Politics Archive

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.

Continue reading "The Texas Republican Platform, or Why I'm Not a Republican" »

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, July 9, 2010

New Comments

Well, I don't have anything really substantive for this week. I did leave two decent comments, though, in response to visitors. First is a discussion of why humans should be considered apes. Second is a bit of politics in response to a guy who didn't like my response to Gary Hubbell's anti-liberal article.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Supreme Court Tells Christian Group to Follow the Same Rules as Everybody Else

A few weeks back, I blogged about a case going to the Supreme Court. To recap, the Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco had a policy that for any student group to be officially endorsed by the university and receive a small stipend, it couldn't restrict membership for any reason. One organization, the local Christian Legal Society (CLS), changed its rules to exclude homosexuals or those engaging in pre-marital sex from holding leadership positions or voting. The university enforced its policy, and revoked its official endorsement of the CLS. So, the CLS claimed discrimination, took the university to court, lost, and appealed to the Supreme Court.

In my original blog entry, I already explained why I thought the CLS was clearly wrong, so I wasn't surprised to read the headline, Justices Rule Against Group That Excludes Gay Students. What surprised me, perhaps because I'm still too politically naive, is how close the vote was: 5 to 4. Nearly half of the justices sided with the CLS.

Consider the following statement from Alito, who wrote the dissenting opinion, "I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that today's decision is a serious setback for freedom of expression in this country." To me, 'freedom of expression' means the ability to say something without interference. To Alito et al, 'freedom of expression' apparently means the ability to say something, get official government endorsement for that statement, and get taxpayer money to help you spread that statement. It's like words don't even have the same meaning to them. 'Freedom' and 'entitlement' are not the same thing.

I think Stevens put it best, saying "groups may exclude or mistreat Jews, Blacks and women or those who do not share their contempt for Jews, Blacks and women. A free society must tolerate such groups. It need not subsidize them, give them its official imprimatur, or grant them equal access to law school facilities."

The good news is that at least for now, a sensible decision was reached on this issue.

Let me just quote one section of the previous blog entry, to show why I think the CLS was so clearly wrong.

To be clear, the university did not ban the CLS from convening on campus, or ban students from joining the CLS, and did not even stop the CLS from using university facilities. They just didn't officially endorse the CLS and give it the stipend that official organizations receive.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Free Markets, Government Intervention in Health Care, or Why I'm Not a Libertarian

MoneyI know very few people personally who think a completely free market is a good thing (in fact, I don't think I know any), but there are some of the more extreme libertarian types who think that way. They believe that supply and demand will make everything turn out okay, and that government intervention will just make things worse. How much easier political debates would be if those people were correct.

The problem is that a free market works much the same way as evolution, optimizing companies for current conditions. Sure, the CEOs, boards, presidents, and others running companies may have their long term goals, meaning that business isn't as blind as natural selection, but day to day operations require that businesses are successful in the here and now, competing against other businesses. Response to global warming is a good example of this. A president of a company may have a sincere desire to cut down on his company's carbon emissions. But if the president of a second company doesn't give a damn about carbon emissions, then he can do business at a lower cost, putting the first company at a disadvantage. Even if the president of the first business knows that carbon regulations are coming down the pike, it doesn't do him any good to try to anticipate those regulations if it means losing out in the short term and going out of business.

The other problem is that a free market doesn't necessarily optimize businesses for what we as a society want - it optimizes businesses to out compete other businesses. A good concrete example has to do with health care - developing new antibiotic drugs. Antibiotics are a modern wonder; they've saved countless lives. Unfortunately, bacteria evolve. After enough exposure over enough generations, bacteria can develop resistance to antibiotics. This problem has been exacerbated by overuse and misuse of antibiotics, but the problem is still probably inevitable.

At first blush, this may seem like a ripe area for pharmaceutical companies. If bacteria evolve resistance to old antibiotics, there ought to be quite a market for new ones. Unfortunately, that's not the case. For one, in order to try to keep bacteria from evolving resistance to these new antibiotics as quickly, doctors are pretty conservative in using them. While the family practitioner may still give out penicillin for every runny nose, the doctor fighting a patient's MRSA infection is going to be very careful with the few remaining antibiotics that might be able to help. So, once the new antibiotic has been developed, there's only a limited return on investment. Even worse for the pharmaceutical companies (and us), bacteria don't stop evolving. Eventually, they'll develop resistance to new antibiotics, as well. So, aside from a limited initial return on investment, the product has a limited life.

Compare this to other drugs that pharmaceutical companies could develop - treatments for high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, impotence, etc. These are medicines that patients take for a lifetime, not just a week or two as with antibiotics. And our bodies don't evolve immunity to these medicines in the same manner that bacteria evolve antibiotic resistance, so a new drug can be used potentially forever. The return on investment for these types of drugs is much higher than for antibiotics.

Now consider further that pharmaceutical companies are working with finite resources. They only earn so much in profits that they can put back into research. And remember that pharmaceutical companies, despite all the good they do, are in business primarily to make money. Presented with the choice of where to spend research money, they're obviously going to favor drugs with the potential to earn them more profit, which means less research on antibiotics.

This isn't mere idle speculation on my part. A new study published in the May 1st issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases documented this very problem. I first heard about the study in a story on NPR, and found another good article here. To quote from that second article:

FDA approvals of new antibiotics declined 56 percent during the past 20 years (1998-2002 versus 1983-1987). Looking to the future, the researchers found only six new antibiotics in the R&D pipeline out of 506 drugs being developed.

And now is where the real political debate comes into play. Obviously, some type of government intervention is needed if we want new life saving antibiotics to be developed. The question is how. Regulations? Tax breaks? Direct investment of public funds? I don't know, but I think it's pretty clear that the free market doesn't always lead to outcomes that are best for society as a whole.

Update 2013-02-18: Looking over this entry again, I realize that I forgot to make the clarification I had in a similar follow-up entry, Another Example of the Free Market Failing Society. So, let me do so now. Do not take this entry to mean that I think the free market is a bad thing. I think there are many ways that the free market provides benefits to the public. But I'm not so naive as to think that it always produces the best outcomes. Some industries or services are best accomplished by being government run (the police force immediately comes to mind). And even private industry requires the proper amount of oversight and regulations. The trick is in determining the proper combination of those things. But we shouldn't argue for the extremes of either libertarianism or communism, because neither of those has a very good track record.


Selling Out