This 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 weird and other miscellaneous planks that didn't fit in any of the other categories I discussed.
Texas Electric Grid - We urge that the Texas Legislature pass legislation to harden the Texas Electric Grid against:
1. Cyber attacks on the grid's computerized command and control system.
2. Physical attacks on substations and major high voltage transformers.
3. Geomagnetic storms created by solar flares from the sun.
4. Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)
Wow. That's a really good one that I'm surprised to see. Here are two articles from Bad Astronomy about solar flares and coronal mass ejections, The 2012 Solar Disaster That Almost Was and When the Sun Went Medieval on Our Planet. A 'small' solar storm in 1989 caused a blackout in Quebec. A huge coronal mass ejection 2012 went off in a direction from the Sun away from Earth, but it would have been really bad if it had hit us - probably causing somewhere around $2 trillion in damage, and putting some regions into power blackouts for months until all the equipment could be repaired, not to mention knocking out a bunch of communication and other satellites. The White House at least has a plan for a warning system that would give us a few hours to prepare and start shutting down certain systems to protect them in such an event in the future, but upgrading all the hardware to protect against that type of event is a good idea (ScienceAlert.com - The White House is prepping for a huge solar storm that could kick us back into the Dark Ages).
Smart Meters- The Republican Party of Texas supports a no-cost opt out for all Texas PUC customers and the phase out of Smart Meters aka Advanced Meter Infrastructure to be replaced with mechanical, non-transmitting analog meters when software upgrades are required or the computer smart meters require replacement due to mechanical failure or model upgrade requirements.
This plank may seem merely odd at first blush, but it's really strange if you remember the platform from two years ago. In 2014, they said "Our opposition [to smart meters] is based upon security, property damage, energy inefficiencies, privacy, health issues, and the use of Smart Meters to ration electricity." And if you browse around the site, TexansAgainstSmartMeters.com, you'll find concerns like "harmful and illegal programs which attempt to force you to accept dangerous policies such as vaccinations and spying/transmitting utility meters". The motivation for this planks is well into conspiracy theory territory.
Except for non-citizens, we further oppose any national ID program, including the Real ID Act and the use of Radio Frequency Identification Chips (RFID) on humans.
I'm not shocked by this now only because I've seen it in their past platforms. To repeat what I've written previously - Is it something to do with the urban legend about the Affordable Care Act requiring RFID chips, or some crazy Mark of the Beast conspiracy theory? It seems like the type of warning you'd get from a crazy street corner preacher.
Raw Milk and Dairy Products- We support legislation confirming local dairy farmers' rights to produce and sell natural milk and dairy products within the State of Texas.
I have mixed feelings on this. On the one hand, I think people should be able to engage in any risky behaviors they want, so long as they understand the risks. We let people play football, go skydiving, go rock climbing, drive motorcycles, etc. Why should risky eating be any different? On the other hand, food is much more universal. I like being able to go into a grocery store and know that whatever I buy there is safe to consume, free from pathogens and poisons. I also worry about parents buying unprocessed milk and feeding it to their children, exposing their children to Listeria or other pathogens. Like I've said before, children shouldn't suffer because of the recklessness of their parents.
I guess I could compromise on this. If dairy farmers tested every batch of raw milk for contamination before selling it, that would probably be okay. Or, if they sold raw milk without testing, maybe put warning labels on the bottles and only sell to people over 18 (kind of like tobacco).
Direct Sales- We support allowing consumers in Texas to be able to purchase cars directly from manufacturers.
Benghazi- We call upon the United States House of Representatives to continue the select committee and appoint a special prosecutor in order to subpoena testimony to fully investigate all aspects of the Benghazi debacle.
Because 10 congressional committees, 33 public hearings, 4 public hearings, and 13 reports just wasn't enough (source). I mean, she just must be guilty of something, right? It's not like this is a witch hunt or anything.
Again, this isn't to trivialize what happened, but to put it in perspective. Attacks on U.S. diplomatic targets are, unfortunately, a reality. And while the nation should try to learn from each of them to improve safety in the future, it seems wildly out of proportion to spend so much time and expend so much effort on this one attack, in particular. Like I already wrote, it seems much more like a witch hunt than a sincere effort to learn any lessons.
Social Security- We support an immediate and orderly transition, with minimal or no impact to those at or near retirement, to a system of private pensions based on the concept of individual retirement accounts, and gradually phasing out the Social Security tax.
This 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 planks that if enacted would cripple the federal government, as well as planks having to do with taxes.
Unelected Bureaucrats- We oppose the appointment of unelected bureaucrats and we support defunding and abolishing the departments or agencies of the Internal Revenue Service, Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Labor, and Interior (specifically, the Bureau of Land Management), Transportation Security Administration, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and National Labor Relations Board. In the interim, executive decisions by departments or agencies must be reviewed and approved by Congress before taking effect.
Okay, I can agree on the TSA, but man do they hate the federal government. And it's not like some of these things even make sense to want to defund. I mean, their very first example is the IRS. Maybe they don't like the IRS and would like to see it overhauled or restructured, but taxes are a fact of life. It's how government generates revenue. And when you have revenue coming into the government, you need some government agency coordinating it, and making sure people aren't trying to cheat the government or commit fraud to get out of paying their fair share of the taxes. We need an agency with the role currently fulfilled by the IRS. Even if you did away with the IRS, you'd need a new agency to do the same thing.
And why are they so opposed to unelected bureaucrats. Do they realize how many bureaucrats there are in government? I mean, even if we severely cut funding, there would still be thousands and thousands of bureaucrats working for the government. Are we supposed to hold elections for each and every one of these positions? The Library of Congress employs over 3,000 people. The FAA employs over 47,000 (source). It's just not practical at all to try to hold elections for each of those employees. And it certainly wouldn't improve efficiency, taking away the hiring and promotion process from supervisors and management. It's a rather silly plank.
We, the delegates of the 2016 Republican Party of Texas State Convention, call upon the 85th Texas
Legislature to: ... And to replace the property tax system with an alternative other than the income tax and require voter
approval to increase the overall tax burden.
Well, even a broken clock is right twice a day, at least sort of. I absolutely hate property taxes. I own my land. I don't rent it from the government. And I think property taxes can be especially unfair in areas where property values go up to where long time residents can no longer afford to stay. But I agree with what former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once wrote, "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society". I don't particularly like paying taxes, but there are a lot of things I don't particularly like doing but still do because I'm an adult and it's the responsible thing to do. Personally, I think income taxes are a fair way to go about supplying the state with the revenue it needs, certainly more fair than property tax.
Bailouts and Subsidies- We encourage government to divest its ownership of all business that should be run in the private sector and allow the free market to prevail. We oppose all bailouts of domestic and foreign government entities, states and all businesses, public and private. We oppose local government handouts to businesses and other private entities in the name of economic development.
Nobody particularly likes bailouts, either, but sometimes, they really are essential to preserve the greater health of the economy. With that said, when it does get to the point that they're required, it means there was some other failure earlier on. Those businesses should have been broken up by anti-trust laws or reigned in by regulation before it got to the point where the government had to bail them out. But letting them fail and take out the rest of the economy is no better than cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Tax Burden- We in the Republican Party of Texas believe in the principles of constitutionally limited government based on Federalist principles. To this end we encourage our elected officials at all levels of government to work to reverse the current trend of expanding government and the growing tax and debt burdens this places on we the people. We believe the most equitable system of taxation is one based on consumption and wish to see reforms towards that end at all levels of government Furthermore, we believe that the borrower truly is a slave to the lender, and so long as we continue to increase our tax and debt burdens we will never be a truly free people. Towards these ends, we support the reformation of the current systems of taxation at all levels of government: federal, state, and local. Examples of these reforms include the following:
1. Eliminating the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
2. The "Fair Tax" system
3. A Flat Tax
4. The 1-2-3 No Federal Tax
5. Abolishing property taxes, but in the interim, property taxes should be paid on the price of the property when it was initially purchased.
6. Electing appraisal boards
7. Exempting inventories from property taxes
8. Abolishing estate taxes or the "Death Tax" as it's more commonly known
9. Abolishing capital gains taxes
10. Abolishing franchise and business income taxes
11. Abolishing the gift tax.
12. Discontinuing revenue generating licensing fee
Let's get one thing clear, first. There is no growing tax burden on U.S. citizens or companies. There are multiple ways to look at this. For example, here's a graph of effective federal taxes. It includes all taxes paid to the federal government - income, payroll, and anything else (source: The Atlantic - How We Pay Taxes: 11 Charts).
Notice how the effective tax rate has dropped for all income groups.
Here's a graph of effective corporate tax rates, from Wikipedia. Again, notice how the tax rates have decreased.
Notice how current revenues are inline with what they've been for the past half century, so even from a big picture view, it's clear that the government hasn't drastically increased the tax burden. And if you look at the spending, it's also roughly in line with what it's been for the past half century, so it's not like there's been drastic government expansion. Pay attention to the trends at the end of the spending vs. revenue graph, as well. Now that the country is recovering from the recession, spending and revenue are coming back into closer alignment. Granted, there's still some work left to do on balancing the budget, and it probably will require spending cuts, but there's no need to panic or do anything drastic.
Moving on, I already commented above on the necessity of the IRS. Since the government is necessarily going to have revenue, there needs to be an agency to handle it. The rest is just a mish mash of ideas - some decent, some horrible. But it's not really a well thought out section of the platform.
Federal Reserve System- We believe Congress should repeal the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 thereby abolishing the Federal Reserve Banking System. In the interim, we call for a complete audit of the Federal Reserve System and its Board of Governors followed by an immediate report to the American people.
You can read all about the Federal Reserve, how it works, and why we need it at How Stuff Works - How the Fed Works, or even on Wikipedia. There were plenty of financial crises, recessions, depressions, and periods of inflation early in our nation's history. And something I hadn't known before but learned from the second page of the How Stuff Works feature, there were over 30,000 currencies in the U.S. prior to the Federal Reserve Act, because even though the federal government printed currency, different banks had their own currencies floating around, as well. The Federal Reserve Act standardized currency across the nation, and stabilized the economy. Yes, there have still been recessions and depressions, but they'd have been even worse with no central bank to manage the economy.
Sound Money- We support the return to the precious metal standard for the United States dollar.
I'm going to repeat verbatim what I wrote in 2014. There are very good reasons why no first world countries use the gold standard. To quote an article on About.com, "The stability caused by the gold standard is also the biggest drawback in having one. Exchange rates are not allowed to respond to changing circumstances in countries. A gold standard severely limits the stabilization policies the Federal Reserve can use." The article went on to cite an economist explaining how these limitations of the gold standard lead to higher short-term price instability, 'real output' variability, and even higher unemployment.
United States Department of Education- Since education is not an enumerated power of the federal government, we believe the Department of Education (DOE) should be abolished, and prohibit the transfer of any of its functions to any other federal agency.
Not a lot of commentary on this one - just pointing out another plank wanting to gut the federal government (as well as contempt for education).
Restrictions by Government Agencies- We oppose any restrictions by any government agency on individual taxpayer contributions to churches, faith-based charities and other non-profit organizations.
Not a lot of commentary on this one either - just pointing out their desire to deregulate to the point of anarchy. I would agree that regulations on charitable contributions shouldn't be too strict, but I wouldn't want to do away with them entirely.
Preserving Private Enterprise- We believe that goods and services which are not transported across state lines should not be subject to federal regulations, or regulated by any other level of government other than the minimum necessary to prevent disease, fraud, injury to others, or other infringement of citizens' unalienable rights.
This makes me wonder what these Texas Republicans think existing regulations are for. They say they don't wany any regulations "other than the minimum necessary to prevent disease, fraud, injury to others, or other infringement of citizens' unalienable rights." What do they think politicians are doing now? Passing regulations just for the sake of having regulations? The whole point of existing regulations is exactly what the Texas Republicans have put in this plank. No mainstream politicians want more regulation than is necessary.
The other day, I received a link to the following video on the National Review:
The YouTube description states, "Democrats like to pretend voter fraud isn't a problem -- but it is. This video proves it." In truth, the video does nothing of the sort. The video itself is merely a series of claims with absolutely no references to back them up, with ominous music playing in the background, and graphics somewhat related to the claims. And the claims themselves don't support the case for voter fraud being a major problem.
Before getting to the actual claims from the video, I'm going to start off with a big picture view of voter fraud, voter ID laws, and how this video misses the mark.
Video Doesn't Actually Demonstrate Voter Fraud to Be a Problem
The big problem is that many of the claims in the video are a kind of bait and switch. They don't show how big of a problem voter fraud is, just how easy it would be to commit the crime (and on a small scale, at that - not the large scale fraud required to influence most elections). That may seem like splitting hairs, but it's not. I'll use an example. With Halloween coming up, the yearly scare about pins & needles & razor blades in candy and apples is going to be brought up again. That would be an extremely easy crime to commit - just shove those things into food. And particularly industrious misanthropes could open & reseal wrappers to disguise their sabotage. But in truth, this is a very rare crime, with basically only 1 case since 1959 where it was a stranger giving out treats to kids (the handful of other times that weren't hoaxes were friends & siblings playing pranks on each other - Snopes). So, even though this would be an extremely easy crime to commit, we don't pass onerous trick or treating regulations to deal with it, because in practice, it's just not a big issue.
When it comes to voter fraud, the Democrats aren't saying it would be impossible to commit, especially on an individual scale. They're saying that the vast majority of reputable studies that have looked into it haven't found evidence of it actually happening very often. So, there's no need to panic and rush laws into place that haven't been thought through, and especially not to put laws into place that cause more harm than they prevent, disenfranchising certain segments of the population.
Here's an article in the New York Times with links to several of the studies looking at how prevalent voter fraud actually is, The Success of the Voter Fraud Myth. And here's an article from NBC News that discusses the issue in some detail, Study Finds No Evidence of Widespread Voter Fraud. All these studies find that fraud, intentionally trying to game the system and not just making mistakes, is very rare - somewhere on the order of hundreds of votes out of the billion votes in all American elections between 2000 and 2014. Even if you grant very generous assumptions and increase the estimate to 10,000 (a couple orders of magnitude greater than what the studies have found), that's less than 0.001% of all votes. Plus, most of the types of fraud that were committed wouldn't have been caught by photo ID, anyway (such as voting in multiple polling locations).
Discriminatory Effects of Existing Voter ID Laws
On the flip side, overly strict voter ID laws have reduced voter turnout by far greater numbers. A study by the Government Accountability Office (Washington Post - Voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee dropped 2012 turnout by over 100,000 votes) found that overly strict voter ID laws reduced voter turnout by roughly 2% in 2012 in the two states they studied, Kansas and Tennessee - meaning ~120,000 disenfranchised voters in just those two states in just that one year, compared to the mere hundreds of cases of voter fraud nationwide over more than a decade.
Here's another story from the L.A. Times detailing the results of overly strict voter ID laws, and specifically how they disproportionately affect minorities, The results on voter ID laws are in -- and it's bad news for ethnic and racial minorities. The study found that these laws disproportionately affect latinos, blacks, Asian Americans, and multi-racial Americans, and that "the racial turnout gap doubles or triples in states that enact strict ID laws."
Actual Democratic Position on Voter ID Laws
According to a Gallup poll from last month (Four in Five Americans Support Voter ID Laws, Early Voting), a majority of Democrats, 63%, actually do favor a Photo ID requirement. So it's not voter ID laws per se that Democrats are opposed to, but the way many Republicans have tried to use unfair implementations of those laws to disenfranchise voters more likely to vote Democratic, or to sway elections in favor of Republican candidates. (Although a substantial minority of Democrats are opposed to voter ID laws in general because of the potential for voter disenfranchisement.)
Examples of Political Motivations from Republican Politicians & Leadership
Here's perhaps the most explicit and damning admission from the article, from Todd Allbaugh, a former staff aide to a Republican state legislator:
I was in the closed Senate Republican Caucus when the final round of multiple Voter ID bills were being discussed. A handful of the GOP Senators were giddy about the ramifications and literally singled out the prospects of suppressing minority and college voters. Think about that for a minute. Elected officials planning and happy to help deny a fellow American's constitutional right to vote in order to increase their own chances to hang onto power.
Here's a striking example from Alabama. After putting their voter ID laws in place, they went and shut down over 30 of their DMV offices, mostly in poor or predominantly black areas, making it even harder for those people to get photo IDs. Thankfully, there was enough outcry and political pressure that the offices were re-opened, but it certainly seems to indicate their motivations (though of course, the governor and others don't admit to deliberate disenfranchisement, and have claimed budgetary reasons for the closures). Here's a ThinkProgress article on the original closings, After Alabama Enforces Voter ID, Shuts Down DMVs In Black Communities, Lawmaker Wants Investigation, and a Governing.com article article on the reopenings, Alabama Will Reopen Closed DMV Offices in Black Counties.
The federal court in Richmond found that the primary purpose of North Carolina's wasn't to stop voter fraud, but rather to disenfranchise minority voters. The judges found that the provisions "target African Americans with almost surgical precision."
In particular, the court found that North Carolina lawmakers requested data on racial differences in voting behaviors in the state. "This data showed that African Americans disproportionately lacked the most common kind of photo ID, those issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)," the judges wrote.
So the legislators made it so that the only acceptable forms of voter identification were the ones disproportionately used by white people. "With race data in hand, the legislature amended the bill to exclude many of the alternative photo IDs used by African Americans," the judges wrote. "The bill retained only the kinds of IDs that white North Carolinians were more likely to possess." [emphasis mine]
And from later in the article:
Most strikingly, the judges point to a "smoking gun" in North Carolina's justification for the law, proving discriminatory intent. The state argued in court that "counties with Sunday voting in 2014 were disproportionately black" and "disproportionately Democratic," and said it did away with Sunday voting as a result.
"Thus, in what comes as close to a smoking gun as we are likely to see in modern times, the State's very justification for a challenged statute hinges explicitly on race -- specifically its concern that African Americans, who had overwhelmingly voted for Democrats, had too much access to the franchise," the judges write in their decision.
And for the last passage from that article I'm going to quote:
"Faced with this record," the federal court concludes, "we can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent."
Here's a Washington Post article, focused on Texas specifically (since I live here), Getting a photo ID so you can vote is easy. Unless you're poor, black, Latino or elderly. It mentions the oft-cited fact that the Texas voter ID law allowed concealed carry permits as a valid form of ID, but not state issued university IDs. That reeks of political bias - allowing a form of ID for a group more likely to be conservative while not allowing an equally valid form of ID for a group more likely to be liberal. That's exactly the type of reason why Democrats are so suspicious of Republican sponsored voter ID laws. The article also has a few real-life examples of people trying to get the state-issued IDs, and the onerous hassles some of them have had to go through.
And as one last example, here's an article from MSNBC, Former Fla. Republican chair: GOP discussed reducing black turnout; voter fraud is just a 'marketing tool'. Jim Greer, former chair of the Florida Republican party, stated, "Never one time did we have any discussions where voter fraud was a real issue," and that the real reasons for their voter ID laws were "to make sure that what happened in 2008, when President Obama brought out the college-age voters, the minority voters, never happened again". He also said, "They talked about making voter registration much more difficult for third party organizations like the League of Women Voters." There's more, but that's enough to show the Florida Republicans leadership's true motivation.
So, just to sum up - 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 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.
Fraudulent Claims of Fraud
As one last note before getting to the video's specific claims, I have seen a few allegations of voter fraud popping up on the Internet. They almost always turn out to be hoaxes. Here are a couple examples from the last few weeks:
Now, I'm sure a handful of legitimate examples will turn up, as they have in the past. But they'll almost surely be isolated, small scale crimes, not anything on a scale necessary to influence elections, and certainly not as bad as the harm caused by overly strict voter ID laws.
Detailed Examination of Video Claims
With all that background information above, for anyone interested, I'll now go through the actual claims from the video.
Voter fraud is a huge problem.
Democrats pretend it doesn't exist
They vehemently oppose requiring ID at polling stations
Covered above - Voter fraud is not a well documented problem, so Democrats are just following the evidence, not pretending. Further, the majority of Democrats do favor ID. They're just wary of the details of how Republicans try to implement it.
But undercover agents were able to vote as dead people
Filmmaker James O'Keefe obtained former attorney general Eric Holder's ballot
He also claimed to be Eminem
...and the mayor of Detroit
A 24-year undercover agent gave the name of someone who had died in 2012 at age 87
All of them were going to be allowed to vote
Covered above - These videos don't show how often voter fraud occurs, only how easy it is to commit on a small scale, and not even the large scale that would be required to sway all but the tightest elections.
A Pew survey says 1 of 8 voter registrations is inaccurate
2.8 million people are registered in 2 or more states
1.8 million registered voters are dead
This is not an actual measurement, but an estimate from a questionable study, addressed in more detail here: Washington Post blog - Methodological challenges affect study of non-citizens' voting. Basically, it was a survey with a lot of questionable assumptions and methodologies, that extrapolated the 6.4% number from the basis of those questionable assumptions combined with a very small sample size. And as noted by at least one researcher who studies this, Rick Hasen, it's a much higher estimate than other studies that have looked at the same issue (Election Law Blog). And finally, most non-citizens actually do have drivers licenses, so checking ID wouldn't have stopped them from voting, anyway.
Undercover agents claimed names of dead, jailed or former residents at 63 polling places -- and got ballots
Same issues as above - not evidence that fraud is happening on a large scale.
I also have to mention that given the history of these kinds of undercover right wing videos I've seen in the past, such as O'Keefe's ACORN video and the more recent Planned Parenthood video, which both used misleading editing to completely misrepresent what was actually going on, you have to have an extra dose of skepticism when viewing them. For example, in the few undercover voting videos I did watch, some of them did appear as if the 'agent' was going to get a normal ballot to vote with, but in others, it seemed pretty clear that they were going to get a provisional ballot - that the election officials recognized that something was out of the ordinary with the agents, and so were only giving them a provisional ballot which would be reviewed later to see if they were eligible to vote or not.
In 2008, illegal felon voters appear to have swung the outcome of a critical Senate election
Since they're not very specific and don't give any references, I can only assume they mean Al Franken's election to the Senate, since there is some controversy on that. Here's an article from Alternet dealing with the claim, GOP Voter Fraud Hucksters Latest Lie: Felons Made Franken U.S. Senator. Needless to say, illegal felons did not swing the election in Franken's favor. The biggest issue was ex-felons voting before they'd had their voting rights restored, usually out of ignorance of the process, when most of them would have been eligible to vote if they'd filed the proper paper work. In other words, it was more of a paperwork issue than people intentionally trying to cheat the system. Additionally, the election was decided by 312 votes, while the combined number of accused & convicted voter fraud cases is only 243 (so actual convictions will be lower than that - probably far lower given the other studies on fraud referenced above) - not enough to sway the election even if they all voted as a bloc in favor of Franken, which is a pretty big assumption in itself. And to be clear, all but one of those fraud accusations were ex-felons who hadn't filed the appropriate paperwork - not, to quote the alternet article, "double voting, underage voting, voter impersonation, coercion of elderly or disabled voters, or non-citizen voting". And just like with several of the other examples discussed, many of those ex-felons had drivers licenses, so voter ID wouldn't have stopped them from voting, anyway.
It's time to require ID and more vigilance at all polling locations
Again, this general conclusion isn't opposed by most Democrats. It's the details of implementing the laws in such a way as to try to disenfranchise voters or sway elections to Republicans that most Democrats are opposed to. The laws should not cause more harm than they prevent.
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.
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.
This 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.
Today is marked on the calendars as Columbus Day, but Christopher Columbus was a horrible excuse of a human being who doesn't deserve to be honored with a national holiday.
For starters, Columbus was a crank. Unlike the popular misconception, practically all educated people of Columbus's time, and probably even most non-educated people, knew that the earth was a globe. Nobody really thought that if you sailed west from Europe that you'd fall over the edge. What's more, they even had a good idea of the size. Eratosthenes had calculated it all the way back in ancient Greece some time around 200 BC to within 15%, and the educated people in Columbus's time made similar estimates that came close to the actual circumference. They all knew that in principle you could sail west from Europe to reach Asia, but that the distance was so long that none of the ships of the time could carry enough supplies to make the journey. Columbus, on the other hand, grossly underestimated the size of the Earth, coming up with a circumference around 1/2 of the actual circumference. That's a huge miscalculation, and why Columbus had such a hard time securing funding for his attempt. Going on the knowledge of the time, when nobody knew about North or South America, Columbus's proposal verged on a suicide mission.
And even after Columbus 'discovered*' the New World, he never realized it himself. He persisted in his crankery on the size of the Earth, and went to his death bed thinking he'd landed in Asia. It took other explorers and map makers to make it clear that this was a 'new' continent from the European perspective, previously unknown to them. That's why they're named the Americas, after Amerigo Vespucci, and not a name honoring Columbus.
And if his incompetence were enough to take away any of his imagined glory, his tyrannical rule as governor of the Indies should bring outright shame. Here's an article from the Guardian from a few years ago, Lost document reveals Columbus as tyrant of the Caribbean. He was cruel to both the native inhabitants and the European settlers. Here are a few excerpts from the article describing the cruelty of his government.
"Columbus' government was characterised by a form of tyranny," Consuelo Varela, a Spanish historian who has seen the document, told journalists.
One man caught stealing corn had his nose and ears cut off, was placed in shackles and was then auctioned off as a slave. A woman who dared to suggest that Columbus was of lowly birth was punished by his brother Bartolomé, who had also travelled to the Caribbean. She was stripped naked and paraded around the colony on the back of a mule.
"Bartolomé ordered that her tongue be cut out," said Ms Varela. "Christopher congratulated him for defending the family."
When Francisco de Bobadilla arrived in the Indies to succeed Christopher Columbus as governor of the Indies, he had all three Columbus brothers shackled and sent back to Spain in chains for the crimes they'd committed. However, being good friends with the king, Columbus was pardoned once he arrived back in Spain.
Finally, there's the mixed legacy of European colonization of the Americas that was kicked off by Columbus's voyages. While it certainly worked out great in the long run for the Europeans, it was catastrophic for the peoples already living here. I don't necessarily mean to demonize the Europeans here, because their treatment of the American Indians, as horrible as it seems by modern day standards, wasn't out of the ordinary for the time. Plus, it's not like all the cultures in the Americas were altruistic paradises. They fought wars with each other. They made slaves of their enemies. Some, notably the Aztecs and the Mayans, practiced human sacrifice. In fact, the Aztecs were so disliked by their neighbors, that Cortes was able to make an alliance with Tlaxcala to help him conquer the Aztecs. Moreover, the biggest catastrophe that befell the American Indians was due to disease. And granted, these diseases came from Europeans, but it wasn't anything deliberate on the European's part. Still, the final outcome was that up to 95% of the original population died, marking perhaps the greatest tragedy in all of human history. That is not an event to be celebrated.
So, Christopher Columbus was a crank, who was extremely lucky that there were two unknown continents, or he may have starved at sea. He never even realized that he'd discovered new lands. Worse, once he had a taste of power, he became a cruel dictator, even by the standards of his time, and was hauled back to Spain in disgrace. And his discovery kicked off the European colonization of the Americas, which led to the deaths of countless American Indians and perhaps the greatest tragedy the world has known. There is nothing worth celelbrating in that legacy.
Image Source: Wikipedia, with a bit of crude Photoshopping by me
* From a the perspective of European culture, this was a discovery. Perhaps the Vikings did reach North America earlier, but that didn't become common knowledge throughout the rest of Europe. It really was Columbus landing in the Americas that set of the wave of European exploration and colonization - for better or worse.
This 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.
This 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.
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.
Yesterday, I became king over the demesne and holdings of Sensible Castle in Shanballymore, Cork, Ireland. Here is the official decree granting my kingship. Admittedly, it was a short reign of only 3 minutes. And the legality is a bit questionable. But I didn't let that stop me from issuing my decrees and feeling royal.
The king on his throne
Behold, the kingdom that was under my rule:
And hear ye my subjects, the laws that I have decreed:
Miracle whip is an abomination and shall be banned among all subjects of the Sensible Castle.
Birds are dinosaurs. Subjects saying feathered dinosaurs look like overgrown turkeys will be sent in a time machine to face deinonychuses.
Should I die, become ill, or incapacitated during my reign, my power shall pass to Queen Irma, and hence to our heir, Lady Alexandra.
The full story is that this was part of Cards Against Humanity's holiday promotion last year, Eight Sensible Gifts for Hanukkah. As their eighth gift to those who participated, they bought an honest to goodness (more or less) castle, and allowed 150,000 people to rule over the domain for a reign of "not less than three minutes, and also not more than this". My reign had been scheduled for yesterday.
To see videos and images of the castle and its grounds, as well as the current ruler and their decrees, go check out the website:
Image Credits: All castle images were screenshots from Who Is the King Right Now?. According to Geek Dad, they were taken by Rory Bristol. The other photos were by me or my wife, with the map and decree of kingship coming from Card's Against Humanity.
This 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.
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.
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.
"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.