WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- The UPI Think Tank Wrap-Up is a daily digest covering brief opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events, and position statements released by various think tanks.
The Acton Institute
(The Acton Institute works to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles. Its goal is to help build prosperity and progress on a foundation of religious liberty, economic freedom, and personal moral responsibility.)
True environmental stewardship surpasses political posturing
By Phillip W. DeVous
Of the many hotly debated issues in contemporary political discourse, it seems that none elicit more controversy than those related to the environment. These environmental debates tend to revolve around the political ideology and commitments of the various interested parties.
As a result, the analysis of environmental issues is almost exclusively done in the partisan categories set up by the political process. The net effect of this political posturing is a lack of thoughtfulness concerning the fundamental philosophical and theological principles underlying the environmental agenda.
The recent partnership between the Sierra Club and the National Council of Churches highlights the theological agenda operative in modern environmentalism. The focus of the ads, which have been launched on television and in newspapers, is a call to all Americans to "keep our promise to care for creation." These ads evoke religious themes in issuing their call to preserve "special landscapes" against energy development.
In a press release issued jointly by the Sierra Club and the National Council of Churches, Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar, the National Council's general secretary, offered his view of environmental preservation:
"People of faith take seriously the biblical mandate to be good stewards of creation, and that means finding smarter, cleaner, safer ways to satisfy our energy needs without damaging the irreplaceable gifts of nature ... Furthermore, conservation is more effective, providing much greater benefits that are more permanent, and in the long run, are less costly, than a modest and short-lived increase in oil supply at the price of a ravaged environment."
Edgar strikes a reasonable tone throughout most of his remarks. Underlying his comments, however, is the assumption that all energy development comes at the "price of a ravaged environment." His extremist understanding echoes those of his Sierra Club teammate, Carl Pope:
"We don't need to ruin the land we love to meet America's needs. When Americans want renewal and inspiration, we sit by a river or hike to a mountaintop. America's beautiful landscapes are too valuable to dig, drill, and destroy -- instead, we need an energy policy that is clean and safe. With modern technology, we can have clean energy to protect the places Americans love."
At first glance one assumes that these concerned activists are simply trying to preserve the great outdoors of America from irresponsible corporate giants. Edgar is quite right in referring to the "biblical mandate to be good stewards of creation." It is important, however, to understand the biblical mandate of good stewardship in the proper theological light -- most especially, the role of the human person in providing good stewardship of the environment.
The views of environmental stewardship expressed by Edgar and Pope have at their base an understanding of humankind that is at odds with orthodox Christianity. The theological commitments underlying their environmental thinking accepts as a fact that humans are primarily consumers and polluters. Furthermore, it is assumed that humans simply cannot help but ravage the environment for personal gain in seeking to meet the energy needs necessary for sustained economic development.
Such a view ignores the fact that humans are capable of adding to and improving creation and its resources. Working to develop and utilize natural resources does not have to be a zero sum game in which everybody loses.
Pope John Paul II in his post-synodal exhortation, Ecclesia in America, offers a more balanced assessment of the moral obligations involved in environmental stewardship. He places the acting person at the very center of the moral dimension of stewardship:
"'And God saw that it was good'(Gen 1:25). These words from the first chapter of Genesis reveal the meaning of what God has done. To men and women, the crown of the entire process of creation, the Creator entrusts the care of the earth (cf.. Gn 2:15). This brings concrete obligations in the area of ecology for every person. Fulfillment of these obligations supposes an openness to a spiritual and ethical perspective capable of overcoming selfish attitudes and lifestyles which lead to the depletion of natural resources." (Ecclesia in America, n. 25)
As the pope states, men and women are the "crown of the entire process of creation." There is no doubt that men and woman have moral obligations to be good stewards. It is unnecessary to assume, however, that the work they do in producing natural resources will "ravage" the environment. Rather, for the faithful person, the task of developing creation's resources will be seen as fulfilling a necessary human need.
In reality, the work of energy producers has increased the amount of natural resources available to all. Innovative technology, derived from the creative and ingenious work of conscientious people working in the energy sector, has led to more environmentally friendly and efficient technology. Their work provides new extraction methods, leading to higher rates of recovery of coal, oil, and natural gas.
These innovations lower prices and increase higher levels of access to energy markets for those in developing countries, as well as countless jobs created in areas containing large amounts of fossil fuels. Quite often, the areas slated for energy exploration are areas that are economically depressed and in desperate need of the economic development that accompanies energy production.
No one in the energy industry wakes up in the morning with a conviction to "ravage" the environment. The energy industry has been at the forefront in developing environmentally sound methods to accomplish the work of energy development and production. The human need for energy production, however, takes precedence over the concerns of environmental dilettantes who have an anti-human conviction about the nature of the human person.
At the center of this debate are two competing visions of humankind -- humans as polluters and consumers versus humans as creative, innovative, and conscientious beings.
It is the latter view of the human person that allows for the proper balance of the moral obligations of environmental stewardship.
It is clear environmental stewardship must balance the needs of preserving magnificent landscapes from unnecessary intrusion and the reality of the human need for energy sources. Energy producers, not the Sierra Club or National Council of Churches, have been the leaders in showing how to balance these needs and the concomitant moral obligations of sound environmental stewardship. Such a balancing act is a matter of prudential judgment, not Christian doctrine.
As the debate over environmental policy continues in this country and elsewhere, it will be continually more important to position the dignity and creativity of the human person as the point of departure for any sane discussion of environmental issues. John Paul in his 1999 World Day of Peace message summarizes this clarion call succinctly:
"The promotion of human dignity is linked to the right to a healthy environment, since this right highlights the dynamics of the relationship between the individual and the society. A body of international, regional, and national norms on the environment is gradually giving juridic form to this right. But juridic measures by themselves are not sufficient. ... The world's present and future depend on the safeguarding of creation, because of the endless interdependence between human beings and their environment. Placing human well-being at the center of concern for the environment is actually the surest way of safeguarding creation."
(World Day of Peace Message, 1999, n.10)
(Phillip W. De Vous is the public policy manager for the Acton Institute.)
The Cato Institute
Cato scholar condemns effort to block Bush nominees
By the Cato Institute
As left-wing interest groups gather to oppose the Bush administration's judicial appointments, Cato Institute legal expert Roger Pilon on Thursday offered the following statement:
"With the return of Congress and the 2002 elections less than a year away, Senate Democrats and their interest-group allies are engaged in a full-scale effort to block as many of President Bush's nominees for the federal courts as they can, despite an unprecedented number of vacancies on our courts today.
"Everyone knew that the 2000 presidential election would be a battle for the courts. When President Bush finally won the election following the Supreme Court's decision in Bush vs. Gore, many Democrats, outraged by the ruling, simply dug in their heels. Last year, soon after Democrats gained control of the Senate, they held hearings aimed at justifying the use of an ideological litmus test to ignore or disqualify judicial nominees. This year, with elections looming, they appear ready only to intensify the stall.
"Since Bush took office there have been 128 vacancies on the 862-member Article III courts. To date, Bush has nominated 65 candidates for those vacancies. Only 28 have been confirmed, leaving 100 empty seats, 39 of which are judicial emergencies according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Half the seats on the Sixth Circuit today are empty. In fact, at the circuit level the stall is egregious. Only six of Bush's 29 circuit court nominees have been confirmed, and two of those were Clinton holdovers, re-named by Bush as a gesture to the Democrats. More telling still, 11 of those nominees have been hanging since May, never having had a hearing, much less a vote.
"Interest groups say today that Bush's nominees are 'right-wing ideologues' who would strip us of our rights. They focus on one nominee, then claim, without evidence, that he is emblematic of many of Bush's nominees. The truth is that Bush has nominated some of the finest legal minds in the nation. And the irony is that those nominees, far from being hostile to individual liberty, come from the party that Democrats ordinarily criticize for being suspicious of a government big enough to threaten that liberty.
"What Democrats and their allies want, in a word, is judges who will be partial to their statutory schemes, whatever the Constitution may say. They want judges committed not to the rule of law but to their own ideology of ever-expanding government."
Defense budget proposal is patriotic pork, says Cato analyst
By the Cato Institute
President George W. Bush announced Thursday that the top priority of his 2003 budget would be a $48 billion increase in defense spending. Cato director of defense policy studies Ivan Eland had the following comments.
"President Bush's largesse is the typical Republican knee-jerk reaction to any security challenge -- in this case, the Sept. 11 attacks and the subsequent war on terrorism. Throwing large wads of cash at the Department of Defense is a time-honored Republican tradition. After Sept. 11, the Democrats, always vulnerable to the charge that they are 'soft on defense' -- and, by implication, unpatriotic -- will most likely fall over themselves to give the president what he wants.
"But on closer inspection, does the United States really need to increase defense spending? The answer is a resounding 'No!' In 2002, the United States will spend nearly $350 billion on defense. That sum is greater than the combined defense spending of the next seven countries -- most of which are wealthy U.S. allies. Russia, a distant second in defense expenditures, spends about one-seventh of the U.S. total. The United States is already more dominant militarily vis-à-vis the rest of the world than the British and Roman Empires at their zenith.
"The current $350 billion total is already more than enough to fight the small- to medium-scale conflicts overseas -- such as the war in Afghanistan or even a larger campaign against Iraq -- needed to combat terrorism. But much of the war on terrorism will be fought by proxy using indigenous local forces -- for example, in Yemen and the Philippines -- or using funds outside the defense budget right here at home. Examples of non-defense spending are for enhanced border security or for continued stockpiling of antibiotics in case of an attack with biological weapons. The president's second priority in his budget was a $15 billion increase for such homeland security measures, which should have been his top concern.
"Much of the Pentagon's additional $48 billion will probably be spent on buying more Cold War weapons or unneeded armaments currently being produced to keep defense factories humming in politically powerful states and congressional districts. With dramatically rising budgets, Secretary (Donald) Rumsfeld's effort to transform the way the Department of Defense does business and the way the United States fights wars will have no real chance of resurrection.
With no transformation in sight at a time when the budget deficit is ballooning, the Pentagon should not be given more cash. If security needs to be increased in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, the money is better spent elsewhere."
The Reason Foundation
Bumps in the night: Accutane story is all scare, and no science.
By Michael Fumento
In the movie "One-Eyed Jacks," Marlon Brando asks Marshall Karl Malden if he'll get a fair trial.
"Oh sure, kid, sure," answers Malden, soothingly. "You're gonna get a fair trial. And then I'm gonna hang you! Personally!"
That pretty much sums up how everybody -- but the patients themselves -- have treated Roche Laboratories' acne drug Accutane.
Recently the capsules were back in the news after a 15-year-old St. Petersburg, Fla., boy named Charles Bishop stole a light plane and flew it into the 28th floor of a 42-story Tampa building. A sample of the media coverage:
* CNN Live Today: "Tampa authorities say they found acne drug Accutane at home of teen pilot Charles Bishop."
* ABC's Good Morning America: "Charles Bishop ay have used Accutane before crash."
* United Press International: "Teen pilot had Accutane prescription"
* Newsday: "Pilot's acne drug linked to suicides"
* And this one says it all, from London's "The Mirror: Plane boy drugs link "
More bizarre yet: Police found a note on Bishop's body expressing sympathy for Osama bin Laden and support for the Sept. 11 attacks.
Clearly something was troubling this young man, but it wasn't Accutane. As only a handful of media outlets bothered to report a week later, an autopsy showed no trace of the drug in the boy's system.
Nonetheless, the story will add to the undeservedly bad reputation of a drug used by 5 million Americans and 7 million others worldwide since 1982 to combat one of the most disfiguring forms of acne, the "severe recalcitrant nodular" variety. Yet there's no evidence linking the drug to so much as a single suicide (much less support for international terrorism) -- unless you count non-causal associations, rumor, innuendo, and the efforts of lawyers and politicians.
Three things quickly sent Accutane down the road to infamy, despite clear evidence of its tremendous benefits to users. The first is that it was known from the beginning that Accutane is a powerful teratogen, meaning it causes birth defects. It's been labeled as such since its introduction, and Roche has worked aggressively (albeit not completely successfully) to prevent any woman who might possibly be pregnant or become so soon from getting a prescription.
Medically, teratogenicity has nothing to do with depression or thoughts of suicide. But this gave the drug immediate notoriety. From its launch, doctors were keeping a sharp eye out for any other possible serious side effect and reporting those possible connections to the FDA under its adverse event reporting system, known as AERS.
"When there's public awareness or publicity about a drug for any reason, there may be an increase in reports because people may not have otherwise thought about associations," points out FDA spokeswoman Kathleen Kolar. Nevertheless, she immediately adds that while "Accutane is safe and effective when used as directed, any drug that has had that many warnings does merit concern."
Hmmm ... In any case, this concern led the FDA to require that Roche warn on the drug's label that it may cause "depression, psychosis, suicidal ideation, suicide, and attempts at suicide." This in turn no doubt has and will lead to more adverse event reports.
Indeed, according to Roche spokeswoman Gail Safian, the Tampa incident is being reported to the FDA as an Accutane-related suicide, notwithstanding that there's no evidence Bishop ever took the drug. All the stories that fingered Accutane in his death will probably lead to more adverse reports.
The second association between Accutane and suicide is that the drug is used primarily by people whose age group is especially prone to suicide. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, for persons "15-24 years old, suicide is the third leading cause of death, behind unintentional injury and homicide."
And the problem is getting worse. "From 1952-1995, the incidence of suicide among adolescents and young adults nearly tripled," says the CDC. "From 1980-1997, the rate of suicide among persons aged 15-19 years increased by 11 percent and among persons aged 10-14 years by 109 percent." Accutane, introduced in 1982, arrived about 30 years too late to have been the cause of this increase.
The third association between Accutane and suicide is that researchers have found what appears to be a cause-and-effect link between even mild acne and depression. You might expect that Clearasil users have a higher rate of suicide. Nevertheless, while the overall rate of suicide in the general population is about 11.1 per 100,000; that of Accutane users, according to a Roche survey, is 1.8 per 100,000. There have been about 90,000 U.S. suicides since 1982 compared to 167 FDA adverse reports for Accutane-related suicides.
Moreover, nobody has found any kind of biological plausibility for how Accutane might even cause depression. The active ingredient in Accutane (isotretinoin) is a Vitamin A derivative and overdoses of Vitamin A can be toxic. But there is no evidence that hypervitaminosis A can cause psychiatric reactions.
Another important contributor to the hysteria are the sharks in suits. After all, suicide cases are natural heart-tuggers and you never know when you'll get lucky before a judge or jury. If you go to a Web site with an innocuous-sounding name like http://www.accutane_suicide_help.com/ you'll find you've actually come across a lawyer-referral service.
It's indicative of the weak case against Accutane that one of the most powerful indictments came from the allegations of a single man with no medical background and a powerful motive to lay blame. In late 2000, the son of Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., committed suicide. As do so many grieving parents whose children have taken their own lives, Stupak sought desperately for a reason. What he found was that Bart Jr. had been taking Accutane.
Stupak's accusation, though, didn't just go to the FDA. It was broadcast in his own press conference, in which the lawyer and former state trooper took on the role of both forensic specialist and epidemiologist. This in turn led to House hearings, plenty more media coverage, and no doubt more adverse event reports.
So it has been and always will be for Accutane. Bad publicity leads to more bad publicity which leads to even more bad publicity. It is a vicious cycle from which Accutane and Roche will never escape. There's a valuable lesson in here, but don't expect that anyone will learn it.
(Michael Fumento is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C.)
Competitive Enterprise Institute
(CEI is a free-market think tank that supports principles of free enterprise and limited government, and actively engages in public policy debate.)
C:\SPIN--AOL: America on Lawyers
Antitrust lawyers across the country had reason to celebrate Tuesday. With the federal case against Microsoft coming to a close, many of the poor souls may have been worried about where their next billable hour would come from.
AOL Time-Warner's new lawsuit against Microsoft, filed Tuesday, has helped put any such worries to rest. Combined with other litigation, it's now a safe bet that the antitrust bar will be feasting on Microsoft-related caseloads for years to come. That's good news for the lawyers and their families, though not for consumers.
The new case, brought by AOL-Time Warner through its subsidiary Netscape Communications, is to a large extent based upon the 4-year-old federal case against Microsoft. AOL alleges that Microsoft illegally caused Netscape to shrink from dominance in the browser market to its current 9 percent share.
Its case will no doubt be helped by the Washington, D.C. Circuit Court's decision last year in the prior case, and the findings of fact by the now-discredited Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson. In particular, the conclusion that Microsoft engaged in a variety of anti-competitive acts will be a powerful weapon in the hands of AOL lawyers.
There are, of course, some nettlesome details -- the foremost being the fact that the appeals court solidly rejected Judge Jackson's finding that Microsoft monopolized the browser market.
All in all, it should be a good tussle, a replay of all our favorite "who did what to whose browser" stories, and certainly chock-full of billable hours all around.
The bigger question, though, is why we should care. The browser wars, for better or worse, are over -- ancient history from the 1990s. (And even then, to the consternation of tech and legal junkies, few consumers cared what browser they used).
And if browsers were important, AOL is hardly without options. Simply providing Navigator to its 33 million subscribers could change the browser landscape instantly.
So what's really at issue here? There's money, of course. AOL-Time Warner may ask for some $12 billion for Netscape's injuries. (Not bad for a unit purchased in 1999 for $10 billion).
But non-monetary remedies may be even more important to AOL. Among other things, AOL likely will ask that Microsoft be required to sell stripped down versions of Windows. That means without browsers, but probably also without the instant messaging application that's challenging AOL's dominance of the fast-growing IM market.
Here's the key to the case (and to much of antitrust law for that matter). Rather than a tool to create competition, the suit is a result of competition -- in this case competition between Microsoft and AOL-Time Warner. Over the past few years, it's been an increasingly tense rivalry -- a sort of tech cold war. And exactly the sort of rivalry markets should produce. Despite the heated rhetoric, neither is dominant, with each checking the other's ambitions and looking for opportunities the other has missed.
But now AOL has turned to the government for an advantage in this competition. No one but Claude Rains would be shocked to find this sort of thing going on. Antitrust law has long been used by businesses to thwart competitors rather than foster competition. And Microsoft is no angel in this regard either. Had AOL won the bidding for AT&T broadband, Microsoft would have led the charge to get regulators to stop it.
Nevertheless, both may regret inviting regulators and lawyers in -- for like a bad houseguest, once invited they may never leave. And consumers will be the ultimate losers, as competition by innovators in the marketplace is replaced by competition by lawyers in the courtroom.
(James Gattuso is vice president for policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.)