Archive for December, 2008

Simple solutions to stupid problems, part 2: By The Power Vested In Me edition

Reporting from Las Vegas — In a city launched by shotgun weddings and quickie divorces, and which offers the chance to be wed by faux Liberaces, King Tuts and Grim Reapers, there remains at least one nuptial taboo: You can’t be married by an atheist.

Michael Jacobson, a 64-year-old retiree who calls himself a lifelong atheist, tried this year to get a license to perform weddings. Clark County rejected his application because he had no ties to a congregation, as state law requires.

So Jacobson and attorneys from two national secular groups — the American Humanist Assn. and the Center for Inquiry — are trying to change things. If they can’t persuade the state Legislature to rework the law, they plan to sue.

[…]

When Lipman and his wife moved to Florida this spring, Jacobson — a balding man with a thin, white mustache and a trace of his native Philadelphia in his voice — decided to become the local atheist celebrant.

But I’m not going to do it by saying I belong to a religious organization, he said. That’s a sham, because atheists are not religious.

Jacobson filled out an application to perform marriages, but sidestepped the questions on religion. County Clerk Shirley Parraguirre said she had little choice but to reject it.

As Nevada law requires, all of the county’s 2,500 or so licensed officiants are connected to a congregation — though some are as small as two people, Parraguirre said. (Judges and commissioners of civil marriages can also lead ceremonies.)

Some of the state’s regulations hark back to the 1960s, when ministers were dumping their flocks to become wealthy Marrying Sams, according to the book Las Vegas: An Unconventional History. One would-be officiant apparently hoped to marry enough people to finance his divorce.

Lawmakers, trying to ferret out the profit-hungry, said weddings must be among a minister’s incidental duties. Drive past the string of neon-lighted downtown chapels, and you’ll see that didn’t quite pan out.

Clark County issues nearly 100,000 marriage licenses a year and boasts dozens of places to exchange vows — atop Harley-Davidsons, in Renaissance costumes, aboard gondolas — 24 hours a day. The competition is so fierce that in recent years, employees at rival chapels have accused one another of slashing tires and shouting death threats. Someone is working at all of these chapels, said Parraguirre, whose office doesn’t have the resources to track down ministers flouting the law. In fact, she worries that if the criteria to become an officiant changes, her staff will be bombarded with people coming in and just doing it for a job.

[…]

Judges performing ceremonies, for example, don’t have to meet religious criteria, so it’s absurd to make anyone else do so, [Lynne Henderson, a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas] said. Officials could regulate celebrants in other ways, such as making them get training.

Ashley Powers, Los Angeles Times (2008-12-14): Atheist may sue if law on Las Vegas officiants won’t change

Let’s suppose it’s true that County Clerk Shirley Parraguirre’s office just hasn’t got the resources to deal with all the applications that would bombard them if Nevada did away its mandates for state discrimination against religiously unconventional marriages. It seems to me there’s a simple solution: save County Clerk Shirley Parraguirre the work by abolishing the laws that require wedding officiants to get a license from the State in the first place. If there’s no licensure requirement, there will be no discrimination lawsuits, and also no applications to bombard poor County Clerk Shirley Parraguirre.

If your Elvis-impersonating streetside neon-chapel minister’s motives are really focused on making a living rather than on serving the Lord, who cares? Couples who want a religiously serious wedding will presumably go to a church or temple or mosque where they can get one.

If your Starfleet-uniformed Captain of the Starship of Love hasn’t had some State-sanctioned course of training (training in what?), who cares? Couples who want to vet their celebrants for training or competency will do so.

Even if you think that the State has some legitimate business using a licensing system to pick and choose which marriages it will or will not recognize (I don’t), what possible purpose can it serve to require not only the couple, but also the third party that they hire to officiate — whose only legal function is to witness the vows and attest that these folks mean what they say — to get specially vetted and licensed by the State? Really, seriously, bureaucratic rationality aside, who could possibly care, and why?

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December 17th is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

December 17th, 2008 is the 6th annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

From GT 2005-12-17: December 17th is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

The commemoration began from the Sex Workers’ Outreach Project’s memorial and vigil for the victims of the Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer. Since then its purpose has expanded to a memorial for, and protest against, all forms of violence against women in prostitution and elsewhere in the sex industry.

I’m opposed to prostitution as an industry, on radical feminist grounds. I frankly have very deep and sharp differences with the organizers of the event, and I’m iffy at best towards the rhetorical framework of sex work as a whole, for reasons that are way beyond the point of this post). But so what? The day is an important one no matter what differences I may have with the organizers. Real steps towards ending the ongoing daily violence against women in prostitution and elsewhere in the sex industry are more important than that; here as much as anywhere — probably more than anywhere else — women’s lives are at stake.

You can read the rest at the original post. Any serious commitment to freedom for, and an end to violence against, women, means a serious commitment to ending violence against women who work in the sex industry. All of it. And that means any kind of violence, whether rape, or assault, or robbery, or abduction, or confinement against her will, or murder. No matter who does it. The one image of violence against sex workers that the malestream media never tires of repeating is the roving madman, cutting women down in the streets. But roving madmen come in a lot of shapes and sizes and uniforms. It may be a serial killer. But it may be a pimp. Or a trafficker. Or a john who imagines that paying for sex means he owns a woman’s body. Or, lest we forget, it may be a cop who believes that his badge, and his victim’s status in the system of patriarchal sex-class, makes absolutely any kind of sexual predation or physical torture a cop’s prerogative and nothing better than what the victim deserves. Or, lest we forget, a cop or a prosecutor or an immigration control freak, who calls the violence of an assault, restraint, and involuntary confinement an arrest or a sentence under the color of The Law. The Law has no more right than anyone else to hurt women or shove them around.

No matter who does it, this kind of violence — violence against peaceful people whose work, whatever you think of it, is honest work for willing customers, and is a way to get by, and doesn’t do one thing to threaten or violate the rights of a single living soul — violence against women who are made vulnerable by the violence and the killing indifference of the State — violence against women practiced in the name of enforcing patriarchal sex-class and misogynistic hatred for overtly sexual women — is wrong, absolutely wrong, and it has to stop. Immediately, completely, and forever.

In Las Vegas tonight, SWOP-Las Vegas is holding a vigil:

Reminder! TONIGHT in Las Vegas…

Join SWOP-Las Vegas to commemorate December 17th, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers!!

Las Vegas
Wed, December 17th

7:00 pm:

Meet at The Center: 953 E. Sahara Ave., Suite B-31, Las Vegas, NV, 89104. (In the Commercial Center) Phone at The Center: 702-733-9800

We will memorialize those sex workers who have lost their lives, and honor those who are missing. We’ll also make signs for the vigil.

8:15 pm:

We will hold a vigil in The Center parking lot with candles and then take our signs and red umbrellas to Sahara, where we will walk towards the strip. We will have masks for those who wish to use them. Afterward, we will return to Commercial Center to eat Thai food! Yum!

For more information, email us at info(at)swop-lv.org or call us toll-free at 1-866-525-7967, ext. 701.

In Washington, D.C., sex workers’ freedom and harm-reduction groups are coming together for a National March for Sex Workers’ Rights:

Advocates from across the nation will converge to mark the 6th Annual Internatinal Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers (IDEVASW). We are calling for an end to the unjust laws, policing, shaming and stigma that oppress our communities and make us targets for violence. We will both honor the lives of sex workers whose lives have passed and celebrate our vital movement. SWOP-USA, Different Avenues, HIPS, SWANK, Desiree Alliance, and many allies in harm reduction and social justice welcome your support. Join us as we march on Washington to demand human rights!

I wish that I could attend an event tonight but I will be away, traveling. In commemoration of the day, in memory of the 48 women murdered by Ridgway, and in solidarity with the living, I have contributed $120.00 tonight to Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive, a harm reduction group that provides counseling, safety resources, clothing, and food to prostitutes on the streets of the Washington, D.C. area, and $120.00 to Alternatives for Girls, whose Street Outreach Project provides similar services out of a van along the Cass Corridor in downtown Detroit. For other groups that provide similar resources and mutual aid, you can check out the links at the end of my original post.

May we all live free in the glory and joy of life that every human being deserves.

—Daisy Anarchy, I deserve to be safe

Remember. Mourn. Act.

See also:

On Blaming the Victim, Part II

From Frances Vanderploeg, Las Vegas Sun (2008-12-04): Henderson students discuss controversial issues during event

Part of the problem may be attendance, some students said. Schools are trying out different policies to encourage students to be in class and on time, such as forcing parents to sign in a student who was late the morning before.

They’re trying to fix the attendance policy, but they’re going about it the wrong way, Josh Rivera of Canyon Springs High School said.

The requirement to have parents sign in late students, for example, encouraged students to just skip the entire period, because the penalties were less harsh that way.

For the students with chronic truancies, however, students thought it was about time their peers answered up.

Shouldn’t there be harsher punishment because they’re wasting our time and money? Nick Rattigan of Green Valley High School said. They’re wasting the teachers’ time.

Actually, seeing as how the students are being made to go to class against their will, and the government schools seem unable to give them any reason to go other than the threat of harsher punishment, it seems to me like it would be more to the point to complain about the teachers wasting the students’ time than vice versa.

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The edict of Gary Reese, Mayor Pro Tempore and Vaquero Supreme of the Vegas Valley

As you may recall, Ted Marshall owns a warehouse in downtown Las Vegas. Like many buildings in downtown Las Vegas, Ted Marshall’s warehouse has been repeatedly vandalized by taggers. Like many property-owners in downtown Las Vegas, he covered up the graffiti several times, only to have new taggers come by and paint more on. Then, one day, he found some graffiti on his wall that he kind of liked, and he decided that he wanted to leave that design up on his own building’s wall. So the city of Las Vegas fined him $930 for having graffiti he wanted up on a wall he owns.

Ted Marshall thought this was bull crap: the city government shouldn’t force him to pay to get rid of a design that vandals put up without his permission, and, while we’re at it, the city government shouldn’t force him to pay fines for leaving designs he wants to leave up on his own building. Ted Marshall’s representative on the city council, Mayor Pro Tem Gary Reese, replies:

I don’t want graffiti on any buildings in the city of Las Vegas. He said it was artistic or something, but for me, it’s a crime. For him to stand there and say he’s sick and tired and he’s going to leave it how it is — that’s bull crap.

Please remember that in the view of the Las Vegas city council, what matters is what Mayor Pro Tem Gary Reese does or does not want on buildings in the city of Las Vegas — certainly not what the mere owners of those buildings want or do not want on them.

Mary Price, falsely identified as a spokeswoman for the city of Las Vegas (actually, she speaks for the government, not for the city), adds:

It’s like any other situation where you have property damage, city spokeswoman Mary Ann Price explains. If you had a burned-out building … it creates a hazard. You as the property owner would be responsible for it.

She’s right that this is just like any other situation where you have property damage. As long as a burned-out building, no matter how hazardous, doesn’t actually threaten to damage anybody else’s property, the city government has absolutely no business forcing the property owner to fix that up, either, if she would rather not do so. Why should they?

The Review-Journal’s editorial board informs us that The whole issue is surprisingly simple, once viewed through the lens of property rights. Indeed it is. The issue here is that Mary Ann Price and Gary Reese — by the grace of Law Mayor Pro Tempore, Defender of Order, and Vaquero Supreme of the Vegas Valley — believe that the whole city of Las Vegas is their own rightful property, by concession of the sovereign state and federal governments, which the supposed owners of land and buildings really only lease on Gary Reese’s terms and at his pleasure. They believe that they have the right to tell you what they do or don’t want to see, how they do or don’t want it used, and who you can or cannot invite to use it, in the name of maintaining what they see as good taste, or good business, or protecting the property values in their personal domains. If you’re not interested in helping them maintain a touch of class with the land or the buildings that you were foolish enough to think you owned, then they tell you that your claim is bull crap, that their opinions about the proper disposal of your building matter far more than yours, and they will send professional busybodies and armed thugs to inform you of your responsibilities, then to harass you, shove you around, fine you, and ultimately to jail you or kill you if you should resist their efforts to collect.

Don’t turn your back on the Wolfpack

[This story has been censored for the time being due to an ongoing campaign of legal extortion being conducted against bloggers by Righthaven LLC.]

Well, thank God #11: Paint It Black edition

As part of its ongoing campaign of socio-economic cleansing, the city government of Las Vegas has taken a bold step against vandalism and graffiti. The problem with graffiti, you’ll remember, is that no matter how artistic it may be, it defaces somebody’s private property without their permission. So now the city of Las Vegas will force you to paint over the graffiti, without your permission, and fine you $900 and up if you choose to leave it up on your own wall.

Well, thank God, says I. If the city government weren’t sending around a bunch of professional busybodies and armed thugs to make sure that Ted Marshall’s walls stay painted the way he wanted them painted — even if he doesn’t want to pant them that way anymore — well, who would? Not Ted Marshall, that’s for sure. Why, it’d be sheer— well, you know.

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Yes, Virginia, government roads really are government subsidized, and no, they don’t approximate freed-market outcomes

When left-libertarians argue with more conventionally pro-capitalist libertarians about economics, one of the issues that often comes up is government control over roads, and the ways in which state and federal government’s control over roads has acted as a large subsidy for economic centralization and national-scale production and distribution networks (and thus, to large-scale big box retailers, like Wal-Mart or Best Buy, dependent on the crafty arrangement of large-scale cross-country shipping as a basic part of their business model). People who have a problem with this analysis sometimes try to dispute it by arguing that government roads aren’t actually subsidized — that heavy users of government roads are actually getting something that roughly approximates a freed-market outcome, because users of government roads pay for the roads they get, in proportion to how heavily they use them, because government roads are funded by gasoline taxes, tire taxes, and government-imposed licensing fees, which all go up in cost more or less proportionally to increases in use of government roads. Thus (the argument goes), funding for government roads is more like a fee-for-service transaction on a freed market than it’s like a classic case of government subsidies. But in fact, this argument is completely bogus, for at least three reasons.

The first reason is that, contrary to popular misconception, government-imposed gasoline taxes and user fees on road users do not actually fully fund the costs of government road-building and maintenance; government funding of roads actually includes a substantial subsidy extracted from taxpayers independently of their usage of the roads. Government budgets for road building and maintenance in the US draw from general funds as well as from earmarked gas taxes and user fees, and those budgets are subsidized by state, local, and federal government to the tune of about 20–70 cents per gallon of gasoline expended.

The second reason, which ought to be obvious to libertarians given how much we have talked about the use of eminent domain over the past few years, is that government road-building is substantially subsidized by the fact that government can — and routinely does — use the power of eminent domain to seize large, contiguous stretches of land for road building at arbitrarily fixed rates below what the land-owners could have demanded in a free market land sale. Even if it were the case (as it is not) that usage-based levies like gasoline taxes and government licensing fees were enough to cover the budget for government road building and maintenance, that budget has already had a massive, unmentioned government subsidy factored into it due to the use of eminent domain.

The third reason is that a freed market is able to match the supply for roads to the demand at something like the appropriate cost not only because people pay for the roads in proportion to their use of the roads, but also because the prices for road use are set by negotiations between road users and road builders in a competitive market, and because the ownership and management patterns of roads are determined by patterns of free economic decisions to buy, sell, lease, develop, abandon, reclaim, and subdivide land. Freed markets aren’t just a matter of paying for what you get (as important as that is); they also have to do with the freedom to get what you get by alternative means, and with patterns of ownership and control based on consensual negotiation rather than on force. No matter how roads are funded, there is no way to approximate freed-market results with government monopoly on sales or politically-determined allocation of ownership. (Again, this is something that ought to be obvious; it is just the socialist calculation problem applied to the market for road transportation.)

And roads funded by government-imposed gasoline taxes will always be either noncompetitive or subsidized: if there were any significant private roads competing with roads funded by government gasoline taxes, the taxes on the gasoline that drivers burn on those roads become a subsidy to the government-controlled roads. The more users use the non-government roads, the more they would be subsidizing the government roads.

Further, the ownership and management patterns of government roads are determined by electoral horse-trading and arbitrary political jurisdictions, not by free economic actors. As a result, decisions about what roads to build, how to direct funds to those roads, how to price the use of those roads, etc. are typically made by state or federal legislatures, or state or federal executive bureaus. Governments are far more responsive to political than to economic pressure; governments generally will not, or cannot, sell off roads or spin off control over local roads to the people who use them most and can best manage them; state and federal governments exercise centralized control over far larger fiefs than it would ever be possible or profitable to amass on a free market. Thus, for example, because the building and maintenance of roads in Las Vegas is controlled, not by free market actors in Las Vegas, but rather by the Nevada state government, we have Las Vegas drivers paying in 70% of the state’s gas taxes and getting back only 61% of the state’s spending on roads (which is an increase over the 2003–07 average of 53%) — meaning that we are forced to turn tens of millions of dollars over to subsidizing highway building and maintenance in the rest of Nevada. Here’s NDOT’s reasoning as to why we should get stuck with the bill:

If NDOT based its road building program strictly on usage, [NDOT assistant director of engineering Kent] Cooper said, then no new highways would be built outside of Clark County.

He noted that freeways in Las Vegas attract 150,000 to more than 200,000 vehicles a day. No other area in the state has such high use.

Ed Vogel, Las Vegas Review-Journal (2008-11-26): Southern Nevadans get less bang for their road tax buck

Now, maybe Kent Cooper thinks that it is just and wise to force Las Vegas drivers to pay tens of millions of dollars in subsidies so that NDOT can build expensive roads that nobody wants to use.

Maybe he’s right about that, and maybe he’s wrong. But whatever the case may be, the only way to get freed market results in roads is by freeing the market. Under government ownership, government funding, and government control, roads are subsidized by taxes that are levied independently of road usage, built using a subsidy created by forced seizure of land, and users of high-volume local roads are typically forced to subsidize expensive, long-distance cross-country roads that they aren’t using. This kind of allocation of resources for long-distance, non-local highways — which further distorts an already subsidy-distorted system by distorting the flow of money within that system away from the heavily-used local roads and into the high-cost, high maintenance long-distance roads, can certainly not be called any kind of approximation of a freed market in roads.