Hanne Stinson, British Humanist Association Executive Director spoke about a new UK law that criminalizes “psychics” who defraud people with false claims. The question was posed as when religious practices are so harmful that they should be deemed crimes. However, she held that “psychics” are not generally acting out of belief, but are perpetrating calculated frauds. She stressed cases in which the vulnerability of bereaved people is exploited by these creeps who actually make their psychological situation worse. Ms. Stinson characterized the new law as putting psychics under the same rules as any tradesman providing a service. The burden is now on the practitioner to prove he did not offer something he could not deliver.
Wendy Kaminer, a noted lawyer and civil liberties advocate, dissented, mainly on the burden of proof issue. She agreed that intentional fraud should be prosecuted, but the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” should be maintained. Proving a negative is hard and puts an intolerable burden on the defendant, whose life can well be ruined by a prosecution, even if it ultimately fails. Similar prosecutions could be brought against therapists. Kaminer asserted that if people want to go to these kinds of practitioners, it’s really none of the state’s business; this is a soft form of authoritarianism; there are a lot of abuses in life, and there’s not always a remedy in criminal law. Let’s not give the state too much power over us. (In case it’s not already obvious, I agree.)
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Eleanor Smeal, former President of the National Organization for Women and inventor of the “gender gap” received an award. I frankly did not care for her speech.
Smeal had a lot to say about the Democratic presidential contest, and the press coverage, complaining that the press focuses on trivia at the expense of serious matters, and that coverage of Clinton’s campaign was misogynist and sexist. She said “the press is no longer reporting the news but shaping it.” (I am shocked, shocked.)
This was followed up by her loudest, most intensely expressed remarks: a partisan rant against McCain.
Another point was population control. Opposition to population control, Smeal said, is motivated by—can you guess?—the desire to keep Third World labor cheap! This takes cynicism to new heights, and epitomizes the lamentable trend in our politics to address issues by ascribing evil motives to those who don’t agree with you.