Sunday, a troubling bookend to the suburban race riots that swept through France last month. These riots, in the beach community of Cronulla, were sparked by reports that Lebanese youths had earlier attacked several lifeguards and continued through Monday.

"Let's have no shock horror 'it can't happen here' reaction. The writing's long been on the wall - and in the sand," says Australian blogger YarraLife, who blames the fragile balance of cultures in the welcoming country. Others, for the most part, offer similarly cool-headed analysis. "A lot of people are saying that alcohol was a contributor, and I don't doubt it was," remarks Aussie Jojo. "But remember that 5000 people converged on Cronulla, and I doubt they were drunk when they decided to do this. They were fully sober when they decided to join in on a wog bash."

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"The PM won't call it racist, but I will and most others have," states Australian musician Fortune Grey. Many Australians agree that the rioters were fueled more by latent racism and nativism than booze. "The PC front is fraying,'" reports Richard Fernandez at conservative foreign affairs blog The Belmont Club. "People are angry and I don't blame them. … I think Oz is the middle of the biggest political crisis of the decade. This is going to polarize the population, not fatally, but as never before."

Splat Guy, a part-time student in Canberra, has assembled an outline of the events and reports that the unrest was organized with text messages, sent in real-time. "But more seriously, the ugliest thing of all was the use of symbols of the unity of Australians - all Australians, not just Anglos - like the flag, national anthem, and sports cries as a sort of racial identifier." Graduate student Glenn Fuller writes that the riots themselves are fast becoming an ugly identifier. "'Cronulla' is now a name forever associated with popularist racial violence," he writes at Disambiguation.

Read more about the Cronulla riots.

Double super-secret litigation:Reading an account of a pending lawsuit that challenges the air-travel regulation requiring all passengers to show ID before boarding, stalwart liberal Kevin Drum noticed something eerie about the story. It seemed to suggest that the regulation in question, though universally enforced, was what he called a "secret law," that is, an enforced statute that was nevertheless hidden from public view. In an e-mail to Drum, columnist, economist, and former Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett reports that "there is a whole U.S. Code section that is simply blank" and that "most of these laws had been passed during World War II."

"Call me naive, but I've never heard of a secret law," attests Drum, who sees no good reason for such regulations. "Congress is passing laws that the American public isn't allowed to know about? Any of us might be prosecuted under one of these laws that we don't know exists? Courts are being asked to interpret laws they've never seen? This gives Kafakesque a very chilling and newly concrete meaning."

Some notable legal observers caution Drum against jumping to conclusions. "As I understand it, the answer to all of Kevin's questions is 'no,'" writes professor Orin Kerr at leading legal colloquium Volokh Conspiracy. "Congress did not pass a secret law, no one can be prosecuted under a secret law, and courts are not being asked to interpret laws they've never seen. … Federal law permits the TSA/FAA to prohibit disclosure of information relating to aviation security if it would be detrimental to aviation security, and the TSA/FAA apparently has decided that the text of the legal guidance it uses internally to determine who can fly on an airplane should not circulate outside the government. Importantly," he adds, "this doesn't necessarily mean that the rules themselves are secret."

Many others feel the supposed "secret laws" compromise the democratic aspects of the nation's legislative bodies. "Add me to the list of people who think that while one can constitutionally require people to show I.D. before boarding commercial airline flights, that you can't do it with a secret law," writes Colorado attorney Andrew Oh-Willeke at Wash Park Prophet. "A law that affects that general public can't be kept secret in any sane democracy."