A friend writes: ‘On page 2 in today’s Times Tourneau has an ad for a watch (not a house) with prices starting at $57,500. What happens if you want a second hand?’

☞ Another friend just paid $800 for his watch . . . to be cleaned.

It is a grand time to be rich and powerful in America. But never fear: Extending and deepening the tax cuts for the wealthy will allow the purchase of more $57,500 watches . . . which will boost the economy of Switzerland . . . which will enable the Swiss to buy more American movies . . . which will boost employment in California . . . which will have ripple effects throughout our economy. See how well this works?

Eliminating the estate tax – as the President hopes ‘Congress will act responsibly’ and do (by making permanent the tax cut that currently eliminates it for only one year) – is the next great thing that cries out to be done to help the average American family. The short-sighted will see this as a sharp shift in favor of the mega-wealthy. But whatever student aid and health care needs to be cut back to make up for the lost revenue, think of all the $57,500 Swiss watches will be sold, and how that will ultimately benefit you.

GAS GUZZLING

You heard the President commit to reducing our dependence on foreign oil by aggressively funding alternative energy research programs. Soon his spokesfolks were back-pedaling – not least because . . .

From yesterday’s New York Times:

The Energy Department will begin laying off researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the next week or two because of cuts to its budget. A veteran researcher said the staff had been told that the cuts would be concentrated among researchers in wind and biomass, which includes ethanol. Those are two of the technologies that Mr. Bush cited on Tuesday night as holding the promise to replace part of the nation’s oil imports. . . .

And from today’s Times, Paul Krugman:

There’s a common theme underlying the botched reconstruction of Iraq, the botched response to Katrina (which Mr. Bush never mentioned), the botched drug program, and the nonexistent energy program. John DiIulio, the former White House head of faith-based policy, explained it more than three years ago. He told the reporter Ron Suskind how this administration operates: “There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. … I heard many, many staff discussions but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions. There were no actual policy white papers on domestic issues.”

In other words, this administration is all politics and no policy. It knows how to attain power, but has no idea how to govern. That’s why the administration was caught unaware when Katrina hit, and why it was totally unprepared for the predictable problems with its drug plan. It’s why Mr. Bush announced an energy plan with no substance behind it. And it’s why the state of the union – the thing itself, not the speech – is so grim.

☞ It’s deeper than the current Administration. The leadership of the Republican Party – some moderates notwithstanding (and not part of the leadership) – believes government is the problem. Other than protecting their property, and stepping in to try to overturn certain state laws, like Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act (twice passed by referendum), government has no constructive role to play. Social Security, Medicare, mine safety regulation . . . real men don’t need stuff like that. Only ‘bureaucrats’ (spit the word) care about things like global climate change. And tobacco regulation? Tom DeLay’s replacement as Republican Majority Leader is best known for having passed out tobacco lobbyist checks to his colleagues right there on the House floor.

Meanwhile . . .

STEM CELLS

‘Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research – human cloning in all its forms – creating or implanting embryos for experiments – creating animal-human hybrids – and buying, selling or patenting human embryos. Human life is a gift from our Creator, and that life should never be discarded, devalued, or put up for sale.’

– 2006 State of the Union Address

Bernie Siegel: ‘Translated, that means the White House supports the ‘Brownback Bill,’ named after the Kansas senator, which calls for criminalization of SCNT, a form of stem cell research that would create patient-matched stem cell lines. That bill is an assault on public health. If a researcher makes a stem cell line using this technique, he would be subject to 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine. If YOU arrange to send your sick nephew overseas to get an injection of these stem cells for treatment of diabetes or other medical condition, YOU would be subject to the same penalty.

‘The ‘creating’ of embryos, to which the President refers, is taking a patient’s single body cell (we have 100 trillion cells in our bodies) and placing it inside a donated human egg with its nucleus removed. While in the Petri dish, the microscopic embryo is subjected to an electrical current and is transformed from a body cell into an embryonic stem cell that can then differentiate into any type of tissue in the human body, matching the donor’s own genetic make-up. No sperm involved, no pregnancy, only treatments and cures.

‘Could the potential cure for all diseases be banned in the United States? The President has his pen in hand waiting to sign the ban into law.

‘Prohibiting the creation animal-human hybrids could be interpreted as preventing the placement human cells in mice or other animals needed to make treatments safe for human beings. My Uncle Oscar walks around with a pig valve in his chest. Should we ban this, too?

‘Telling us we can’t discard embryos is tantamount to saying 400,000 frozen embryos, surplus from InVitroFertilization treatments, should remain in cold storage forever. The fact is that they will be eventually discarded or disintegrate. If donated to medical science, those cells in a dish would not go to waste.

‘Bush’s exaltation of the embryo is really a veiled threat to regulate IVF medicine out of existence and drive such infertility treatments off-shore, a situation which has already occurred in Italy.

‘At least Bush was honest about his motives. Unlike most foes of embryonic stem cell research who resort to ‘false alternative’ arguments, misrepresenting the potential of adult stem cell research (something every legitimate scientist knows not to be a reason to delay research on embryonic cells), the President invokes the views of the Creator to justify his position. Of course, it is HIS view of the Creator’s intent.

‘But I remember the words of Nina Brown, a stem cell activist from Houston battling Parkinson’s, who has another view. She told a meeting of stem cell activists last June, ‘I believe God has given us this window of opportunity before cells begin to differentiate, as His gift to sustain life and relieve human suffering.’

‘A father, whose daughter has diabetes, wrote the President: ‘These fertilized eggs do not have a brain, or a spine, or a heart…they do not have a soul or a conscience…they do not feel pain… they are not human beings, but rather potential human beings. But they will never realize their potential, because they will be discarded. It is heart wrenching to think that rather than discarding these embryos who will never reach their potential, our government will not fund research that would possibly help my child reach her potential. For she does have a brain, and a soul, and a heart…and does feel pain.’

‘Where time is measured in human suffering and death, the politicians holding back funding for embryonic stem cell research and demonizing other potentially life-saving research should be held morally responsible.’

DEFINING CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT

Michael Fang: ‘Having to wade through your political views to get to your financial ones?’

 

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