Thursday, July 29, 2004

Stem Cells

On night two of the Democrat Convention Ronald Reagan, Jr. delivered what he promised would be a non-partisan speech which he concluded by, in effect, urging people to vote for John Kerry. If Americans want to realize the miraculous cures latent in embryonic stem cell research, Reagan averred, then George Bush must be turned out of office. The casual viewer was given the impression by Reagan that the Bush administration had prohibited all stem cell research, but of course this isn't true. Michael Fumento explains why in an essay at National Review Online.

Fumento also points out that adult stem cells are available from many tissues in the human body, all of which are morally unproblematic, and that these cells are showing a great deal of promise in the treatment of some diseases. An excerpt:

Far from blocking federal embryonic-stem-cell research funding, Bush specifically authorized it so long as it used existing lines of embryonic cells. But more remarkably, Ron Reagan made absolutely no reference to an alternative to embryonic stem cells that is decades more advanced and carries absolutely no moral baggage. "Adult stem cells" can be extracted from various places in the human body as well as blood in umbilical cords and placentas. They were first used to treat human illness in 1957.

By the 1980s, adult stem cells were literally curing a variety of cancers and other diseases; embryonic stem cells have never been tested on a human. Adult stem cells now treat about 80 different diseases; again embryonic stem cells have treated no one. Adult stem cells obviously aren't rejected when taken from a patient's own body, though they may be from an unmatched donor; embryonic stem cells have surface proteins that often cause rejection. Implanted embryonic stem cells also have a nasty tendency to multiply uncontrollably, a process called "cancer." Oops.

What goes mostly unmentioned in the criticism of Bush's decision to deny federal funding to the development of new lines of embryonic stem cells is his chief reason for doing so. The President believes, not unreasonably, that it is morally wrong to create human embryos which will be deliberately destroyed in order to harvest their cells.

It's true that the embryos that would be used, at least at first, would be excess products of in vitro fertilizations of ova done to produce embryos for couples that cannot otherwise have children. The concern among many ethicists, however, is that this would put us on a slippery slope where eventually embryos would be produced exclusively for the purpose of harvesting their cells, and, given current law regarding abortion, there would be no legal basis for stopping at the use of mere embryos and their cells.

It would be only a matter of time before fetuses and their tissues would be harvested as well, and it would not be much longer after that until there would be a legal trade in body parts extracted from unborn children. It's not hard to imagine women getting pregnant for the sole purpose of selling the tissues and organs of their unborn offspring. Given that abortion is currently legal for any reason the mother wishes, there's no non-arbitrary reason the courts could site for prohibiting such a grisly business. It would, of course, be justified by its advocates on the most humanitarian of grounds: ending the suffering of millions of people who are afflicted with terrible diseases and other maladies that might prove amenable to treatment with harvested tissue.

This is not the sort of activity Bush feels the federal government should be subsidizing with taxpayer dollars, and he's right.

Deconstructing Edwards

Those who listened to John Edwards speech at last night's session of the Democrat National convention might be forgiven for getting the impression that Kerry/Edwards are about to usher in the Millenial reign of Christ. If it is true that the American voter is too sophisticated and too cynical to swallow the "chicken in every pot" rhetoric of politicians who promise everything and anything, word has not yet reached John Edwards. I was waiting for him to promise that when he and Kerry are elected every American would receive a free trip to Disney World.

Certain of his claims, of course, generated a bigger spike on the baloney meter than others. For instance, he averred:

"We hear a lot of talk about values. Where I come from, you don't judge someone's values based on how they use that word in a political ad. You judge their values based upon what they've spent their life doing."

Is this an invitation to examine John Kerry's record? What has Kerry spent his adult life doing? He did four months in Vietnam, was sent home after receiving a dubious third purple heart for a wound that was treated with a band aid, and proceeded to confess that he and thousands of other Americans were guilty of war crimes. The grisly deeds he admits to committing make the offenses of the soldiers at Abu Ghraib wane into insignificance by comparison. After his stint in the anti-war movement he began a political career notable only for two things. As a senator he amassed, over nineteen years, the most left-wing voting record in the senate and at the same time accomplished absolutely nothing of any legislative significance. He was a senatorial non-entity. His most noteworthy accomplishment, since leaving Vietnam, that has come to light is having persuaded two very wealthy women to marry him to save him the trouble of ever having to actually do any real work.

"But we've seen relentless negative attacks against John. So in the weeks ahead, we know what's coming - don't we - more negative attacks. Aren't you sick of it?"

The "attacks" against Kerry have focused on his political record. They have examined his votes and his positions on issues. If Democrats think that scrutinizing someone's record and quoting their words is foul play then why do they relentlessly attack Bush's record? Speaking of attacks, Bush has been called a liar, a Nazi, a bigot, and a simpleton. He has been accused of betraying the nation, and deliberately taking us to war, with its attendant grief and loss of life, just to help his corporate friends. Aren't you sick of it?

"I have spent my life fighting for the kind of people I grew up with. For two decades, I stood with families and children against big HMOs and big insurance companies. And as a Senator, I fought those same fights against the Washington lobbyists and for causes like the Patients' Bill of Rights."

John Edwards' legal career is, in fact, an example of why medical malpractice insurance is so high and consequently why medical costs are daunting. He won huge claims for clients whose children were born with cerebral palsy, because, he convinced juries, the mothers of these children should have been advised by their obstetricians to have Caesarean sections. Such procedures have since increased unnecessarily with no discernable effect on the incidence of CP, but plenty of impact on medical costs and doctors' insurance premiums. See here for a more detailed account of exactly what Edwards has "spent his life fighting" on behalf of.

"We shouldn't have two public school systems in this country: one for the most affluent communities, and one for everybody else. None of us believe that the quality of a child's education should be controlled by where they live or the affluence of their community. We can build one public school system that works for all our children. Our plan will reform our schools and raise our standards. We can give our schools the resources they need. We can provide incentives to put quality teachers in the places and the subjects where we need them the most. And we can ensure that three million kids have a safe place to go after school. This is what we can do together."

These assertions reveal an incredible misunderstanding of why some schools are better than others. New York City's Schools spend more money per student than do many suburban schools, but the suburban schools are often more successful. Schools which are failing are not failing for lack of money, they're failing because of the quality of family life in the school district. Communities populated by healthy families will have better schools than those in which family life is chaotic regardless of how grandiose the buildings, how highly paid the staff, and where the school is located. If the Democrats want to improve education they can work to strengthen families but they would have to repudiate many of their philosophical principles and much of their legislative history to do that.

"So now you ask how are we going to pay for this? Well, here's how we're going to pay for it. Let me be very clear, for 98 percent of Americans, you will keep your tax cut-that's 98 percent. But we'll roll back the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, close corporate loopholes, and cut government contractors and wasteful spending. We can move our country forward without passing the bill and the burden on to our children and grandchildren."

Has anyone run the numbers on this? What loopholes would they close? How much revenue will they produce by rolling back the tax cuts for the top 2% of taxpayers? How, exactly, are they going to cut wasteful spending? Haven't these same promises been made ever since the Great Depression? How many times will candidates be able to snooker their listeners with vague, meaningless promises before we catch on that this is all political legerdemain. Show us the numbers or forfeit your credibility.

"I mean the very idea that in a country of our wealth and our prosperity, we have children going to bed hungry. We have children who don't have the clothes to keep them warm. We have millions of Americans who work full-time every day for minimum wage to support their family and still live in poverty - it's wrong."

That children are poorly clothed or go to bed hungry is no doubt true. The question is whether this is because there is no alternative for them or because they are in families which do not avail themselves, for whatever reason, of the assistance which their fellow citizens provide for them through government programs or charitable organizations. For Edwards to make it sound as if government is somehow failing these children is disingenuous. Likewise his claim that there are millions who work full-time and who still live in poverty is hard to credit. Few adults who work full-time earn only minimum wage. Most workers at the minimum wage are teenagers and others who are not the chief wage-earners in their family. If Edwards wants to do more than just rouse the masses of faithful at the Fleet Center, if he actually wants to demonstrate the truth of his claims, he's going to have to show that heads of households in significant numbers, despite working full-time, nevertheless have total household income, including government benefits, under the poverty line (about $22,000 for a family of four).

"With a new president who strengthens and leads our alliances, we can get NATO to help secure Iraq. We can ensure that Iraq's neighbors like Syria and Iran, don't stand in the way of a democratic Iraq. We can help Iraq's economy by getting other countries to forgive their enormous debt and participate in the reconstruction. We can do this for the Iraqi people and our soldiers. And we will get this done right."

This reveals a disturbing naivete on Edwards' part as to why we are unable to get some of our erstwhile allies to follow our lead in world affairs. It's not because Bush is abrasive or because he lacks diplomatic skills. That's just a rationalization. It is rather because many of our supposed "allies" resent and even despise us for our hyperpower status. The United States is an economic, military, and cultural colossus, and much of the rest of the world resents the dominant role we play around the globe, a role they believe, in some cases, is rightly and historically theirs. This is especially true of France and Germany. Russia is reluctant to follow us because they resent their defeat in the ideological struggle of the Cold war. Nobody likes to feel inferior, everybody experiences shadenfreude when the top guy stumbles. As these nations see things, it is in their national interest for the U.S. to fail and it would take more than John Kerry to persuade them to act against that interest. John Edwards, and every other American for that matter, would do well to read Jean Francois Revel's book Anti-Americanism. It would perhaps cure him of the na�ve idea that American "unilateralism" is a result of inept American diplomacy and that a more agreeable face in the White House is all we need to mollify the Europeans and others.

"What we believe - what John Kerry and I believe - is that you should never look down on anybody, that we should lift people up. We don't believe in tearing people apart. We believe in bringing people together."

Bush gets a lot of criticism for dividing people, but the criticism is silly. People in this country are divided because of the multiculturalist emphasis on celebrating our differences. We are divided because of the practice of special interest politics, the appeals to people on the basis of their race, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, etc. These are not Republican phenomena. This is the basic weaponry of the Democrat party and has been ever since the sixties. Democrats who accuse Bush of being divisive are projecting their own habits onto their opponent. Their definition of "divisive" is any condition in which you don't agree with them.

If, for example, you think it's immoral to kill children as they're being born then you're being divisive. If you think we should have judges who will rule according to what the law and the constitution say rather than according to the political whim of the day then you're being divisive, if you think that marriage is important and that we should preserve the understanding of marriage that has prevailed for two thousand years then you're being divisive. If you think the first amendment is being wrongly interpreted as it touches upon matters of religious expression then you're being divisive. They're trying hard in this convention to moderate their rhetoric, but all one need do is compare the words of Democrat leaders like Kennedy, Carter, Dean, Gore, Jackson, and Kerry during the primary months to those of Republican leaders to see who has been a force for division and who has been a force for national unity.