Politics: September 2009 Archives

The District of Columbia was ticketing people for parking in their own driveways, and apparently this was actually legal (at least there was a law that provided for this; I'm not sure whether the courts would find it constitutional). I don't know if this is still going on, but it sounded like a hoax when I first heard of it.

David Boies, Al Gore's lawyer in Bush v. Gore, and Ted Olsen, George Bush's lawyer from the same case (who was also Bush's first Solicitor General) are working together to try to get judicial declaration of same-sex marriage at the federal level. Olson, to be fair, is not advocating the kind of policy-preference right that more liberal lawyers and judges often see in the Constitution and that he has consistently argued against his entire career. His argument doesn't even assume that there is a right to marry. It just relies on the fact that our court system recognizes a right to marry and concludes that it ought to be applied to gay couples as well as straight couples if we're going to be in the business of applying such rights. (However, their argument does seem to assume that couples as couples and not just individuals have rights, or else it assumes what an Equal Rights Amendment would have provided but didn't when it never passed.)

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to reinstate the draft during the Bush Administration and then voted against the bill (almost no one actually voted for it, which was what he had expected). I thought it was strange when Republicans kept pushing a marriage amendment that they knew they didn't have enough votes to pass, but it's well beyond that to waste government time and money by pushing something you don't even want passing to begin with.

Jeff Bridges and Beau Bridges are brothers, and Lloyd Bridges was their father. Beau I can understand. But Jeff? I wouldn't have expected it.

All the miscreants who linked the phrase "miserable failure" to President Bush's biography had succeeded in making it the top website in Google for that expression. I was sure this was a joke when I first heard about it. It was pretty quick to verify, though. It had less skepticism when I heard that miscreants on the right had done the same with getting John Kerry's senate bio at the top of searches for "waffles".

Jeremiah Wright, whose heterodox, anti-white language makes him sound as if he doesn't think white people can be genuine Christians, actually has white members actively ministering in his congregation, sometimes even occupying leadership roles. (I don't think that excuses his rhetoric, which I think still counts as heterodox divisiveness, but he seems not to mean what he says.)

Philip Pullman wrote an entire scifi/fantasy series (His Dark Materials, whose first novel is The Golden Compass) out of an anti-religion and particularly anti-Christian agenda. When I first heard this, I thought it must be an exaggeration and that it probably just had some anti-religious elements throughout, but it turns out as the series develops that the agenda is far more central to the books than at first it appears. Pullman has even portrayed it as his remedy to the Narnia Chronicles, which he thinks call good evil and evil good. (I happen to think he failed in some crucial ways at what he was seeking to accomplish, but I wanted to post on that at some point separately, and I just haven't gotten around to it. Finishing up this post, which I started weeks ago but didn't have enough items to finish, has reminded me that I had wanted to do this, so maybe I'll get to it soon.)

Two days after his big announcement revoking President Bush's stem-cell policy, President Obama signed into law the big budget bill for the year, including a provision that prevented any funding from being used for embryonic stem cell research. I was especially skeptical about this, and it took me a long time and some hard Googling to find enough information to confirm it, but it does seem to have happened.

The Obama Administration's original discussion suggestions for his speech to school kids on September 8, 2009 really did ask kids to write about how they could help Obama, but they later changed it to ask about how they could be responsible. This was especially surprising given the actual content of the speech, which was mostly politically neutral. Why would they then ask how kids could help Obama when the thrust of the speech was just calling them to work harder in school and to be responsible? The original question therefore puzzles me a little unless he changed the speech too, which we have no evidence of (and the official explanation that the revision was what they had meant all along is completely implausible).

You can't help out your neighbor in Michigan by putting their kids on the bus for them every morning without a license to operate a daycare business.

The following two claims are clearly and obviously compatible:

(1) There are people who oppose President Obama and everything he does, in part because they can't stand the idea of a black president.
(2) The vast majority of opposition to President Obama's policies is because people simply oppose his policies.

I'm not entirely sure why so many people, including a former President of the United States and the current Speaker of the House, should think the first fact implies the denial of the second.

I've long argued that it's counter-productive for those who oppose racism to throw racism charges around when there's no good evidence of racism, especially when there's plenty of reason against it. If a particular racism charge is incorrect, it does no good to make it and causes much harm. People who regularly get accused of racism when they know full well that it's not remotely true are right to get upset and to think those who are making the charge have no good reasons to make it. They will tend to assume, then, that whenever there's a racism charge it must be manufactured. They'll be likely to think genuine charges of racism are similarly invented. They'll think we've moved beyond racism and that we no longer need to worry about racial problems.

This is in fact what many conservatives have wrongly concluded from the election of President Obama. If Democratic leaders insist on making obviously false charges of racism against a very large group of people (those who oppose the president's policies, when something like 46% of voters voted against him), it won't be surprising if it just feeds into the false picture many are trying to present that there's no more racism to fight against except the racism of the left accusing so many white people of being racists merely because they happen to be white but oppose someone who happens to be black. In other words, it feeds into the false narrative that the only racism that remains is anti-white racism.

People who voted for President Obama who have since decided that they did not get what they thought they were going to get (as is true of many of the protesters) are not the sort of racist who will oppose him for his being black, no matter what he does. Yet that's exactly what's being claimed by President Carter and Speaker Pelosi.

There are plenty of people who would oppose anyone who would expand the federal government at such massive levels and at a cost that will be impossible to pay for who then attempts to transform the health insurance industry in significant ways that will have unpredictable effects while denying that the effects reasonable people might worry about are at all possible. Yet President Carter and Speaker Pelosi are again insistent that there cannot be such people, because the only motivation anyone could possibly have for resisting such a reworking of the private enterprise of health insurance is because of racist opposition to the person proposing it, who happens to be black.

On March 11, President Obama held a press conference that got much attention, during which he announced his executive order that he claimed rescinded Bush's so-called ban on embryonic stem cell research. The discerning knew that there was quite a bit of dishonesty in that press conference, including how the media described it. I discussed several problems in his announcement at the time, so I won't repeat all that. It did seem to me to be excessively unfair and insulting to pro-lifers, and he engaged in several instances of historical revisionism at Bush's expense that struck me as underhanded and deceptive.

Yesterday I discovered an excellent summary of the timeline on the general issue of stem cell research. A couple facts stand out as too-often ignored. It was actually President Clinton in 1996, not President Bush in 2001, who began the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research (there was never a ban on the research, just federal funding of it). It's true that Clinton did announce at the end of his second term that he wanted to change that and was expecting soon-to-be-president Gore to change that policy, but there was never actually any funding during Clinton's presidency that Bush did away with, as the common myth usually has it. Bush didn't restrict funding that was already there. He actually loosened the restrictions by providing funding for the 21 lines of existing stem cells from already-destroyed embryos, funding that had not been available under Clinton. There was never any ban on embryonic stem cell research or on destroying embryos, but Clinton did ban federal funding on any such research, and Bush weakened that ban by allowing some funding for already-existing stem cell lines.

That was all just a fact-checking reminder, since none of it was really news to me. But there was one piece of information that completely surprised me. After this much-touted press conference that the White House and the media had presented as a return to the 21st century after eight years in the stone age, President Obama did indeed sign the executive order that opened up funding for new lines of embryonic stem cells. However, he signed a bill two days later that undid his own executive order, at least with respect to this year's funding from the main spending bill Congress passed.

When I first read this, I immediately wanted to find something to verify it. It was incredibly difficult to find an actual news story on it, since the mainstream media either suppressed it or never got the information on it. The one news story I could find was from a partisan organization, but it does give chapter and verse for where to find the language in the bill that does indeed do exactly what the story says it does. It's in Title V, section 509 of the Omnibus spending bill (page 128 of this PDF; it appears in full here). It repeats verbatim exactly the section that since 1996 has appeared in every such spending bill under President Clinton and President Bush. This bill therefore does seem to prohibit what Obama's executive order sought to do, and the president signed the bill into law a mere two days after issuing the executive order with such fanfare. Of course, since it appeared in spending bills during Bush's administration, I'm not sure how he got away with the stem-cell funding that he implemented. Wasn't that therefore illegal? Or was the money provided by a separate act of Congress?

I'm not going to speculate on whether President Obama knew what he was doing and if so why he did it. It may have been an instance of negligence in knowing what he was signing, or it may have been an instance of incredible deceit in making a big deal about a big change that he knew he was going to undermine almost immediately. The former seems much more likely to me given the president's officially-stated views and other actions related to this. But it does seem to be true that it happened, despite my initial skepticism upon reading this, and it does raise similar issues for Bush's executive order permitting more limited funding for embryonic stem cell research, although for all I know he never intended funding to come from the big spending bill each year and so signed it willingly. (I know that's not true of Obama, who did seem to expect this bill to provide funding for embryonic stem cell research. His statements that very week did give that impression.) This one's going in my upcoming post on truths that I at first thought must be myths.

Update: On second thought, this probably wasn't an issue for Bush, since it doesn't prohibit funding for stem cell research on already-existing lines of embryonic stem cells or on stem cells derived from other methods. I believe Obama has revoked the funding for both of those, so it's more of a problem for him, who only wanted to fund research that actually destroyed embryos in the process, and this bill prevents any of these funds from being used for such research.

President Obama and a lot of other fans of the legislation Congress has been working on for health-insurance reform have consistently insisted that there's no plan in the works to have abortions paid for by federal tax money. In his latest volley, the president called pro-lifers' claims to the contrary not true, even a fabrication intended to "discourage people from meeting ... a core ethical and moral obligation."

It's taken them too long, but Factcheck.org has finally chimed in on this issue to confirm almost everything the pro-life side has been saying. Just because it doesn't say the word 'abortion' in the bill doesn't mean it won't cover abortion as part of reproductive health. Given the history of what that term has been used to mean, it almost certainly would be used for that and certainly could be used for that. It doesn't technically mandate such coverage, at least in current forms, but it's hard for me to believe that the people who keep calling this charge a lie are telling the truth when their main argument is the absence of the word 'abortion'. It took the Hyde Amendment to prevent government funding for abortion in the current system. Why wouldn't it take something similar in a new plan that has no such ban?

Now those who think there is a moral obligation for a government health care program to cover abortions should have the freedom to pursue such a policy. But in our political system the way to do that is to propose it openly and not deceive people into thinking something they might support is something other than what it really is. I suspect those who see that as a moral obligation have realized that they can't get it passed if they're honest. So they think the obligation to do it outweighs the obligation to be honest with the voters about what they're doing.

Update: Serge observes something else that's important here. Unless we're going to be so anti-feminist as to define pregnancy as unhealth, the explicit motivation for this bill doesn't support including abortion and indeed undermines it. Starting from the premise that we have a moral obligation as a society to provide basic health care for everyone, then you might think it follows that we ought to treat all illnesses and have the top 10% of earners pay for most of it. But it doesn't follow that such a moral obligation could include something that isn't about health at all. Some do see such a moral obligation with abortion, but if so then it isn't about health care. You don't generally make a pregnant woman more healthy by aborting her pregnancy, even if you might want to argue that it has other benefits. So health insurance reform should not make it even possible that money earmarked for health care should go to something that isn't about providing for someone's health.

So I've listed ten myths that I at one point just believed when I first heard them, even if in some cases it was only when I was pretty young. I also wanted to put together a list of myths that never sounded plausible to me, even the ones I heard as a kid, but that somehow get passed around as if true (and in some cases even get trotted out as if any serious scholar must believe such a thing).

1. KFC changed its name from Kentucky Fried Chicken because they don't use chicken anymore. They use clones of chickens grown without heads, and the U.S. government won't allow them to call that chicken.

2. There's such a person as Santa Claus.

3. The Bush Administration orchestrated 9-11.

4. Barack Obama wasn't born in the U.S.

5. The Pentateuch was compiled over several generations by people with different and conflicting ideologies, and we can reconstruct which ideology is behind which verses or even partial verses with pinpoint precision, according to such tell-tale signs as which name is used for God or whether it happens to involve a negative or positive assumption or conclusion about a certain tribe of Israel. It amazes me how confident scholars can be of this even though no sources have ever been found for such texts, no textual statements in the text we have indicate anything about any such sources, and no two scholars can even agree on which parts come from which sources.

6. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels, is a practitioner of Wicca who sought to convert Christians to Wicca by writing novels about magic.

7. Sarah Palin cut funding for teen mothers because of pro-life convictions.

8. George W. Bush attacked Iraq because he believed God told him to.

9. Sarah Palin thinks God directed the U.S. to attack Iraq.

10. Divine foreknowledge and predetermination are incompatible with human freedom and responsbility. Sorry, I suppose I should find something less controversial. How about the commonly-heard line about how Jesus' statement that it's easier for a camel to get through an eye of a needle than for the rich to enter God's kingdom once you know that there's a gate in Jerusalem called the eye of the needle, and camels can get through it, but it's hard. (I once heard someone repeat that false background to Jesus's statement and then say that knowing that changed her life. Somehow. She never explained any further and probably couldn't have done so even at gunpoint.)

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