The Domestic State of Affairs

David Brooks takes a look around and see that things are looking up for America:

The decline in domestic violence is of a piece with the decline in violent crime over all. Violent crime over all is down by 55 percent since 1993 and violence by teenagers has dropped an astonishing 71 percent, according to the Department of Justice.

The number of drunken driving fatalities has declined by 38 percent since 1982, according to the Department of Transportation, even though the number of vehicle miles traveled is up 81 percent. The total consumption of hard liquor by Americans over that time has declined by over 30 percent.

Teenage pregnancy has declined by 28 percent since its peak in 1990. Teenage births are down significantly and, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the number of abortions performed in the country has also been declining since the early 1990’s.

Fewer children are living in poverty, even allowing for an uptick during the last recession. There’s even evidence that divorce rates are declining, albeit at a much more gradual pace. People with college degrees are seeing a sharp decline in divorce, especially if they were born after 1955.

I could go on. Teenage suicide is down. Elementary school test scores are rising (a sign than more kids are living in homes conducive to learning). Teenagers are losing their virginity later in life and having fewer sex partners. In short, many of the indicators of social breakdown, which shot upward in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, and which plateaued at high levels in the 1980’s, have been declining since the early 1990’s.

I predict an immediate uptick in rhetorical violence, as political apparatchiks on both sides of the political aisle attempt to claim credit for these events.








The Stem Cell Debate

I know you lefties hate Charles Krauthammer, but I continue to think he is one of the better columnists out there, and he has am eminently reasonable piece on the stem cell issue today:

It is a good idea to expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. It is a bad idea to do that without prohibiting research that uses embryos created specifically to be used in research and destroyed.

What is deeply troubling about the Castle-DeGette stem cell bill, which passed the House and will soon roar through the Senate, is that it combines the good with the bad: expansion with no limit.

The expansion — federal funding for stem cells derived from some of the thousands of embryos that fertility clinics would otherwise discard — is good because the president’s sincere and principled Aug. 9, 2001, attempt to draw a narrower line has failed. It failed politically because his restriction — funding research only on stem cells from embryos destroyed before the day of that speech — seems increasingly arbitrary as we move away from that date.

It failed practically because that cohort of embryos is a diminishing source of cells. Stem cells turn out to be a lot less immortal than we thought. The idea was that once you created a line, it could replicate indefinitely. Therefore you would need only a few lines.

It turns out, however, that as stem cells replicate, they begin to make genetic errors and to degenerate. After several generations some lines become unusable.

He then goes on to explain why the policy from 2001 is now obsolete, and continues on:

It simply will not do for opponents of this expanded research to say that the federal government should not force those Americans who find this research abhorrent to support it with their taxes. By that logic we should never go to war, or impose the death penalty, except by unanimous consent of the entire population. We make many life-or-death decisions as a society as a whole, without being held hostage to the sensibilities of a minority, however substantial and sincere.

He finishes with this compromise:

Both in my writings and as a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, I have advocated this dual policy: Expand federal funding of stem cell research by using discarded embryos, but couple that with a firm national ban on creating human embryos for any purpose other than the birth of a human baby. We finally have a chance to enact this grand compromise — but only if a majority of senators insist that the welcome expansion provided in the Castle-DeGette bill, which will yield a near endless supply of embryonic stem cells, cannot take place unless the door is firmly closed now, while we still have the chance, on the manufacture of human embryos for research and destruction.

It will be interesting to see how both sides react to this, although as it is eminently reasonable, and this is a Friday in August, it will probably be summarily ignored by the reactionaries on both sides of the debate.

*** Update ***

Some say it is not that reasonable at all, as it would ban something which is currently legal. I thought there was an ample supply of already existing embryonic stem cells, and those would continue to be available in the future. I read the proposed ban to prohibit creating stem cells SOLELY for the purpose of resaearch, but allowing the use of emrbyonic stem cells that are created for other reasons would remain permissible. Am I just flat-out wrong on my interpretation of this column?

*** Update #2 ***

Via Instapundit, this:

Scientists looking for easier and less-controversial alternatives to stem cells from human embryos said on Friday they found a potential source in placentas saved during childbirth.

They described primitive cells found in a part of the placenta called the amnion, which they coaxed into forming a variety of cell types and which look very similar to sought-after embryonic stem cells.

With 4 million children born in the United States each year, placentas could provide a ready source of the cells, the team at the University of Pittsburgh said.

It is not yet certain that the cells they found are true stem cells, said Stephen Strom, who worked on the study. But they carry two important genes, called Oct 4 and nanog, which so far have only been seen on embryonic stem cells.

*** Update ***

From the left, Kevin Drum attacks Krauthammer. And from Leon, a self-described member of the rabidly pro-life movement, more disagreement.



Montani Semper Liberi

Peggy Noonan comes to West Virginia:

I have just been there for the first time, and it is a jewel of a state. It is like an emerald you dig from a hill with your hands.

You know when you’ve passed into it from the east because suddenly things look more dramatic. You get the impression you’re in a real place. All around you are mountains and hills and gullies, gulches and streams. The woods wherever I went were thick and deep. From Morgantown to Ballengee a squirrel can jump from tree to tree. It is a tall state–the hills, trees and mountains–and shadowy-dark, with winding roads, except for where it’s broad and beige and full of highway, courtesy of Robert Byrd. The highways are perfect looking, unstained by wear and tear, and not many people seem to use them.

Nice story. And while she makes it sound like a conservative paradise that might strike you libs as hell on earth, it isn’t. People here are just, well, sensible and easygoing.

(Via Don Surber)








Surprise, Surprise

The Texas Bible Curriculum gets a failing grade. Apparently it isn’t an ecumenical study of the bible, but instead nothing more than indoctrination of a sectarian viewpoint. Who would have thunk it? An example:

This curriculum goes beyond observing that Christians and Jews believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible. It explicitly and repeatedly endorses those beliefs by presentng such inspiration asa fact. Furthermore, the curriculum attempts to persuade teachers and students to adopt viewsof the Bible that are common in some conservative Protestat circles but are rejected by most scholars (Christian and non-Christian), other branches of Christianity, and Jews. It presents its own sectarian views as objectively true, and in many cases those views are the only ones presented…

As the report will indicate, such problems are not limited to the passages noted above [I have not included them]; thgey are present throughout the curriculum.

Read the whole report.








Good News on The Property Rights Front

Say what you will about ‘activist judges,’ they are at least getting local legislatures to do the right thing:

States across the country are rushing to pass laws to counter the potential impact of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that allows state and local governments to seize homes for private development. (Related story: Ruling may doom homes)

In Alabama Wednesday, Gov. Bob Riley will sign a law that prohibits the state, cities and counties from taking private property for retail, office, commercial, industrial or residential development. “We don’t like anybody messing with our dogs, our guns, our hunting rights or trying to take property from us,” says state Sen. Jack Biddle, a sponsor of the law.

Delaware also has changed its law since the high court ruling on eminent domain. Legislatures in at least eight other states are weighing proposals this year. More may be coming. And Congress is considering action.

“When legislatures start new sessions in January, I expect the majority of states to take up bills that would restrict the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes,” said Larry Morandi, environmental program director for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The issue has spawned an unusual alliance among conservatives opposed to the principle of government seizing private property and liberals worried that poor people would be the most likely victims.

Good. Although I don’t know why Gov. Bob Riley likes dogs more than cats.








I Missed This

Anyone else know more about this:

Security firm Guardsmark instituted a rule directing employees not to “fraternize on duty or off duty, date, or become overly friendly with the client’s employees or with co-employees.” In September 2003, the Service Employees International Union filed unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB against Guardsmark, claiming that the company’s work rules inhibited its employees’ Section 7 rights.

Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act grants workers the right to “self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations…and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection…” While the law allows employers to ban association among co-workers during work hours, Guardsmark’s rule was broader in that it applied to the off-duty association of co-workers.

Just curious. I didn’t see anything about this in the MSM.








Another Enron Payout

And those resposible for helping to defraud investors in the Enron scandal took another hit:

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce has agreed to pay $2.4 billion to settle investors’ claims it helped hide losses at the fallen energy trader Enron Corp. through a massive accounting fraud.

The settlement announced Tuesday with the Toronto-based bank — Canada’s fifth-largest financial institution and the operator of the securities firm CIBC World Markets — was the biggest individual payout so far in the long-running debacle.

Combined with similar agreements with Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and others, the settlements have now reached more than $7 billion, said lawyers for the investors who lost tens of billions of dollars in Enron’s 2001 collapse.

Some 50,000 Enron stock and bond holders led by the University of California’s board of regents filed claims as part of the lawsuit. Investors claim a number of global banks and brokerages helped Houston-based Enron continue to operate and raise money even as the company was imploding.

Good, although until it is too expensive for these companies to engage in these practices, this will be considered all a part of doing business.