Politics Archive

Friday, October 7, 2016

2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 9, Education

Republican ElephantThis entry is part of a series taking a look at the latest Texas Republican Party Platform. For a list of all entries in this series, go to the Introduction. Today's entry is going to take a look at education. Having a school age daughter, I tend to take these personally. Though in a democracy where everybody has the right to vote, a well educated populace is essential, so this should be a concern of everybody.


Parental Rights - The rights of parents to raise and educate their children is fundamental.
1. Parents have the right to withdraw and/or opt-out their child from any specialized program or psychological testing.
2. The State of Texas shall protect, at all costs, the privacy of its students, requiring written parental consent for student participation in any test or questionnaire that survey beliefs, feelings, or opinions.
3. We oppose mandatory pre-school and kindergarten.
4. We oppose teaching of values clarification that focus on behavior modification.
5. Taxpayer rights include the ability to review course materials and curriculum at any time.
6. We urge the legislature to enact penalties for violation of these rights.

I mentioned this a few times now in this series, but I'll say it again. Raising a child is not a 'right' of the parent. It's a responsibility. Children are not property. They are their own individuals, citizens of this nation, and entitled to all the same protections as other citizens. Parents usually are the best ones to raise their own children, but this isn't unquestionable, and doesn't grant the parents carte blanche. As long as parents are acting in the best interests of the children, they should continue to raise them. But when parents' actions go against the child's best interests, then it is the duty of the government to protect those children.

That being said, there are legitimate concerns about state overreach on this issue, and these planks do get to some of these concerns - the Texas Republicans just take it too far to the extreme. Just take the first one as an example. What if a child has some type of severe intellectual disability? A school would place them into a special needs program to give them the best education tailored to their needs and abilities. Why should a parent have 'the right to withdraw and/or opt-out their child' from this program that best serves them?


Local Control for Education-Quality education is best achieved by encouraging parental involvement, protecting parental rights and maximizing local independent school district (ISD) control. District superintendents and staff should be made solely accountable to their locally elected boards. We support sensible consolidation of local school districts. We encourage local ISDs to consider carefully the advantages and disadvantages of accepting federal money.

Moving to Texas and seeing the shenanigans our State Board has pulled in the past has made me very leary of local control. Their latest, in a headline from just last month, is State Board of Education targets evolution (for links to more examples, look at the end of this entry - CSCOPE, social studies, English and reading, and of course, even more science). When you get down to the individual district level, it's even easier for a small group of extremists to have an outsize effect. Our children deserve better than to have their educations hijacked by ideologues with political agendas.

Besides that, local funding of schools makes it harder for economically disadvantaged regions to provide the extra support for students who need it the most, because those regions have the smallest per capita tax bases. In a report from last year (National Report Card), Texas was one of 14 states with regressive school funding - where wealthier districts did receive more funding than poorer districts. Texas also ranks 39th in the nation in average funding per student.


Funding- We support a simple, fair, and efficient method for financing our public school system. School districts that have an adequate tax base should be free to manage their finances without any state recapture of local funds. Those districts that do not have sufficient tax base should be provided resources from general state revenues to meet the Texas Constitution's requirement of an efficient system of public free schools.

See above. In actual practice, local funding of schools hurts poor districts. At least the Republicans are saying that those districts should get funding from the state, but what good does that do? If it takes a certain amount of funding per student, and some districts have budget shortfalls because their tax base can't support their schools, where do you think those general state revenues are coming from - higher taxes from somewhere else. States have a certain budget they need to meet, so there's a certain amount of revenue they have to raise from taxes. Playing with the books over which taxes support which programs doesn't change the overall need, and so won't change the overall tax burden.

Although, there could be something a bit more sinister about this plank. As explained above, if you're wanting to give a certain amount of money per student, it doesn't matter how you do the bookkeeping, because the total tax burden is still going to be the same. What this suggests is that they want rich neighborhoods to be able to keep their money locally and not share, giving even more advantage to those students who already have a lot of advantages, and increasing the gap in the quality of education between rich and poor districts. How selfish do you have to be to want your own child's education to come at the expense of other students? I want a great education for everybody in the state.


Basic Standards-The educational system should focus on basic standards which include, but is not limited to: a curriculum of reading (with an emphasis on phonics), spelling, writing, the arts, music, literature, mathematics, geography, economics, civics, and United States and World History. We encourage teaching critical thinking skills, including logic, rhetoric and analytical sciences within these subjects.

Yay. They got something mostly right. Their education planks have been pretty abysmal in the past. Still, I can't help but notice a pointed omission of the sciences.


Scientific Theories- We support objective teaching and equal treatment of all sides of scientific theories, such as life origins and environmental change. These should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced. 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 just wrote something related to this, Is Evolution Falsifiable?. The issue is that although all good science should in principle be falsifiable and open to challenge, some concepts just have so much evidence backing them up, that it's hard to conceive of anything that would overturn them now given our current knowledge. I used the roughly spherical shape of the Earth as an example. What type of conceivable evidence could there be to challenge or overturn this scientific concept that wouldn't be so earth shattering that it would make us question everything we thought we knew? In practice, how much is it really 'subject to change as new data is produced'? The broad strokes of evolution are similarly 'proven' as much as science can prove anything. It may be challengeable in principle, but it's as much a fact as anything can be called a fact.

It's telling that the Texas Republicans have singled out 'life origins and environmental change'. It reveals that their motivation isn't actually to help students better understand the scientific progress and the limits of all knowledge and understanding of the universe, but to cast doubt on these particular concepts that they don't like. It's also telling that they use the 'strengths and weaknesses' language. I've written about this before, both in Strengths and Limitations and Virginia's New Strengths & Weaknesses Bill. These have become a somewhat standard tactic for creationists and climate change deniers to try to sneak their junk science into the classroom through the back door.


National Core Curriculum- We oppose use of national or international standards in the State of Texas (i.e. Common Core, CSCOPE, United Nations Inclusion, etc.) We also oppose the modification of college entrance exams to reflect any national core philosophies. Any ISDs that violate state law banning the use of a national core curriculum or standards shall lose all state funding until said curriculum or standards are removed and no longer utilized in classrooms.

This is just hypocritical. They preach local control of schools, but here they're trying to dictate the materials that local districts are allowed to use. What if a local ISD likes the national core curriculum or standards? Why shouldn't they be allowed to use them?


Sex Education- We respect parental authority regarding sex education. We support the teaching of biology of reproduction and abstinence until marriage. We should prohibit entities and their affiliates that contradict our beliefs from conducting sex education and/or teacher training in public schools. We oppose all policies and curriculum that teach alternate lifestyles including homosexuality, transgender and other non-traditional lifestyles as normal.

I touched on this in the last entry, but I'll expand on it here. Here's a good resource listing many of the claims from those promoting abstinence only education, and explaining, with references, how most of those claims aren't true, Advocates for Youth - The Truth About Abstinence-Only Programs. In short, abstinence-only education programs have very little if any effect on the age at which teens become sexually or the frequency of teen sex. Worse, because the teens aren't getting comprehensive sex ed about STDs, condoms, and contraception, abstinence-only education leads to higher teen pregnancy and STD infection rates.

As I pointed out in the last entry, Texas has the 3rd highest teen pregnancy rate out of all states in the US. And it's not like it's a ranking where all the states are close - Texas's teen pregnancy rate is more than 2 ½ times higher than New Hampshire (source). That's abysmal. If the actual goal is to reduce teen pregnancy and STDs and not just moralizing, then abstinence-only is a failure, and comprehensive sex-ed is the best approach to protecting our state's youth.


Facility Utilization-We support public school facilities such as restrooms, locker rooms and showers being reserved for the use of students based on biological birth gender.

I covered this already in the civil rights entry in regards to public restrooms, but here they're taking the same position on school restrooms. I'll just quote what I wrote there, to show the negative impact a similar law already passed in North Carolina has had. "Here's an article, What it's like to live under North Carolina's bathroom law if you're transgender. There's no easy choice for a transgender person. If, for example, they're biologically female but identify as male, then that means the only legal bathroom for them is the ladies room. So, as a man, in order to use a public restroom, they have to walk into the ladies room, making for an extremely awkward situation. Or, they could break the law and use the mens room. Or, as a lot of transgender people are doing, they can be very careful about how much fluid they drink so that they won't have to use a restroom in public. That's just insane, to put that type of pressure on citizens just to use the bathroom."

And in their eagerness to discriminate against transgender people, they're dragging in people with developmental abnormalities who don't fit neatly into 'natural man' or 'natural woman' categories. Not everyone has a 'biological birth gender' that neatly fits into male or female.


Religious Freedom in Public Schools- We urge school administrators and officials not to infringe on Texas school students' and staff's 1st Amendment rights to pray and engage in religious speech, individually or in groups, on school property without government interference. We urge the legislature to end censorship of discussion of religion in our founding documents and encourage discussing those documents, including the Bible as their basis. Students and district personnel have the right to display religious items on school property.

There's a kernel of truth in that plank, mixed in with a bunch of misleading or wrong statements. Some teachers or other school officials, often out of misunderstanding the First Amendment, try to keep religion completely out of schools, prohibiting students' right to express their faith. Here's a page on the ACLU site listing some of the cases where they've defended students against the schools, ACLU Defense of Religious Practice and Expression in Public Schools.

However, those cases are by far the minority when it comes to religion and public schools. Far more often, it's the school officials abusing their positions, and using the schools to illegally promote religion. A browse through another section on the ACLU site shows just how many of these cases there are, Religion and Public Schools.

This is not to say that teachers don't have First Amendment rights. They're perfectly free to discuss or promote religion outside of their capacity as teachers. It becomes a problem when they do so on the clock as representatives of the government.

And regarding the platform's mangling of history on the religious inspiration of the U.S. and our founding documents, I already covered that in Part 2, Religion. For anyone who thinks the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, I challenge them to find one reference to God in our nation's founding document, the United States Constitution. The closest you can get is the date, "in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven". But if that's enough to make the Constitution Christian, then using the term 'Wednesday' must imply that we still worship Woden. It's just an artifact of how our language and calendar developed. The U.S. was not founded as a Christian nation, and the Bible was not the basis for our founding documents.

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So, these education planks are what I've come to expect from Republicans - attacks on science, misrepresenting history, trying to inject religion where it doesn't belong, and policies that would harm the overall education system in the state.


Continue to Part 10, Guns

 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 8, Health Care

Republican ElephantThis entry is part of a series taking a look at the latest Texas Republican Party Platform. For a list of all entries in this series, go to the Introduction. This entry will cover planks related to health care.

Health Care- Health care decisions, including routine preventative care such as immunizations, should be between a patient and health care professional and should be protected from government intrusion. Abortion is not healthcare. Government has no right to mandate specific medical procedures or methods of healthcare.

They're sly about it, but they're playing to the anti-vax movement, implying that immunizations should be free from 'government intrusion'. Since what I wrote last time still fits, I'm going to quote that here. "I'm becoming less and less patient with the anti-vax movement, given the deadly results. Personally, I think withholding a vaccination from your child is a form of child abuse (at the very least criminal negligence) and should be punished accordingly. Children should not have to suffer deadly or crippling diseases because of the stupidity of their parents. And given the concept of herd immunity, avoiding vaccines puts others as risk, as well, not just yourself or your own unvaccinated children. Newborns have died because of unrelated idiots who didn't get their vaccinations and became vectors for diseases. Why does this platform promote such a dangerous, irresponsible position?

"For more, including links to statistics and heartbreaking examples, read Phil Plait's article, Debunking vaccine myths."


Conscience Clause- All persons and legal entities have the right of conscience, and should be protected under Texas law if they conscientiously object to participate in practices that conflict with their moral or religious beliefs. This includes, but is 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, harmful futile procedures, and the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration.

Well, this is another one that gets into a grey area - personal freedom of conscience vs. professional responsibility, but I tend to fall on the side of professional responsibility. An example I used before is police officers. No matter what a police officer's personal feelings may be about the morality of using drugs (a topic I'll address myself a few entries from now), we expect that officer to enforce the law. They can't turn a blind eye to drug dealers because it is their duty to uphold the law. And if they really do want to refuse to enforce the law, then they have the freedom to find a different line of work.

When it comes to medical professionals, they're providing a service to the public, and have their own set of ethical standards that they must follow. This becomes even more of an issue in small towns or rural areas where they might have effective monopolies. If for example there's only one pharmacist in town, and they refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control or any other drugs they don't like personally, then patients in that town are being denied the proper medical care that they and their doctor have agreed upon.

And note how they included 'legal entities' as having rights. Corporations are people, my friend.


Health Care- Legislators shall prohibit reproductive health care services, including counseling, referrals, and distribution of condoms and contraception through public schools. We support parents' right to choose, without penalty, which medications are administered to their minor children.

This comes back to a point I made in the Civil Rights entry. Children aren't the property of their parents. Parents should have a lot of latitude in raising their children, but the child's best interests should always be the primary concern.

The Republican position on sex ed and reproductive health care for minors is pretty regressive, and is a pretty big contributing factor to Texas having the 3rd highest teen pregnancy rate of all states in the US, more than 2 ½ times higher than New Hampshire (source). We shouldn't be encouraging teenagers to go out and become sexually active, but we also need to recognize reality and that a certain percentage of them will be having sex, so we need to do what's best for them and reduce their risks of contracting/spreading STDs or becoming pregnant / causing a pregnancy. And if part of that strategy is handing out condoms in public schools or providing counseling for students with nowhere else to turn, well, that doesn't seem like such a big deal compared to the consequences.

The last sentence of that plank is similar to their anti-vax hinting up above. Most parents are not doctors. Most parents don't have the knowledge of medicines and medications to be able to make better decisions than doctors. Now, many parents are well-informed, enough so that if they disagree with a doctor, they can go seek a second opinion. But if a second opinion or even a third opinion don't give the parents the answer they want, there's probably a reason. And children shouldn't have to suffer because of the ignorance of their parents.

To give an example of exactly what I mean, read this entry from last year, Tragic Death of a Girl due to Alternative Medicine & Religious Beliefs. An 11-year old girl, Makayla Sault, had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Doctors said that with appropriate treatment, chemotherapy, she had roughly a 75% chance of being cured. Several weeks into the treatment, she had a dream where she believed Jesus came to her and told her to stop the chemo. Her parents, both pastors, agreed to let her stop the chemo, and took her to an alternative medicine clinic, instead. Tragically, the outcome was what you would expect, and Makayla died. This is exactly the reason why parents should not have the "right to choose, without penalty, which medications are administered to their minor children". If the parents' choices are endangering the child, then the state should step in to protect the child, and enforce penalties when appropriate to dissuade other parents from endangering their children.

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These planks go way too extreme in wanting to remove government regulation and oversight, especially for our state's most vulnerable citizens, children, who would otherwise have no recourse if their parents endangered their health or even their lives. It is the duty of the government to guarantee the well-being of children, even if it means that parents don't have full and complete autonomy over how they want to raise their children. Raising children is a responsibility, not a right.

The anti-vax planks are particularly frustrating, but just one more symptom of the anti-science tendencies of the modern Republican Party.


Continue to Part 9, Education

 

Monday, October 3, 2016

2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 7, Abortion / Planned Parenthood

Republican ElephantThis entry is part of a series taking a look at the latest Texas Republican Party Platform. For a list of all entries in this series, go to the Introduction. This entry will cover abortion, and the related issue of funding for Planned Parenthood.

I've explained my position on abortion a few times previously. The entry, Abortion, explains my views in detail. Another entry, Ben Carson - On the Issues, Part I, contains a good short summary, which I'll quote here.

"There are many liberals who see this issue differently from me, but I do think it comes down to balancing the rights of the developing human in utero with those of the fully human mother. But just because a clump of cells happens to have the right genetics and is alive doesn't make it a human being with rights. In fact, it's cheapening the value of all humanity to claim that a bunch of cells with no differentiation is fully human. A human being is much more than just genetics and metabolism. A person has a mind, an emotional life, feelings, thoughts. A newly fertilized egg has none of that, and even throughout most of its development as an embryo in the first trimester, it doesn't have a functioning brain and so doesn't have even the glimmer of what makes a human a human. I see absolutely no reason to privilege those cells over the rights of the mother supporting them.

"As the embryo develops into a fetus and the brain begins to function, thoughts and feelings do begin to occur, so the rights of the fetus should begin to be considered. But it's still a gradual process, so the mother should certainly take precedence over the fetus in any discussion comparing the rights of the two, especially in those early stages (or more than two for multiple pregnancies). And there are many circumstances, such as genetic conditions like dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (to pull an example from my other entry), that would result in severe suffering for the person that would develop from that fetus, that are legitimate reasons to perform abortions later than the first trimester, and even 'partial birth abortions' that the forced birth crowd try to demonize."

I'll add that since I wrote that, from a legal perspective, I've been coming around more to the bodily autonomy argument. Even if a fetus were considered to be fully human (which I obviously don't agree with, as explained above), the government cannot force one citizen to sacrifice their body for the sake of another citizen. The classic example is organ donation. If a person was going to die unless they got a bone marrow transplant, and you happen to have the right blood type and other factors to be compatible with them, the government can't force you to donate bone marrow. In a similar vein, the government can't force a woman to donate her body to support a fetus and risk all the associated complications.


Getting to the platform, several of these planks were nearly the same, so I'm just going to list those ones all together and respond once.

Texas Protecting Texans- We support Federal legislation remanding all authority over abortion back to the individual States and removing all standing on this issue from the federal judiciary as given by Article III in the US Constitution. We also support family control of end of life decisions.
Abolish Abortion- We call upon the Texas Legislature to enact legislation stopping the murder of unborn children; and to ignore and refuse to enforce any and all federal statutes, regulations, executive orders, and court rulings, which would deprive an unborn child of the right to life.
We, the delegates of the 2016 Republican Party of Texas State Convention, call upon the 85th Texas Legislature to: ... Abolish abortion by enacting legislation to stop the murder of unborn children; and to ignore and refuse to enforce any and all federal statutes, regulations, executive orders, and court rulings, which would deprive an unborn child of the right to life.

I already wrote nearly the same thing in reference to marriage equality, but unfortunately for the Texas Republicans, there's this thing called the Fourteenth Amendment, that does in fact give the Supreme Court jurisdiction to overturn state laws that "abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States" or "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law" or "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws". So when you try to pass laws that deny women bodily autonomy, you're violating the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Supreme Court can strike down those laws.

And I've covered this before, too, but states have no right to reject Supreme Court decisions, and it's just absurd to see that type of language in the platform.


These next two are related, so I'm going to discuss them together.

Funding- We support the elimination of public funding or the use of public facilities to advocate, perform, or support elective abortions, embryonic stem cell research, research on fetal tissue, or human cloning.
Fetal Tissue Harvesting and Stem Cell Research- We support legislation prohibiting experimentation or commercial use of human fetal tissue, which requires or is dependent upon the destruction of human life. We encourage adult stem cell research using cells from umbilical cords, from adults, and from any other means that does not kill human embryos.

Maybe I'm being to nitpicky, but how can you support the 'elimination' of something that doesn't even exist? Public funding does not support elective abortions.

But aside from the accuracy of their claim, this is still unreasonable. Given everything I said above, it should be pretty clear that I don't think embryos nor fetal tissue are deserving of any special legal protection. And research into these areas has huge potential. I wrote about this a few years ago in the entry, Stem Cell Veto, in the wake of George Bush's veto of stem cell research funding. Here's an excerpt from that entry.

"Imagine you see somebody fall into a flooded river (to really pull at your heart strings, you can imagine it's your own child). This river's pulling them away pretty fast. There's a guy on a bridge down stream with a rope. Now, if he throws the rope, there's no guarantee that the person in the river will be able to get it and hold on. And, there's always the possibility that the person may get rescued by someone else. But what would you think if the person on the bridge decided to not throw the rope at all?

"That's basically what Bush just did. Embryonic Stem (ES) cells are not a guaranteed cure, and there are other lines of research that may lead to treatments for some of the diseases that currently look like they may be treated by ES cells, but why would somebody decide to maintain a ban on such a promising avenue of research?"

If research on embryonic stem cells or fetal tissue does eventually provide cures for some diseases, either directly or indirectly, how many people will have suffered needlessly or died prematurely because of the opposition to and bans on this research, privileging non-sentient cells above the needs of living, breathing, thinking, and feeling human beings?


These next two are also related, so again, I'm going to discuss them together.

Planned Parenthood- We support completely eliminating public funding for Planned Parenthood.
Improper Government Funding- We support enforcement of current law prohibiting public assets being used for private groups, such as ACLU, ACORN, and Planned Parenthood without proper vetting and authorization and urge the Texas Legislature to enact civil and criminal penalties for violation of the law which currently has no enforcement mechanism.

Planned Parenthood is a major target of Republicans. I discussed this last year in the entry, A Response to Mike Huckabee's Misrepresentations of Planned Parenthood, written in the wake of the fraudulent videos that purported to show Planned Parenthood selling fetal tissue for a profit.

First of all, I don't think most people have an accurate understanding of what all Planned Parenthood does. They seem to think it's primarily an abortion clinic. In reality, only around 3% of its total funding is spent on abortion service, with the rest being spent on STD screening & treatment, contraception, cancer screening, and other women's health services. And just to be clear and echo what I wrote above, none of that funding for abortion services comes from public funding at all in the state of Texas, and across the rest of the country, no federal funding supports abortion services (though some individual states do use state funds for that purpose). To reuse a graphic from that previous entry, here's a breakdown of how Planned Parenthood spends its money.

Planned Parenthood Spending

Second, the cuts to funding of Planned Parenthood in Texas are having significant negative effects for the state's residents. Here's an article from the L.A. Times summarizing some of these findings, After Texas stopped funding Planned Parenthood, low-income women had more babies, and a study from the New England Journal of Medicine, Effect of Removal of Planned Parenthood from the Texas Women's Health Program. To quote the last paragraph of the NEJM study:

"In conclusion, the implementation of the 2013 exclusion of Planned Parenthood affiliates from a Medicaid waiver program in Texas was associated with adverse changes in the rates of provision and continuation of contraception and with increases in the rate of childbirth covered by Medicaid. These findings have implications regarding the likely consequences of proposals to exclude Planned Parenthood affiliates from public funding in other states or at the national level."

These types of policies being pushed by Texas Republicans are harming our state's citizens.


Dismemberment Abortions- We strongly encourage the Texas Legislature to prohibit elective dismemberment abortions, a type of dilation and evacuation abortion, which take the life of preborn children by removing their limbs.

This appears to be the latest strategy of the forced-birth crowd. Similar to the 'partial birth abortion' controversy of recent years, 'dismemberment abortions' is an invented term that isn't used by the medical community. To summarize some of the content from the Think Progress article, The Next Anti-Abortion Strategy Lurking Around The Corner, this is probably an attempt to outlaw Dilation and Evacuation, which is the standard practice for abortions performed after 12 weeks into the pregnancy. But according to one doctor quoted in that article, David Grimes, "The language is so vague that this would be impossible to enforce. It reveals a lack of knowledge of the procedures that the bill proposes to outlaw." Others echoed similar concerns, and that the vague language could lead to legal issues with first trimester abortions, as well. Another doctor, Anne Davis, stated "It has to do with making it so complicated and so burdensome that no one will provide it."


Freedom of Assembly- Because we believe in the freedom of assembly, we urge repeal of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Law. Those who assault peaceful protesters acting under the Constitution should be vigorously prosecuted. Picketing and literature distribution do not fall under the Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

You can read the actual law on Cornell's Law website, 18 U.S. Code § 248 - Freedom of access to clinic entrances, or a summary on Abortion.Info, Laws Relating to ProLife Protestors, or even Wikipedia, Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. To quote the summary from the Abortion.info article, the law "prohibits people from using threats, violence, obstructions, or intimidation to prevent people from entering reproductive health facilities or obtaining services at these facilities." The law does not curtail freedom of assembly, with a provision specifically calling out that "Nothing in this section shall be construed ... to prohibit any expressive conduct (including peaceful picketing or other peaceful demonstration) protected from legal prohibition by the First Amendment to the Constitution".

Seeing the actual language of the law, the justification given in this plank seems transparently false, and that it's not about freedom of assembly, but all about wanting to physically obstruct or intimidate people trying to enter clinics (or worse).

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In what's become almost a running theme for this series, these planks are full of language showing that the Texas Republicans don't understand fundamental concepts of how the law works and lack basic Constitutional literacy. Then there are the planks that reveal either misunderstandings or deliberate misrepresentations about what Planned Parenthood does and how it's funded. And the common theme to all of it is their draconian views on reproductive rights, and trying to take away women's right to bodily autonomy.


Continue to Part 8, Health Care

 

Friday, September 30, 2016

2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 6, Civil Rights

Republican ElephantThis entry is part of a series taking a look at the latest Texas Republican Party Platform. For a list of all entries in this series, go to the Introduction. Today's entry is going to cover civil rights, and if you know anything about the Republican Party, particularly the Texas Republican Party, you can guess that this is going to be a long entry. And I'm not even going to get into abortion, as I'm saving that for an entry all its own.


Employment Non-Discrimination Act and Laws- We oppose government regulations that coerce business owners and employees to violate their own consciences, beliefs, and principles.

I'll admit, this is a grey area. Private citizens and private enterprise should have as much freedom as is practical. The problem, as the old saying goes, is that your right to swing your fist stops where my nose begins. Complete and total freedom is how smart alec children protest when they get in trouble for misbehaving, while most adults (of all political persuasions) recognize that freedom is balanced against harming others. So, while nearly everyone recognizes that you don't have the freedom to take someone else's property (theft), while you do have the feedom to hurt their feelings by insulting them, non-discrimination laws fall somewhere in between.

I tend to fall on the side in support of non-discrimination laws. If discrimination weren't such a widespread problem, then it probably wouldn't be an issue that had to be addressed through legislation. But because discrimination is so widespread, there are large groups of society being held back or harmed for no reason other than their gender, race, or some other characteristics that they have no control over, and so the government should step in, as per the mandate in the Constitution, to "promote the general Welfare".

I don't mean to imply that this discrimination is the overt discrimination of years past (well, not completely years past, but at least less common now), but implicit discrimination still has significant effects. Here's a blog entry on Pharyngula that lists the results of several studies where matched resumes were sent out, changing just a few variables between them - for example white sounding vs. black sounding names, males vs. females, listing gay campus organizations on one resume but not the other, etc. In all cases, when all other qualifications were the same, white heterosexual males were found to get more callbacks, be rated higher by potential employers, or receive offers for higher starting salaries, and all by significant margins. Here's an article from the Guardian, 'Resume whitening' doubles callbacks for minority job candidates, study finds, describing, as the headline says, that black and Asian Americans received twice as many callbacks when they removed any information from their resumes that indicated their ethnicity. Discrimination is still a major problem in the U.S., with women and minority groups facing significant obstacles.


Business Right to Choose- We support a business owner's right to conduct their business as they see fit.

Well, business owners already can conduct their businesses as they see fit, so long as they're not breaking any laws. This just seems like an attempted excuse to let owners break existing laws (e.g. non-discrimination laws), or not fulfill their obligations to their employees (e.g. health insurance, as in the case of Hobby Lobby).


Voter Registration- We support restoring integrity to the voter registration rolls and reducing voter fraud. We support the repeal of all motor voter laws, re-registering voters every four years, requiring photo ID of all registrants, proof of residency and citizenship, along with voter registration application, retention of the 30-day registration deadline, and requiring that a list of certified deaths be provided to the Secretary of State in order that the names of deceased voters be removed from the list of registered voters.

I've actually got an entry in the works that's nearly complete, with lots of references to support it, which I'll link to from here as soon as it's done. [here it is - Voter ID Laws and Voter Fraud - A Cure Worse Than the Disease] To quote what will be the conclusion, "studies don't find voter fraud to be a big issue, and the majority of the few cases that do occur wouldn't be stopped by voter ID laws. Leaked documents, unguarded statements, and other examples make it clear that many Republican politicians intentionally mean to disenfranchise certain voters with these laws. And the actual measured effect is that these Republican led voter ID laws have reduced voter turnout, especially among minorities and others more likely to vote Democratic, with the reduced turnout dwarfing the number of fraud cases they were meant to stop. As one judge in Wisconsin put it, the "strict version of voter ID law is a cure worse than the disease." Finally, a majority of Democrats are in favor of voter ID laws and other reforms to guarantee election integrity, as long as they're implemented properly and fairly, and not used as a tool to disenfranchise voters and try to swing elections in favor of the Republicans."

Here are a few of the articles supporting those conclusions:


...We urge that the Voter Rights Act of 1965, codified and updated in 1973, be repealed and not reauthorized.

It's a quibble, but come on Texas Republicans, demonstrate that you actually have some knowledge of the issues you're criticizing. It's the Voting Rights Act, not the Voter Rights Act.

I guess it's not surprising to see one of the states that's violated the Voter Rights Act so many times want to see it repealed, so that there's no opposition to their imposing onerous standards and obstacles to disenfranchise certain voters. In fact, it was this very act that was used for striking down Texas's recent overly strict voter ID laws (Federal Court Rules Texas' ID Law Violates Voting Rights Act).


Family and Defense of Marriage- We support the definition of marriage as a God-ordained, legal and moral commitment only between one natural man and one natural woman.

  • We support withholding jurisdiction from the federal courts in cases involving family law, especially any changes in the definition of marriage.
  • We shall not recognize or grant to any unmarried person the legal rights or status of a spouse, including granting benefits by political subdivisions.
  • We urge the legislature to rescind no-fault divorce laws and support covenant marriage.

You can have whatever religious beliefs you want, and you can follow them in your personal life, and you can join a church that shares those same beliefs, and you can even try to influence the church on their official stance on certain issues. But you can't use those religious beliefs to make laws that apply to everybody, since not everybody shares the same beliefs as you.

As far as the government is concerned, marriage is a strictly secular contract between two people, and religion has nothing to do with it. Marriage may be religious to you, which is why you can go get married in a church, but other people have the freedom to get married by a Justice of the Peace without any religious overtones.

And in their efforts to enforce their bigotry, the Republicans here have introduced more problematic language, trying to limit marriage between just 'natural' men and women. Now, it's probably clear that they're trying to keep transgender and transsexual individuals from getting married, but there are also people with developmental abnormalities who don't fit neatly into 'natural man' or 'natural woman' categories. The Republican language would seem to outlaw them from getting married at all.

Finally, as I discussed more in a previous entry, what's with Texas Republicans trying to destroy the checks and balances system of the federal government, by removing certain issues from the courts' jurisdiction.


Overturning Obergefell v. Hodges- We believe this decision, overturning the Texas law prohibiting same sex marriage in Texas, has no basis in the Constitution and should be reversed, returning jurisdiction over the definition of marriage to the states. The Governor and other elected officials of the state of Texas should assert our Tenth Amendment right and reject the Supreme Court ruling.

Well, unfortunately for the Texas Republicans, there's this thing called the Fourteenth Amendment, that does in fact give the Supreme Court jursidiction to overturn state laws that "abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States" or "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law" or "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws". So when you try to pass laws that deny gay people the same privileges as heterosexual people, you're violating the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Supreme Court can strike down those laws.

And I've covered this before, but states have no right to reject Supreme Court decisions, and it's just absurd to see that type of language in the platform.


Homosexuality- Homosexuality is a chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that has been ordained by God in the Bible, recognized by our nations founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples. We oppose the granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin. We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.

This plank is almost uniformly awful. Homosexuality is NOT a chosen behavior*. You don't get to force your religious beliefs on other citizens who don't share those beliefs. You don't get to force public policy to enshrine your bigotry. And you don't get to ignore the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution.

The only part that's not awful is the last sentence, as long as you take it as written and don't read too much into it. However, if they have in mind a situation like that of Kim Davis or others who act on their opposition to actually cause harm, then there should be penalties.

* - Frankly, whether or not homosexuality is a chosen behavior should make no difference concerning laws. Whatever two consenting adults want to do is their choice. It's just frustrating to see the Texas Republicans make such an erroneous statement. How can anybody come up with effective laws if they're not based in reality? (Plus I know that for me when I was still religious, recognizing that homosexuality wasn't a choice did make a big difference in how I saw it.)


Counseling and Therapy- No laws or executive orders shall be imposed to limit or restrict access to sexual orientation change efforts for self-motivated youth and adults.

This is slightly less bad than similar passages from previous platforms, but still pretty bad. Here's an informative article from the Human Rights Campaign, The Lies and Dangers of Efforts to Change Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity. Quoting a report by the American Psychological Association, they stated, "that the 'results of scientifically valid research indicate that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex attractions or increase other-sex sexual attractions through SOCE.' In addition, the task force found that 'there are no methodologically sound studies of recent SOCE that would enable the task force to make a definitive statement about whether or not recent SOCE is safe or harmful and for whom.' " So, there's no sound evidence that this 'therapy' even works, and no conclusive evidence on the risks, although as stated later in the article, there are "anecdotal claims of psychological harm". I have no legal objection to adults who want to put themselves through such treatments (even if on moral grounds I would implore them not to), but it's simply irresponsible to allow minors to be subjected to such unknown risks.


Gender Identity- We urge the enactment of legislation addressing individuals' use of bathrooms, showers and locker rooms that correspond with their biologically determined sex.

Do these Republicans really want Texas to end up like North Carolina, facing boycotts and economic fallout from their bigoted bathroom bill (North Carolina Starts To Face Real Economic Consequences For Anti-LGBT Law (Updated))?

And that's just the selfish pragmatic view without thinking about the human side of it. The North Carolina bill is causing real hardship to transgender people. Here's an article, What it's like to live under North Carolina's bathroom law if you're transgender. There's no easy choice for a transgender person. If, for example, they're biologically female but identify as male, then that means the only legal bathroom for them is the ladies room. So, as a man, in order to use a public restroom, they have to walk into the ladies room, making for an extremely awkward situation. Or, they could break the law and use the mens room. Or, as a lot of transgender people are doing, they can be very careful about how much fluid they drink so that they won't have to use a restroom in public. That's just insane, to put that type of pressure on citizens just to use the bathroom.

And who in the hell in a public restroom is inspecting other visitors to see what their biological sex is, anyway? That would be disturbing.


Parental Rights and Responsibilities- Local, state, or federal laws, regulations, or policies that limit parental rights in the rearing of both biological and adopted children shall not be enacted. Parents have the God given right and responsibility to direct and guide their children's moral education.

This gets into some grey areas of rights vs. responsibilities, but I see raising a child as primarily a responsibility, and not so much a right. Children are not property. Parents don't own them. Children are their own individuals, citizens of this nation, and entitled to all the same protections as other citizens - moreso, in fact, since they're too young to protect themselves. Parents usually are the best ones to raise their own children, but this isn't unquestionable, and doesn't grant the parents carte blanche. As long as parents are acting in the best interests of the children, they should continue to raise them. But when parents' actions go against the child's best interests, then it is the duty of the government to protect those children, up to and including taking the children away from the parents in the most extreme cases. And invoking religion is not an excuse to get around these responsibilities.


We oppose any government agency from forcing faith-based adoption or foster care organizations to place children with same-sex couples.

Well, if the faith-based organization is receiving taxpayer funds, then it needs to represent all taxpayers, same-sex couples included. That shouldn't be controversial at all. And while I think it would be immoral for a completely privately funded organization to refuse to place children with same-sex couples, I can see there being more debate on that.


Gambling- We oppose the expansion of legalized gambling.

"Liberty! Freedom! Individual rights! Unless it's an issue I disagree with personally, in which case it should be banned." Why should we stop adults from spending their money how they want? Talk about a nanny state.


Women in Combat- We oppose the use of women in military combat units.

I would agree that standards should not be changed to accomodate women in combat units, but if a woman wants to risk her own life to defend this nation, and is just as qualified as male counterparts, why shouldn't she be allowed to? Of course, on average men have more muscle mass and all that entails, but that's only on average, and there's a lot of variation between individuals of both sexes. I know that when I go to the gym, there are a few women there who would definitely beat me in any type of fitness test. Really, it seems like such a no-brainer to me to allow qualified women with a desire to do so to enter combat units, that there's not much else that needs to be said. So, I'll just link to this article from Mother Jones, Soldiers Blow Up 5 Myths About Women in Combat.


Gender Norming in the Military- We oppose gender norming in the military.

Well, there's gender norming, then there's gender norming. As I already wrote up above, I don't think standards for combat units should be changed just to make it easier for more women to pass the standards. I expect women to always be a minority in combat units because of this. But I've also read a few articles decrying the evils of gender norming, such as this one, The Disaster of 'Gender Norming' Ground Combat, which although it raises some legitimate points, also had a problem with this statement from Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, "If we do decide that a particular standard is so high that a woman couldn't make it, the burden is then on the service to come and explain to the secretary, 'Why is it that high? Does it really have to be that high?' "

Let me pause to tell a short anecdote. I have a friend in the Air Force who's one of the most fit guys I know. He's been over to my house for pool parties, and it's pretty obvious that he's in very good shape (it's almost embarassing the way my sisters-in-law ogle him). But he's a big guy - not fat at all, just a large frame. And the Air Force has a hard and fast upper limit on waist size - 39", while my friend is normally a bit bigger than that. So, every time he came up for his PT test, he had to go on a crash diet AND wear a rubber suit to sweat off as much water as he could prior to getting his waist measured. It was unhealthy, and it was completely ludicrous to think that he wasn't fit enough the rest of the year when his waist was bigger than 39", but that was the standard.

The point is, some standards in the military are arbitrary and not really reflective of what's needed for effective soldiers. So, even if women not being able to pass certain standards is just the impetus to make military leaders re-examine some of those standards, that's not such a bad thing, even if some critics are going to try to deride it as gender norming. And for the standards that really do need to be what they've always been, then by all means keep them the same.

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So, there were lots of planks pushing back against many of the gains that the civil rights movement has achieved, which I guess isn't so surprising coming from Texas Republicans, even if it is disappointing and frustrating. What should be more surprising coming from the platform of a major party is how much of the content was factually wrong, illegal, or unconstitutional. You shouldn't expect that type of nonsense in a party platform. But, given the direction the Republican Party has been going, and given that I've read the platform for several years now, I can't say that I was really all that shocked.


Continue to Part 7, Abortion / Planned Parenthood

 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 5, Environment / Climate Change

Republican ElephantThis entry is part of a series taking a look at the latest Texas Republican Party Platform. For a list of all entries in this series, go to the Introduction. Today, I'm going to look at their planks on climate change and environmentalism.

Climate change is arguably the most important issue facing the nation and the world. That's not to say other threats like terrorism aren't also big and deserving of attention, but they don't have the same catastrophic global effects.

Climate change is a threat globally, and a national security threat domestically, with the potential to cause huge amounts of upheaval, disruption, and suffering. And it's not some far off threat. Effects are already being noticed, with more severe weather patterns and natural disasters. Refusing to take action on climate change is both a moral failing and political dereliction of duty.

So, with such a huge issue, you'd expect it to play prominently in any serious political party. You'd expect it to be a major portion of their platform, explaining just how they expect to deal with such a monumental challenge. How do Texas Republicans deal with it? One freakin' paragraph, that doesn't even say how they would address the issue, but calls into question whether it's a real issue at all! Here's the plank, the one and only plank in the whole platform that mentioned climate change:

Protection from Extreme Environmentalists- We oppose environmentalism that obstructs legitimate business interests and private property use, including the regulatory taking of property by governmental agencies. We oppose the abuse of the Endangered Species Act to confiscate and limit the use of personal property and infringement on property owner's livelihood. "Climate Change" is a political agenda promoted to control every aspect of our lives. We support the defunding of "climate justice" initiatives and the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency and repeal of the Endangered Species Act. [emphasis mine]

That whole thing is bad, but take a look at that part in bold. This is deep into paranoid conspiracy theory territory. Climate change is real, and is a grave threat to society. To dismiss all the evidence in support of climate change and to call it a 'political agenda' is absurd.

The other parts are bad, but hardly surprising. The Republican Party in general just seem to have a problem with environmentalism, or any of the federal agencies that work to help preserve the environment (though of course, they couch it in language of private property and over-regulation).


I guess you could argue that even though the above plank was the only one that mentioned 'climate change', these next two do deal with the topic. But again, they're not encouraging. They're calls to inaction, without any proposal on how to address the issue:

Carbon Dioxide- We oppose all efforts to classify carbon dioxide as a pollutant.
Cap and Trade- We oppose the implementation of any cap and trade (aka "Cap and Tax") system through legislation or regulation.

And as I've written before, the Republican opposition to Cap and Trade is especially irritating because it was a Republican proposal to begin with - a free market method of addressing carbon emissions rather than overly restrictive government regulation.

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Honestly, there are lots of very, very bad sections of this whole platform, but this is the worst. Climate change is the type of existential threat that merits people becoming single issue voters. It's making nations uninhabitable, and could literally change the map. For a political party to actually call the reality of it into question and imply that it's nothing more than 'a political agenda' goes beyond mere irresponsibility. It's reprehensible, and should disqualify the Republican party in the minds of all thinking people.


More info: I've written several times about climate change before. Phil Plait of the Bad Astronomy blog also has quite a bit. Here are links to several entries from Plait, followed by some of the ones I've written.

Climate Change Links on Bad Astronomy:

Climate Change Links on This Site:


Continue to Part 6, Civil Rights

 

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