Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Centenarian told to wait 18 months for care.

No doubt you’ve heard the old joke about the man who walks into a store to buy something. He looks at the price and complains to the shop owner that they are “ripping people off and the guy down the street has it at half that price.” The shop keeper says to him, “So why don’t you buy it down the street?”

“I would, but they don’t have any.”

National health care is a similar sort of enterprise. They brag it’s a lot cheaper but the shortages (not having any) is a problem. And the plight of Olive Beal illustrates this.

Olive is a senior citizen. That’s a modern euphemism that means she’s old. Her eyesight isn’t that good. She has to use a well chair and she has trouble hearing. She went to the National Health Service doctor who examined her and told her she definitely has to have a new hearing aid. The one she has now doesn’t work for her.

The glitch is that every health service in the world has to ration care. The advocates of socialized services, like the NHS, try to pretend that: 1) this doesn’t happen; 2) if it does happen it doesn’t happen often; 3) that when it happens it is not that significant.

For Olive it was significant. She was told that the she can have a new hearing but she must wait one and half years for it. Apparently that’s not bad for the government system. A spokesman for the Royal National Institute for the Deaf told the Guardian, “I am afraid this is a common problem. In some parts of the country there are over two year waiting lists, which is shocking.”

It may be that the bad publicity about Olive’s situation will bump her to the front of the line so that the British Labour government can show everyone how well the system works. That just means that people already on the list have to wait longer themselves. It doesn’t solve the problem it merely makes it disappear from the headlines.

Olive’s granddaughter, Marie Scott, 52,.... Hold on! Isn’t that a typo? Shouldn’t it be 25? Nope. The granddaughter is 52. Oliver happens to be 108 years old. That’s the only reason she is getting publicity -- unlike the many others waiting for a hearing aid.

There is something absurd in a system that asks a women who is 108 years old to wait another year and a half for a hearing aid. In essence they are denying her the hearing aid. Certainly they are aware that her ability to wait that long is highly doubtful.

No socialized system of health care has been able to get around the rationing issue. When consumption of health care is not directly paid by the consumer the demand for health care will always exceed the supply.

And every nationalized system tries to ration in one way or another. The Canadians and Brits ration health care through the use of waiting periods. In Germany the care is rationed by underpaying physicians, working them long hours and placing a huge percentage of the costs on their shoulders -- that creates supply problems when it comes to physicians.

The French tried to avoid rationing to the current generation of consumers by running up massive debts that will eventually mean rationed care to future generations. They are basically denying care to their children or grand children. In New Zealand they tell you which treatments you may have and which you may not. If what you need is not on the approved list too bad. If what you need is approved you are in luck, provided you can afford to wait.
Another common trait of these systems is spiraling debt. The care is costing more than they can afford. Each year they are finding it more and more difficult to keep the system running.

Another way these countries keep down their cost is that they are subsidized by American health consumers. Here is how that little scheme works.

Pharmaceutical companies spend billions developing new drugs. When they develop something that seems to be effective they seek a patent. The patent allows them to market the product over a span of 20 years and then its public domain. So they have to recoup the costs of that drug, and all the costs of drugs that didn’t work, in that relatively short time period.

The moment they apply for the patent the 20 year time clock starts ticking away. The problem is that it can take almost half that time just to get the drug through the regulatory process. So the time period to recoup their costs is dramatically reduced by bureaucratic inefficiency and regulatory red tape.

Let us now say that eight years down the road they have the approval to market the drug. Let us say it is efficient and effective. It’s a winner. These socialized systems want the drug. But they aren’t particularly interested in the R&D costs, etc. They want to know how much it costs to produce one pill. And they generously offer to pay the producer a small profit on top of that marginal cost.

This is only a profit on the marginal cost of producing pills not on the total cost. And international patent law is set by governments who are the monopoly health care providers in many of the major drug markets. Under that law the government can declare the drug as something needed by their citizens and then ignore the patent. In essence they can then take the total marginal profit income for themselves at the expense of the people who developed the treatment.

With that threat hanging over the head of producers they know that a profit on the marginal cost is better than nothing. But there are still the research and development costs of this drug and for those that weren’t winners. So how do they cover that cost? They sell the same drug at a higher price in the United States. This is what the whole reimportation debate is about.

Of course, if the US put in a similar health system they could also threaten to confiscate the formulas and discoveries of the pharmaceutical industry. Then everyone would supposedly pay only the marginal costs of production. The problem with that is this means there is no longer any reason to invest in pharmaceuticals. Better to open a taco stand. The net result would be a collapse of the research and development of new drugs. But that keeps down the health care costs -- no new drugs, no new expenses. And the advocates of socialized health care will call that efficiency. And a second goal of the socialists would also be accomplished -- equality. Everyone would be equally denied the drugs that never came into existence. Equality and a low price! Who said socialism doesn't work?

Photo: Olive Beal. I don't know what she's drinking but I think she's going to need a few refills.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Faith, failure and good intentions.

Wium Basson was a modern gladiator, a sports hero to his fellow South Africans. At the age of 21 he toured France and England with South Africa’s rugby team, the Springboks. A neck injury ended his career and then the doctors told him that he had liver cancer. He was just 25 years old.

Basson made the decision to travel to Nigeria to a famous faith healer there. Entire tours of people from South Africa, seeking healings, were being organized and Basson joined one of them. A local television crew traveled along to this massive church to chronicle what happened.

I remember four individuals seeking healing. In addition to Wium there was a young boy desperately in need of heart surgery. Another young man had a stuttering problem and a man in his 30s was diagnosed with HIV. They and their families traveled together to seek the help of Prophet. T.B. Joshua.

What haunted me about the film was the look on Basson’s face. Each day he attended the services and each day the Prophet saw this young man in a state of near collapse and he shunned him. He stayed away from him. His case was too desperate, too doomed. All the others he prayed for and proclaimed healed. But he was known to avoid the truly sick.

The stuttering young man testified how he was healed. He dismissed the fact that was still stuttering by saying: “See, it’s getting better.” It wasn’t. The young boy with the heart condition and his father both were convinced he was miraculously healed and were happy to say so. The man with HIV not only claimed he had been healed but instantly turned into a heterosexual as well.

Still there was the haunting look on Basson’s face. His eyes pleaded with the Prophet to come and pray for him. Each time the Prophet pretended the man was not there. Basson had to lie on the bench, he was too weak to sit up. His girl friend held his head and fanned him and wet his brow trying to give him relief. The Prophet looked the other way.

Basson and the “healed” all returned home. The television crew did follow ups on each of them. The young boy with the heart condition had new x-rays which showed the condition was just as bad as before and that he still needed surgery. He was on the waiting list. The stuttering young man stuttered still stuttered weeks later. There was no improvement. And the man with HIV still tested positive and confessed he was still gay. Basson said nothing. A couple of days after he returned home he died. From diagnosis to death was about one month.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I’m an atheist. But I can assure you that I wanted these healings to be real. I would like to live in a world where a prayer can banish disease. It broke my heart when Basson died.I wanted these individuals to be cured thought I didn’t expect it.

There was no animosity on my part toward any of them. Their plights had touched me. I was on their side. But wanting something badly is not enough. These individuals had the best of intentions. They truly believed that the course they embarked on would result in healing. They were sincerely wrong. Wium Basson had literally bet his life on this.

Many people believe in nostrums, miracle cures or magic formulas. They believe the world can be what they want it to be if they have the right intentions and believe hard enough. I wish that were so.

Politics is much the same way. There are people who believe that the way the world works can be remade. They believe they can formulate the plans that everyone else needs to follow to find happiness.

And far too often they are just as wrong as the people who flew to Nigeria seeking prayers. They may be well intentioned, so were the miracle seekers. They may truly believe that what they suggest will work, just as Mr. Basson believed that what he was doing would help.

We have people sincerely suggesting socialized health care for everyone. It is the miracle cure to the problems we see. And some of us, mainly those who understand something about economics, wave our hands trying to get their attention. We kept trying to explain there are problems in the theory. There are reasons it doesn’t work the way they want it to work.

When we do so we are told that we are cruel, inhumane, greedy, monstrous, evil or immoral. And when they get really upset they have some unpleasant things to say as well!

Had these pilgrims to Nigeria asked me, I would have suggested they stay home and save their money. I would have told them to pursue the options that their physicians gave them. I would have told Wium to love his family, spend time with them, relish every second of the time he had left. I wouldn’t have recommended he travel to Nigeria and wait for hours on end for miracles that wouldn’t come his way.

Would that have been cruel? Would he have been better off with the advice to stay home and surround himself with those he loved? I think he would have been. It is not out of some malicious desire to see him suffer. He suffered far worse in Nigeria.

I am not against socialized health care because I want people to be ill or to die. It’s not because I own stocks in the field -- I wish I did. It is not because I enjoy the misery of others. The suffering of other people disturbs me greatly. I oppose national health care for the same reason I oppose the faith healers. It just doesn’t work.

There is no compassion in false solutions which often make the problems worse.

I opposed the war in Iraq for the same reason. I have no doubt that Bush is just stupid enough to believe that he was remaking the world. He thought he would leave the world a better place. I just don’t think the world works that way. I don’t think most problems in life are amenable to top-down, centrally planned solutions. I believe the evidence shows that the best, most lasting and effective solutions evolve from the bottom and spread through society. They are not planned, they are discovered and then emulated.

That is not to say that every top-down solution fails. A rare few works. Some work for some cases and cause harm in other cases. I think the cumulative results from such things are almost always negative. But the few that do work do not undo the harm of the many that fail. And there is a very high price to pay when you try this approach as the failed systems tend to become permanent. The costs of top-down solutions can be very, very high, in the last century they could be counted in the hundreds of millions of lives lost to utopias.

I don’t believe everyone is benevolent. Some are not. Some people are absolutely evil. By limiting the concentration of coercive power we limit the ability of such evil individuals to inflict great harm. They may still do harm but the harm they can do is greatly reduced. Take the many career failures of George Bush as an example. He worked for various individuals running businesses and none of them were run well. At most he could harm a relatively small number of people. But give him political power and the entire world suffers as a result.

I often feel bad because I know that telling the truth about reality often destroys dreams that people have. But wishing is not enough to make it real. Wium Basson wished he would be healed. He wasn’t.

The odd thing is that I share the dreams and wishes of many of the people I oppose politically. I wouldn’t mind if socialism worked but it won’t. If there were some magic formula for ordering society that would banish all problems I would applaude. But there isn’t. Life is a series of trade offs. There are more optimal and less optimal solutions. There are no panaceas.

Freedom doesn’t guarantee solutions. It just creates the conditions that make them more likely. State control doesn’t guarantee failure, it just creates the conditions that make failure far more likely. And whether you, or I, or anyone else, wished that these other solutions worked the reality is the same. I can’t promise you what miracles will be brought about by freedom. I can only assure you that freedom allows people to flourish and to discover and to innovate. It isn’t utopia. Utopia isn’t an option and anyone who promises utopia will deliver hell. It is just a recognition that the reality of the world is such that free people are more likely to discover real solutions.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Wanker files charges against wanker.

You have to ask yourself what the hell is going on in the minds of politicians and bureaucrats in Florida. What a bunch of useless wankers and that is the topic of this post -- wanking. For the Yanks that is the act of solitary pleasure. For the religious it is the sin of Onanism (though in fact Onan was practicing coitus interruptus -- for which God had him killed indicating that God could get work in the state of Florida).

Terry Alexander is twenty. You guys remember twenty. Lots of hormones. Now, lets not think Mr. Alexander is a nice guy. He is in jail, and even more suprisingly, he is in jail for a real crime not one of those phony crimes that politicians invent with such ease.

Jail affords no privacy. The Broward County Sheriff’s office says that privacy simply doesn’t exist in prison. Doors are removed from toilets so guards can watch prisoners take a dump -- how lovely. And the cells are in plain view. And they have little monitors all over the place to watch prisoners --- in other words, its almost like living in England.

Mr. Alexander was sitting alone in his cell on his bunk. And he was feeling a bit, shall we say, frustrated. His hormones were getting to him. So he took matters into hand the way nature intended -- there is a good reason that arms are that long! It’s intelligent design.

But watching Mr. Alexander is Big Brother, or in this case, Big Mother (and I assure you that Mother is only the first name of this woman). For some reason the Broward Sheriff’s office hires women to spy on naked men in prison. But the woman in this case was a stuck up prude who acts like she sat down on a broom stick and had it disappear up her back end. That would be the real wanker in this story, a voyeur by the name of Coryus Veal. I would also bet doughnuts she’s a religious nutter. Just a guess on my part, however, but it fits the profile.

Veal is paid by the county to watch men strip and change clothes. This kinky woman watches them sitting on the toilet and she watches them on their beds when they are alone. And then she gets offended if she sees them naked. What sort of moron is this woman? What a cow -- she isn’t named Veal by accident., She’s on a crusade to stamp out the solitary vice among male prison inmates.

No doubt in her spare time she campaigns to abolish gravity, hurricanes and the tides. This woman has a screw loose. She filed charges against Mr. Alexander for “indecent exposure”. How cheeky. She sits there, getting her jollies by spying on naked men. She watches them in their cells changing clothes. She watches them on the toilets. But if they dare have an erection that needs attention this moronic jailer gets offended and has fits of hysteria. She needs a sedative, a therapist and a vibrator -- though Florida is in the South so the later might possibly be illegal. If so that would explain a lot concerning the problems this woman has.

And Mr. Alexander was not the first victim of this vice crusader. This silly woman has filed similar charges against seven other men in prison in the last six months. She has a screw loose. She is a sexual pervert, if you ask me. She obviously is watching for any sign of self-pleasure. It isn’t as if these men can close the doors for privacy.

And since we are in the sexual metaphor realm today it should be noted that Officer Veal was also screwing over the taxpayers. Mr. Alexander had pled guilty to robberty and was scheduled to be moved to the state prison system. But because Officer Veal filed indencent exposure charges against him he was left in the Broward Country jail until that case could be heard. The cost for the extra time in the county jail was about $21,000. In addition the cost for the public defender was another $1,150. Those are still only a fraction of the costs that this sexually frustrated woman is imposing.

The judge has to be paid. As do court reporters and all the individeuals involved in that process. There is the cost of transporting the man to the court room and back to jail again. There is the cost of filing the charges, the costs of the public prosecuter (who has to be something of a moron as well). Even Veal must leave her job to testify, requiring the state to hire a replacement for the day, along with paying Veal as well. And there are the costs which are imposed on innocent members of the public, the jurors, who have to give up their life to sit to learn the shocking fact that men in prison masturbate.

Actually I don’t feel much compassion for the jurors in this case. They deserve to be put in jail themselves. They actually convicted the man.

And it still gets more bizarre. Mr. Alexaander was given a sentence of an additional 60 days in jail. Again the taxpayers will have to pay for that.

Consider the absurdity of the bureaucrats. A spokesvermin for the State Attorney’s Office says: “Generally, we prosecute such cases in which the inmate exposes himself in such plain view of the detention staff or other persons.” But, at the same time, another spokesvermin for the Sheriff’s office says there is no privacy: “That’s why there are no doors on the bathrooms. That’s why detention deputies monitor what you do and when you do it.”

So they strip away the privacy of the prisoner, okay, perhaps that’s even fair though I suspect they overdo it. But if you strip away the privacy of people only some total idiot would then get offended if they see the person naked, or with an erection, or masturbating. If you are going to “monitor” everything these men do it is hardly fair to claim that they are guilty of indecent exposure.

This is tantamount to a peeper calling the police to complain that the woman, into whose apartment he is peering, is naked.

Juror David Sherman argued that no one on the jury had a problem with masturbation. As he said: “None of us had any problem with masturbation in private.” That seems to ignore the Sheriff’s claim that there is no privacy in jail and that Veal is there to monitor everything these men do when they do it.

Spokesvermin Ron Ishoy, for the State Attorney’s Office says: “Female detention deputies are human beings, too. Why should they have to view such vulgar and indencent behavior in their place of work?

Apparently Mr. Ishoy is not too bright. Why should they “view” such things? Maybe because they are paid to spy on men in the privacy of their own cell. Maybe a woman who is paid to watch men deficate and shower ought not be able to complain if the man has an erection that needs attention. Professional voyeurs don’t have room to bitch.

Now Mr. Alexander was offered a plea. If he admitted to indencent exposure he would be sentenced only with time served. So why didn’t he take it? He was worried because an indecent exposure charge would be on his record and that could trigger registration as a sex offender. And the way it would appear in the files the man was guilty of sexual acts in a public place -- see the prison cell is consider a public space. Another misapplication of the overreach of sex offender laws.

To show illustrate how moronic Veal is consider this exchange between her and the public defender, Kathleen McHugh. McHugh asked: “Did other inmates start masturbating because of Mr. Alexander? Did you call a SWAT team?”

“I wish I had.” This Veal woman said she wished she had called a SWAT team because a man, in his own bed, was having having a toss.

One press report says McHughes,
...criticized Veal for choosing a job where she was bound to see such behavior, for construing Alexander's sexual impulses as all about her, and for being the only corrections deputy, male or female, to bring such charges against inmates.
In my humble opinion it is Officer Veal who is the real wanker in this case. And she is also the proud winner of our Moron of the Week award.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

Everything you need to know about politics you can learn on the playground.

I realized that a lot of political views are rooted in our experience on the playground. Let me explain.

In the wee hours of the morning I was contemplating the visceral anger I feel when I learn of cases like the one in Oregon where two boys are being prosecuted for sexual abuse for playfully swatting other students on the butt. It is the same sort of inner rage that bubbled up when I saw the malicious campaign that Phoenix District Attorney Andrew Thomas and his followers were using against a young boy there.

I get pissed off, to put it mildly. And I think one reason is that I hate bullies.

Most of us have had to deal with bullies in one form or another in our life. When I was a kid it was particularly difficult. I was small for my age. That later changed but even long after the reality had changed the emotional impression I had remained the same. Eventually that, too, changed.

The one advantage of all that was that I also looked much younger than I was. But looking younger and being smaller, when you are kid, invites the bullies who are always on the lookout for an easy target. Bullies rarely bully one another. If there is a code among thieves there is code among bullies: never pick on someone your own size.

And that is why so many bullies get attracted to government work. With the dangerously. overwhelming amount of power that has been confiscated by the State bullies are naturally drawn to government. The same phenomenon attracts many of them to police work as well.

Once you are in a position of power you can bully all you wan,t and don’t have much to fear. On the playground a teacher might intervene -- usually they pretended they saw nothing. But when you have political power there is damn little others can do to stop your bully campaigns.

I also think some bureaucrats and politicians were, like me, victims of the bullies. And just as many people who were abused as children learn to abuse many people who were bullied as children become bullies when offered the opportunity. Politics offers them that opportunity.

Why is Mr. Berry prosecuting these children in Oregon? Because he can. Why did Andrew Thomas try to destroy the live of a teenaged boy? Because he could.

Of course government is supposed to be different. The Founding Fathers basically saw it as a playground patrol who was there to stop the bullies. What they didn’t expect was that the bullies would become the playground patrol. And the more power the patrol had the more bullies found it irresistible. Like moths to the flame, bullies are attracted to the accumulation of power over others.

I know many of my friends on the Left think government can protect us from the bullies and vicissitudes of life. But government that has that much power becomes the bully. It becomes populated with bullies at every level. As much as you wish it to be an engine of enlightenment and compassion it easily, perhaps inevitably, becomes a concentrated form of the bullyism. This is not to say that it never does something decent. It can and does sometimes act in a way beneficial to people. But the more power you give it to do good the more power it has to do evil.

I remember something Harry Browne said about the war in Iraq. He said that everyone who was cheering for the war imagined that Bush would do precisely what they thought ought to be done. But that the results would not be the results they dreamed of. In reality the war will turn out very differently from what any of us wished it to be. One of the great fallacies of government is that we each imagine it to act only in ways of which we approve. The truth is much uglier and deadlier than we ever imagine.

People who cheered when Bush took the powers to remake Iraq now cringe at the results. Government programs inevitably lead to unintended results.

When Bradley Berry was given the power to stop sexual harassment the people who did so didn’t anticipate that it would lead to children being arrested for roughhousing in the school hallways. It is one of those unintended consequences.

Even the vicious system of apartheid was created with the best of intentions. Afrikaners were truly poverty stricken especially during the Depression in South Africa. Hendrik Verwoerd designed the laws that evolved into apartheid in order to provide opportunity for Afrikaners who, he said, were disproportionately unemployed and disproportionately poor. It was supposed to be a temporary program that would put an end to “poor whiteism”. Over the next half century it became a monster that devoured black and white alike and imposed inhumanity as a political system.

Good intentions are not enough. When power is concentrated in one place the bullies find their way to that power. They end up using the power given them in ways which no one intended. If we wish to avoid the great tragedies of government like the Iraq war, or the minor tragedies like those in Oregon—though major to the families involved—then the power of the state has to be limited. The power to “do good” is still power and power is always misuesed. Several thousand years of history proves that to be the case.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

And the winner is.....

The winner of our 200,000th visitor grand prize (of our thanks and welcome) visited this site about one hour ago. He or she is located in Riga, Latvia. The best I can tell you is they use Internet Explore 6.0 and their system language is in Russian. Their service provider is Internata Pasaule SIA. Thanks for the visit.

200,000th visit

Sometime today, at least today in my time zone, we should have our 200,000th visitor. Three quarters of that traffic has been in the last four months and the rest in the previous year. So our to celebrate our 200,000th visitor they will win a new car, a house on the riveria and... well, I'm just kidding. They will win a warm welcome and our thanks. But then the way I look at things it took every single visitor for us to reach this new milestone. And I do thank the readers who often teach me things and who I hope find something of value here. I will be curious to see where the 200,000th visitor is from.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Foreign Policy & Civil Liberties

This one hour lecture by author Jim Bovard can be watched at our sister site: TV Liberty. There are seven parts in total for about 60 minutes worth of material. All the parts can be found through this one link. Enjoy.

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It's all because the gays are getting married.

Watch the whole video. It's great social satire.


The terrorism of politics.

One of the more absurd governments in the world is the grand coalition of German leader Angela Merkel. Unable to form a government alone she decided for a coalition including the opposition Social Democrats (SPD).

It is an experiment in inertia. Merkel knew Germany needed reform and she created a government guaranteed not to provide it, or to provide it in only relatively small measures.

One of her SPD cabinet ministers is Sigmar Gabriel, the minister for the environment who comes across as a nasty piece of work. I read a discussion that Spiegel ran between him and Utz Claassen, the CEO of one Germany’s leading energy providers. And throughout the discussion Gabriel, to say the least, was no angel.

His tone was condescending, rude, accusatory, and generally unpleasant. He had little to say that wasn’t intentionally nasty.

The discussion was about the role of nuclear power in the future of Germany. With the global warming hysteria gripping the world German politicians are looking for ways to provide energy without emitting carbons. But the previous SPD government passed legislation forcing the closing of German nuclear plants which do just that.

Gabriel was quite panicky over the thought that Germany might rethink nuclear energy. He was calling for renewables but was rather unspecific in what he wanted or how it could provide the energy needs of the country. He did appear to support biofuels which are now responsible for increasing world hunger and deaths. In general, other than his morbid fear about nuclear, and his rudeness, he came across as incapable of saying much of anything. And some of what he said was irrational to the point of absurdity.

Gabriel never argued his position as much as he sneered at anyone who disagreed with him. A true socialist he is. And not particularly bright. Consider his opening salvo:
[W}e're not phasing out nuclear energy from one day to the next. It will continue to be used in Germany for the next 14 years; that decision has been made. The question over which opinions diverge is how to assess the risks associated with extending the lifespans of the nuclear power plants that are still online. Proponents of nuclear energy always act as if we were faced with a choice between the plague and cholera, a choice between the risks of nuclear energy and the dangers of the climate crisis. But as a politician, I don't want to choose between two diseases -- I want to find the path to good health.
Apparently global warming is cholera and nuclear power is the plague. Of course, the Left never uses hyperbole. Just ask them.

So the man has to lie a little. Okay, he has to lie a lot.

Why do I say he is lying? If he sincerely believes that nuclear power is the plague, then to call it the plague may be false, but would not be a lie. For something to be a lie the teller of the tale has to know it is false. And how can I know what Gabriel actually thinks? No one is a mind reader -- not even the “psychics”.

One indication is what he said before he made his fanciful comparison. He said that nuclear power “will continue to be used in Germany for the next 14 years; that decision has been made.” And it was his party that made it.

Gabriel’s silly comparison had him acting like a health minister dripping with compassion for the people who are suffering under the plague. Now imagine a health minister who tells these people, with a deadly disease: “Hey, don’t worry. It’s not like we plan to eradicate plague over night. We will continue to allow the plague to operate for the next 14 years.” And then the witless minister sits back smiling in simple-minded self-assurance that he was being clever.

A health minister who did that would be run up the nearest light pole by an angry mob carrying pitchforks, torches and a noose. The very idea that one would phase out the plague would be considered fiendish.

The only conclusion one can draw is that Garbriel didn’t actually mean the comparison he made. He doesn’t think nuclear power is the plague. If he did then he would be demanding the immediate shut down of the plants, not a phased shut down over the next 14 years.

Gabriel is so used to terrifying the voters into supporting his antiquated philosophy that he forgets himself. If Mr. Garbriel actually believed his own shibboleth he would not be assuring people that the “disease” will be phased out, he would be demanding the immediate elimination of the plague. Gabriel doesn’t believe his own scare tactics.

H.L. Mencken had his finger on the pulse of raw politics when he said: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

Gabriel, and his fellow socialists, use the environment the way Bush, and the Theopublicans, use terrorism or gay marriage. Neither are trying to address issues. Instead, they wish to terrorize voters into supporting policies, which if calmly and rationally scrutinized, would be rejected overwhelmingly.

The purpose of fear in politics is to shut off the rational processes. The net result is a series of policies that are truly absurd and destructive.

Some assume such polices are then repealed when the opposition takes power. There is little indication that happens except on rare occasions. Instead the political process imposes new irrationalities upon old ones.

The horrific legislation of the Bush presidency will hardly be repealed by the Democrats, even if they control both the legislative and executive branches of government. Some legislation, if it has time limits on it, may be allowed to die. But there is nothing as permanent as bad law. Homeland Security is not likely to be abolished. It is likely to be co opted by the Democrats, much the way the Republicans co opted the sex education programs they opposed and turned them into “abstinence” programs.

As long as the voters allow politicians to use terror tactics to stampede them into supporting new controls the net result will be the steady erosion of individual freedom.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

For the lighter side of prudery.

The last few days have been depressing as we watch the lunacy of the justice system put two kids into the pillory. For a lighter moment here is an old film from Citizens for Decent Literature. Have a good chuckle.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Baptist morals campaigner arrested on prostitution charges.

Here we go again. It is almost unending when we deal with these fundamentalists and their sanctimonious, hypocrtical attitude toward family values and human sexuality. One after another after another their own dirty secrets come out in the laundry

Rev. Coy Privette is a fundamentalist minister, though retired now at the age of 74. he is the former head of the State Baptist Convention of North Carolina and has served ont he excutive committee and the board of directors of the Baptist convention as well. Like a good theocrate he is a former member of the state legislature as well. And he was president of the Christian Action League. Of course he was a Republican. And he is pastor emeritus of the North Kannapolis Baptist Church.

The Right-wing fundamentalist site, Renew America, previously wrote that “Privette is both a powerful preacher and an astute politicians.”

The Christian Action League follows the usual Right-wing fundamentalist line. They have articles on why gays must never marry, why they shouldn’t be allowed to adopt, or even have civil unions. They argue that “Prohibition was quite successful.” They want high taxes on sinful things like smoking. They want to ban adult erotica and abortion. In other words the typical mix of fundamentalist morality issues that they have been pushing since forever. They claim their goal is to “discourage the promotion and use of beverage alcohol and other drugs, pornography, sexual immorality and other sinful practices.” Gee, wouldn’t you love them as neighbors?

As a legislator Rev. Privette pushed through laws to crack down on erotica and prostitution. And he’s recently been active in the campaign to make English “the official language” in his new job as county commissioner.

So you have a good idea of what Rev. Privette and his group are like. And now Rev. Privette has stepped down as the president of the Christian Action League. It seems Rev. Privette was arrested and charged for frequenting a prostitute. And no doubt, some of his fellow Southerners will be perturbed to discover that the prostitute was also black. They should look on the bright side -- at least the prostitute was a woman and of age! That's progress.

Privette paid for the sex with a blank check. Not really bright is he? But we already knew that. When the woman went to cash the check the bank was suspicious and called Privette who then claimed it was a forgery. But a police investigation of the “forgery” case turned up other facts. Apparently Rev. Privette had been visiting Tiffany Summers, 32, for sex. At least six times he visited her and the check was for services rendered.

Rev. Mark Creech, who authored the praise of Privette on the Renew America site, sayd he doesn’t think this arrest will hinder their effort to get the state legislature to pass proper moral laws.

For video on the case go here.

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Outraged public making sex abuse DA rethink his strategy.

The district attorney, Bradley Berry, who is prosecuting boys in Oregon for swatting other students on the butt, is feeling the heat of an irate public.

Susan Goldsmith, of the Oregonian, writes that Berry “has declined to discuss specifics of the case” but “after spending most of Monday fielding complaints, however, he elaborated for the first time.” That elaboration was first exclusively printed on this blog.

As a result of our query to Berry he responded making certain claims about how the case will proceed. After publishing them we passed Berry’s comments on to the Oregonian. An editor at the paper wrote us saying: “In the exchange, Mr. Berry divulged some thoughts about the prosecution’s plans that are new.” After receiving the exchange with Berry, Goldsmith wrote this blog saying “I am going to be calling him shortly” in regards to his comments.

Berry is still standing by the claim that this playing around was abusive. And he admits, as he did to us yesterday, that registration as sex offenders may be required but says, “these youths can petition the court relatively quickly for relief from that.” Actually they shouldn’t have to. The case should be dropped.

The parents of Berry’s victims are furious, though a bit relieved. Tracie Masburn, whose son Cory is one of the victims of this prosecution, says she is “angry that they can overcharge” the way they did to intimidate people. Ryan Cornelison’s father, Joe, asks, “What kind of due process is this?”

Goldsmith says the campaign by Berry has imposed heavy financial losses on the families, who were were already struggling. Joe Cornelison lost his phone last week because he couldn’t afford to pay the costs along with legal fees imposed by this prosecution. The Mashburn family is in the process of refinancing their home in order to cover the costs Berry imposed on them.

Berry admitted that he was swamped with emails and phone calls in protest of his actions. And this is, in large measure, due to the influence of the Internet. Because the net what was a local story became a global one and Berry heard from lots of people around the country, and around the world.

The families of the victims also received support, including financial contributions to help them carry the unfair burden inflicted on them. Joe Cornelison said the public reaction has been helpful. “I am very thankful. I can’t believe it. It’s been really hard. I’m behind on bills and have a hard time sleeping because I’m worried about son, and his life has really been changed by this.”

One donor, Dr. Bruce Russell, said: “My parents didn’t teach me that that kind of activity or play was a felony, and I was raised by good parents in West Texas. I am just thinking this is so completely out of the bounds of common sense that it needs to be addressed.”

We should be clear that that the only thing that has changed in this case is that Berry is now claiming the penalties won’t be those allowed under the law. He is still proceeding with the prosecution of these children. And the families involved still face thousands of dollars in legal expenses. Forcing the children to register as sex offenders is still a possibility and the comfort that Berry offers, that they can then petition the court to remove that, will still impose additional legal fees and hardship on the families.

The key lesson here is the power disparity. Government and bureaucrats have massive power and people only have the powers the government will allow them. (There was a time in the United States when the reverse was true.) Berry gets paid to do this, the families not only pay their legal expenses but are forced to finance Berry’s office as well.

The Mashburn and Cornelison families have been required to fund their own destruction. Bradley Berry sleeps well at night. He doesn’t worry that a lack of money in his pocket will harm him or his family. The victims of his prosecution don’t have the same luxury of living off the taxpayers. They are the taxpayers!

There needs to a be a redistribution of power in the United States. Government needs to have a lot less of it and the people, the very people who are supposed to be the source of state authority, ought to have more of it. Yet neither of the two major parties in the United States seems to understand this. The Democrats are besotted with state control and the Republicans are even worse.

This is still not a victory for reason by any means. The prosecution still continues. Susan Goldsmith and the Oregonian deserve praise. As does the network of websites and blogs that spread the story far and wide. But this is the time to step up the protests, not reduce them. The DA, no doubt hopes that by saying things won't be as bad as they could be this will satisfy people and he can continue with his case. The case should not continue. He should withdraw and apologize. See our previous post for information on where to send your protests.


Monday, July 23, 2007

How a district attorney can legally abuse children.

Cory Mashburn and Ryan Cornelison are 13 years old and 12 years old. They currently face the possibility of 5 to 10 years in jail, depending on who you believe) and being registered as sex offenders for the rest of their lives. So what depravity were they guilty of to earn this sort of potential penalty? Did they organize orgies on the playground or a gang of bikers raping kindergarten students?

The boys are students at Patton Middle School in McMinnville, Oregon. And one day they ran down the hallway -- no doubt in some places worthy of the death penalty all by itself. As they ran the swatted the bottoms of some girls. Oh, oh. Note they didn’t fondle just swatted. And there is no indication that anyone actually complained that the event traumatized. No doubt some would be annoyed, some pleased at the attention and others have no thoughts one way or the other.

But a member of the Sex Gestapo, also know as a teacher’s aide saw this horrendous, genocidal act and had the boys grabbed and sent for interrogation by the principle and one of the men in blue. Yes, the police were involved.

And the cop, Marshall Roache, pulled a typical dirty, disgusting trick on the boys. He interrogated them with out their parents being there or without an attorney being present. He did this by avoiding telling them that they were under arrest until after he finished his interrogation. Roache ought to be fired or at least suspended for conspiracy to deprive children of their constitutional rights.

Of course don’t expect this criminal in uniform to be disciplined. The unwritten rule among the police is that their own never do any wrong. And already the local police captain said: “We totally support everything that has gone on in this case.” In that case I would take my chances with the common criminals and fire the lot of the police.

Even kids have to be told that about “stranger danger” regarding cops. Cops are not your friend. Do not speak to cops without your parents or an attorney being present. Even then I recommend saying nothing.

This uniformed member of the Sex Gestapo put the boys in handcuffs and carted them off to jail. For five days the boys sat in jail. Why? Because some moron named Bradley Berry, the district attorney, has bought into the agenda of the radical feminists, who share a hatred of human sexuality on par with that of the most rabid fundamentalist. If you don’t believe me read the garbage from Andrea Dworkin or Catherine McKinnon sometime.

Berry, lusting after higher office, drools at the prospect of throwing this children in jail for “sex crimes”. Yes, apparently he believes that the boys running through the hallway swatting butts were potential rapists who have to be locked away. It is Berry who ought to be put in a straight jacket and incarcerated in a rubber room. Berry says he “aggressively” pursues sex crimes that involve children. Excuse me, moron. This is not a sex crime. These are two young boys running through the hallways swatting butts not predators lurking in raincoats stuffed with cookies. What sort of demented mind turns what these boys did into a sex crime?

Where did McMinnville find this idiot? Send this petty bureaucrat packing before he destroys more kids. Berry whines: “These cases are devastating to children.They are life-altering cases.” Sure, moron, you are destroying the kids. Putting two boys in jail and labeling them “sex offenders” for the rest of their lives is damn life-altering. But what they did was not a sex crime.

This isn’t the first time this Puritanical asshole has ruined the lives of children either. It is reported that last year two other students were charged with felony sex abuse for the same thing. They pled guilty of harassment which is a misdemeanor. Again, that is another one of the dirty tricks used by the so-called justice system. Overcharge someone intentionally to make the risk so high that they are forced to pled guilty to lesser charges even if they are not guilty of a crime at all. It looks good for the DA's record even if it does penalize innocent people. But when you dream of being governor who the fuck cares what happens to innocent people!

And the local newspaper reports that things are not even what the police and this moronic DA claim:
The outlines of the case have been known. But confidential police reports and juvenile court records shed new light on the context of the boys' actions. The records show that other students, boys and girls, were slapping one another's bottoms. Two of the girls identified as victims have recanted, saying they felt pressured and gave false statements to interrogators.
One “victim” said, “if they asked me a question, they kind of made you say what they wanted to hear.” Another girl said, “I did really feel pressured in there... I kind of felt pressured to answer stuff that I was uncomfortable, and that it hurt, but it really didn’t.”

The police witch-hunter interrogated over a dozen students. Half admitted they swatted the rears of other students including girls who said they smacked some boys. Those girls, however, are listed as victims not as sex offenders. One girl said its “a handshake we do”.

One mother is on the warpath wanting the boys executed, well almost. Rhonda Pope, who sounds a bit demented to me says: “Slapping somebody on the butt is sexual harassment, and it is a crime.” Hmm, slapping a butt is sexual so all Christian schools that use corporal punishment are actually sexually abusing children? Is that the case, Rhonda? And if poor Rhonda thinks a slap on the butt is sexual I guess we know what she and the Mr. get up to. Is that the case, Rhonda? Or, is it Mistress Rhonda?

Rhonda says “my daughter was offended” and thus it’s a crime. Rhonda needs therapy. I’m offended by Rhonda that doesn’t make being a bitch a criminal offense. A mother like that is very toxic.

It gets worse, dear readers. Bradley, the child abuser, dragged the kids into court wearing prison uniforms and in handcuffs. The court was filled with their fellow students many of whom started crying when they saw this. Hey, Bradley, proud of yourself? That certainly was a life-altering experience for the kids you traumatized.

Damn, I know why Penn and Teller curse so much when dealing with assholes like Bradley. This absolutely infuriates me. I hope the man is caught bonking an underage prostitute, sent to jail for life, and shares a cell with a horny, oversized thug who doesn’t mind a bit of tail from anywhere. Even that is nicer than he deserves. Bradley Berry is the one abusing children and doing so legally for his own political career. That is disgusting.

Two of the “victims” “spontaneously offered to testify on behalf of the boys. Under oath, they told the judge they were friends and did not feel threatened by them. The two girls also testified they felt compelled, during the initial interviews with Tillery and Roache, to say things that weren’t true.”

Joe Cornelison, a single dad, is just a press operator. Scott and Tracy Mashburn don’t hold high paying jobs either. These parents were desperate to cover the legal costs to save their children from the child abusers in the District Attorney’s office. These parents know that the sex hysteria issue could destroy the lives of their children for life. These sorts of accusation are damaging and deadly. They should be reserved for genuine cases of abuse only not for kids playing around in the school hallways.

Julie McFarland, of the Juvenile Rights Project, says that she has had to defend ten students who were prosecuted for things that happen normally in schools . She says the DA’s are “criminalizing fairly typical behavior.” She warned: “It’s basically the end of their lives. Everywhere they go and everything they do they will have to disclose this. And these kids who do these minor offenses have to follow the same sex-offender registration requirements as someone who brutally raped someone.” Gee, Bradley, you must be so proud. If there is god Bradley will kiss the windshield of a speeding bus, and soon.

Yea, I’m furious. I hope you are too. And I hope the residents of this county dump this moronic DA the first chance they get. I urge the people of McMinnville to let Office Roache know what a contemptuous little weasel he is for doing this to children as well. Let these men know every time you see either of them. Don’t break the law but tell them you think they are assholes who deserve to rot in hell for eternity. I hope they find life so uncomfortable in Oregon they pack and move someplace where men like them are appreciated -- say North Korea.

Action: Contact Police Chief Ron Noble to complain about the actions of Officer Roach at 503-434-7307 or email ron.noble@ci.mcminnville.or.us. You can also complain to Mayor Ed Gormley at 503-472-4101 or email him at ed@gormleyplumbing.com. Bradley Berry, the child abuser, can be reached at his office at 503-472-9371 and emails can be sent to him at da@co.yamhill.or.us. I've sent my email already. Please join me.

Photos: The first photo is of Cory Mashburn, one of the victims in this case. The man is the district attorney, Bradley Berry. If you see this man near your children remove them immediately.

UPDATE: I have read the police report by Roache. This man had numerous other students listed as "suspects" in this case. He was on a real witch hunt. For some reason a third student is listed as being involved in all the cases that the two arrested boys were accused of, but he was never charged. The report acknowledges that some of the girls swatted boys as well. None of them were arrested. The sex obsessed police officer refers to swats as "touched on her buttocks" or "touched their butts". He also says: "that several other boys may have also touched the buttocks of female students while at school. Along with this, several girls also touched the buttocks of certain boys in the school as well." Well, then just put bars on the windows and sentence them to 18 years incarceration acknowledging time served. He also seemed concerned that a boy might touch a girl's breast at a dance. I guess this man never made it to high school.

It is clear that these two boys are being prosecuted for something that was widespread, and mostly seen as a joke among the students. Numerous other students admitted doing the same thing. Yet, only two are facing a trial. It also appears that all these students were being asked about their participation in something which this police officer and the DA believe to be criminal offenses yet none of these children were interrogated with the permission of their parents or warned that anything they said could be used against in a court of law.

Bradly Berry claimed to me that the boys aren't facing "10 years for anything" and that the press reports were sensationalistic journalism -- something prosecutors love when it used for them. But this seemed dishonest to me. So I asked him: "Haven't you filed 10 misdemeanor charges against these children? And doesn't each charge carry a potential of up to 1 year in jail?" He said: "Yes, that is true." But he says this "may be statutory maximums" but "they would never be imposed in a case like this." He says that there are "5 counts of sexual abuse III, and the 5 counts of harassment" and these make up only 5 incidents "and thus the court would not be able to run those consecutively even if it wanted to." If this is true, and I can't say it is, that would still mean a potential sentence of five years. And Berry admits that the court "may require sex offender registration" for the boys. He says he doesn't concern himself with the potential penalty for an offense only what he thinks is the likely penalty: "When we file charges we file based on what we expect to happen, regardless of the maximum statutory sentence possible."

Either way this is ruining the lives of children. Bradley doesn't seem to understand that this doesn't qualify as sexual abuse or sexual harassment and that we are talking about kids here not about adults attacking children. This was a matter best left to the school, which says they had nothing to do with the criminal charges filed by the loony police officer, and to the parents. It is not something for which children should be incarcerated as these boys have already suffered. And even the mildest outcome, which Bradley presents as possible, is far too severe. He is making a mountain out of a molehill and hurting children in the process.
And it's disgraceful.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Why the Christian Right hates Harry Potter

It has been said, in our comments section that this film clip of a fundamentalist minister preaching to children that Harry Potter should be put to death is not an accurate portrait of the Religious Right. What exactly does that mean?

First, I don’t think anyone who reads this site assumes that when I say that the Religious Right is Harryphobic, this means that every member of the Religious Right feels that way. After all, with millions of individuals involved, there is bound to be diversity.

But it seems that when someone is campaigning against the book or the films, the leader of the campaign is invariably a fundamentalist Christian. For instance, fundamentalist Laura Mallory, of Lawrenceville, Georgia, tried to ban the Potter books from the public school library. She says the books have “evil themes” because they speak of witchcraft and spells. And the Bible clearly teaches such things are immoral. One child who opposed her efforts saw things more clearly. He said, “never at any time did I think the books are true.” But fundamentalists do think that there is truth in these books. Unlike most rational people, they do believe that witches and spells exist. They have no choice since the Bible condemns such things. To say they don’t exist questions the infallibility of Scripture. Most people are not offended by the theme of the Potter series because they don’t believe the “dark forces” actually exist.

It should be noted that Mallory was not alone. Numerous fundamentalists joined her campaign in an attempt to ban the book from the library.

In Cedarville, Arkansas, the school board restricted access to the Harry Potter books unless a student could produce a signed permission slip from their parents. The board passed the rule because fundamentalist parents complained after “hearing a series of anti-Potter sermons in 2001 by Mark Hodges, pastor of the Uniontown Assembly of God Church and a member of the Cedarville School Board.”

And Christianity Today, certainly a main journal on the Religious Right, reported on a parent who wanted the book banned from school and reported that “She is among Christian parents nationwide arguing that classrooms are no place for Harry Potter...”

Even in relatively secular England a Pentecostal Christian was up in arms about Harry Potter. Teaching assistant Sariya Allan is a “committed Pentecostal Christian” who told a seven-year-old girl she would be “cursed” for reading the Harry Potter books. The school found that action unacceptable and told Allan who then resigned her position and tried suing for £50,000 ($100,000) in compensation saying that she is being discriminated against for her religious beliefs. She says: “It’s a book of witchcraft, and witchcraft is an abomination to God.”

Jeremiah Films is a standard bearer for the views of the Religious Right. They produce numerous films all from a fundamentalist world view. They have films attacking gays, Mormons, evolution, and Harry Potter. They sell Harry Potter: Witchcraft Repackaged. They argue the Potter books and film openly promote Satanism.

Christiananswers.net says Harry Potter is against God because the Bible says “any practice of magic is an ‘abomination’ to him.” The fundamentalist Christiam film reviewer Phil Boatwright agrees. He insinuates that the films and books are part of a Satanic plot. He suggested people consider some other questions about the film:
Is it merely entertainment? Or is there a dark spiritual source feeding and supporting it? I realize that may sound like a stretch, but often Satan is most deceiving with a glossed-over package. Wouldn’t it be a shame if kids got pulled into witchcraft, while their folks thought of the books and films as merely children’s fantasy?
Baptist youth ministries leader Jennifer Zebel said in Baptist Press, “I cannot believe that any secular book, character or movie advocating witchcraft of any kind could be this wildly successful without Satan having an agenda for it. The bottom line is that we know the right choice is to steer clear of these books and movies, but we don’t want to make the sacrifice. Satan is a wonderful writer and movie producer.” To be clear, Baptist Press is an arm of the largest fundamentalist sect in the United States-- the Southern Baptist Convention.

Another fundamentalist movie site, movieguide.org, has rated the latest Potter as “abhorrent”, and the reviewer says seeing children who come out of the cinema after watching the film reminds him of “the malignant corruption of our culture.” He says the film “subjects children to the evils of witchcraft and a spirit of rebellion.” He argued that the popularity of the film means “even more children will be lured away from God and his infallible word, which says witchcraft is evil and abhorrent.”

And the God’s World Book Club had originally planned to sell the Potter books on the belief that they were “wholesome, good-versus-evil fantasy”, but they determined that Potter is “not Christ-centered”, and is “not written from a perspective compatible with Christianity”, so they have refused the books.

Charisma magazine author Cindy Jacobs wrote that: “The Potter series is clearly demonic in nature. It presents occult practices as being normative and good.” And certainly the largest political front of the Religious Right is Focus on the Family. Leader James Dobson says: “We have spoken out strongly against all the Harry Potter products.”

The Traditional Values Coalition of Rev. Louis Sheldon is another well-known Religious Right institution and they too have condemned the Potter books. Sheldon argues that the films promote Wicca, which includes “worshipping the earth and advocating homosexuality”, and “believes in abortion as a sacred act.” He recommended that churches warn their congregations about the evils of Harry Potter, and that if a church does not attack the Potter films, “attendees may want to prayerfully consider finding a church that is more serious about spiritual warfare.” The fundamentalist tract publishers, Chic Publications, have a tract out based on the Jeremiah films attack . It says, “the Potter books open a doorway that will put untold millions of kids into hell.”

Some fundamentalists have gone further than condemning the books. They have also burned them. The Christ Community Church in Alamogordo, New Mexico heard a sermon from Pastor Jack Brock saying that: “Harry Potter is the devil and he is destroying people.” They gathered together and burned copies of the book. The Harvest Assembly of God Church, under the leadership of Rev. George Bender, also held a book burning of the Potter books. The Rev. T.D. Turner Sr., of the Jesus Non-denominational Church lead his congregation in burning Harry Potter books as well. He said they “burn Harry Potter books and other witchcraft items to let the world know that there are true followers of Jesus Christ who will not call evil good.”

The woman in the Jesus Camp documentary may not speak for every fundamentalist in America. No one does. But she does speak for a lot of them. The evidence is strong that there is widespread dislike and hatred for the Harry Potter books and films among fundamentalists. Most Americans are either supportive of the books and films or neutral on them. Some may not like them for literary reasons, but that isn’t quite the same thing as denouncing them as Satanic. I would be rather surprised to hear of any documented effort to ban, burn or restrict the book that didn’t involve fundamentalists or their allies on the Religious Right.

URGENT: Readers, thousands of you have come to read this article. But something far more disturbing and urgent deserves your attention. The lives of two children are at stake here. Please read this article before you go on with your daily life.

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Tammy Faye: a fundamentalist of a different kind.

Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker were the first couple of televangelism. They ran the PTL Network and built a multimillion dollar religious empire than came crashing around their feet in scandal. In the crash they lost virtually everything they had. Jim Bakker went to prison and Tammy Faye lost her marriage. In recent years she remarried an associate of the ministry, Roe Messner. On Friday morning Tammy Faye Bakker died of cancer.

On Thursday night she appeared, via satellite, on the Larry King Show. I must say that anyone who saw any of that appearance would have been shocked and horrified at her condition. The cancer had spread throughout her body and she was a walking skeleton.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a strong critic of American fundamentalism. But for the record I will say that the major criticisms I have of fundamentalism today did not apply to the Bakkers. Although I do not share any of their beliefs in the supernatural, the Bakkers were the major exception to the rule. Where other televangelists and fundamentalist leaders were intolerant, bigoted, mean-spirited, cruel, vindictive and theocratic, the Bakkers never seemed to be any of those things.

I first started writing about the dangers of fundamentalism in the late 1970s, well before it developed into the creature it has become today. I followed all the major figures in American fundamentalism (and fundamentalism is largely an American phenomenon). Over the years I met many of the people I criticized: Jimmy Swaggart, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson, for instance. I never had a chance to meet either Jim or Tammy Faye. So I only watched them from afar, but they were different. That is not to say I thought they were right, only that they were different.

While the other prominent fundamentalists were damning and condemning people systematically and viciously from the pulpit Tammy Faye and Jim avoided this. When AIDS struck and the others used it as an excuse to smear and degrade the gay community, the Bakkers talked about the disease, not about those inflicted with it. I cannot think of a major fundamentalist preacher who followed a similar tactic.

Nor were the Bakkers seeking political power over others. When the power-hungry forces of fundamentalism were storming the capitol seeking legislation to impose their will on the American people, the Bakkers were noticeably absent. If they had theocratic tendencies, they kept them well-hidden.

The world they had built for themselves came crashing down around them. Jim Bakker was caught in an affair with a church secretary, Jessica Hahn, who was, in my opinion, blackmailing him for cash to keep silent. She was no minor, but an adult who knew what she was doing. And since Bakker never spent much time attacking the peccadilloes of others, I took no comfort in his humiliation. That scandal was engineered by competing Assemblies of God evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, ever the hypocrite and theocrat that he was. Swaggart later was caught visiting prostitutes himself.

The federal government went after Bakker for over-selling time shares at his resort. When airlines over-book it is legal, but they claimed that for Bakker, this was fraudulent. I don’t remember them actually showing one person who was defrauded; that is, who didn’t get the time share they paid for until the government stepped in. My impression was that Bakker was being falsely victimized by the state because he was a high profile figure, and the bureaucrats love to prosecute the famous to put the fear of the government in the hearts of masses.

After Swaggart’s manipulation of events, Bakker turned to Jerry Falwell for help. He handed his empire to Falwell for safe keeping until he could clean up the mess he was in. But Falwell quickly stabbed Bakker in the back. Why Bakker thought Falwell could be trusted was something I never understood. After Falwell had control of the ministry, he openly attacked Bakker as “the greatest scab and cancer on the face of Christianity in 2,000 years of church history.” If the vile actions of Falwell and Swaggart weren’t enough, the IRS retroactively stripped the ministry of it’s tax exemption and then placed financial leans against the Bakkers for back taxes. If it isn’t one vampire, it’s the other.
(Continues below the video.)

Video: This video shows some of the ways that Falwell was dishonest and vicious in his dealings with the Bakkers.

Tammy Faye broke with many fundamentalists though she kept her faith. She says that during her crisis she found support in an usual place. “When I went... when we lost everything, it was the gay people that came to my rescue, and I will always love them for that.” Tammy Faye explained that her relationship with the gay community began in earnest during the days immediately following the downfall of the Bakker ministry. “When my husband was in prison and I wasn’t getting any presents for Christmas, it was the gay community that gathered around me and saw that. They gave me beautiful bathrobes with my initials on; they gave beautiful leopard hangers and leopard shoe bags. And I had the most awesome Christmas I’ve ever had. ...they cared about me more than the Christians cared about me, and that says something to me right there.”

The New York Times reports that in response, Tammy Faye “began attending gay pride events, and in 1996, she became the co-host of a syndicated television talk show with Jim J. Bullock, an openly gay actor.” Tammy Faye says she attended at least a half dozen gay pride events, maybe ten in total. She said the response was: “Overwhelming love from everyone. Both ways. I love them and they love me. It’s just unbelievable. I’ve never felt such warmth in a group of people. That’s the truth.” She said that the gay communities “treat me like I’m family and that means more to me than anything could ever possibly mean.”

Bakker says she and her husband saw things differently than other Christians. She was the first Christian host “to have a gay man on my show. And so I think they remember that. They knew that we accepted them. Many of them watched PTL because they felt accepted by us and they were accepted by us. PTL loved everyone. We didn’t turn anyone away. And I think the gays appreciated that. We accepted the gay community when most religious elements did not.”

Her son, Jay Bakker, who pastors a church in New York City, said that during her last days, when it was well known Tammy Faye was dying, prominent Christian leaders were more concerned that Jay’s church was “gay affirming” than that his mother was dying. He said that no one was asking him about his mother or even asking if there was something they could do to help during those trying times. Instead they were only interested in telling him why they no longer wanted him to preach for them because he refused to reject homosexuals.

If more fundamentalists were like the Bakkers, the culture war would be a thing of the past. While I have no inclination toward their faith, I respect their decency. It is a tragedy that Tammy Faye suffered the way she did and died the way she did. And this non-believer is sorry she’s gone.

Clarification: the term "fundamentalist" has two meanings. One is a theological meaning based on the series of books The Fundamentals that appeared almost ninety years ago. The second meaning describes a temperament of intolerance. The second meaning came about because people who were fundamentalists, in the original sense of the word, were also intolerant. So when I use the word fundamentalist here it is the original sense of the world only.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Christian Right is Harryphobic.

Here is a short clip from the film Jesus Camp which shows the life of children at a summer camp run by fundamentalist Christians. Here we have the head of the camp preaching to the children about the Biblical way of dealing with the Harry Potter craze. Charming.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Ethanol: The Corn God

A five minute presentation on the myths of ethanol with John Stossel.

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The moral problems of state power in regards to war.

Classical liberals and libertarians have often applied the morality of the individual to the collective. By that I mean they argue, and I think persuasively, that the collective is bound by the same moral principles as the individual. This was articulate nicely by Frederic Bastiat almost 160 years ago in his essay The Law.

But I think there is an error that some libertarians fall into regarding this argument. We see this error in the arguments of some of the pro war libertarians and psuedo-libertarians. One argument may go something like this:
Joe is sitting at home. Joe hears his very nasty neighbors plotting how they will come into his home and murder him and his family. He looks out the window and sees one of them loading a rifle. Another has pulled out a bayonet. Joe grabs his pistol. He realizes that there are several of them. He can’t afford to wait until they actually get into his home. Nor does he have time to call the police. He takes aim through his open widow and shoots all, of the neighbors. They fall dead on their lawn, never having actually reached Joe’s property line. Joe had every right to pre-empt his neighbors before they actually got into his home. While he technically fired first it was in self-defense.
At this point they make the jump. If the individual has the right to fire the first shot in self defense then a nation has the same right. The war in Iraq is warranted because Iraq was a threat to the safety of Americans and the prime function of government is protecting the life, liberty, and property of the individual.

But how does the state differ from the individual? Shouldn’t we consider those matters as well?

The individual who acts fires the first shot would expect that the police would arrive quickly and disarm him. He would expect that a full investigation is going to be carried out. He, as an individual, made a choice and he will bear all the consequences of that choice. If the evidence shows that the neighbors were going to attack, or that it was reasonable to assume they would, he will be vindicated and it is not likely he will face charges. But, if he was in error, he can expect to go prison. In some states he might expect the death penalty.

All the consequences, good or bad, are imposed on him alone.

Consider how the state does not, and can not, act like an individual. Consider this point from an article (pdf) entitled The Peace Principle.
It is well known that in collectives individuals can lose moral restraint. A lynch mob will kill, although as an individual each member would be horrified at the thought. Likewise, state power is a collective power in which the individuals who participate in decision-making lose their normal sense of responsibility for their actions. In fact the law often explicitly denies individual culpability in those who wield power.
Many of the restraints on individual action are entirely missing. The state is not so much like an individual as it is a lynch mob. Each decision-maker and functionary in the state apparatus is merely one small clog in a giant system. No one individual feels fully responsible for the actions of the system. Moral restraints that individuals would normally obey are loosened or abandoned completely. The history of the world proves this to be true.

Libertarians are fully aware of how the state apparatus leads to bad decisions in one policy after another. Why is that? Is it that the bureaucrats themselves are merely evil or inept?

Ludwig von Mises, in his masterful little gem, Bureaucracy, argued that the problems with bureaucracies are systemic problems. The bureaucratic system has incentives which distort information. Functionaries have to respond to the incentives and disincentives which are inherent in the system. This distorts their actions.

There is an entire school of economics, the Public Choice School, which explores the economics of the political system. They look at how incentives operate and how perverse incentives exist within the system which often lead to results which no wanted at the start.

The State is not an individual. It behaves very differently. Not only does it lack the moral responsibility that individuals face in their daily life but it also operates within a system of perverse incentives. State actions are too easily manipulated by special interest groups. The very ugly reality of politics is never far from even the most serious issue faced by the State. And what happens when the State acts wrongly? What if the evidence used to justify the pre-emptive attack is bogus, false, misunderstood, misinterpreted, etc? Nothing.

In the end the decision-makers are not held individually liable for the actions of the collective. There is no independent judge who looks at the facts. There is no trial. There are book deals for the major players, pensions for all of them, and often cozy jobs waiting for them when they leave their office.

And consider the potential damage. An individual who makes a mistake and “defends” himself against the wrong person inflicts a tragedy on someone, possible on several people. A powerful state inflicts damage on millions of people and has the ability to inflict harm on billions. Certainly there are few people in the world who have not felt, to some degree, the damage done by the Iraq invasion, if only at the gas pumps. But thousands of Americans lost their lives, hundreds of thousands lost a loved one or a friend. And hundreds of thousands died in Iraq and continue to die there. The entire world is less stable than before and the war inspired home-made terrorism in Western countries.

The individual’s errors are quickly caught and stopped. They are arrested and tried for them. State errors become institutionalized and linger on, sometimes for decades or centuries, in one form or another.

To reason from the example of the individual to the state, in this matter, is to ignore that one is comparing apples and oranges. The individual lives under a completely different set of rules and incentives. If we removed all responsibility from the individual, so he could launch pre-emptory strikes on flimsy evidence and suffer no legal sanctions for doing so, I suggest libertarians would be opposed to such individual actions as well. Individuals, thankfully, operate in a different universe. And that shouldn’t be forgotten when the issue of pre-emptory strikes are considered.

From start to finish the State is entirely different from the individual.

Does that mean that a pre-emptive strike is never justified? I wouldn’t say that. But I would say that the evidence for the pre-emptive strike has to be overwhelming. The burden of proof for state action must be far more onerous than for the individual.

It is not enough that I, put in the same situation, as an individual, might act pre-emptively. More is required. When I act I act alone. I have no power to coerce anyone. I have no ability to conscript or tax. If someone wishes to help me they have to do so on their own and they can stop any time they wish. They are held to the same legal responsibilities that I am. I can not attack innocent people, if I do I am prosecuted. I can not strip my neighbors of their liberties because I want to feel safer. The State has none of these restraints. In the end the State must be held, not just to the minimum standard of individual action, but to a much higher standard.

That an individual would be morally justified in acting in a particular way does not necessarily justify the State doing so.

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