Are Libertarians Hypocrites for Wanting the State to Enforce Anti-Gay Discrimination?

Although Arizona’s controversial SB 1062 (the so-called “gay segregation bill”) appears to be dead for now, the liberal hand-wringing continues. As before, many of the criticisms of the law have no basis in reality (Salon’s Elias Isquith lazily conflates the bill with Jim Crow-mandated segregation, despite the fact that SB 1062 would not have mandated anything.) And, as the good folks at Reason have pointed out numerous times, discrimination against gays was and still is legal in the State of Arizona.

That’s right, SB 1062 would not have affected the right of businesses in Arizona to refuse to serve gays and lesbians. What it would have done was create a religious exemption to so-called “public accommodations” laws, meaning that, for example, a Muslim taxi driver could refuse service to a woman travelling alone–although it isn’t clear that such an act is not already legal–if exceedingly rarein The Grand Canyon State. (There’s nothing like a good dose of Islamophobia to scare conservatives back into the State’s arms.)

This brings me to one of the more interesting arguments against anti-gay discrimination laws–this one put forth by Salon’s Matt Bruenig (it was written regarding Kansas’ proposed law, but could jut as easily apply to Arizona’s). Bruenig’s argument is that since the State must enforce anti-gay discrimination, it is not truly “private” discrimination as libertarians claim.

Responding to libertarians who want government to get “out of the way” of free association (neither mandating nor prohibiting private discrimination), Bruenig argues that:

“Since it is the state that is ultimately tasked to bring out the violent enforcers who effectuate the discriminating intents of public accommodations providers, the state literally cannot get out of the way. It will either grant to public accommodations the right to direct the state’s violence against people solely because they are gay or it will not. In constructing when and under what circumstances it will permit people to be expelled from restaurants, the state is making a decision about when and how it is willing to mobilize itself as a violent enforcer.”

Bruenig has hit upon one of the foremost libertarian objections to the State: its monopoly on the use of retaliatory force. The State has proclaimed itself the sole legitimate user of non-defensive violence, meaning that while I may hire armed guards to protect my property from trespassing, once trespassing occurs if I want to expel the trespasser I have no choice but to call on the state’s agents (I don’t have any alternative, private enforcement options).

Since the State will not likely be relinquishing its monopoly on the use of force anytime soon, it should at least be kept neutral and objective in its enforcement of property and other rights. Just as libertarians believe that if the State is going to grant special legal status to certain couples it should grant that status to any couple that wants it, libertarians also believe that if the State is going to enforce property rights it should do so without regard to the race, religion, cultural tastes, etc. of those whose property rights are being infringed.

To put it another way: If a restaurant owners bans firearms from his premises, and he notices that a patron is carrying a concealed handgun, he may call the police to have the man forcibly expelled should the man refuse to leave. Similarly, a restaurant owner who does not wish to serve same-sex couples should have the same recourse.

The State can’t simply decide to enforce some property rights but not others. It shouldn’t matter what a person’s reasons are for wanting someone expelled from their business, their house, or their bedroom. It’s their property, and therefore their right to include or exclude as they choose (whether the law recognizes this right is an entirely different matter).

Bruenig seems to be concerned that by enforcing the property rights of bigots, the State itself is engaging in, or at least tacitly endorsing, bigotry. But the State already does enforce the property rights of bigots: If a white supremacist’s home is burgled and his Nazi memorabilia stolen, he can file a police report and have the items recovered and returned to him by the State. If a young black man in a do-rag and sagging jeans walks into the clubhouse of an exclusive, private (read: all white) country club, the club can call the police and have the man arrested for trespassing should he refuse to leave.

If liberals have a problem with the State’s police enforcing the property rights of bigots and racists, perhaps they should support legalizing alternative, private enforcement options (in other words, ending the State’s monopoly on the use of retaliatory force).

And if, as Bruenig would have it, the State only enforces the property rights of the good and the righteous, where does one draw the line? How are police supposed to objectively determine whose property rights will be protected and enforced, and whose will not?

The State should not be able to pick and choose whose property rights it will enforce, anymore than it can pick and choose whose relationships deserve legal recognition. If the State is going to grant itself a complete monopoly on a specific service (e.g. expelling trespassers), it can’t fairly turn down any customers, can it?

So no, libertarians are not hypocrites for wanting the State to enforce the right of property owners to choose who is or is not allowed on their property. If libertarians had their way, after all, the State would not exist–much less maintain any sort of monopoly on the use of retaliatory force.

In a libertarian society, businesses would be free to discriminate against any person or group, and for any reason. Most businesses won’t discriminate, though, because they’re in it to make money, and you don’t make money by turning away customers.

Do liberal critics of laws like those proposed in Arizona and Kansas honestly believe that in the absence of laws prohibiting discrimination against gays, businesses would be turning them away in droves? As I pointed out above, it is currently legal to discriminate against gays in Arizona, and yet we don’t see starving gay men on the streets of Tucson, nor do we see out-of-work lesbians panhandling in Peoria.

In a free market, businesses seldom turn away paying customers based on arbitrary characteristics like race or sexual orientation. Those that do will rightly be criticized and boycotted. And let’s not forget that the same right of free association that allows business owners to turn away gays also allows businesses to turn away homophobic legislators.

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Monday Links

The Virginia Court of Appeals has ordered Yelp.com to turn over the identities of seven pseudonymous reviewers who posted comments critical of Virginia-based Hadeed Carpet Cleaning. Hadeed Carpet claimed that the individuals writing negative reviews were not actual customers of theirs–and this was apparently good enough for the court, which ruled that the First Amendment does not protect opinions if they are based on false statements. Okay, if that’s the case what’s to stop, say, movie studios from suing people for writing negative reviews of movies they haven’t actually seen?

Sweden’s Justice Minister, Beatrice Ask, recently posted a link on Facebook to an article about marijuana-related deaths in Colorado–without realizing that the Daily Currant article, titled “Marijuana Overdoses Kill 37 In Colorado On First Day Of Legalisation”, was satire. Ask later claimed that she knew the article was satire all along, but was just trying to make a point about the dangers of marijuana (she probably also believes that Reefer Madness was a documentary).

The Tennessee judge who ordered a baby’s name changed from Messiah to Martin is still maintaining that she did nothing wrong, even while she is being charged with violating the judicial code of conduct. This woman isn’t fit to play a judge on TV, much less in an actual courtroom.

– During a recent show, The Five co-host Bob Beckel claimed that all Nigerians are “scam artists” and that Iranians feed their children to dogs. Yeah, and all old white men are kiddy rapists. (See how that works?)

The ACLU has teemed up with hip hop duo Insane Clown Posse to sue the FBI over the agency’s classification of the group’s fans (known as “Juggalos”) as a criminal gang. I for one am shocked–shocked–that the federal government would so carelessly label an entire group of people as criminals.

Somali militant Islamist group Al-Shabaab has banned the use of the Internet in territories under its control, despite the fact that the group itself regularly uses Facebook and Twitter to communicate with its followers. Al-Shabaab has in the past sought to ban movies, soccer, and dancing at weddings, and no doubt this latest attack on modernity will be just as successful.

– And finally, a Minnesota Republican state legislator is introducing a bill that would legalize Sunday liquor sales in the state. The bill is expected to receive bipartisan support in the legislature, and Governor Mark Dayton says that if it passes he will sign it into law. The question is, though: can they do this without at the same time raising alcohol taxes?

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Monday Links

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted the State of Utah’s request for a stay on same-sex marriages following the Dec. 20 district court ruling overturning the state’s gay marriage ban. The fate of marriage equality in the highly conservative state now rests with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which will hear the state’s case sometime this year.

The mayor of Flower Mound, Texas, has declared 2014 to be the “Year of the Bible”, urging the city’s residents to “examine the principles and teachings found in the Bible.” Good book–I particularly like the part about stoning wizards.

Colorado’s newly legal pot shops are facing a looming marijuana shortage as demand of the product has far exceeded the initial supply. Okay, nobody panic–just keep eating Cheetos and watching Scooby-Doo. The market will eventually reach equilibrium: As the novelty of legal marijuana wares off, demand will plateau, allowing supply to catch up to demand. (Related: Everything You Need To Know About Colorado’s New Marijuana Laws.)

 – A U.S. District Court judge has thrown out a lawsuit filed by a graduate student whose laptop was seized and searched by border officials while on an Amtrak train from Montreal to New York. Judge Edward R. Korman, of the Eastern District of New York, ruled that the government does not need probable cause or a warrant to search or seize laptops and other electronic devices at border checkpoints because the odds of a traveler being searched are about “10 in a million.” I’m glad that someone’s looking out for the government’s right to search our laptops for tentacle porn and Downton Abbey fan fiction.

– And finally, a mass of cold air known as a “Polar Vortex” has swept across the country, bringing freezing cold temperatures as far south as Alabama, and shattering low temperature records for much of the country. In Minnesota, schools were closed state-wide today by order of the governor. (You know it’s cold when even Minnesotans are like “Fuck this, I’m staying inside.”)

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Wednesday Links

An Indiana woman is upset after security guards ordered her 11-year-old daughter to delete a photo taken of a Taco Bell in the food court of a Merrillville mall. To make matters worse, the guards also threatened the girl with a copyright-infringement lawsuit by the fast food chain. Is it a job requirement that security guards be completely ignorant of the law?

Last week, Islamic police in Northern Nigeria smashed 240,000 bottles of beer as part of a wider crackdown on “immoral” behavior in the region. Okay…without booze, how do they expect people to cope with living in fucking Northern Nigeria?

– On that same topic, an unknown number of civilians were killed Monday morning when hundreds of Islamist fighters associated with the Boko Haram sect attacked a military base in the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri.

A new Vietnamese law will impose fines of up to 100 million dong (US $4,740) on Internet users who post “propaganda against the state” or who spread “reactionary ideology” online–as part of the socialist republic’s latest crackdown on dissent.

In Kenya, journalists and activists are protesting a proposed law that would allow the government to fine journalists found to be in violation of a vaguely-worded media “code of conduct.” Kenyan journalists are right to be suspicious–this is clearly an attempt at silencing reporting that is critical of the government.

French tattoo artists are speaking out against a proposed ban on most colored inks. Can you imagine French authorities telling Seurat that he could only use black and gray on his Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte?

Croatian voters have approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in the country, sparking worries that perceived homophobia could harm the country’s image abroad, particularly among gay tourists. Said President Ivo Josipović: “It’s not good for Croatia to establish itself as a country of intolerance.”

– Nine U.S. states have laws making it a crime for HIV-positive individuals to have sex without first disclosing to their partners that they have the virus–even if no transmission takes place. One Iowa man was convicted, imprisoned, and forced to register as a sex offender under such a law despite the fact that he used a condom and his risk of transmission was practically zero. Goddammit.

– French prosecutors have charged singer Bob Dylan with “inciting racial hatred” after comments he made about Serbs and Croats in a Rolling Stone interview prompted a complaint from the Council of Croats in France (CRICCF).

In Israel, a growing number of Jewish activists are demanding the right to pray at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is considered one of the holiest sites in both Islam and Judaism. Currently, Jews are allowed to visit the site but they must be escorted by police and are forbidden from praying. Proposals have been made to divide the site into Jewish and Muslim sections, but the Muslim organization that administers the site is rejecting any such plans, with its director proclaiming that: “This place belongs to the Muslim people, and no others have the right to pray here.” Asshole.

– And finally, the deportation of an Albanian-American woman living in Michigan has been put on hold while immigration authorities review her case. Cile Precetaj, of Troy, came to the U.S. from Albania in 2000, eventually getting married and having three children. Her request for asylum was turned down, however, and she was informed on Monday that she would be deported on Tuesday. Now she must wait while the government determines her fate. My heart goes out to this woman and her family. Hopefully compassion will prevail over the machinations of the unfeeling federal bureaucracy. What good could possibly come from tearing this family apart?

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U.K. to Criminalize Possession of “Rape Porn”

Starting in January, possession of “rape porn” will be a crime in the United Kingdom, punishable by up to three years in prison. Since the law does not distinguish between images or videos that depict actual rape and those that depict simulated rape, though, it will have the effect of criminalizing a large amount of (otherwise legal) online material.

This new law is but the latest component of Prime Minister David Cameron’s misguided war on pornography. Announcing the ban on “rape porn”, Cameron proclaimed that: “These images normalise sexual violence against women – and they are quite simply poisonous to the young people who see them.”

The idea that porn leads to real-life sexual violence can be debunked by a few minutes of Google searching, and in fact the evidence seems to suggest the opposite–that the increased availability of porn is partly responsible for a decrease in rates of rape and sexual assault.

For men who are inclined to commit rape, viewing simulated rape porn may very well be an outlet for their aggression, allowing them to commit sexual violence vicariously through consenting adult film performers.

At the very least, simulated rape porn will not cause otherwise law-abiding young men who view it to go out and commit rape.

And besides, I suspect that many of the people who view “rape porn” are not even imagining themselves as the perpetrator, but rather as the victim (although I don’t have any hard numbers to back this up).

For women in particular, simulated rape porn can provide an outlet for rape fantasies. As Salon’s Tracy Clark-Flory points out, such fantasies are common among women–but rather than indicating any sort of desire to be sexually violated, these fantasies “represent a faux-violation, a powerlessness that is paradoxically controlled by the fantasizer.”

And men can have these fantasies, too. Contrary to the popular stereotype, men’s rape fantasies aren’t limited to those in which they fall victim to group female lust. No, men can imagine themselves being “taken” by another man, as well.

If simulated rape porn allows individuals to explore sexual fantasies without doing any harm to others, what about images or videos that depict actual rape? Although these are much more problematic, mere possession of such videos does not infringe on anyone’s rights so it shouldn’t be illegal.

In the same way that victim’s rights advocates claim that merely having in your possession a photo depicting child sexual abuse is itself an act of abuse, some would surely claim that downloading a video depicting rape is akin to committing rape. (Hell, anti-porn feminists already claim that all pornography is violence against women.)

But downloading a video of a rape no more makes you a rapist than downloading a video of the 9/11 attacks makes you a terrorist. To suggest otherwise is absurd.

Perhaps British authorities should devote more time and resources towards apprehending and prosecuting actual rapists instead of going after the small minority of internet porn users who seek out material depicting simulated rape.

(And if genuine rape videos are truly a widespread problem on the Internet, how about adding a few years on to the prison sentences of rapists who videotape their crimes and post the videos online? Or would that make too much sense?)

Like many campaigns ostensibly aimed at protecting women from sexual violence (i.e. shutting down strip clubs to combat sex trafficking), banning “rape porn” will not help women–it will only expand the power of the State to police people’s bedrooms.

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Weekend Links

5 Recent Trends That Make It Hard to Trust the Police.

China, Cuba, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam were among the nations elected to three-year seats on the United Nations’ Human Rights Council this month. It’s almost like the U.N. doesn’t want to be taken seriously.

– China’s government has announced a series of reforms aimed at improving human rights in the country, including creating yet another exemption to the one-child policy, reducing the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty, and abolishing the system of “re-education through labor” (or “Laojiao”) camps. Well, at least they’re taking steps in the right direction.

The MPAA’s updated anti-piracy guidelines for movie theaters encourage theaters to adopt a “Zero Tolerance” policy on the use of cell phones or cameras during movies. The MPAA also warns theater employees to be on the lookout for video cameras concealed in cup holders or “built into eyeglass frames”, and urges them to immediately call the police on anyone suspected of illegal activity. Okay, I refuse to believe that there is a very lucrative market for low-quality cell phone videos of the newest Hunger Games movie. Besides, with today’s ever-shortening window between theatrical and DVD releases, who in his right mind is going to risk criminal charges just because his buddy is too cheap to shell out $8 for a movie ticket and too impatient to wait for the DVD?

– While discussing her new movie Don Jon (about a guy who’s obsessed with porn), actress Scarlett Johansson tells interviewer that porn “can be productive for both men and women.” Thank you.

The number of adult film permits filed in Los Angeles County has dropped from 480 last year to only 24 so far this year (a 95% decrease). This no doubt has something to do with the passage last November of Measure B, the controversial law requiring condoms to be worn in all adult films produced in the county. I still can’t wrap my head around the idea of requiring permits for adult films. (I get why you would need–and want–a permit if you were going to shut down a busy street to film an action movie, but why would a permit be necessary to videotape, say, a pansexual Latina with a strap-on sodomizing an androgynous dwarf in her basement sex dungeon? Just sayin’.)

The Florida couple whose address Spike Lee incorrectly tweeted as George Zimmerman’s are now suing the director for $1.2 million, despite having settled last year for $10,000. As much as I disagree with the director’s politics, this is just plain ol’ extortion. (Once you’ve reached a legal settlement, you don’t get to decide a year later that you want more money. That’s not how settlements work.)

– In yet another case of HOA thuggery, a homeowner’s association in Kentucky foreclosed upon and sold a 75-year-old woman’s home because she neglected to pay six years of HOA dues. (The woman paid cash for the house and did not realize that membership in the homeowner’s association was mandatory.)

One of Justin Bieber’s bodyguards was arrested this week for assault and property damage after attacking a photographer who refused to delete photos taken of the singer cliff diving in Hawaii. The bodyguard is already receiving job offers from Alec Baldwin and Kanye West.

Saudi religious police have arrested two men for giving out “free hugs” on the street, accusing the men of “indulging in exotic practices and offending public order.” Saudis should have learned by now that if it feels good, it’s almost certainly illegal in their country. (And since when is hugging “exotic”?)

– In Morocco, a 15-year-old boy and 14-year-old girl are facing up to two years in prison on charges of “violating public decency” after they were photographed kissing outside their school in the city of Nador last month. In response, activists have staged a “Kiss-In” outside the parliament building in Rabat, while human rights organization Amnesty International has called for the charges to be dropped, labeling the teens’ prosecution “absurd.”

– And finally, self-proclaimed “psychic” Sylvia Browne has died at the age of 77. Ha! Bet she didn’t see that coming!

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50 Years Later, JFK Conspiracy Theories Still Going Strong

111115_jfk_assassination_reuters_328

Fifty years ago today, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, by Lee Harvey Oswald–spawning conspiracy theories that have lived on to this day.

According to an AP-GfK poll conducted in April of this year, of the 1,004 respondents, 59% believed that JFK was killed as part of a conspiracy, while only 24% believed that Oswald acted alone. Other polls have found similar numbers.

Various individuals and groups believed to have been involved in JFK’s assassination include Lyndon B. Johnson, George H.W. Bush, Earl Warren, J. Edgar Hoover, Fidel Castro, Nikita Krushchev, the CIA, the FBI, the Secret Service, the John Birch Society, the KGB, the mob, the military-industrial complex, and the Kardashian family.

One of the most popular theories says that there was a second gunman, positioned on a grassy knoll to the right of the president’s motorcade. Proponents of this theory point to a recording made by a motorcycle cop’s microphone at the time of the shooting, claiming that four shots can be heard on the tape–three from Oswald and a fourth from a second shooter. However, this acoustical evidence was debunked by the National Academy of Sciences in 1982.

Believers in the “second gunman” theory also claim that it would have been impossible for the same bullet to have struck both Kennedy and Governor Connally (who was seated in front of and slightly to the left of the president). Dubbed the “magic bullet”, this theory was described in the film JFK (and memorably parodied in an episode of Seinfeld). It is often illustrated using diagrams like this one:

magigbullet_vector_eps

Clearly, it would have been impossible for a single bullet to have traveled the above path. However, what these conspiracy theorists neglect to mention is that Connally’s seat was in fact set lower than Kennedy’s. Here’s the route that the bullet actually took, adjusting for the correct seat heights:

assassination2

Having established that there was no second shooter, is it possible that Oswald nevertheless had help in some other form? Many JFK conspiracy theorists claim that one or more U.S. government agencies were involved in the assassination. If that were really the case, though, wouldn’t someone have come forward by now?

After all, Nixon couldn’t even cover up his involvement in a break-in–how the hell would the CIA or the Secret Service have gotten away with murdering the president? I don’t place much faith in the federal government or its agents, but I have to believe that even the most jaded CIA agent would consider “assassinating the president of the United States” to be crossing a line (or at least something worth telling the wife about).

I think it’s clear that people continue to embrace JFK conspiracy theories because they don’t want to believe that one lunatic with a gun can change history. As Manson family prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, who wrote a book about the assassination, puts it: “They feel that a great plot has to be responsible for bringing down a great man.”

However, history is replete with examples of “great” individuals killed by a lone gunman: U.S. Presidents Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield and William McKinley, U.S. Senators Huey Long and Robert F. Kennedy, and political activists Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.–just to name a few.

Despite what the conspiracy theorists want to believe, all available evidence supports the “official” story–that Kennedy was fatally shot by Lee Harvey Oswald, who acted alone. Lacking any credible evidence to the contrary, a rational person is left to conclude that any alternative theories are completely without merit (in other words, they’re bullshit).

Speaking of “bullshit”, for a more thorough–and entertaining–debunking of JFK assassination theories, I recommend watching Penn & Teller’s Bullshit! episode on conspiracy theories:

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Tuesday Links

– Last week the Supreme Court began hearing arguments in Town of Greece v. Galloway, which involves the constitutionality of opening legislative sessions with prayers. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals previously ruled against the town, finding that such practices violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. And, from the looks of it, the Supreme Court is likely to agree.

Photography is Not a Crime blogger Carlos Miller is facing felony witness intimidation charges for posting the publically available work phone number of a Boston Police Department public information officer and encouraging his readers to call her regarding bogus wiretapping charges filed against an associate of his. As Miller writes on his blog, “this is nothing but a clear-cut case of police intimidation.”

Police in Salem, Mass. have accused a local psychic studio of fraud after employees allegedly charged a man $16,800 to have a “curse shield” put on him. (The city of Salem requires fortune-tellers to be licensed and forbids them from doing anything other than foretelling the future or reading the past.) So, when is the city going to begin licensing priests?

– A New Jersey couple is suing to overturn the state’s ban on gay “conversion” therapy, arguing that by preventing their 15-year-old son from seeking treatment for his “unwanted same-sex attractions”, the state is infringing on his freedom of religion. While the law should certainly protect GLBT minors from coercion in any form, it’s not right to prohibit a teen from receiving therapy that he or she wants, simply because the state disapproves of it. (In the same way that the law usually distinguishes between parents forcing their daughter to have an abortion and the young woman obtaining an abortion on her own volition, so too should the law distinguish between forced and voluntary gay “conversion” therapy.)

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (the state’s highest court for criminal cases) has overturned the conviction of a Harris County man under a 2005 law making it a felony to communicate “in a sexually explicit manner” with a minor (or a police officer pretending to be a minor, for that matter). The court ruled that the law as written is unconstitutionally overbroad, with Judge Cathy Cochran pointing out that the law could very well criminalize descriptions of sexually explicit novels such as Lolita or Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

– In his latest column, The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen writes that: “People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children.” (Cohen’s probably just upset that de Blasio married outside of his bloodline.) In the same paragraph, Cohen says that de Blasio’s wife “used to be a lesbian.” Ugh. Cohen’s Wikipedia page says that he’s from New York City but I think that it’s supposed to say “Alabama.” How does a guy with the racial sensitivity of a Klan member still have a job at any big city newspaper in the year 2013, much less at a paper with as high of a reputation (and with as much liberal credentials) as The Washington Post? If newspapers like the Post want to stay relevant to today’s young adults, they could start by firing people like Cohen (who apparently has a history of saying incredibly stupid and offensive things).

– And finally, police in South Africa are investigating criminal charges against cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro following publication of a cartoon by Shapiro satirizing the Hindu god Ganesha. For something that looks like the mutant offspring of Charles Laughton and an elephant, Hindus sure take Ganesha very seriously. You can see the cartoon here.

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Weekend Links

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to raise the city’s cigarette tax by 75 cents a pack, which would make Chicago’s cigarette taxes the highest in the nation (even higher than New York City’s). Emanuel has also called for a federal ban on menthol cigarettes, which he has referred to as a “gateway to a lifetime of addiction.”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has retracted his administration’s challenge to the ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in the state, saying through a spokesperson that while he “strongly disagrees” with the ruling, he will abide by the court’s judgment. Well, he’s just about clinched the pessimistic homophobe vote.

A suburban Kansas City woman could face contempt of court charges after she reported to jury duty with her infant son, whom she is still breastfeeding and for whom she was unable to find a babysitter. A court order accused the woman of “willfully and contemptuously” appearing “for jury service with her child and no one to care for the child.” This woman’s only crime is being a breastfeeding mother. Does the court expect mothers to arrange their entire lives around the possibility that they might at some point be called for jury duty? UPDATE: A judge has delayed holding the woman in contempt of court until the end of the Missouri legislative session, during which state lawmakers will hopefully pass a bill to exempt breastfeeding mothers from jury duty.

Chinese authorities have announced a crackdown on reality TV shows in the country, no doubt due to official concerns that American Idol-style programs are drawing viewers away from the official state broadcaster, CCTV. Under the new regulations, only one prime time reality show will be licensed to air per channel, per quarter.

– John Cusack, Daniel Ellsberg, and Oliver Stone are among the notable civil libertarians appearing in a new PSA entitled “Stop Watching Us.” The video, which was produced by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, warns against the dangers of NSA snooping, as well as condemning the government’s prosecutions of whistleblowers.

Novelist Jonathan Franzen says that the Internet “should be really strictly regulated,” condemns the “libertarians in Silicon Valley” whose “predatory practices” are putting journalists out of work: “Why should Apple shareholders be getting rich while working journalists are getting fired?” Could it have something to do with the fact that Apple is making a product that people actually want to buy?

Want to know where to find the cheapest marijuana in the United States? This map will help you out. (Unsurprisingly, marijuana is cheapest in high cultivation states: California, Kentucky, Oregon, and Washington.)

– On Saturday, dozens of Saudi women got behind the wheel and took to the streets in defiance of the conservative kingdom’s prohibition on female drivers, with some of the women posting videos of themselves driving to YouTube.

– And finally, Time’s interactive “Mood Map” of the United States is pretty neat. It allows you to see the results of a recently published study that measured the prevalence of certain personality traits, including extroversion and openness, in each of the 50 states. You can also take a quiz to see which state you belong in based on your personality. (I got New Mexico, indicating that I’m open-minded, conscientious and introverted. Seems about right.)

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El Salvador’s Cruel and Despicable War on Women

Last year, a 19-year-old woman went to a public hospital in El Salvador, bleeding and in terrible pain. Doctors told her she had a miscarriage. She hadn’t even known she was pregnant.

Within four days, the hospital had reported her to the police on suspicion of having an abortion, and she had been charged with aggravated murder. She was convicted on the flimsiest of evidence, and last month she was sentenced to 10 years in prison (prosecutors had wanted 50 years).

She’s not alone, either. Between 2000 and 2011, 129 women were prosecuted and 49 women convicted in El Salvador for illegally terminating their pregnancies. In many cases, the woman had not even intentionally ended her pregnancy–she had simply suffered a miscarriage or other naturally arising complications.

The BBC article profiles several of these women. One is serving a 40 year sentence for having a miscarriage. Another was sentenced to 30 years for aggravated murder after tragically losing her second child, but was able to have the sentence reduced to three years.

All of this has obviously made El Salvador’s pregnant young women much more reluctant to seek emergency care in the country’s public hospitals–and the reason I say public is because the common element in all of these cases is that the women were reported by public hospital staff.

It would be no exaggeration to say that El Salvador’s draconian anti-abortion laws are having a disparate impact on the country’s poor women–who are much less likely to be able to afford a trip to a private hospital (where thousands of illegal abortions are estimated to take place each year).

El Salvador is one of only three countries in the world in which abortion is illegal in all circumstances, and in which all exceptions have been eliminated by law (the other two countries being Chile and Nicaragua).

What do these three countries have in common besides being Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America? For starters, all three of them are predominantly Roman Catholic, and we’re all aware of the Catholic Church’s stance on abortion.

Now, I could make the libertarian case for legal and unregulated abortion, but I won’t do that here. Instead, I’ll just say this: There’s something very wrong with a society that values the life of an unborn fetus more than that of an adult woman (that values the potential more than actual).

Even if terminating a pregnancy is the act of taking a life, how can the “life” of an unborn fetus be worth a decade or more of the mother’s life?

And what of the fact that many of these women did not even choose to end their pregnancies, but instead suffered miscarriages or other complications? Even if abortion is murder, a miscarriage is not an abortion. How can a woman be held criminally liable for a natural occurrence over which she had no control (and for the crime of murder, no less)?

The criminalization of miscarriages is a disturbing trend in the long and sordid war on women’s bodies. Arresting and prosecuting women for experiencing natural pregnancy complications not only violates human rights, but its puts women’s lives at risk.

Worst of all, it treats misfortunate, often poor and unmarried young women as criminals and murderers. Said one of the women: “I will never understand why they did this to me, I lost four years of my life and still don’t know why I lost my baby.”

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Weekend Links

– On Monday, New Jersey will become the 14th state to grant marriage rights to same-sex couples, in light of the state Supreme Court’s refusal to delay a lower court judge’s ruling that the state begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses immediately. Newark mayor and U.S. Senator-elect Cory Booker has announced plans to begin marrying same-sex couples in Newark at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

The Los Angeles Times announced this weekend that it will no longer publish letters that deny humanity’s role in climate change. Of course, climate change deniers are accusing the paper of “censorship”–demonstrating a profound lack of understanding of the word.

The City of Denver is considering an ordinance that would not only prohibit marijuana smoking in certain public places, but that would also prohibit marijuana smoking on private property if it’s visible to the public or if the smell of the marijuana leaves one’s property. Said Mayor Michael Hancock, “I shouldn’t have to smell your activities from your backyard.” Yeah, and I’m sure this guy always holds in his farts while riding in elevators. Asshole.

A Malaysian court has ruled that the country’s Christian minority may not use the word “Allah” to refer to their god, siding with Islamists who claimed that doing so could lead to confused Muslims converting to Christianity. Goddammit.

– In Azerbaijan, the official election results–showing a landslide victory for President Ilham Aliyev–were accidentally released the day before voting began. You’d think this was their first time rigging an election!

A British court has ordered the Wall Street Journal to comply with a request by British prosecutors to remove from its U.K. and online editions the names of individuals that the Crown plans to prosecute for fraud. (The article has been removed from the website, but remains in the U.S. print edition.)

According to a new report issued by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Obama administration’s efforts to control the free flow of information have been the “most aggressive” since the Nixon administration.

A 15-year-old Roma girl living in France was arrested in the middle of a school field trip earlier this month so that she could be deported, along with her family, back to her native Kosovo. The family had applied for asylum in France, but authorities refused their request. The case has shed a harsh light on France’s treatment of its Roma minority, with high school students taking to the streets of Paris this week to protest the girl’s deportation. UPDATE: The girl has turned down an offer by French President Francois Hollande to return to the country, since she would not be allowed to bring her family back with her.

A recent court case has revealed that, for the past 35 years, the United States government has been citing a non-existent article of the Mexican constitution in order to deny citizenship to individuals born in Mexico to an American parent. The government has blamed the error on a “typo.” Wow, the incompetence is staggering.

In the Polish city of Gdansk, a sculpture depicting a Red Army soldier raping a pregnant woman caused controversy after it was unlawfully erected next to a World War II-era memorial commemorating the Soviet troops who liberated the city from the Nazis in 1945. According to the sculptor, the piece was meant to depict the suffering of war-time rape victims (he could have picked a more tactful way of doing that). Police removed the sculpture after only a few hours, while prosecutors are considering charging the sculptor with “inciting racial or national hatred.” Are they really that concerned about the feelings of a bunch of dead rapists?

A Fairbanks, Alaska-based charter pilot has been sentenced to three days in jail and ordered to pay $3,000 in fines for allegedly allowing a passenger to bring beer on a flight to a “dry” village. (The pilot insists that he didn’t know what was in the passenger’s grocery bags.) To make matters worse, authorities want to seize his Cessna 206 in order to “send a message to other aircraft operators.” Jesus Christ! Isn’t Alaska where you go to get away from this kind of bullshit?

– And finally, this map shows what each country leads the world in. (The U.S. apparently leads the world in “Nobel Laureates” and “Getting Killed by Lawnmowers.” You can derive your own conclusions from that…)

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In Orthodox Jewish Kidnapping Case, Community Must Share Blame

Two Orthodox Jewish rabbis from Brooklyn are facing federal kidnapping charges after allegedly agreeing to kidnap and torture husbands who refused to grant their wives a “get”–a document that essentially frees the woman from her husband, allowing her to remarry without being guilty of adultery.

Although a “get” is not required for a civil (legal) divorce, Orthodox Jewish women who fail to obtain one can face shame and rejection within their communities. A woman may be legally divorced, but without the “get”, she is still considered married in the eyes of the Orthodox Jewish community.

It is for this reason that I cannot totally condemn these women. Surely a woman who would pay a rabbi up to $50,000 to hire someone to kidnap her husband in order to have the right to remarry is a woman with few other options.

And although the actions allegedly taken by Rabbis Mendel Epstein and Martin Wolmark are deplorable, it seems that they were motivated at least in part by a desire to help these women. According to the New York Times article, Rabbi Epstein in particular was concerned about the rights of women and the difficulties they could face.

And I don’t want it to sound like I’m “blaming the victim”, but the husbands, too, are at least partly responsible for what happened to them. Their refusal to grant their wives permission to divorce is what drove these women to such desperate measures in the first place.

So if none of the individuals involved are wholly responsible for this kidnapping scheme, who–or what–is? Well, if fingers are to be pointed anywhere, it should be at the system of religious law that grants nearly all of the power in relationships to men.

By requiring wives to obtain their husbands’ permission for divorce, Jewish law ensures that in most relationships the woman will occupy a position that is subordinate to that of the man. (This problem is hardly unique to Orthodox Judaism, however.)

If the allegations in this case are true, then what these rabbis did was a crime. Nevertheless, we should reserve our harshest condemnation not for the rabbis or the wives, but for the Orthodox Jewish belief system that treats women as second-class citizens and leaves them with no peaceful recourse should they be denied a divorce.

This is not a problem that can be solved through legislation or government edict. Rather, it will require a cultural shift within these Orthodox Jewish communities. (Such a cultural shift could be brought about, for example, by making these neighborhoods more religiously and ethnically diverse, thereby lessening the impact of community shunning.)

Of course, none of this absolves the guilty parties of responsibility for their actions. Kidnapping and torture are serious crimes, regardless of the reasons behind them.

However, a community that continues to use 2,000-year-old religious law as the basis for social norms deserves at least part of the blame when some of its members take desperate measures to avoid violating those norms–as happened in this case.

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Wednesday Links

The 6 Most Humiliating Public Failures by Celebrity Psychics.

– Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has already suggested that Monday’s Washington Navy Yard shooting was a “false flag” operation perpetrated by the government to stir up anti-gun sentiment. Somebody watches too many movies.

In a speech recently posted online, Catholic Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis John Nienstedt blamed “Satan” for abortion, contraception, pornography and same-sex marriage. So…why do they want me to worship the other guy?

– Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who suffers from a debilitating form of motor neuron disease that has left him almost completely paralyzed, has expressed support for the legalization of assisted suicide for the terminally ill. Said Hawking: “We don’t let animals suffer, so why humans?”

Kansas City mom complains that trips to Arrowhead Stadium to watch the Chiefs play are being marred by presence of (fully clothed) strippers. And yet, not a word about these.

The Smoking Gun has obtained copies of the complaints filed with the FCC over Miley Cyrus’ VMAs performance–and they’re entertaining, to say the least. Apparently, the FCC received 150 complaints, despite the fact that the agency has no authority over the content of cable networks like MTV, which aired the VMAs.

A federal judge has ruled that clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch violated anti-discrimination laws when it fired a Muslim employee for refusing to remove her headscarf while on the job. Their mistake was hiring her in the first place.

Six really stupid 9/11 conspiracy theories debunked in about six seconds.

Wisconsin state legislators are considering a bill that would allow owners of bars and other establishments that sell alcohol to sue underage drinkers who purchase alcohol from them. (If found guilty, the underage drinkers could be forced to pay a $1,000 fine.) Yeah, that’ll stop them.

– And finally, a Tennessee judge has overturned a child support magistrate’s decision to change a baby’s name from “Messiah” to “Martin”, ruling that doing so violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The magistrate, Lu Ann Ballew, ordered the baby’s name changed last month because, in her belief, “Messiah” is “a title that has only been earned by one person – and that one person is Jesus Christ.”

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The State of New Mexico vs. Freedom of Association

In 2006, Vanessa Willock asked Elaine Huguenin, co-owner of Elane Photography in Albuquerque, to photograph her same-sex commitment ceremony. Huguenin declined, however, citing her and her husband’s religious belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Although Willock was able to find another photographer, she nevertheless filed a complaint against Elane Photography with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. In January of 2008, the Commission ruled that Huguenin had engaged in illegal discrimination, and ordered her to pay $6,637.94 in attorney’s fees to Willock and her partner.

Huguenin appealed the ruling to the Court of Appeals and then to the state Supreme Court, seeking a First Amendment religious exemption to the state Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Last month, the New Mexico Supreme Court refused to grant that exemption, ruling that photographers do not have a First Amendment right to refuse to photograph same-sex weddings.

Firstly, the Court was perhaps correct to reject the religious exemption–it would have been better to have tossed the law altogether. (If Christian conservatives had any courage, they would work to have these laws overturned, rather than merely trying to carve out exemptions for God’s chosen few.)

Secondly, there is nothing particularly egregious about this case that should justify the outrage it has generated on the right, especially not when considering that anti-discrimination laws have always infringed on the rights of those holding non state-approved viewpoints.

(I have a sneaking suspicion that many of the religionists condemning the New Mexico court’s decision would feel differently if the case had involved a lesbian photographer who refused to shoot a Christian wedding.)

Some liberty-minded individuals have defended Elane Photography’s right to discriminate while attempting to distinguish this case from, say, a hotel refusing to rent a room to a black family–and to explain why discrimination would be permissible in the former but not the latter.

But these individuals are merely engaging in semantic gymnastics. Liberal commentators are correct to point out that there is no moral difference between this case and acts of private racial discrimination–although, as often is the case, their conclusions are backwards.

Let’s be clear about what’s happening here: The State is punishing one party for refusing to associate with another. Rather than protecting freedom of association, the State is violating it.

If Jane Smith owns a business, she should have the right to refuse to do business with any person–for any reason. Those who object to her discrimination have the right to urge others to boycott her, to criticize her in the media, or to simply take their business elsewhere.

If flower shop owner Jane Smith refuses to provide flowers for John Doe’s same-sex wedding because of her opposition to gay marriage, she has not infringed on his rights–because his rights don’t include the right to force others to associate with him.

The principles that apply here apply to any act of discrimination–whether the target is blacks, atheists, or homeless John Stamos look-a-likes. Discrimination is merely the manifestation of the right to freedom of association.

When the State violates this freedom of association by telling us who we can and cannot choose to associate with (and which reasons are acceptable for refusing to associate), it is engaging in coercion.

Elaine Huguenin and her husband should have the right to refuse to photograph same-sex ceremonies if they so choose. It shouldn’t matter whether their reason for refusing is religious or secular–it’s their business and therefore should be their choice and theirs alone.

Similarly, if a racist hotel owner does not wish to rent to blacks, that should be his right as well. Freedom of association doesn’t apply only to those with whom we agree. As reprehensible as private discrimination may sometimes be, it does not constitute coercion. (If a state passed a law forbidding gays from patronizing Christian businesses, on the other hand, that would be coercion.)

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Monday Links

– U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales has been sentenced to life in prison without parole for murdering 16 Afghan civilians–nine of them children–in Kandahar Province on March 11, 2012.

U.S. Army Private Bradley Chelsea Manning was sentenced last week to 35 years in prison–an absurd sentence on top of an unjust prosecution, particularly since neither Manning nor WikiLeaks has been shown to be responsible for a single U.S. military death.

– The controversy over the Sochi Winter Olympics continues: The Russian government confirmed earlier this month that its ban on “gay propaganda” will be enforced against visiting athletes and spectators at the Winter Olympics. Russia’s Sports Minister, meanwhile, has accused the western media of trying to stir up controversy where none exists. And, in a letter to the International Olympic Committee, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister defended the law, claiming that it “cannot be regarded as discrimination based on sexual orientation” since it applies equally to everyone–gay or straight (that’s like banning Bibles and then claiming that it’s not discriminatory to Christians because atheists are forbidden from having Bibles as well). And now, Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued a decree banning any public protests or demonstrations in Sochi before, during, or after the Olympics.

– Just to keep things in perspective: 76 Countries Where Anti-Gay Laws Are as Bad as or Worse than Russia’s.

– Several members of the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (also known as “Pastafarianism”) were arrested while marching in St. Petersburg, Russia, earlier this month–at the urging of a Russian Orthodox group calling itself “God’s Will”, whose leader accused the Pastafarians of committing “blasphemy” against Christianity.

While overseeing a dispute over a 7-month-old baby’s last name, a Tennessee judge took it upon herself to change the child’s first name from Messiah to Martin because, in her words, “The word Messiah is a title and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ.” Goddammit.

Indian doctor and anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar was gunned down last week in Pune. Dabholkar had in the past received death threats for lecturing against superstition and religious extremism, and its very likely that his murder was related to his activism.

The Minnesota Supreme Court has overturned the felony assault conviction of a gay HIV-positive man who transmitted the disease to his partner. Daniel James Rick was prosecuted under a state law prohibiting the “knowing transfer of a communicable disease” after his sexual partner tested positive for HIV. Seeing as both men knew Rick was HIV-positive and chose to have unprotected sex anyway, the Court made the right call. This prosecution was based on nothing but old-fashioned homophobia guised as concern for public health.

– A federal judge in Wisconsin has ruled that the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation can proceed with its lawsuit against the IRS over the agency’s alleged failure to crack down on partisan political statements by clergymen. The FFRF’s Annie Laurie Gaynor warned that “If these churches…are allowed to engage in tax-exempt politicking, it would be the ruination of our democracy” and would make Citizen’s United “look like child’s play.” So…yet another liberal who thinks that free speech is dangerous and must be restricted for the “good” of democracy. (Only entities that surrender part of their income to government robbers–er, tax collectors–will be allowed to express dissatisfaction with the regime.)

No, LSD and other psychedelics do not cause people to go crazy.

Reason‘s Nick Gillespie on the crusade against e-cigarettes: “[A]s the percentage of Americans who smoke has stayed relatively stuck in the high teens and low twenties, the anti-smoking movement has turned to increasingly paternalistic, dictatorial, and infantilizing measures to achieve its goals. From statewide bans on smoking in more and more places to the censoring of marketing terms such as light and mild…there’s no logical stopping point for treating us all as moral defectives incapable of making our own choices.”

The U.S. distributor for the explicit lesbian love drama Blue is the Warmest Colour has announced that they will release the film uncut, with an NC-17 rating. In other words, the film won’t be playing in Utah.

– And finally, a federal judge has refused to block the enforcement of Los Angeles County’s controversial Measure B–which requires male adult film performers to wear condoms during filming–while essentially rendering the law unenforceable. (The measure allows county health officers “to enter and inspect any property where he or she believes adult film production is taking place, levy fines, and seize potential evidence without a warrant.” This provision–among others–was struck down by the judge, who noted that, as written, it would allow officials to enter any building in the county without a warrant!)

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