Politics Archive

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 11, Crime & Drugs

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 crime and drugs.

Capital Punishment- Properly applied capital punishment is legitimate, is an effective deterrent, and should be reasonably swift and unencumbered.

Carlos DeLuna. Richard Cantu. Larry Griffin. Joseph O'Dell. David Spence. Leo Jones. Gary Graham. Claude Jones. Cameron Willingham. Troy Davis. Lester Bower. Brian Terrell. Richard Masterson.

These are all men who were very probably innocent of the crimes they were accused of, yet were still killed by the state. There are many more questionable cases, and many more people who have, thankfully, hand their convictions overturned before they were killed. When punishments are irreversible, there's no possibility of correcting false convictions. And when the death penalty is 'swift and unencumbered', there's even less opportunity for these corrections, and more innocent people will be killed. And innocent people are convicted at an alarming rate. According to the article, How Many People Are Wrongly Convicted? Researchers Do the Math, the false conviction rate for death row inmates is around 4.1% (and that's not even looking at the larger prison population). One out of every twenty-five people. It would be horrific to execute that many innocent people.

Moreover, capital punishment is not an effective deterrent. According to an article from Columbia Law School, Capital Punishment: Deterrent Effects & Capital Costs, "When we apply contemporary social science standards, the new deterrence studies fall well short of this high scientific bar." A properly controlled study "finds no effects of execution and a significant effect of prison conditions on crime rates." From a study polling criminologists, "There is overwhelming consensus among America's top criminologists that the empirical research conducted on the deterrence question fails to support the threat or use of the death penalty."

Child Abuse- We recognize the family as a sovereign authority over which the state has no right to intervene, unless a parent or legal guardian has committed criminal abuse. Child abusers should be severely prosecuted. We oppose actions of social agencies to classify traditional methods of discipline, including corporal punishment, as child abuse. As a condition of funding, publicly funded agencies are to report all instances of abuse.

This is a little better than other parental authority planks I've already commented on, but it still goes too far. As I've said several times, now, in reviewing this platform, children are not the property of their parents. They're citizens, but especially vulnerable ones because they rely on their parents and have practically no autonomy of their own. Parents have a responsibility to raise their children, while the state has a responsibility for oversight to ensure that children are receiving the best upbringing possible, within reason. While this plank only calls out criminal abuse, neglect and negligence are other areas where the state should intervene. For example, even if it's not classified as abuse for parents to withhold a certain medical treatment from their children, the state should step in to save the child. And even if a parent decided that they didn't want to educate their child, or to provide them with a sub-par homeschool education*, the state should intervene to ensure that the child receives an adequate education.

*I don't mean to imply that all homeschool educations are sub-par, as I know first hand from personal acquaintances. I simply mean that if a parent does decide to homeschool their children, the education provided should be at least as good as a public school education.

Illicit Drugs- We oppose legalization of illicit and synthetic drugs. We also oppose any needle exchange programs. Faith based rehabilitation programs should be considered as a part of an overall rehabilitation program.

The current way we regulate recreational drugs is haphazard and doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Alcohol is legal as long as you're over 21. Nicotine is legal as long as you're over 18. Caffeine is legal at any age. Nitrous oxide and cough syrup, although illegal to use recreationally, are legal to buy. A whole host of other recreational drugs are completely illegal. There really seems to be no rhyme or reason other than which drugs are socially acceptable.

Here are a few figures showing various ways of ranking drugs by the dangers they present. There's a good discussion at Vox about how the first of those graphs was done, pointing out how it leaves out a lot of the nuance and complexity.

The Most Dangerous Drugs

Source: Vox

Active/Lethal Dose Ratio and Dependence Potential of Psychoactive Drugs

Source: Wikipedia

Dependence vs. Physical Harm of Various Drugs

Source: Wikipedia

Notice that alcohol always ranks among the most dangerous, while currently illegal drugs like marijuana and LSD rank as far less dangerous. Sure, there's still a risk associated with them, but there's risk associated with all drugs, including caffeine.

This is especially hypocritical coming from the party that prides itself on freedom and liberty. As long as you understand the risks, why should the government be able to tell you what you can do to your own body? Even if you wanted to outlaw the most dangerous drugs, how can you justify making alcohol and tobacco legal, while outlawing less dangerous drugs like marijuana?

As far as needle exchange programs, I'm going to repeat verbatim something I wrote for the last platform. Needle exchange programs just make sense. A comprehensive 2004 study by the World Health Organization found that "There is compelling evidence that increasing the availability and utilization of sterile injecting equipment by IDUs reduces HIV infection substantially," along with, "There is no convincing evidence of any major, unintended negative consequences. Specifically and after almost two decades of extensive research, there is still no persuasive evidence that needle syringe programmes increase the initiation, duration or frequency of illicit drug use or drug injecting," and further, "Needle syringe programmes are cost-effective." So needle exchange programs reduce horrible diseases, don't increase drug use, and are cost effective. What possible reason could there be to oppose them, unless your goal is to punish people for having an addiction?

Compassionate Use Act - We call upon the Texas Legislature to improve the 2015 Compassionate Use Act to allow doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis to prescribed patients.

I'm not sure if I've written about it on the blog, yet, but I've been saying for years now that medical marijuana is the wrong way to go about legalizing marijuana. If you want to use a drug medically, you should go through the proper channels that all legitimate drugs go through to be approved by the FDA. That means isolating the active ingredient, providing it in a form where the dosage can be carefully controlled, safety tests, double blind clinical trials, and everything else. If you want to see what that process looks like, read this article, GW Pharmaceutical Gets Closer To Forcing FDA On Cannabis, where GW Pharmaceuticals, a British biotech company, is doing exactly that, and has already gone through Phase 3 clinical trials for treating seizures with a drug derived from cannabis.

If marijuana becomes legal, and people want to use it the same way they use other questionable herbal remedies (some work, some don't - all have high variability of active ingredients), that's fine. But if your justification is primarily medicinal, then treat it like any other medicine, and get it FDA approved.

Continue to Part 12, Crippling the Federal Government / Taxes


Monday, October 17, 2016

2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 10, Guns

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 covers gun control.

I've already written about my thoughts on gun control quite a few times on this site. In short, I think there should be more gun control than there is right now, but it shouldn't become so onerous that responsible, law abiding citizens can't acquire firearms. There are also a lot of myths and misconceptions about how effective guns can be for the purposes some people like to claim. So, to start off, here are those previous entries I've written on the topic:

I'm only going to look at one gun plank from this platform, but it's enough to provide plenty to discuss.

Right to Keep and Bear Arms- We strongly oppose all laws that infringe on the right to bear arms. We oppose the monitoring of gun ownership, the taxation and regulation of guns, ammunition, and gun magazines. We collectively urge the legislature to pass "constitutional carry" legislation, whereby law-abiding citizens that possess firearms can legally exercise their God-given right to carry that firearm as well. We call for the elimination of all gun free zones. All federal acts, laws, executive orders, and court orders which restrict or infringe on the people's right to keep and bear arms shall be invalid in Texas, not be recognized by Texas, shall be specifically rejected by Texas, and shall be considered null and void and of no effect in Texas. Firearms and ammunition manufactured and sold in the state of Texas are not covered under the Commerce Clause (Article I Section 8 of the United States Constitution) and therefore are not subject to federal regulation.

First of all, I disagree with their interpretation of the Second Amendment. From the preface about a militia, and using the military language of 'to keep and bear arms', it really seems that this amendment was originally about states' rights to form militias, not an individual right for self-defense. There are others with far more expertise than me who have already written about this. For one, here's an article by former Supreme Court Justice, John Paul Stevens, The five extra words that can fix the Second Amendment. Here's another article on Politico, How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment, going into detail on the history of how the interpretation of this amendment has changed, largely due to NRA lobbying and propaganda. One of the most interesting things I learned from that latter article is that there was an earlier draft of what is now the Second Amendment, that was the version passed by the House, that made the military nature even more explicit, "A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but no one religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person." And if you go read the House Debate from 1789 over the wording of the amendment, it's all about serving in the militia and concerns over a standing army vs. citizen militias (many of the Founders were none too keen on a standing army, but you can see how much we as a nation value original intent on that issue).

All that being said, the Supreme Court, in District of Columbia v. Heller, changed the interpretation of the Second Amendment. So, as long as that new precedent stands, it is the law of the land, even if it is counter to the Founders' original intent.

Next, they talk about wanting to do away with all "taxation and regulation of guns, ammunition, and gun magazines." That's asinine. To use an obvious example, I'll occasionally go out to the gun range with friends, and I'll swing by the sporting goods store to buy the ammunition as a courtesy for them letting me use their guns. And I trust that I can buy any box of the appropriate ammo from the store and that it will be safe to use in my friends' guns. And I can do that because of the regulations on safety and standards for ammunition. Why would anyone want to do away with regulation of ammunition?

When it comes to 'Gun Free Zones', there absolutely are scenarios where people shouldn't be allowed to carry guns. Perhaps the most obvious is in bars. A bunch of people under the influence of alcohol shouldn't have deadly weapons in their possession at the same time. But in the wake of the Orlando night club shooting, you saw gun extremists* arguing that people should have been allowed to carry guns in bars. And yes, 50 people being killed is absolutely a tragedy. But if you allowed guns in bars, a lot more than 50 people would be killed - just in isolated shootings across the country, instead of the shocking mass shooting that occurred in Orlando. (related: Mother Jones - The NRA Myth of Gun-Free Zones)

Then, there's more of the Constitutional illiteracy. You can't just go and invent your own interpretation of the Constitution and expect it to be valid. And states can't ignore federal laws that they don't like. If the State of Texas thinks certain federal laws are invalid or overstep the federal government's Constitutional authority, then the State can go to the Supreme Court to have the laws overturned. But if the Supreme Court sides with the federal government and not the State of Texas, then the laws stand and Texas has to follow them.


*I'm not going to call such people gun rights activists. I have friends who own guns and shoot regularly who I would call gun rights activists, but they don't support anarchy on this issue. They support reasonable levels of regulation to ensure public safety while allowing responsible people to continue to be able to buy and use guns.

Continue to Part 11 - Crime & Drugs


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.


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.


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).


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



Selling Out