Saving souls over the infected body

President Bush’s faith-based initiative developed foreseeable political baggage surrounding the allocation of $15 billion to fight HIV/AIDS. Mostly the baggage revolves around the distribution of condoms and the focus, or lack of focus, on abstinence and fidelity. I don’t want to go too in-depth on this because any thinking person could come up with the standard storyline for each side in the argument.

Personally, I don’t care for the religious angle coming from the federal government. That’s realistic more than anything. Just like any other arena where the independent, objective-minded interests of the government become quickly skewed to whatever dominant social theme prevails, this was bound to erupt into chaos. The goal is fighting AIDS and the spread of HIV. That shouldn’t be political, but a faith-based initiative means it will be so. It’s an inefficient waste of resources. That’s the outcome in which government specializes, of course.

Instead of worrying about whether we’re on message for what Jesus would want (hello, First Amendment), we should be practical. People are still dying, HIV is still spreading, and ignorance still permeates policy. Better to understand that human nature will not suddenly change, across cultures, in numbers sufficient to justify the “moral” solution. Essentially, at-risk people will continue to have sex, regardless of education, because that’s what humans do. As for the larger goals (incorrectly) promoted by faith-based initiatives, people will come to religion or they won’t; neither outcome is any government’s business. If government must pursue an international prevention policy, at taxpayer expense, it must approach the task with an aim for the proper results. No religious or moral qualifiers are appropriate.

Unlike this:

For prevention, Bush embraces the “ABC” strategy: abstinence before marriage, being faithful to one partner, and condoms targeted for high-risk activity. The Republican-led Congress mandated that one-third of prevention money be reserved for abstinence and fidelity.

The letters followed a briefing last year by Focus on the Family, run by Christian commentator and Bush ally James Dobson. The group’s sexual health analyst, Linda Klepacki, said even some religious groups emphasize condoms over abstinence.

“We have to be careful that the president’s original intent is being followed where A and B are the emphasized areas of the ABC methodology,” she said.

Focus on the Family would not be my first choice for medical advice on how to stop HIV/AIDS. No matter. Like everyone, I’m forced to pay for it. I only wish this next quote applied to government, in a much broader scope than a funding decision in one individual program:

“The notion that because people have always received aid money that they’ll get money needs to end,” Deputy U.S. global AIDS coordinator Mark Dybul said in an interview with The Associated Press. “The only way to have sustainable programs is to have programs that are wholly owned in terms of management personnel at the local level.”

If only, indeed…

Will the First Amendment suffer?

By now everyone’s probably heard about the 8-year-old boy who shot a 7-year-old girl at a Maryland day-care center earlier this week. More details are emerging, mostly surrounding an alleged robbery attempt by the boy. Those details are as absurd as they sound, but this is what most caught my attention:

The prosecutor also said investigators found photographs of guns in the apartment and learned that the boy had access to “very violent video games.” According to a police source, two of those video games are “50 Cent Bulletproof” and “187: Ride or Die.” The Washington Post agreed not to identify the source because the case remains open.

“Bulletproof,” released last fall, depicts rapper 50 Cent in a bloody New York underworld overrun with gangs and crime syndicates. Survival in the game requires shooting nearly anyone who gets in his way. The game costs about $50. “Ride and Die,” an older game with a similar premise, is based in Los Angeles.

Darlene Hall, the boy’s aunt, said her brother has been a positive influence on the boy, who she described as deeply troubled. She said the boy denied that his father taught him how to use guns.

“He beat on the desk and said: ‘No, my father didn’t do that. I learned it from 50 Cent,’ ” Darlene Hall said, describing how the child acted during a hearing on Wednesday that was closed to the public. She was present at the hearing.

No doubt Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton are in conference figuring out how to pin this incident on violent video games and the businesses that produce and sell them. It would be too easy to admit that a parent allowing a “deeply troubled” boy access to violent video games is responsible, rather than the game or its availability. Until we learn (which we have no reason to) the 7-year-old girl’s name, I guess the Jane Doe Keep Kids Safe from Violent Video Games Act of 2006 will have to suffice.

Because Liberals like only French food

Speaking at a Philander Smith College audience yesterday, Ann Coulter tried to make the Ha Ha.

“We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens’ creme brulee,” Coulter said. “That’s just a joke, for you in the media.”

I’ll just say that, to be considered a joke, it should be funny. How soon before right-wing political pundits blame this on the liberal media?

I have no faith in my fellow Virginians

When the polls close November 7, 2006, I suspect I’m not going to appreciate my neighbors:

The state Senate all but guaranteed on Wednesday that Virginia will hold a November referendum on whether to amend its 230-year-old Bill of Rights to bar same-sex marriages.

The Senate voted 28 to 11 to follow the House of Delegates in approving the amendment. Though each chamber still must pass the measure adopted by the other, their wording is identical and support among the senators and delegates is strong.

There’s nothing new here, of course. Already codifying a ban on same-sex marriage and adding an additional, stricter law against binding personal relationship intentions through contracts wasn’t enough. Fine, Virginia, I get it. I live in a state full of anti-gay bigots who can’t see the reality that allowing same-sex marriage will mean nothing in your life other than a growing respect for equal treatment under civil law. (Hint: no one will force you, or your children, to marry anyone of the same sex. Shocking, I know.) But can’t you fathom the lunacy involved in modifying the Virginia Bill of Rights to impose the will of the majority on the minority? Or is this too hard to grasp:

The state Bill of Rights was last amended in 1996, when voters supported adding a section protecting the rights of crime victims. Although changes to the state constitution are common, the 1996 action was the only time the Bill of Rights has been amended since 1970, when voters ratified a new version of the constitution.

“The only place in the constitution to put this is in the Bill of Rights,” said Sen. Stephen D. Newman (R-Lynchburg). “There is currently no right in the United States, or certainly not in Virginia, for anything other than a marriage between one man and one woman.”

That’ll look real nice merged into Section 15 of the Virginia Bill of Rights (Qualities necessary to preservation of free government):

That no free government, nor the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people, but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue; by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles; and by the recognition by all citizens that they have duties as well as rights, and that such rights cannot be enjoyed save in a society where law is respected and due process is observed.

That free government rests, as does all progress, upon the broadest possible diffusion of knowledge, and that the Commonwealth should avail itself of those talents which nature has sown so liberally among its people by assuring the opportunity for their fullest development by an effective system of education throughout the Commonwealth.

From protecting victims to victimizing in ten years. Well done, Virginia.

$10 for $5 of silver = peace of mind?

Here’s an amusing story from Buffalo concerning Liberty dollars and the supposed risky nautre of United States currency. The details aren’t particularly important because it’s just two dimwits allegedly badgering vendors into accepting alternative currency. What’s most amusing is the reason why Liberty dollars, which are “backed” by silver, are in use in Buffalo (and many other areas, apparently). Consider:

“About 20 of my regular customers use them. They pay me with silver, and they accept silver as change,” said Daniel Hyman, owner of the Red Apple convenience store on Route 78 in Strykersville. “With inflation and government deficits, I see more and more people who don’t trust paper anymore. Eventually, I hope the banks will accept Liberties for deposits.”

“We take it at par with dollars,” said Shawn Clawges, owner of Opener’s Grille, a restaurant on Seneca Street in East Aurora. “They’re a pretty coin, and they’re backed by silver. It’s a commodity that’s going up in value, unlike the U.S. dollar.”

If a private business wants to accept Liberty dollars as currency, good luck to them. I’d contend that it’s no less challenging to purchase silver and gold with “excess” dollars than trying to create a new currency if they’re convinced a crisis is coming, but I’m inclined to value liquidity over paranoia principle. Silly me. Regardless, it just confirms that stupid people exist in many forms of mental deficiency. That delights me.

Hat tip: Hit and Run

When “W” is spelled “Hillary”

I’ve written about screwy incentives distorting health insurance before, but it’s apparently going to be in the news a lot in the next week as President Bush prepares to address the topic in his State of the Union address. As with most of his proposals over the last few years, I’m less than optimistic that he has the leadership fortitude to get real reform passed. At this point, I barely expect any reform to pass, even if it appeals to the misguided warm and fuzzy crowd. If this story is accurate, the president might test my least optimistic suspicion:

President Bush is weighing proposals for new tax breaks for health care costs, which will be a major topic of next week’s State of the Union address, a top economic adviser to the president said Tuesday.

“People are very, very frustrated about the cost of health care,” said Allan Hubbard, director of the National Economic Council.

Hubbard told reporters at USA TODAY and Gannett News Service that the tax code offers advantages when a company buys health coverage for its employees but doesn’t do the same for employees who have to buy coverage on their own.

Somehow I’m not surprised that the solution will be new tax breaks instead of fixing the underlying problem built into the tax code. One idea is to start taxing employer-provided health benefits, but President Bush and his economic team rejected that idea. But will the administration come up with a structural solution?

“The president’s very concerned about the unfairness of the tax code,” Hubbard said.

“Tax reform is not off the table,” Hubbard said. “At the same time, it doesn’t have the priority that health care does right now.”

The implied answer is clear: where it should be about tax reform, the answer is always targeted breaks. Apparently, President Bush has the courage to ease the symptoms. While it’s certainly possible that new tax breaks could alleviate the health care “crisis”, something new will appear in its place until the tax code is fixed. Remove the government from the pushing its “this is good for you” influence and let the free market decide.

Prior posts.

Repeat after me: activist legislature

Do you think Maryland Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. (R-Anne Arundel) asked this with a sincere concern for the children showing on his face?

Dwyer also sought a legal opinion on the procedure he would need to impeach Circuit Court Judge M. Brooke Murdock [ed. note: for her ruling that same-sex marriage restrictions violate the Maryland Constitution]. The attorney general’s office advised that the process is available only “for high crimes and misdemeanors.”

These are the kinds of people voters elect to lead them. Somehow, I’m not swayed away from my appreciation that we’re a republic and not a democracy. At least it impedes the bigots, even if only a tiny bit.

I was much angrier last night

Last night I tried to put a few songs onto my iPod. Unlike every other experience, last night’s attempt became a debacle. iTunes refused to transfer any songs until I’d installed the latest firmware update to my iPod. I downloaded the update (iPod Updater 2006-01-10) and installed it as recommended. Unlike the intended effect, Apple’s update hosed my iPod’s hard drive. Outstanding. Now, not only do I still have to transfer those few songs I’d intended to transfer last night, I have to transfer every song that was already on it since I had to reformat the hard drive to make my iPod work again.

Today’s lesson: Do not install iPod Updater 2006-01-10. It will corrupt your iPod’s hard drive.

Maryland flirts with sanity

Although I’ve expressed my dismay at the ridiculous push in Virginia for a state constitutional amendment to outline marriage as only one man and one woman, I’m not worried about the long-term consequences. Such witch hunts for those “responsible” for society’s ills don’t last forever. It’s possible (probable) that the target only changes, but I’m trying to be optimistic. So it’s with that attitude that I read about a Maryland judge overturning that states law against same-sex marriage:

The ruling by Judge M. Brooke Murdock rejected a state argument that the government had a legitimate interest in protecting the traditional family unit of heterosexual parents.

“Although tradition and societal values are important, they cannot be given so much weight that they alone will justify a discriminatory” law, she wrote.

The judge immediately stayed her order to give the state time to file an expected appeal in Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

I haven’t read the rest of the ruling so I can only go on that summary. If that’s the most accurate summary, my response is amusement that anyone can’t understand that. How committed to government as moral weapon does one have to be?

What I find most telling is that the judged immediately stayed her order. The cries of “judicial activism” have no doubt begun, but I don’t see how a judge intentionally slowing the case down, allowing the possibility that the ruling will never be implemented, can be anything other than our legal system carrying out its proper function. I’m not too innocent to know how much of a change same-sex marriage is for some people, but that doesn’t mean it should stop because a few are afraid. We do have principles and they’re working fine, despite the political lies to the contrary.

Lie number one:

Along with the argument for preserving the traditional family unit, lawyers for the state had said the issue was a question for the Legislature rather than the courts.

Of course. And when the Legislature passes a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, as California did, the politicians then claim that the people themselves should decide, because we’re a republic democracy. Or they complain in uniquely patronizing ways:

Senate President Thomas Mike Miller, a Democrat, said he believes the ruling will be overturned.

“In my opinion, the plaintiffs forum-shopped,” Miller said. “I don’t think the same opinion would have been rendered in 90% of the other circuits in the state of Maryland.”

Allow me to highlight Maryland’s legislative veto override last week, which enacted a bill forcing Wal-Mart into health care expenditures not required of any other employer in the state of Maryland. That would be the law encouraged by competing grocery store chains in Maryland because they couldn’t compete with Wal-Mart’s cost structure. Instead of competing in the marketplace, Giant did what any good corporate citizen does when there are politicians willing to impose any feel good law, regardless of the reasons or implications. That seems like a pretty clear case of “forum-shopping” to me. No doubt Sen. Miller is familiar with this example, since he joined 29 Senators in voting to override the governor’s veto.

Lie number two:

“The evidence is now on the table. We must pass a constitutional amendment,” said Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. (R-Anne Arundel). “This issue is not for the courts to decide.”

I thought interpreting the state constitution is what the court was designed to do. But allow me to pose a question, instead. If the court shouldn’t decide this issue, how will it have any authority to enforce a constitutional amendment which merely addresses a different angle of this issue? But I’m probably wrong in my assumption. Del. Dwyer will certainly request a constitutional amendment indicating that the court does not have jurisdiction over same-sex marriage and not a blunt amendment designed only to counteract what the court decided. Sometimes, I’m just so happy that there are politicians more capable of understanding what we need than we can decide for ourselves.

You are officially never invited to our game again.

Everyone knows by now that poker is exceptionally popular in America now. With an abundance of poker on television and easy availability of poker supplies such as clay chips, anyone can enjoy the game. Few laws seem to object to home games, but most still prohibit organized poker, whether it’s for profit or charity. No matter that it’s a “crime” between consenting players, it’s a vice and is restricted for our own good. Worse, with the growing popularity has come a crackdown.

Some areas are letting a little sense into their laws, but it’s too slow and for dubious reasons. Consider:

New York state Sen. John Sabini is pushing to allow bars or restaurants to host poker tournaments offering prizes such as Yankees tickets or a trip to Las Vegas.

Because players spend money on food and drinks, businesses would earn more, and “that would trickle down to the state,” Sabini says.

Sen. Sabini could, of course, focus on the concept that poker houses or casinos could generate profits themselves, which would then be taxable, rather than waiting for it to result in greater beer sales. The taxability should be an outcome and not the reason for decriminalization, but some victories aren’t quite so complete.

Alas, with the rise in nanny laws protecting people from themselves, the victory may also by Pyrrhic:

If gambling laws are relaxed, society should help those whose playing gets out of control, says Keith Whyte, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Council on Problem Gambling.

It’s not society’s responsibility to help. Private members of society are free to help all they want, but government society as I think is implied here should not. I shouldn’t be compelled to use my money and/or time, whether through new gambling taxes or personal ID checks, to prevent someone from being stupid. I know how to control my gambling. Don’t punish me because someone else can’t do the same.