Think tanks wrap-up

May 9, 2003 at 7:33 AM
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WASHINGTON, May 9 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the first of several wrap-ups for May 9. Contents: ANWR amendment; presidential speeches; stem cells to eggs defeat anti-cloners.

National Center for Public Policy Research

(NCPPR is a communications and research foundation dedicated to providing free-market solutions to public policy problems, based on the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility. NCPPR was founded to provide the conservative movement with a versatile and energetic organization capable of responding quickly and decisively to late-breaking issues, based on thorough research.)

10-second response: fast facts on the environment -- Murkowski expected to offer ANWR amendment

By Chris Burger

Washington -- Background: Freshman Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Ark., is expected to offer an amendment to S. 14, the Energy Policy Act of 2003. The amendment, if approved, would authorize oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge but limit surface area development in the ANWR to 2,000 acres. A similar amendment was approved by the House of Representatives in August 2001. Oil exploration in ANWR was defeated in the Senate earlier this year as a part of the fiscal year 2004 budget package.

-- Ten-second response: The amendment is designed to allow moderates who might otherwise oppose drilling the chance to support a plan that is good for America's future.

-- Thirty-second response: Limiting development to 2,000 acres would mean that more than 99 percent of ANWR's 19 million acres would remain untouched. Exploration would not negatively affect the environment and it would provide thousands of jobs and decrease America's dependence on foreign oil.

-- Discussion: President Clinton's Department of Energy confirmed that current technology allows exploration to be done in an environmentally friendly manner. Ice-based roads, bridges, drilling pads and airstrips have become the standard for drilling in the Alaskan North Slope. It leaves virtually no marks on the tundra; ice structures simply melt in the spring. After 20 years of oil exploration at nearby Prudhoe Bay, the population of caribou has grown from 3,000 to as high as 23,400. Besides, modern infrastructure already exists in ANWR. The Inupiat American Indians -- the only people native to the region -- already have an airstrip, power lines and an oil well.

The benefits of oil exploration in ANWR are numerous. It could provide between 250,000 and 735,000 new jobs and has a potential value between $125 billion and $350 billion (in 1998 dollars). The U.S. Department of Interior estimates that ANWR can provide between nine and 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil. This would approximately replace what we currently import from Saudi Arabia for 30 years or replace one-half of what we import from the entire Persian Gulf for 36 years.

Oil exploration also gets tremendous support from those who know best: the people from Alaska, not politicians such as Rep. Ed Markey, D-.Mass., who opposes ANWR drilling. (Markey requested a hearing to discuss ANWR's future. When his request was granted, although he has never visited ANWR, Markey did not attend the hearing.) The Inupiats support exploration by a margin of 78 percent to 9 percent. Pro-drilling resolutions in the Alaskan legislature have received 100 percent support from both parties.

(Chris Burger is the program coordinator for the John P. McGovern, M.D. Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs at the National Center for Public Policy Research.)

The Reason Foundation

Hot air: Why bother listening to a presidential speech?

By Jesse Walker

LOS ANGELES -- I don't believe it! Somehow, last week, I completely failed to write an analysis of George W. Bush's speech on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln! Do I have to turn in my pundit badge?

Worse yet: I didn't even watch the speech. I did see a mediocre sketch about it on Saturday Night Live, but that really isn't enough to fake it. I can read the transcript, of course, but that doesn't get across the flavor of the actual event, which I'm informed included some nifty business with a jet.

Looks like I'll have to turn to all the commentary everyone else has written for guidance. Lord knows there's no shortage of that. Endorsing Bush's showmanship, for instance, is this bit of fanzine prose from National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez:

"THE PREZ IS TAKING OFF FROM SAN DIEGO TO THE LINCOLN NOW. The man is wearing a flight suit. This is the ultimate presidential stud moment ..."

Other voices, like Andrew Sullivan's, are more critical: "It's one thing to arrange a beautiful and moving photo-op to commemorate an historic event, as Reagan did so masterfully at Normandy. It's another thing to mark the end of a liberation by addressing the military and the nation at the same time. Boisterous cheers from American troops are great; those amazing people deserve our thanks. But I'm not sure this was the occasion for that. It was an address to the nation at the conclusion of a conflict, one that shouldn't be interrupted by foot-stomping and cheering."

The reliably anti-Bush pundit Paul Krugman, meanwhile, comments that "Nobody (except, of course, widely read New York Times columnists) pointed out that Bush was breaking an important tradition. And nobody seemed bothered that Bush, who appears to have skipped more than a year of the National Guard service that kept him out of Vietnam, is now emphasizing his flying experience ... Anyway, it was quite a show."

To summarize: There are those who believe the spectacle was ennobling, and there are those who believe it was enabling. And the content of the speech? Pshaw! Better to write about the setting, the props, even the audience.

I'm being unfair. There are plenty of people who analyzed the contents of this speech, and every other Bush speech, and every other presidential speech before him. I'm not one of them. I was on a radio show not long after Bush gave his first substantial post-Sept. 11 address to the nation. The host asked me what I thought of it. I said he did a decent job, which was true.

I got uncomfortable, though, when the talk turned to what we should expect the United States, on the basis of that speech, to do in response to the attacks. The fact was that Bush was rather vague when it came to the most important specifics, for the good reason that this was no time for tipping his hand.

Who tries to divine our politicians' intentions from their speeches? Foreign leaders do, of course: There are those who argue that North Korea embarked on its present belligerence the moment it heard it was being yanked into the Axis of Evil, the better to stave off an American invasion.

Here at home, we know that it was included because (a) a good axis has three members and (b) it wouldn't do to put them all in the Middle East. But such subtleties are wasted on Pyongyang, which has a rather different showbiz tradition.

We Americans also remember that George W. Bush campaigned in 2000 on a platform of free trade, limited government, and a "humble" foreign policy. I even know people who voted for him and expected to get all that in return. That's the sort of thing that happens when you start taking political speeches literally.

(Associate Editor Jesse Walker is author of "Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America.")

Human egg farms? How biomedical science does an end run around anti-cloners

By Ronald Bailey

LOS ANGELES -- Embryonic stem cells taken from mice can be transformed into mouse eggs, according to a report published in the journal Science last week. If it works for mouse cells, many researchers believe that it will work for human cells, too.

In other words, colonies of human embryonic stem cells could potentially be transformed into an unlimited supply of human eggs. Those eggs, in turn, contain the factors needed to jumpstart the process that produces more malleable embryonic stem cells that can be transformed into any type of cell in the body. Thus, we now have the promise of a self-sustaining cycle of stem cell production that does not depend on donor eggs from living women.

This could have important effects on the future of what is being called regenerative medicine. Some day, physicians will be able to transform stem cells into cells and tissue that can replace damaged cells in the patient from whom the original genes were taken. Such cells would be perfect transplants that could repair things such as heart muscle damaged by heart attacks or replace dead brain cells killed by Parkinson's disease. Tens of millions of Americans could benefit from those techniques.

The major technical bottleneck has been the scarcity of human eggs needed to jumpstart the process. Heretofore, human eggs have been harvested from women who undergo hormonal treatments that cause them to superovulate. These treatments are generally unpleasant and may be dangerous to the women's health. Obtaining millions of eggs for stem cell therapies in this way would be neither moral nor practical.

Nevertheless, opponents of human stem-cell research painted lurid pictures of women confined to human egg farms forced to produce eggs for avaricious doctors and corporations. Conservative embryonic stem cell opponent Wesley Smith calculated, "Obtaining (800 million) human eggs for (curing diabetes) would involve stimulating the ovaries to hyper-ovulate, which generally produces seven to 10 eggs. Assuming a liberal 10 eggs harvested from each procedure, 80 million women of childbearing age would be needed as donors."

Feminist Judy Norsigian, the executive director of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, joined with conservative opponents, citing fears that stem-cell therapies would lead to a "massive expansion in the use of women as paid 'egg producers.'" But thanks to the new mouse stem-cell work, it appears that donated eggs soon may not be necessary.

Assuming that human eggs can be produced in mass quantities using embryonic stem cells, that might split the strange bedfellows in the Left-Right coalition against therapeutic cloning. It may also make inroads among those people uncomfortable with therapeutic cloning, because that technique would make it clear that somatic cells (normal body cells) and embryonic cells differ only in the details of their biochemistry and can be transformed from one to another. An embryonic cell is no more a complete human being requiring legal protection than any other body cell.

For those still committed to the idea that every embryo is as morally significant as a living person, the discovery of how to transform embryonic stem cells into eggs will probably have little immediate effect. However, as the details of the biochemistry of embryonic cells, eggs, and somatic cells are further unraveled, the moral intuitions of such opponents may also shift. Even the Roman Catholic Church has changed its opinion about the moral status of early embryos over time and could change it again in light of new scientific information.

The discovery that embryonic stem cells can be transformed into eggs also has implications for human reproduction. For example, it could make human reproductive cloning unnecessary. How? Proponents of reproductive cloning have always believed that it would be a little-used niche treatment for infertility. Now researchers agree that it should be possible to transform embryonic stem cells not only into eggs, but into sperm as well.

One possible future scenario would have an infertile couple using eggs derived from previously existing stem cell lines to produce their own embryonic stem cells. These new stem cells with the genetic material derived from the man and the woman could be transformed into eggs and sperm that could then be combined to form an embryo.

The new embryo containing genes from both the man and woman, just like a conventionally produced embryo, could then be implanted in the woman's womb. Gay couples could also use the same technique to produce children sharing both their genes. Of course, this should only be done once the technique has been proven to work safely.

Finally, the discovery of how to transform stem cells into eggs might derail the pernicious anti-cloning bill that has already been passed twice by the House of Representatives and is still pending in the Senate. The pace of biomedical progress may well outstrip the efforts of those who are trying to stifle it.

(Ronald Bailey is Reason magazine's science correspondent.)

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