Getting your head right, Part 2: Thought Police subpoena sermons of pastors opposing ‘Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance’

When an alert reader first brought this news item to my attention I was certain that someone had taken an item from the satirical website The Onion and disguised it as a news story.

I imagined the original headline had to have been something like: “Houston’s tolerant city officials will not tolerate any intolerance whatsoever.”

But, no, gentle reader, there appear to be too many references to this news from the Houston Chronicle to Fox News to a Houston TV station.

The lede on the Chronicle story reads:

“Houston’s embattled equal rights ordinance took another legal turn this week when it surfaced that city attorneys, in an unusual step, subpoenaed sermons given by local pastors who oppose the law and are tied to the conservative Christian activists who have sued the city.”

Specifically the subpoenas are demanding copies of “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.” Mayor Parker is Houston’s first openly lesbian mayor.

Resistance is futile

HERO is the acronym for Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance. This ordinance apparently protects transgendered person’s “right” to use a restroom consistent with that person’s “gender expression,” regardless of actual biological sex. Opponents have dubbed it the “Sexual Predator Protection Act.”

According to a Fox News account, ministers who fail to comply with the subpoena could be held in contempt of court.

“The city’s subpoena of sermons and other pastoral communications is both needless and unprecedented,” Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Christina Holcomb said in a statement. “The city council and its attorneys are engaging in an inquisition designed to stifle any critique of its actions.”

Opponents of the ordinance, passed in June, gathered 50,000 signatures – far more than the 17,269 needed — but the petition was thrown out due to alleged irregularities.

A court date on litigation aimed at repealing the ordinance is set for January and the subpoenas are part of the discovery for the case on behalf of the city.

City Attorney David Feldman told the Chronicle that the pastors’ sermons are relevant to the case because they used the pulpit for political campaigning that encouraged members to sign petitions opposing the ordinance.

Ordinance opponent, Erik Stanley, an attorney for a group called Alliance Defending Freedom, told Fox News, “City council members are supposed to be public servants, not ‘Big Brother’ overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge. This is designed to intimidate pastors.”

In this day and age of constant social media posts and purloined audio and video posted on the Internet, do the Houston officials really even need a subpoena? Perhaps they could take a page from George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”:

“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live — did live, from habit that became instinct — in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”

And once you are found out, there is the certain outcome:

“We are not content with negative obedience, nor even with the most abject submission. When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will. We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us; so long as he resists us we never destroy him. We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him. We burn all evil and all illusion out of him; we bring him over to our side, not in appearance, but genuinely, heart and soul. We make him one of ourselves before we kill him. It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be. Even in the instance of death we cannot permit any deviation … we make the brain perfect before we blow it out.”

 

 

Time to get your head right or else?

The pendulum always swings, doesn’t it?

After years of government-sanctioned and even government-ordered racial discrimination, the pendulum swung and we got affirmative action.

So, now that the courts have overruled the voters in nearly half the states on the matter of gay marriage, the pendulum swings to discrimination cases against bakers and farm owners for declining to provide their “public accommodation” services to gay couples.

Now, as a closet libertarian I have no problem with couples of just about any ilk forming unions under civil law — though I do have some problem with government discriminating against people for the purpose of taxes and benefits based on contractual living arrangements and have misgivings about changing the definition of words at the drop of a bouquet and wonder how this will bode for the “right” to plural and/or other forms of “marriage.”

What I do have a problem with is the sudden pendulum swing by liberals to vilification of people who in good faith or conscience do not wish to participate commercially or privately in a superficial ceremony.

One local columnist called on the Nevada federal judge who upheld the state gay marriage ban to resign because he recused himself — without stating why — when the case was remanded by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “If pang of conscience prevents him from living up to that oath, or carrying out the duties imposed on him by law, the proper remedy isn’t to simply slink away on one case. It’s to resign,” wrote the self-righteous columnist who has been known to rail against his own newspaper’s editorial stances rather than resign.

The headline on the Fox News story about the baker fined for refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding said he was required to undergo sensitivity training, though the story actually said he and his staff had to submit to “comprehensive training on Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws.”

In either case it sounds like getting your head straight.

You can’t found a country on liberty and free speech and then demand uniformity of thought and conscience. And conscience without the freedom to act is not liberty.

The concept of live and let live means government should not dictate behavior to either gay couples or bakers any more than the law should demand that doctors provide abortions or churches provide marriage services to all comers.

Freedom of speech requires freedom of thought and belief.

Colorado cake shop owner Jack Phillips decorates a cake. (AP photo)

It is in the nature of men and voters — when plunder is more profitable than work

Now, labor being in itself a pain, and man being naturally inclined to avoid pain, it follows, and history proves it, that wherever plunder is less burdensome than labor, it prevails; and neither religion nor morality can, in this case, prevent it from prevailing.

When does plunder cease, then? When it becomes more burdensome and more dangerous than labor. It is very evident that the proper aim of law is to oppose the fatal tendency to plunder with the powerful obstacle of collective force; that all its measures should be in favor of property, and against plunder.

But the law is made, generally, by one man, or by one class of men. And as law cannot exist without the sanction and the support of a preponderant force, it must finally place this force in the hands of those who legislate.

Frederic Bastiat

This inevitable phenomenon, combined with the fatal tendency that, we have said, exists in the heart of man, explains the almost universal perversion of law. It is easy to conceive that, instead of being a check upon injustice, it becomes its most invincible instrument.

It is easy to conceive that, according to the power of the legislator, it destroys for its own profit, and in different degrees amongst the rest of the community, personal independence by slavery, liberty by oppression, and property by plunder.

It is in the nature of men to rise against the injustice of which they are the victims. When, therefore, plunder is organized by law, for the profit of those who perpetrate it, all the plundered classes tend, either by peaceful or revolutionary means, to enter in some way into the manufacturing of laws. These classes, according to the degree of enlightenment at which they have arrived, may propose to
themselves two very different ends, when they thus attempt the attainment of their political rights; either they may wish to put an end to lawful plunder, or they may desire to take part in it.

Woe to the nation where this latter thought prevails amongst the masses, at the moment when they, in their turn, seize upon the legislative power! …

The delusion of the day is to enrich all classes at the expense of each other; it is to generalize plunder under pretense of organizing it. Now, legal plunder may be exercised in an infinite multitude of ways. Hence come an infinite multitude of plans for organization; tariffs, protection, perquisites, gratuities, encouragements, progressive taxation, free public education, right to work, right to profit, right to wages, right to assistance, right to instruments of labor, gratuity of credit, etc., etc.

— Frederic Bastiat, The Law, 1850

Sounds vaguely familiar, doesn’t it? The right to wages, such as minimum wage?

The universal right to the fruits of other people’s labors, known as plunder.

 

 

 

Newspaper provides an exhaustive public service for those already exhausted by the topic

Now here is a come hither lede if ever there was one:

“Let’s talk health insurance.
“OK, we see your eyes glazing over.
“Look, we know health coverage isn’t the most exciting topic. It’s probably not even the 100th most exciting topic. Or even the 1,000th.

This exciting story goes on to tell readers that 85 percent of people would flunk a quiz on insurance terms such as deductibles and copays. It also says nearly half of Americans spent less than 15 minutes researching health coverage, including 24 percent who took less than five minutes.

So what makes the editors of the Las Vegas newspaper think that those people would take the time to read 108 column-inches of text and graphics explaining the most rudimentary terms and definitions used in the health insurance industry? Or that people who need such basic instruction read newspapers?

One of the tenets of journalism is: Know your audience.

Did anyone bring this up?

Look for the sequel: Sanskrit made easy.

If people don't spend 15 minutes buying health insurance, how much time do the editors think they will spend reading this story and graphics?

If people don’t spend 15 minutes buying health insurance, how much time do the editors think they will spend reading this story and graphics?

 

Question 2: There is a reason the mining tax cap is in the state Constitution

Only days after the state of Nevada celebrates its 150th anniversary of statehood on Oct. 31, voters will be asked on the General Election ballot whether to repeal a section of the Nevada Constitution on which the very question of statehood hinged those 150 years ago.

In September 1863 the residents of the Nevada territory voted by a margin of 4-to-1 to seek statehood, but in January 1864 they rejected by a margin of 4-to-1 a Constitution that would have taxed mining at the same rate as other businesses.

Then in July 1864 a revised Constitution that changed mining taxes to “net proceeds” — allowing deduction of expenses — and capping the tax rate at 5 percent. It passed with a vote of 10,375 to 1,284.

Article 10 of the Nevada Constitution reads: “The legislature shall provide by law for a tax upon the net proceeds of all minerals, including oil, gas and other hydrocarbons, extracted in this state, at a rate not to exceed 5 percent of the net proceeds. No other tax may be imposed upon a mineral or its proceeds until the identity of the proceeds as such is lost.”

The provision takes into account that the value of minerals is depleted over time.

That is how much the residents of the territory, attracted to the region by mining and dependent upon mining for their livelihoods, feared the damage a meddling Legislature could do to the lifeblood of the state.

A yes vote on Question 2 on the November ballot would repeal that provision of the Constitution and allow the Legislature in 2015 to raise taxes on mining, though it would take a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature.

If lawmakers are willing to give away tax breaks worth $1.3 billion to attract Tesla Motors to build a battery manufacturing plant here instead of another state, imagine what they might be willing to try to extract from a captive industry  — one that can’t move its gold mine to Texas.

Mining is why Nevada exists and why vast portions of rural Nevada survive today. The mining industry directly employs more than 10,000 workers and provides an estimated 14,000 jobs for those who are vendors and service providers for mining. Mining jobs average $88,000 in wages. Mining pays more than $400 million a year in state and local taxes.

Nevada Mining Association President Tim Crowley scoffs at those who claim mining fails to pay its fair share in taxes. “Mining pays every tax every other business pays,” he says. The net proceeds tax is over and above the sales, business, payroll, property taxes on facilities and other taxes other industries pay.

The net proceeds tax revenue has fallen in recent years because the price of gold has fallen, just as property tax revenues are down due to the decline in value of homes and land.

Crowley has pointed out that lawmakers can and have increased the tax revenue from mining by simply reducing the number of deductions allowed for mining expenses.

This measure would allow the Legislature to pluck the golden goose and roast it on a spit.

24-foot diameter mineshaft at Pumpkin Hollow

24-foot diameter mineshaft at Pumpkin Hollow copper mine

Newspaper column: Latest study should further dampen Las Vegas’ appetite for rural groundwater

A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey published this summer has added credence and hard numbers to the arguments from opponents to a plan by Las Vegas water utilities to tap 84,000 acre-feet of groundwater from valleys in White Pine and Lincoln counties.

The study reviewed water data and used a computer simulation to research a 9,000-acre swath of land collectively called Snake Valley that straddles the Nevada-Utah border and includes a number of interconnected aquifers and named valleys. As Jason King, Nevada’s state engineer who is responsible for water rights allocation in Nevada, found previously, the study noted that tapping water in one area would have far reaching affects.

USGS map of Snake Valley

Proposed increases in water withdrawals in and near Snake Valley by the Southern Nevada Water Authority would likely result in declining groundwater levels and a decrease in natural discharge to springs and streams, the study warned, as reported in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times, the Elko Daily Free Press and the Mesquite Local News.

“Because of the magnitude of the proposed development project and the interconnected nature of groundwater basins in the region, there have been concerns that new pumping will disrupt Snake Valley’s groundwater supplies and threaten the wetlands and ranches that rely upon them,” said Melissa Masbruch, USGS scientist and lead author of the new report. “This study can help assess the effects of future groundwater withdrawals on groundwater resources in the Snake Valley area.”

Masbruch added, “This new model represents a more robust quantification of groundwater availability than previous studies because the model integrates all components of the groundwater budget.”

The study calculated all the groundwater recharge for Snake Valley from various sources, including precipitation, unconsumed irrigation and inflow from other aquifers and found that the valley groundwater receives about 175,000 acre-feet. But when all of the outflow is added up — current wells, springs, streams and outflow to other aquifers— it is almost precisely the same amount of water — equilibrium.

This prompts the authors of the study to warn, “Increased well withdrawals within these high transmissivity areas will likely affect a large part of the study area, resulting in declining groundwater levels, as well as leading to a decrease in natural discharge to springs …”

USGS employee at well near the southern Snake Range, Nev.

It is those springs and streams that support livestock, agriculture and a vast array of wildlife, some of which are threatened or endangered. Declining groundwater levels would mean local wells might have to be drilled deeper, a very expensive proposition for local landowners and homeowners.

A 75-page lawsuit filed earlier this year by a coalition of local governments, private organizations and Indian tribes made this point but without having precise figures to support their suspicions. Among the plaintiffs in the case are White Pine County, the Great Basin Water Network, the Sierra Club and the Central Nevada Regional Water Authority, which addresses water resource issues for Churchill, Elko, Esmeralda, Eureka, Lander, Nye, Pershing and White Pine counties or about 65 percent of the land in Nevada.

“The proposed pumping would amount to a devastating groundwater mining project, under which the groundwater system would not even begin to approach equilibrium for thousands of years, with the potential of never reaching equilibrium,” the suit contended.

The figures in the USGS study also add precision underpinning to a ruling a year ago by Senior Judge Robert Estes who called the water authority’s plans for the water transfer “arbitrary and capricious” because its plans for monitoring, mitigating and managing the water take contained no precise triggers.

“There are no objective standards to determine when mitigation will be required and implemented,” the judge wrote. “The Engineer has listed what mitigation efforts can possibly be made, i.e., stop pumping, modifying pumping, change location of pumps, drill new wells … but does not cite objective standards of when mitigation is necessary.”

Judge Estes concluded that if “it is premature to set triggers and thresholds, it is premature to grant water rights.” He remanded the engineer’s rulings for recalculation of water availability and further studies.

If nothing else, the Estes ruling is almost certain to reduce the amount of water Las Vegas could tap from its northern neighbors.

A study for the water authority by Hobbs, Ong & Associates of Las Vegas found that Las Vegas water rates would have to triple to pay for the $15 billion project. The less water drawn, the higher the cost per gallon.

It seems unlikely the water authority can justify spending that kind of money if the spigot could be turned off because of damage of the environment, which this study suggests is likely.

Thou shalt not confront the king

I told you that Harry is not only mean but surrounded himself with mean people. Here is video evidence of that. Pardon all the self promotion of the guy’s book.

The headline on the Sun story called Harry the meanest in the survey but the story says he is “one of the two meanest senators.” Close enough?