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Friday, August 27, 2010

The Texas Republican Platform, or Why I'm Not a Republican

Added 2010-08-30 I've made a few revisions to this entry from when I originally wrote it. I was in a hurry to get this post online before the end of the week, so I didn't take enough time to proof read and revise. None of the revisions, though, significantly affect the meaning of this article.

Republican ElephantAs I've said before on this blog, I'm a political independent, but between the two major parties, I definitely lean more towards the Democrats. My view of the Republican party in general is pretty low. But I wondered, am I being biased by certain factors that cause me to think the Republicans are worse than they actually are? After all, I watch the Daily Show quite a bit, and they only show the worst of political parties. Ditto for the more liberal blogs that I read regularly. The numerous right wing e-mail forwards I receive , with all their propaganda and false claims (like this one, don't reflect too well on the right wing, either.

So, rather than look to second hand sources, I figure I ought to look at what Republicans officially endorse. I did receive an official survey from the RNC a few months ago in the mail. I had plenty of problems with that, but that wasn't a full statement of their principles or the laws they would like to see enacted. So, to be thorough, I figured it might do me some good to take a look at the party platform. Since I live in Texas, I downloaded a copy of the official 2008 STATE REPUBLICAN PLATFORM PLATFORM* for Texas (here's a pdf copy). There's actually quite a bit that I do agree with. It's just that on some of the points where I disagree, it's a huge disagreement. The official platform, if anything, made me think even less of the Republicans as a political party. The G.O.P. is going to have to make quite a few changes if they're going to ever make me lean more towards their party, and now that I know what the platform actually states, candidates are going to have to come out and disagree with the worst parts explicitly if they want to get my vote.

From the opening sections of PRINCIPLES and LOCAL AND STATE PRIORITIES, I'll address individually each of their points. But because the platform is so long, I can't do that for the whole thing, so I'll just pull out some highlights - most of the excerpts from areas where I disagree strongly, but a few from where I actually agree with them.


1. We respect and cherish the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and our Founders' intent to restrict the power of the federal government over the states and the people. We believe self-government, based on personal integrity of a proper moral foundation, is the best government. This is best balanced with limited civil government, coupled with public trust, to provide collectively for the people those services not efficiently achieved individually.

Well, I agree with that, actually. I just think we have slightly different opinions of how much the federal government should be restricted. I've also noticed that many Republicans put too much stock in the Declaration. It's part of our heritage, but it was a declaration of war against the British, and carries no weight in current U.S. law.

2. We believe that human life is sacred, created in the image of God. Life begins at the moment of fertilization and ends at the point of natural death. All innocent human life must be protected.

First of all, I don't like the religious overtones. Even when I was still religious myself, I recognized the importance of keeping the government secular. Second, their second sentence is stupid. Life doesn't begin at conception. At no point were the egg or sperm dead. Life is one long unbroken chain going back to the very first life on this planet. They could have said individuality, or personhood for legal purposes, but in a very literal sense, we are living continuations of our parents blended together. (I'll cover this topic in more detail below.)

3. We believe that good government is based on the individual, and each person's ability, dignity, freedom, and responsibility must be honored and recognized. We believe equal opportunity is a right and a privilege but equal outcome is not. We insist that no one's rights are negotiable and that individual freedom demands personal responsibility.

I agree with this, too, but keep it in mind for later in this entry, to see how much they really value individual freedom.

4. We believe that government spending is out of control and needs to be reduced. We support fundamental, immediate tax reform that is simple, fair, and fully disclosed.

Frankly, I disagree. There are definitely individual government programs that need to be addressed, but I don't think the overall spending levels are out of control.

5. We believe that traditional marriage is a legal and moral commitment between a natural man and a natural woman. We recognize that the family is the foundational unit of a healthy society and consists of those related by blood, marriage, or adoption. The family is responsible for its own welfare, education, moral training, conduct, and property,

First of all, 'traditional marriage' has meant a lot of things. Even for Christians, polygamy is documented in the Old Testament. Looking beyond that, other cultures have a range of 'marriages' - polyandry, condoned extra-marital sex, serial monogamy, henogamy, etc. Traditional marriage is not limited to one man and one woman.

Second, how is traditional marriage relevant to law? A hundred years ago, traditional marriage meant no inter-racial marriages. Before that, traditional marriage meant the husband owned the wife, and many traditional marriages were arranged marriages. We've gotten past that. Marriage should be based on what makes sense, and not be limited by arbitrary traditions.

Finally, what's this stuff about a 'natural man and a natural woman'? I realize they're targeting transsexuals who have undergone sex change operations (another disagreement I have with the Republicans), but do they realize that they're also condemning all hermaphrodites - people who had no choice whatsoever in not being natural males or females?

Why is it so hard to let two people who love each other get married? Quit imposing your morality on other people when it doesn't affect you.

more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Types_of_marriages

6. We believe that a well-educated population is fundamental to the continued success of our Republic; and that parents have the right, as well as the duty, to direct their children's education. This right should include choices among public, private, home and religious schools. Competition improves education.

Nothing too bad about this. Education is important, and parents should have a choice in how their children are educated, so long as the children still receive a good education, and that the public schools don't lose funding. I think home schooling needs quite a bit of regulation/oversight, due to the hugely varying abilities and education levels of parents.

It's hard to take Texas Republicans seriously on education, though, considering what's been done in the Board of Education and TEA.

7. We believe that the future of our country depends upon a strong and vibrant private sector unencumbered by excessive government regulation.

Again, I agree with the sentiment, but probably not with the details of what they consider to be 'excessive regulation'.

8. We believe that a strong America ensures a free America. While we recognize that our nation is the primary leader in the global community, we must also vigorously protect the sovereignty of the United States.

Who doesn't think we should protect American sovereignty? You do have to be careful not to be isolationist or xenophobic, however.

9. We believe in peace through strength. We take a principled stand to preemptively defend the citizens of the United States against all foes, foreign or domestic, whose goal is to destroy our American way of life. Freedom is never free, and we honor all those who have served our nation to protect our liberty, especially our men and women in uniform, who unselfishly and courageously defend our country.

I have a serious problem with that 'preemptively defend' phrase. Unprovoked acts of war are not to be taken lightly. Look what it cost us in Iraq. Other than that, I agree with the rest. (Although, considering their first point up above, about trying to follow the founders' original intent, their hypocrisy is pretty clear. The U.S. never had a large standing army until after WWII. Prior to that, armies were raised specifically for wars. Following the founders' original intent would mean drastically reducing military spending.

more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_armed_forces)

10. We believe all Americans have the right to be safe in their homes, on their streets, and in their communities. We support enforcement of the laws through the Courts imposing swift and sure justice with stiff penalties, truth in sentencing, and respecting the rights of law-abiding citizens, while opposing judicial activism.

Who would argue that we don't have a right to be safe? The whole emphasis on punishment to achieve that goal, however, may not be the best approach. The U.S. already has 25% of the world's inmate population, and more prisoners per capita than any other nation. Turning the country into a complete police state is not the answer if we want to still preserve freedom.

more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incarceration_in_the_United_States

I also cringe at that phrase, 'judicial activism'. I see that phrase tossed about so much where it shouldn't be used, when judges are just fulfilling their constitutional duties. Look how many people called Judge Jones an activist judge after the Kitzmiller case, or recently in California, when Judge Walker ruled Prop 8 unconstitutional.

more info: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v._Dover_Area_School_District

Over the next two years, the Republican Party of Texas encourages its officeholders and grassroots to work towards enacting the following:

• Promote adult stem cell research with public funds, and prohibit public funds for research that destroys human embryos.

Saying you're going to destroy embryos sounds heartless, but the truth is, many embryos from IVF clinics are already destroyed. There's no workable alternative. An excess of embryos are made so that they can be screened, and the most promising taken to attempt a pregnancy. I know people talk of embryo adoption, but there are more unused embryos than there are people to adopt them. Plus, the unused embryos weren't used for a reason. Should we really force pregnancy attempts with high likelihoods of miscarriage? And it's not like we can keep those embryos in suspended animation indefinitely. Supposing that a little clump of cells really could experience anything - what type of life would that be? So, if embryos are going to be destroyed, why not at least use them to try to further our knowledge, and potentially use that increased knowledge to cure diseases?

On the other hand, I don't think embryos deserve much legal status. Just because a clump of cells has human DNA doesn't make it a human being, and in a way, trying to say that it does cheapens the status of actual humans. There's definitely a grey area when the fetus begins to develop a nervous system, but before there's a functioning brain, what type of experiences can a fetus have?

Of course, funding for adult stem cells is nice, too.

• No Mandates Without Funding - reduce the indigent healthcare burden for counties and local government.
• Truth in Sentencing - fully inform juries as to the actual length of the sentence.
• Judicial Sentencing - empower our judges to assign punishment in felony cases.

Actually, I don't take much issue with any of those. I wonder though, why for "No Mandates Without Funding" did they tie it in to health care.

• Law enforcement should make Child and Sex Abuse and Methamphetamine Drug Manufacturing their top priority. Stricter sentencing for Methamphetamine traffickers is needed.

I don't know enough about crime statistics to know what crimes should be the top priority, so I can't comment on child and sex abuse. Obviously, they're bad, but so are other crimes.

I definitely disagree with the whole War on Drugs. I think it's an intrusive form of government that removes personal freedom. What I'd like to see happen is for all drugs to be legalized and then regulated in a similar manner as alcohol or tobacco. Just like alcoholism, addiction to other drugs should be addressed through treatment, not jail time (that's not to say that crimes committed under the influence should go unpunished).

• Protect the authority of the State Board of Education to manage the Permanent School Fund and control textbook content; expand the cap on charter schools; and remove funding for bilingual education.

It takes a lot of gall to say this after all the shenanigans the Republicans on the Texas Board of Education have committed. After what they did with the English standards, the Science standards, and the Social Studies standards, (not to mention the Chris Comer affair), I'd like to see the current board dismantled and replaced. Why even bother to use expert panels to come up with standards if you're going to let a few ideologically motivated politicians throw out the whole thing?

• Abolish the School Property tax - we can fully fund public schools using surplus revenue, existing budget resources, consumption taxes, and funds released by cutting unnecessary expenditures.

As long as schools still get adequate funding, I would go along with this. Property taxes are one of those things that rub me the wrong way. It's like you're renting your land from the government, rather than owning it. And it really sucks when someone's had a house for years, but then for whatever reason the value shoots up and they can't afford the taxes anymore (like has happened to many people owning houses near the coast in Florida).

Patriot Act - We urge review and revision of those portions of the USA Patriot Act, and related executive and military orders and directives that erode constitutional rights and essential liberties of citizens.

Hear! Hear! The PATRIOT Act is a gross violation of our privacy and grants too much authority to government agencies. It has such an Orwellian ring to it, too.

Emergency War Powers - We charge the President to cancel the state of national emergency and charge Congress to repeal the War Powers Act and end our declared state of emergency.

Environment, Property Ownership, and Natural Resources - We reaffirm our belief in the constitutional concept of the right to own property without governmental interference. We believe that property ownership is the source of the nation's wealth; free enterprise forms the foundation of our collective wealth; local stewardship of our natural resources is best; sound science trumps politically correct science; groundwater is a vested ownership right; the state should not abridge or deny our inalienable property and mineral rights; in state control of state resources; in opposing nationalization of lands and watersheds; in opposing conservation easements on our natural resources administered by organizations unaccountable to voters; in opposing vast acquisition of Texas land by government agencies to protect endangered species; in allowing states to consider costs when comparing emission control techniques; in election of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality chairman; and in eliminating the Endangered Species Act. [emphasis mine]

They make some good points about private ownership, but due to the nature of an ecosystem, your actions on your property aren't isolated. They affect everyone. Without sufficient regulation, you end up with a tragedy of the commons, and everybody loses.

Saying "sound science trumps politically correct science" is rich coming from the party that still doubts global warming.

I can't believe they want to do away with the Endangered Species Act.

Free Speech for the Clergy - We urge change of the Internal Revenue Code to allow a religious organization to address issues without fear losing its tax-exempt status. We call for repeal of requirements that religious organizations send government any personal information about their contributors.

First of all, they're not actually arguing for 'Free Speech for the Clergy'. Everyone in this country, clergy included, has freedom of speech as an individual. If a priest or a minister wants to send a letter to the editor, or participate in a protest, or any other act protected by the First Amendment, they're free to do so. The problem is when they do any of those actions in the name of their church, rather than as individuals. The reason is that most churches are recognized as non-profit organizations, and have to follow the same rules as all other non-profit groups.

So, this is really a case of special pleading. The Republicans aren't arguing that all non-profit organizations should be able to speak out on political issues, or not have to report information about people that have donated to them. They're asking for special exemptions for religious organizations just because they're religious. But just think how ripe for corruption this would be. We'd have new 'congregations' popping up all over the place.

Judicial Restraint - We urge Congress to adopt the Constitutional Restoration Act and support the principle of judicial restraint, which requires judges to interpret and apply rather than make the law. We support judges who strictly interpret the law based on its original intent. We oppose judges who assume for themselves legislative powers.

I hadn't heard of the Constitutional Restoration Act before, so I just looked it up. Holy crap. It's supposed to be a law that makes it illegal for the Supreme Court to hear constitutional challenges for certain religious liberty cases. To make that clear, it would be a law, passed by Congress, trying to restrict the Supreme Court's ability to accept cases that test the constitutionality of laws. Talk about going against the Founding Father's original intent! Congress should never have the power to restrict the judicial branch without actually passing a constitutional amendment. Checks and balances between the branches is an integral part of our government, and to put it frankly, attempting to make laws to unconstitutionally strip the power of any of the branches is un-American.

more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitution_Restoration_Act

I'm also not one who gets too caught up in original intent. Yes, it's important, but times change, and we need to be able to adapt. For example, just read the Second Amendment. I think that phrase about a "well regulated Militia" makes the original intent fairly clear, and I think that intent is covered by the National Guard. In addition, the Bill of Rights was originally applicable only to the federal government, but not necessarily state or local governments. But by the current interpretation, the amendment is used to protect the individual's right to own firearms. And it doesn't just restrict the federal government from banning guns, all forms of government in this country, including states and the District of Columbia. And I'm fine with that. I don't care that the amendment has been adapted from its original intent, since we live in different times than the Founding Fathers did.

Protecting Union Member's Dues - We support legislation requiring labor unions to obtain consent of the union member before that member's dues can be used for political purposes.

I hadn't thought of this before, but considering that union membership is required to work in certain jobs, I think this sounds reasonable. However, if union membership were made to be entirely voluntary, then this law wouldn't have to go into effect.

Enforcing the Platform - The Republican State Chairman and county chairs are responsible for implementing this platform by requiring party candidates to indicate their positions on platform planks before their acceptance on the ticket and to make such information available on the Party website. The SREC should seriously consider candidates' positions on the Party platform before granting support.

I would really like to see how candidates respond to each of the individual planks in this platform. It would make it very easy to tell if it was even worth considering voting for them.

HONORING THE SYMBOLS OF OUR AMERICAN HERITAGE Ten Commandments - We oppose any governmental action to restrict, prohibit, or remove public display of the Decalogue or other religious symbols.

They don't seem to understand that whole separation of church and state, do they? But just for clarification, I'll discuss that word 'public' a bit. I'm not sure what sense the Republicans are using it here, but in general, when you hear that 'public' displays of religious symbols are illegal, 'public' is meant specifically in the sense of 'government'. It doesn't mean everywhere that the symbols are publicly visible. If you want to put up a religious symbol on private property, including businesses, the First Amendment guarantees that you'll be allowed to. But that same amendment also says that the government can't endorse a specific religion, which is why government facilities can't put up such displays as the Ten Commandments.

Besides, while the Ten Commandments may be part of our cultural heritage, they had very little to do with the founding of our nation. Go ahead and read them (the ones from Exodus - the ones from Deuteronomy never get put up in courthouses). Only a handful are actually laws in this country. And the First Amendment of the Constitution is actually contrary to the first 3 Commandments (or 4, depending on how you count them).

Pledge of Allegiance - We support adoption of the Pledge Protection Act. We also demand that the National Motto "In God We Trust" and National Anthem be protected from legislative and judicial attack.

I looked up the Pledge Protection Act, and it looks like another attempt to remove checks and balances from the federal government, making it illegal for all federal courts, including the Supreme Court, to hear constitutional challenges to the "under God" part of the Pledge of Allegiance.

more info:http://www.cnn.com/2004/LAW/09/23/hamilton.pledge/index.html

Aside from that, why shouldn't we take "under God" out of the pledge? Not enough people realize that the original pledge never had that phrase in it to begin with. It was originally written in 1892 as "one nation indivisible", a strong statement about a united country. "Under God" wasn't added until 1954, during the height of the Red Scare and McCarthyism.

more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pledge_of_Allegiance#History

"In God we trust" is another one I take issue with. Our country didn't originally have an official national motto, but the de facto motto (as used on the Great Seal) was E Pluribus Unum, or 'From many, one'. It wasn't until 1956 that Congress passed the official motto we all know now. So again, a nice statement of national unity was put aside during the Red Scare.

more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_God_We_Trust#History

American English - We support adoption of American English as the official language of Texas and of the United States.

I don't know about this one. On the one hand, it would save money if government documents only had to be printed once. And everybody who's a permanent resident in this country should be able to speak at least rudimentary English. But on the other hand, I like multiculturalism. Do we really need to make English the official language?

I also think it's funny that they specifically said American English. Because that British English is unpatriotic.

Flag Desecration - Any form of desecration of the American Flag is an act of disregard for our nation and its people and penalties should be established for such.

So, the first amendment only counts as long as it's a form of expression that Republicans agree with? I'm an Eagle Scout. I learned all the proper rules of respect for the flag. I was the only one on my street to take down my flag last Memorial Day when it started to rain, I always fold it properly when I keep it stored, and I never, ever let it touch the ground. But it's just a piece of cloth. It does no actual harm to anybody to desecrate the flag. It angers me to see people burn the flag, but it would be a violation of our country's principles to make that act illegal. Plus, it seems a bit totalitarian to make symbolic gestures against inanimate objects illegal.

Symbols of American Heritage - We call upon governmental entities to protect all symbols of our American heritage from being altered in any way.

Hmm. You mean like adding verbiage to the Pledge that was never in the original? Hypocrites.

Confederate Widows Plaque - We call for restoration of plaques honoring the Confederate Widow's Pension Fund contribution that were removed from state buildings.

Somehow, in the mix of all this pro-America, patriotic symbolism, the Confederacy got slipped in. The Confederates were enemies of the United States. They fought and killed soldiers in the U.S. Army. It's a sad chapter from our nation's history that we shouldn't forget, and we shouldn't necessarily demonize the soldiers from the Confederacy, but I'm not sure why we should honor the enemies who were fighting to destroy the United States.

Family and Defense of Marriage - We support the definition of marriage as a God-ordained, legal and moral commitment only between a natural man and a natural woman, which is the foundational unit of a healthy society, and we oppose the assault on marriage by judicial activists. We call on the President and Congress to take immediate action to defend the sanctity of marriage. We are resolute that Congress exercise authority under the United States Constitution, and pass legislation withholding jurisdiction from the Federal Courts in cases involving family law, especially any changes in the definition of marriage. We further call on Congress to pass and the state legislatures to ratify a marriage amendment declaring that marriage in the United States shall consist of and be recognized only as the union of a natural man and a natural woman. Neither the United States nor any state shall recognize or grant to any unmarried person the legal rights or status of a spouse. We oppose the recognition of and granting of benefits to people who represent themselves as domestic partners without being legally married. We advocate the repeal of laws that place an unfair tax burden on families. We call upon Congress to completely remove the marriage penalty in the tax code, whereby a married couple receives a smaller standard deduction than their unmarried counterparts living together. The primary family unit consists of those related by blood, heterosexual marriage, or adoption. The family is responsible for its own welfare, education, moral training, conduct, and property.

There's so much wrong with that one paragraph. First, there's the religious talk. Government should be neutral on religion. It's right there in the First Amendment. Then there's that 'natural man' and 'natural woman' language I already addressed above. Then there's the 'judicial activists' line (because enforcing the Bill of Rights is apparently activism). Then there's the un-American proposal for Congress to pass an un-Constitutional law limiting the Supreme Court's power. Then there's the proposal for a Constitutional amendment that takes away people's rights (a sort of anti-Bill of Rights amendment).

And aside from all that, there's the sheer bigotry of it all. They're not even willing to allow homosexuals to enter into civil unions. What's so wrong with letting people who love each other get married?

Marriage and Divorce - We believe in the sanctity of marriage and that the integrity of this institution should be protected at all levels of government. We urge the Legislature to rescind no-fault divorce laws. We support Covenant Marriage.

It's not just homosexuals who they want to force their own morality on. They want to force it on us heterosexuals, too. It is not the government's job to enforce morality or "sanctity". In the government's eyes, marriage is a contract. If two people want to cancel that contract, the government shouldn't demand a justification. That's not to say that marriage is unimportant - it definitely is. I take my marriage very seriously, and expect to stay with my wife for the rest of my life. It's just that the government shouldn't be in the business of enforcing morality (or more specifically, enforcing some people's concept of morality on everybody).

Marriage Licenses - We support legislation that would make it a felony to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple and for any civil official to perform a marriage ceremony for such.

I know I already covered the marriage equality issue above, but this merits special mention. They want to make it an actual felony to perform a same sex marriage. That's outrageous.

Homosexuality - We believe that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country's founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable "alternative" lifestyle in our public education and policy, nor should "family" be redefined to include homosexual "couples." We are opposed to any granting of special legal entitlements, refuse to recognize, or grant special privileges including, but not limited to: marriage between persons of the same sex (regardless of state of origin), custody of children by homosexuals, homosexual partner insurance or retirement benefits. We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.

That paragraph is just so wrong that there's really not much I have to write about it. It speaks for itself. But, just to repeat what I've already said, it is not the government's place to legislate morality. It's also hard to get behind a political party that's so openly bigoted.

Texas Sodomy Statutes - We oppose the legalization of sodomy. We demand that Congress exercise its authority granted by the U.S. Constitution to withhold jurisdiction from the federal courts from cases involving sodomy.

Wow. Talk about intrusive government. I thought Republicans were supposed to be the party for limited government. Whatever two consenting adults want to do to or with each other, so long as it affects nobody else, is entirely up to them.

And for anybody out there who doesn't care about equality for homosexuals, remember that 'sodomy' is not necessarily a homosexual act. It's any sex act deemed 'unnatural', which usually includes anal and oral sex, even if it's between a married heterosexual couple. In other words, the Texas Republicans want to tell every couple what they're allowed to do in the privacy of their own bedroom.

Pornography - We urge our governmental bodies to enforce laws regarding all forms of pornography. We urge more stringent legislation to prohibit all pornography including virtual pornography and operation of sexually-oriented businesses.

So, once again, the Texas Republicans are showing that they don't really support the First Amendment. Whether or not you think pornography is moral, it doesn't matter. It's a form of expression, and freedom of expression is protected in the Bill of Rights.

I also wonder what they mean by 'sexually-oriented businesses'. Considering that prostitution is already illegal, I can only assume they mean stores that sell sex toys. Once again, they're trying to force their morality on everybody.

Partial Birth Abortion - We oppose partial birth abortion. We recommend that Congress eliminate from all federal court jurisdictions all cases involving challenges to banning Partial Birth Abortion.

Abortion is a touchy subject, and anybody considering it shouldn't take the decision lightly. But there are legitimate reasons for people to get abortions, so they shouldn't be banned outright.

There's a very touching article on this subject, and if you only follow one link from this blog entry, follow this one. It's written by a woman who found out during the second trimester that her baby had severe hydrocephalus and spina bifida, and if it had survived at all, would have experienced severe suffering, followed with a story of another woman who's baby girl had anencephaly - no brain or any chance of life. Both women had what could be termed 'partial birth abortions' to terminate the pregnancies.
Real Life: Why I Chose Abortion

Another story that greatly affected my views on abortion is that of Jonny Kennedy. He had a rare skin disorder known as dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa which caused him horrible suffering. In a documentary on his life, The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off, he was asked what he would do if he had a child, and it was discovered while the child was still in utero that the child had the same condition. Without hesitation, he said that he would want the woman to have an abortion. For those of us who have been lucky enough to live comfortable lives, it's easy to say that every potential life should be given a chance, even if there are circumstances that might not be perfect. But to hear someone who had suffered their entire life basically say that no one else should have to experience that suffering is pretty powerful.

more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonny_Kennedy

And again, what is it with the Texas Republicans wanting to screw up the checks and balances created by the Constitution?

Right To Life - All innocent human life must be respected and safeguarded from fertilization to natural death; therefore, the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We affirm our support for a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution and to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protection applies to unborn children. We support the Life at Conception Act. We oppose the use of public revenues and/or facilities for abortion or abortion-related services. We support the elimination of public funding for organizations that advocate or support abortion. We are resolute regarding the reversal of Roe v. Wade. We affirm our support for the appointment and election of judges at all levels of the judiciary who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life. We insist that the U.S. Department of Justice needs to prosecute hospitals or abortion clinics for committing induced labor (live birth) abortion. We are opposed to genocide, euthanasia, and assisted suicide. We oppose legislation allowing the withholding of nutrition and hydration to the terminally ill or handicapped. Until our final goal of total Constitutional rights for the unborn child is achieved, we beseech the Texas Legislature in consideration of our state's rights, to enact laws that restrict and regulate abortion including: 1. parental and informed consent; 2. prohibition of abortion for gender selection; 3. prohibition of abortion due to the results of genetic diagnosis 4. licensing, liability, and malpractice insurance for abortionists and abortion facilities; 5. prohibition of financial kickbacks for abortion referrals; 6. prohibition of partial birth and late term abortions; and 7. enactment of any other laws which will advance the right to life for unborn children.

Hardly anybody likes abortion. Most people who go through with the procedure take it very seriously, and many do suffer emotionally. But I don't think that there should be a blanket restriction on abortion. Read the article I linked to above. Those were very good reasons to get an abortion, and they're not the only ones.

As I already wrote above, I also disagree with considering a fertilized egg to be a full human being with all the legal rights that entails. My brother made what I consider a good definition for when people should be considered human - brain activity. At the end of life, it's when brain activity ceases that we say it's okay to pull life support. Likewise, when brain activity starts is when we should say that the fetus becomes a human who should get appropriate protection (and as I already wrote, there is a grey area, since the brain doesn't just switch on). But even when brain activity begins, the rights of the developing baby need to be balanced against those of the pregnant woman. If the pregnancy is endangering the life of the woman, I would think that the woman's life takes precedence.

Still, by making abortion legal, you're not making it mandatory. It's only an option for those who choose it. A woman could continue with a life endangering pregnancy if she wanted to.

This paragraph also mentioned assisted suicide. I have a problem with the restriction on that, as well. I know a person who was terminally ill, with zero chance of recovery. Nearing their death bed, hospice provided them with pain killers to ease the suffering, with the explicit 'warning' not to administer a dose of X, because that would result in death. Once that person had all of their affairs in order and had made their peace, they took the dose of X. The alternative would have been to languish a few more days or weeks, with the suffering only getting worse day by day. Why would anybody deny a person like that the freedom to end the suffering? It just seems cruel.

RU 486 - We urge the FDA to rescind approval of the physically dangerous RU-486 and oppose limiting the manufacturers' and distributors' liability.

Actually, I'm a little torn on this one. Between 4.5 and 7.9% of women who took Mifepristone during clinical trials required surgical intervention, and there are quite a few side effects. However, I also tend to favor letting people do what they want to themselves, as long as they understand the associated risks. The current state of affairs, where Mifepristone is only available from doctors, doesn't seem so bad.

Morning After Pill - We oppose sale and use of the dangerous "Morning After Pill."

First of all, there is no the Morning After Pill. There are several drugs that can be used for emergency contraception, including progestogen only (Plan B), combination of estrogen and progestogen the (Yuzpe regimen), mifepristone (RU486), and Ulipristal acetate (Ella), and the language in this platform gives the impression of ignorance.

Assuming this plank is referring to Plan B, it carries risk of side effects like any other drug, but doesn't appear to be particularly dangerous.

Unborn Child Pain Protection - We support legislation that requires doctors, at first opportunity, to provide to a woman who is pregnant, information about the nervous system development of her unborn child and to provide pain relief for her unborn if she orders an abortion.

This sounds reasonable to me. It's also why Roe v. Wade had the outcome it did. The physical structure of the brain starts coming together around the start of the second trimester. Measurable brain wave activity begins around 25 weeks, near the start of the third trimester.

Added 2012-07-27 Actually, after seeing how these laws have been implemented, I have to remove any support for such planks.

Abortion Requirements for Hospitals - We propose legislation that entitles hospitals to refuse to perform abortions because government has no moral authority to require such an abortion.

Conscience Clause -- We believe that doctors, nurses, pharmacists, any employees of hospitals and insurance companies, health care organizations, medical and scientific research students, and any employee should be protected by Texas law if they conscientiously object to participate in practices that conflict with their moral or religious beliefs, including but not limited to abortion, the prescription for and dispensing of drugs with abortifacient potential, human cloning, embryonic stem cell research, eugenic screenings, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration. We call on the Texas Legislature to pass legislation to strengthen and clarify the current conscience clause in the Occupational Code to include the above-mentioned persons and practices.

This is one of those touchy subjects (what obligations go along with being a public service provider), but I tend to go on the side opposite that of the Republicans. Especially for public hospitals receiving taxpayer money, I think there is an obligation to fulfill expected services. If the hospital is private, and doesn't receive taxpayer money, then I think they should have more freedom to perform only the services that they want to.

Look at it this way. What if a police officer didn't agree that drugs should be illegal. Do you think there should be a Conscience Clause that lets them not enforce the law? No, because there's a certain expectation that they will exercise their duties.

Fetal Tissue Harvesting - We support legislation prohibiting experimentation with human fetal tissue and prohibiting the use of human fetal tissue or organs for experimentation or commercial sale. Until such time that fetal tissue harvesting is illegal, any product containing fetal tissue shall be so labeled.

Stem Cell Research - We oppose any legislation that would allow for the creation and/or killing of human embryos for medical research. We encourage stem cell research using cells from umbilical cords, from adults, and from any other means which does not kill human embryos. We oppose any state funding of research that destroys/kills human embryos. We encourage the adoption of existing embryos. We call for legislation to withhold state and/or federal funding from institutions that engage in scientific research involving the killing of human embryos or human cloning.

Many of the arguments I used above in discussing abortion apply here. Especially for very young embryos in an early stage of development, I don't think that they are yet human beings. I have to say, though, that the resistance to stem cell research especially angers me. There are real people suffering in this world, and stem cell research may potentially lead to cures. Limiting that research to only adult stem cells is limiting that potential, possibly extending the suffering.

Human Cloning - Each human life, whether created naturally or through an artificial process, deserves protection. We confirm that somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) is the process by which a human being is cloned, and that SCNT creates a unique human being with the same properties of a human embryo created through the union of sperm and egg. We seek a ban on human cloning for reproductive purposes (where a cloned human embryo, created through SCNT, is implanted in a womb and the human clone is birthed). We also seek a ban on research cloning (where a cloned human embryo, created through SCNT, is created, grown in the laboratory, and then destroyed when its stem cells are extracted for research purposes). Furthermore, criminal penalties should be created and experimenters prosecuted who participate in the cloning of human beings. No government or state funding should be provided for any human cloning.

Cloning a human and growing the clone into a fully developed person is questionable. But, for the same reasons I don't have a problem with research on embryonic stem cells, I don't have a problem with using this procedure for research. What if it turns out to be the best way to make stem cells that match the patient?

Gene Manufacturing - We support a ban on research that alters human DNA in living human beings at any stage of life, including the altering of artificial, manufactured, and natural genes and chromosomes.

Yeah, I'm sure people who suffer from genetic diseases will be thrilled to hear that you don't want them to ever have a possibility of a cure. This plank is just idiotic. Some of the most promising treatments for genetic disease (like cystic fibrosis, for example) involve doing exactly what this plank would make illegal.

Adoption - We support reducing the time, bureaucratic interference and cost of adoption. The law should assure mothers of a choice in selecting a traditional home for their children at the time of terminating their rights for adoption. We oppose mandatory open adoption and adoption by homosexuals.

I agree with the first part of that, but not the second (actually, I even disagree with the wording. 'Mother' is a title that's earned by raising a child, not simply by getting pregnant and giving birth, just like 'father' means more than just 'sperm donor'.). Why should a woman be allowed to let her bigotry affect who can adopt the child? Should she be allowed to specify the race or even the political party, as well? If people are deemed fit to raise a child, there shouldn't be any further restrictions.

Foster Care - We support eliminating bureaucratic prohibitions on corporal discipline and home schooling in foster homes to help alleviate the shortage of foster parents.

I don't know the full story and what might have prompted this plank, but "eliminating bureaucratic prohibitions on corporal discipline" sure sounds like saying foster parents should be allowed to beat their kids. But maybe the situation really is bad right now, to where foster parents can't spank even when it is justified.

Government-Sponsored Gambling - We continue to oppose government-sponsored gambling as a means of financing state government. Government-sponsored gambling has had a devastating impact on many Texas families. Moreover, we oppose any further legalization, government facilitation, or financial guarantees relating to any type of gambling including casino, riverboat, video lottery terminals (VLTs), slot machine, video keno, eight-liners, multi-state lotteries, and other games of chance including on Indian reservations. We support the repeal of the state lottery, and enforcement of existing laws and regulations related to gambling.

Really? They want to get rid of the lottery? The most innocent form of gambling next to a church raffle? The lottery that brings in around $1 billion a year to fund public schools?

more info:http://www.txlottery.org/export/sites/default/Supporting_Education/

I also disagree with their opposition to "any further legalization... relating to any type of gambling". I'm not much of a gambler myself, but I don't think I should be imposing my morality on anyone else. Whatever people want to do with their own money is up to them.

AIDS / HIV - We recognize that the preventable diseases of AIDS and HIV infection represent a threat to human health. We view with compassion all people infected with HIV. We call for appropriate levels of research to find a cure for the disease and ask that the government give full disclosure of the causes. However, because AIDS represents such a severe threat to both the health and economic well-being of our citizens, we insist that the epidemic be de-politicized and that as a society, we take all appropriate steps to protect our citizens from this epidemic. All people, no matter what disease they may contract, are worthy of deep respect as humans; however, behavior has personal and social consequences. We call upon the United States Public Health Service and all states to declare HIV a "dangerous, yet preventable, infectious, communicable disease." It should be legally reported in the same manner as any communicable disease. We oppose the needle exchange and bleach kit programs. We urge the return to the requirement of blood testing in order to obtain a marriage license with the previous reporting responsibilities to prevent the spread of dangerous, infectious, and communicable diseases. [emphasis mine]

So, in a paragraph all about compassion and wanting to prevent HIV infection, they come out and say that they're against programs that have been demonstrated to actually help prevent the spread of HIV.

Look at that first part I bolded, too. What exactly do they mean? The methods of transmission for HIV are pretty well understood, and it's not hard to find them. Are they implying some sort of government conspiracy to hide other ways that it can be spread? Just for reference, here's a link to the CDC's basic information page on HIV. What other causes are the Republicans implying that there are that the government hasn't yet disclosed?

Immunizations - All adult citizens should have the legal right to conscientiously choose which vaccines are administered to themselves or their minor children without penalty for refusing a vaccine. We oppose any effort by any authority to mandate such vaccines or any medical database that would contain personal records of citizens without their consent.

I strongly disagree. If not getting immunized only affected the individual without immunization, I'd be a little more apt to consider this argument. Though I'd probably still be in favor of mandatory vaccines, because children shouldn't have to suffer diseases because their parents are too stupid to get them immunized. However, an important aspect of immunization is herd immunity. Newborns haven't yet had all of their vaccinations, and most vaccines aren't 100% effective, so even in a population where all adults have been vaccinated, there are going to be people who are susceptible to diseases for which vaccines exist. If there's a large population of un-vaccinated people, they're going to be carriers for preventable diseases, and put others at risk.

Added 2010-12-01 Skimming over this, I realized it would be good to use a real example, instead of abstract possibilities. California had it's worst whooping cough outbreak in years, and several people have died as a result, included infants who were too young to have been vaccinated themselves. Herd immunity is important.

State Board of Education - We support an elected State Board of Education (SBOE) with authority over the Texas Education Agency, selection and termination of the Commissioner of Education, and textbook adoption. The SBOE must retain constitutional authority over the Permanent School Fund. The state should offer subject-area teacher certification without additional educational requirements for individuals who hold a baccalaureate in their field or professionals who have equivalent life experience in a field. We urge that the Legislature repeal Education Code 28.008 and 28.009; and that the legislature instead work within the established framework of the Texas Education code and the authority of the State Board of Education.

Textbooks and Curricula - The SBOE must have sole authority over textbook content and state adoption, and this process must include public hearings. We urge the Legislature to give the State Board of Education authority to establish textbook adoption standards. We oppose the replacement of textbooks by laptops. We support competitive pricing as part of the textbook selection process by independent school districts and oppose standard maximum pricing schemes. [emphasis mine]

I already mentioned this, but our SBOE is really screwed up in this state. It's so bad that it's crossed my mind to leave my job and move to a new state, so my daughter won't be stuck going to Texas schools (but then I remember that education is much more about individual teachers than the SBOE). Considering that it's been Republicans responsible for all the shady goings on in the board since I've been living here, I don't put much faith in them correcting the problems, and I don't really trust them to run the system well.

Look at that statement that I put in bold. It seems so Luddite. What could possibly be the problem with using laptops instead of printed books? More up to date material? More sources of information? Video and other multimedia?

No Child Left Behind - The No Child Left Behind Act has been a massive failure and should be abolished.

It seems that nobody likes this act. Why does it continue to be in effect?

Sex Education - We recognize parental responsibility and authority regarding sex education. We support policies that mandate parental notification and consent before any sex education program is presented to their child. Parents must be given an opportunity to review the material prior to giving their consent. We oppose any sex education other than abstinence until heterosexual marriage.

Abstinence only sex ed doesn't work - period. Areas with abstinence only sex ed have higher rates of teen pregnancy than areas with comprehensive sex ed. Sex ed should be based on ABC - Abstinence, Birth control, and Contraception. Obviously, abstinence is the best way to avoid getting pregnant or transmitting sexual diseases, but not everybody is going to wait until they're married. Teaching them what to do if they actually decide to have sex just makes sense. And even when couples do get married, they may not want to have children right away, if at all.

Considering that this platform makes it clear that the Texas Republican Party is against abortion in any form, you'd think they'd want to do everything possible to reduce teen pregnancy, which makes their stance on sex ed all the more infuriating.

Traditional Principles in Education - We support school subjects with emphasis on Judeo-Christian principles upon which America was founded and which form the basis of America's legal, political and economic systems.

This doesn't even make sense. Since when are reading, writing, and arithmetic Judeo-Christian principles?

And no, our country wasn't founded on Judeo-Christian principles. It was founded on Enlightenment values. As I already pointed out above, just the First Amendment is counter to quite a few Commandments. And where does the Bible call for a bicameral congress, or three branches of government. Hell, where does the Bible even call for Democracy? If anything, I'd say that's a Greco-Roman principle.

Basic Standards - We favor improvements on the quality of education and a return to the traditional basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic with sufficient discipline to ensure learning. We support standardized testing to ensure minimal standards are met. We advocate the elimination of the TAKS test.

Well, at least they want to get rid of the TAKS test. For anybody not from Texas, this is the program of standardized tests given to students every year. For certain grades, the TAKS in certain subjects must be passed in order to advance to the next grade. Because of their importance, teachers end up teaching to the test, rather than giving a well rounded education.

I also cringe at their wording of "return to the traditional basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic". U.S. schools actually cover those basic skills fairly well. We have a 99% literacy rate. It's more advanced subjects, like history, geography, and science, and more advanced skills, like critical thinking or knowing how to perform research, where our schools need the most improvement. The former Republican head of the SBOE, Don McLeroy, actually wrote, "Thus, the most amazing "orthodoxy" which dominates the educational establishment "leviathan" today is the slighting of "facts and knowledge" for emphasis on problem-solving and critical thinking. Problem solving and critical thinking are secondary skills. Before one can think and solve he must first have something to think about." Considering that, I'm a bit suspicious of Texas Republicans favoring a return to only basic skills in our schools.

McLeroy's Essay: http://web.archive.org/web/20050826020816/http://home.att.net/~dmcleroy/main.html

Educational Entitlement - We encourage legislation that prohibits enrollment in free public schools of non-citizens unlawfully present in the United States, whether or not such illegals pay or offer to pay tuition for such education.

This is another tough issue. Children don't choose where to live. Their parents do. Not providing a fee education to children here illegally is punishing the children for the crimes of their parents.

Theories of Origin - We support objective teaching and equal treatment of strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories, including Intelligent Design. We believe theories of life origins and environmental theories should be taught as scientific theory, not scientific law. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.

I've followed the creation/evolution controversy enough to recognize the code words. When creationists talk of "strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories", they're not being honest. Much of what they consider to be weaknesses are old arguments that have been refuted many times over (such as those covered in the Index to Creationist Claims).

More info: Strengths and Limitations

Then there's old mistake of thinking as theories and laws as rungs on the scientific ladder. They're not. Theories are overarching frameworks. Laws are concepts that can be expressed in succinct statements or formulas. Calling something a law or a theory says nothing about whether it's true or not. For example, the Law of Universal Gravitation (F=G*m1*m2/r^2) is actually wrong. It's only an approximation, and Einstein's Theory of Relativity is more accurate. The Aether Theory of Light is entirely wrong, while the Germ Theory of Disease is pretty well backed up.

Intelligent Design is little more than creationism that refuses to unambiguously state that God is the creator, in an attempt to get around the First Amendment and get some form of creationism taught in schools. But even then, it's hardly a theory. There's no real research being done on it.
Difference Between ID Proponents and Theistic Evolutionists

I wrote an entry a while ago on politicians' stances on evolution and global warming. Both are based on so much evidence, that the only reason to deny them is ignorance, or letting ideology trump reality. Neither option is good for a political party.
Political Litmus Test

Pledge of Allegiance in Public Schools - Students should be taught flag etiquette and should be led daily in the Pledge of Allegiance, the Texas Pledge, the National Anthem, and other patriotic songs to ensure that the loyal and patriotic spirit of Texan and American heritage is preserved.

I didn't realize how creepy the Pledge of Allegiance was until I moved to Texas and heard the Texas Pledge, and realized that there's no way in hell I'd ever recite the Texas Pledge. Seeing a pledge as an outsider puts it in perspective.

For a really uncomfortable image, take a look at students reciting the pledge while using the Bellamy Salute.

College Tuition - We recommend three levels of college tuition: In state requiring proof of Texas legal citizenship, Out of State requiring proof of US citizenship, and, nonresident legal alien. Non-US citizens should not be eligible for state or federal grants.

What's with the xenophobia? If we can lure the best and brightest to move to this country and stay here, they'll contribute to U.S. industry and the economy, which helps everybody in the U.S.

Judeo-Christian Nation - As America is a nation under God founded on Judeo-Christian principles, we affirm the constitutional right of all individuals to worship in the religion of their choice.

The Judeo-Christian part is wrong, as I already discussed, but I'm definitely for religious freedom. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but this platform didn't recognize the right to not worship at all.

Actually, this is a good place to quote something I've written in another entry

"If May is upset that someone doesn't consider the U.S. a Christian nation, he would have been furious at our second president, John Adams, and the entire U.S. Senate from 1797. The Treaty of Tripoli, read aloud to the Senate (it was only a couple pages) and approved unanimously, contained the following statement, "As the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion..." (http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/buckner_tripoli.html). The Senate made a point to record the vote, and Adams issued the statement, "Now be it known, That I John Adams, President of the United States of America, having seen and considered the said Treaty do, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, accept, ratify, and confirm the same, and every clause and article thereof. And to the End that the said Treaty may be observed and performed with good Faith on the part of the United States, I have ordered the premises to be made public; And I do hereby enjoin and require all persons bearing office civil or military within the United States, and all other citizens or inhabitants thereof, faithfully to observe and fulfill the said Treaty and every clause and article thereof." [emphasis mine]"

Safeguarding Our Religious Liberties - We affirm that the public acknowledgment of God is undeniable in our history and is vital to our freedom, prosperity and strength. We pledge our influence toward a return to the original intent of the First Amendment and toward dispelling the myth of separation of church and state.

The "myth of separation of church and state"? Let's see what old Thomas Jefferson had to say about that.

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof", thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."

Electronic Privacy - We believe all law-abiding citizens should be free from government surveillance of their electronic communications except in cases directly involving national security. Except for non-citizens, we further oppose any national ID program, including the Real ID Act and the use of Radio Frequency Identification Chips (RFID) on humans.

I agree, but even bringing up Radio Frequency Identification Chips rings of paranoia, and inspires images of people sitting around wearing tin foil beanies.

Boy Scouts of America - We support the Boy Scouts of America and reject any attempt to undermine or fundamentally change the ideals of the organization.

The Boy Scouts was one of my favorite activities from my childhood, so it's good to see them get support. However, I would like to see them change to officially accept any boy who wanted to join.

Addictive Behaviors - We encourage state and federal governments to severely prosecute illegal dealers and manufacturers of addictive substances and pornography. We urge Congress to discourage export of such substances into our country. Faith based rehabilitation programs should be emphasized. We oppose legalization of illegal drugs. We support an effective abstinence-based educational program for children. We oppose any "needle exchange" program. We urge vigorous enforcement of our DUI laws.

I already discussed legalization of drugs above. I don't see why the government should be able to tell people what they can do to themselves if it doesn't affect others.

If they dropped "Faith based" from "rehabilitation programs", I'd agree with them.

Faith-Based Charities - We oppose any restrictions by the IRS or any other government rules on taxpayer contributions to faith-based charities. We support new incentives to encourage more faith-based charitable contributions from all taxpayers.

Why this special pleading for religious institutions again? Charities are charities, and religious charities shouldn't get any special treatment.

Property Taxes - We favor abolishing property taxes. Until ad valorem taxes are abolished, we recommend that property valuations be fixed for not less than three years following each revaluation. Appraisal Boards should be elected. We urge four board members be elected by commissioners court precinct, and one member elected county-wide.

I already discussed this above. I don't like renting my property from the government.

Global Warming - We oppose taxes levied and regulations imposed based on the alleged threat of global warming.

What's with the "alleged"? Global warming is a real threat. It's also telling that this was the only specific mention of climate change in the whole platform. For something as serious as global warming, you'd think they could have outlined their plan to deal with it.

For the record, I disagree. A little more taxes now to lessen the impact of global warming will be a lot cheaper than adapting to extreme warming.

Legal Immigration - One nation, one flag, one language, one loyalty

America is a country of immigrants, we should insist that any immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself/herself to the United States. He/she shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else. This is predicated upon the fact that the person is in every facet an American, and nothing but an American. There can be no divided allegiance. Anyone who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't American at all. We have room but for one flag, the American Flag. We have room for but one language here and that is the English language. We have room for but one sole loyalty and that is loyalty to the American people. (Teddy Roosevelt, 1907)

What's wrong with more than one language? My great grandmother spoke Pennsylvania Dutch. Now, nobody in my family does. I wish my family had kept that tradition alive. My wife's family immigrated from Mexico and speaks Spanish. I would hope that future generations keep the language.

What's wrong with being proud of your heritage. I call myself an American, but one who's part German, Polish, and quite a bit more. I also consider myself a citizen of the world.

This 'one loyalty' rhetoric is simplistic. Of course people can have loyalty to more than one entity. I have loyalty to my family, my job, my country, and the world at large, to name just a few.

NASA - We support appropriate funding for NASA and the Texas Aerospace Commission. We also support private sector research and development of space technology.

Nothing much to say. I just like NASA.

Support of Our Armed Forces - We encourage all Americans to support the brave and patriotic men and women of our armed forces. They should be paid a wage sufficient to prevent them from ever needing food stamps and that encourages retention. We strongly recommend that all our armed forces remain commanded only by the Commander-in-Chief and his subordinate commanders; upgrading, modernizing and maintaining the equipment, weapons, and vehicles for the safety, efficiency and effectiveness of our armed forces; the continuation of the all volunteer armed forces, the recruitment and advancement of military personnel based on the needs of the military and the qualifications of the person; disqualification of homosexuals from military service; immediate discharge of HIV positive individuals; separation of men and women in basic training; exclusion of women from ground and submarine combat roles; provision of full military honors for burial of veterans; restoration of all veteran benefits without an offset for disability pay; health and disability benefits equal to active military for national guard and reserves; passage of a "new" G.I Bill that fully funds expanded educational scholarship opportunities for honorably separated Veterans; restoration of full lifetime health benefits to retired military and their families; and assurance that military and civilian voters displaced by their service be afforded full opportunity for their votes to be counted; and the expeditious construction of a Veterans Museum in Texas. [emphasis mine]

Look at the part I put in bold. It's like they can't help but insert their bigotry into everything. Anybody who's willing to put their life on the line to serve their country should be allowed to.

War on Terror - There is no substitute for Victory! We commend and support the Bush Administration's current policy regarding our military operations fighting the War on Terror and confronting radical Islamist terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries around the world. We believe our military forces deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular, should not be prematurely withdrawn from the conflicts until victory has been secured and both countries are able to sustain peace with limited assistance from the United States. There should be no "time-table" applied to the withdrawal of our forces. We also support keeping Guantanamo Detention Center for terrorist detainees. We oppose any plan to close Guantanamo and to bring detainees into the U.S. for Court trials.

First, notice the conflation of issues. The war in Iraq had nothing to do with terrorism, and it's extremely dishonest to say that it did.

I really, really hate Guantanamo. To quote something I've already written for this site, "The prisoners locked up in military jails may or may not be terrorists. How do we know without giving them their day in court? If there was sufficient evidence to lock them up in the first place, then a trial will convict them and they'll stay locked up. If there's not sufficient evidence, how can we be sure they're guilty? Maybe they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, or maybe some soldier just didn't like the way they looked at him. I'm ashamed to be living in the 'land of the free', when we're willing to take away people's freedom just because we're scared."

American Patent Rights - We support protecting our inventors, enforcing our patent laws, and strengthening penalties for patent law violations by foreign entities.

As someone working in a field where intellectual property is extremely important, I agree with this.

United Nations - We believe it is in the best interest of the citizens of the United States that we immediately rescind our membership in, as well as all financial and military contributions to, the United Nations.

Yeah. In an era of globalization, when companies regularly do business on 6 continents, and you can travel halfway around the world in a day, lets rescind our membership in the one political organization that tries to make everybody work together. That's just crazy talk.

That's it. That's the worst of it. It's hard to believe how crazy some of the things are that they wrote. It's not like this is some random web page from a guy working out of his basement. It's the official platform for the most powerful political party in Texas, and one of the two most powerful in the country. It's enough to make you depressed and fear for the future of our nation.

Much of what was written simply reinforced what I already knew about the Republican Party - their mangling of history, the injection of religion into politics, their opposition to science, the suppression of free speech, their bigotry towards homosexuals, their isolationist views on international issues, their desire to impose their morality on everybody. I think what surprised me the most was learning just how little regard they have for the Constitution and the founders' intent for checks and balances - their platform had several instances calling for legislation that would unconstitutionally restrict the power of the judicial branch.

Oh well, I'm glad I looked over the platform. At least now I know just how bad the Republican Party is in this state.

*That's what I get for taking so long to write this entry. I downloaded the Republican Platform two years ago, and had been meaning to write this entry for a while now. Well, this past June, the Texas Republican Party voted on a new version of the platform. I've skimmed through it, and although there are differences, the main points from this entry are still valid.

In the new platform, there's now support for alternative medicine, a call for 'corporal punishment' in public schools, the removal of tenure at universities, a call for a volunteer Texas militia, explicit support for the death penalty, and repeal of birthright citizenship, to name just a few things.

Added 2010-09-03: I've had a chance to review the 2010 platform, and have posted my review:
The 2010 Texas Republican Platform

Updated 2013-04-19: Updated the link to Real Life: Why I Chose Abortion, since the page had been moved.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Website Update - New Factoids Page

Factoids?Well, I've pretty much abandoned my old goal of updating the static pages at least once per month. My blog has really taken over as the main source of new content for this site. Still, some content I want to publish still belongs with the static pages, and I've just put up something new - another factoid page, Factoids Debunked & Verified, Part V. This one deals mostly with geography. It's a fairly even mix of truth and falsehoods.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Proposition 8

Defend EqualityI've been browsing through the comment thread over on Bad Astronomy in the post on Prop 8. Aside from the religious and bigoted arguments, one of the most prevalent I've seen from opponents to marriage rights is that this goes against democracy - the people voted, and now a judge has overturned it. One person even called it 'unconstitutional'. I've got to wonder - do these people even know how our government works? To spell it out for them, we have legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Legislative legislates laws. Executive executes laws. And judicial judges laws. I know - pretty complicated. So, when a law gets passed, even if it's voted on by the people, higher courts can determine whether the law itself is unconstitutional. It's part of that whole balance of powers thing. Now, if you don't like the Constitution, you can pass ammendments to have it changed, but I kind of like the idea that the Constitution limits the authority of government.

To tell the truth, though, I just can't think of any good reason why gay marriage shouldn't be allowed. I've already written about this extensivey (while I was still a Christian, no less). Although I have slightly different views now (without using the Bible as a basis for morality, I no longer see any problem at all with homosexuality), I don't think it would be worth writing something new on this, so I'll just link to those previous essays I've written on the issue.

Legality of Homosexual Marriage, Part I
Legality of Homosexual Marriage, Part II

I included this link in that second entry, but it's definitely worth pointing out here.
10 Reasons Why Gay Marriage is Wrong (Satirical)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Genetic Determinism

DNAI got into a discussion with a few co-workers last week on a topic that I'd thought most educated people agreed upon to a large extent - the limits of genetic determinism. In the old argument of nature vs. nurture, I thought most people realized that who we are is a combination of both influences. However, in that conversation, I was the only one who thought environment played a big role, while the other two thought it was mostly down to genetics. Anyway, a few days after our conversation, I sent them an e-mail explaining how environment can contribute to our traits, and decided that it might be worth posting a modified version of it here on the blog. So, to anyone who puts too much stock in genetic determinism, here's some information on how environment also plays a strong role in our development.

First, there's an example that's so obvious that we almost forget about it - muscle size. Genetics gives us a potential muscle size & strength, but our actual muscle size can be greatly affected by diet and lifestyle, particularly by being active or working out. This is a clear example of genetics and environment interacting to produce a trait.

Here's an article on height (since that was one of the traits my coworkers and I discussed specifically). Based on studies between twins and other relatives, it looks like genetics is 60 to 80% responsible for height, and environmental factors, particularly nutrition, are responsible for the remaining 20 to 40%.

Here are a couple more links on height.

One important caveat on twins that doesn't get mentioned in many of these articles - identical twins don't look so similar solely because of their shared genetics (although that is the biggest reason). It is also due to the shared environment in the womb. That's why fraternal twins look more similar that siblings that didn't develop together. So, it's not enough to look at identical twins in these studies - you have to use fraternal twins as a control for early developmental factors.

Here's a really good site on the 'nature vs. nurture' debate that focuses on intelligence. I'm giving the link to the conclusion, but if you follow the links on the site, you can find the evidence they list. To quote part of that site:

Through the research we have done, it seems that heredity, as well as environment plays an important role in humans’ mentality; but these are not exactly equal in influence. A person’s entire environment seems to be more effectual in determining his mental ability than heredity is. The most fundamental way to explain our opinion is quite comprehensible. It is that heredity determines one’s potential, but environment determines how far one will reach that potential during his lifetime. In other words, every individual has a destined mental potential, but how much of that potential the individual will be able to gain solely depends on the environment that the individual grows in.


Here's another article that touches briefly on genetic determinism, mentioning an experiment where cloned plants (i.e. genetically identical) were grown in different environments, and the plants grew differently depending on the environment they were in.

Another point against genetic determinism is the fact that our cells aren't perfect machines, where given inputs give precise outputs. Cells are a cluttered stew of molecules inside a membrane. Depending on how molecules are dispersed throughout the cell, two genetically identical cells may have different reactions to the same conditions. Carl Zimmer's book, Microcosm, has a good explanation of this, if you ever get a chance to read it. A good example, one which made headlines, is the first cloned cat. Although it has identical nuclear DNA to its mother, it has a different color pattern, because the activation and inactivation of the responsible genes is more or less random.

Here are two more links, dealing with related themes that we discussed. The first link is to an article on the Flynn Effect (the fact that IQ scores have been increasing). We also discussed abstract thinking, and whether or not it's a learned skill. The second link below includes a discussion of a study done in Uzbekistan which seems to confirm that abstract thinking is learned (though the article also mentions potential problems with the study).

Okay, so what's my point in all this? Genetics plays a significant role in who we are, but so do environmental factors, and even random chance has a part. So, given the long complicated history that has led to the current conditions in the world, unless two people have had very similar upbringings, it would be nearly impossible to tell how much of the difference between them was due to genetics.

Website Update - Top 10 Page List Updated for Past 4 Months

Top 10 ListIt's been a few months since I've updated the list of most viewed pages on this site. So, here they are. They're pretty consistent with months past, with a few new blog entries breaking into the list.

If anyone's really interested, my traffic has pretty much recovered from the dip last summer when I was too busy to post many entries. I guess new content really does keep people coming back.

July 2010

  1. Autogyro History & Theory
  2. Blog - A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  3. Blog - Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  4. Blog - Casio EX-F1 - First Impression of the High Speed Video
  5. Blog - Letter to Pharmacy about MBT Shoes
  6. Factoids Debunked & Verified
  7. Blog - Ray Comfort - Still Ignorant on Evolution
  8. Programming
  9. Blog - Running AutoCAD R14 in XP Pro 64
  10. Blog - Response to Anti-Liberal Article by Gary Hubbell

June 2010

  1. Autogyro History & Theory
  2. Blog - A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  3. Blog - Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  4. Blog - Letter to Pharmacy about MBT Shoes
  5. Factoids Debunked & Verified
  6. Blog - Casio EX-F1 - First Impression of the High Speed Video
  7. Programming
  8. Factoids Debunked & Verified, Part II
  9. Blog - Ray Comfort - Still Ignorant on Evolution
  10. Blog - Running AutoCAD R14 in XP Pro 64

May 2010

  1. Autogyro History & Theory
  2. Blog - A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  3. Blog - Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  4. Factoids Debunked & Verified
  5. Blog - Ray Comfort - Still Ignorant on Evolution
  6. Blog - Letter to Pharmacy about MBT Shoes
  7. Factoids Debunked & Verified, Part II
  8. Blog - Casio EX-F1 - First Impression of the High Speed Video
  9. Programming
  10. Theoretical Max Propeller Efficiency

April 2010

  1. Autogyro History & Theory
  2. Blog - A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  3. Blog - Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  4. Factoids Debunked & Verified
  5. Blog - Letter to Pharmacy about MBT Shoes
  6. Factoids Debunked & Verified, Part II
  7. Blog - Casio EX-F1 - First Impression of the High Speed Video
  8. Blog - Ray Comfort - Still Ignorant on Evolution
  9. Blog - How Monotheistic Is Christianity?
  10. Blog - Texas Board of Education in NY Times Magazine

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