Friday, December 8, 2006

Business as Usual

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Columnist Robert Novak, perhaps best known these days for his involvement in revealing the identity of Valerie Plame (Wilson) as a CIA operative, has uncovered another fetid example of "business as usual" in the halls of Congress. As he writes in his "Evans-Novak Political Report" for December 6, 2006, his latest exposé concerns, "a patent measure that looks like a technical change to an obscure section of the U.S. Code . . ., but it is an illustration of how Washington works at its worst."

The measure involves giving a solitary business, the Medicines Company, the ability to extend its patent retroactively. This hardly seems important. The firm's lawyers were one day too late in 2001 in filing the patent extension paperwork for its heart drug, AngioMax, so what? However, the error could end up costing the company $500 million in profits after the original patent expires in 2010. The extension, if granted, would allow the Medicines Company to monopolize the manufacture and sale of AngioMax until 2014 or 2015. Once the patent expires, whether earlier or later, other drug companies will be able to produce a cheaper, generic version.

One would think that the Medicines Company would sue its lawyers for their delinquency in filing the paperwork, but instead, it has hired high-priced Washington lobbyists to get Congress to grant them a retroactive, five-day extension of the deadline by adding it as a measure to another bill. As Novak writes, "But the blatant wheeling and dealing in order to get special treatment offers a rare window into the disturbing bipartisan self-dealing that goes on in Washignton [sic]."

The measure is being sponsored by two Republicans from Tennessee and two Democrats from Massachusetts, a wondrous bipartisan achievement in itself. On September 14, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property held a hearing on this measure, which one objector snidely named the "Sorry-I'm-Late-the-Dog-Ate-My-Homework Act." Testimony clearly revealed that the bill was designed to benefit only one company—and solely because this company had the good fortune of hiring the best lobbyists money could buy. Nevertheless, the measure was not blocked.

Presently, its backers want to attach the measure to a bill concerning designs for ship hulls, one authored by Texas Senator John Cornyn, a Republican. The lobbyists and sponsors have chosen Cornyn's bill because he is one of only a handful of senators that would likely object to the patent measure, and he would not want to hold up his bill just to stymie the passage of the one provision. Thus, it will probably pass into American law.

Except in terms of the dollar amounts involved, how is the Medicines Company's lawyers' error any different from Joe Citizen's failure to postmark his tax return before midnight on April 15? What right does he have to lobby Congress to erase his delinquency? None. He is required by law to pay whatever fine or interest that accrues due to his error. Why should this business, though it undoubtedly generates millions of dollars of commerce each year, be able to both rectify and profit from its own error?

But despite what our founding documents might say, there is no equality under the law in the United States of America. Using plenty of money, connections, and power as lubricants, a corporation can slip its preferences into the law to the exclusion of all others. This is nothing new. It has been happening in this country since its earliest days, but it is disheartening to see such pandering and peddling of influence being done so brazenly and matter-of-factly.

Such a thing is a fulfillment of the prophecies of Amos, which deal largely with matters of social injustice and corruption. The prophet rails against the wealthy and powerful "sell[ing] the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals" (Amos 2:6), and "afflicting the just and taking bribes; diverting the poor from justice at the gate" (Amos 5:12). He paints a picture of a people groaning under the oppression and corruption of its own leaders, "notable persons in the chief nation" (Amos 6:1). The leadership lives luxuriously, seemingly unaware and unconcerned that the nation is disintegrating under them and that the common people are suffering. Why should they worry? They have everything they want, and no calamity can touch them.

Yet, they leave God out of the picture because they have forgotten Him. Seeing how they afflict and take advantage of their own people, He promises:

For behold, the LORD gives a command: He will break the great house into bits, and the little house into pieces. . . . "I will raise up a nation against you, O house of Israel," says the LORD God of hosts; "and they will afflict you from the entrance of Hamath to the Valley of the Arabah [from north to south]" (Amos 6:11, 14).

Notice that He promises to "break . . . the little house into pieces" too, which might seem unfair to the oppressed and afflicted who lived in those little houses. However, God is just, and He sees the hearts of all. Evidently, He discerns that the sins of both high and low, wealthy and poor, are merely matters of degree. Were the poor and downtrodden in the same positions as the wealthy and powerful, they would commit the same sins and crimes. As Isaiah puts it, the whole nation is sick—full of sin—from head to toe (Isaiah 1:5-6).

Would we do the same as the Medicines Company if we were in its place? Psalm 15 says that a person who will be allowed to dwell in God's holy hill "swears to his own hurt and does not change" (verse 4). This is a principle of godly character, applicable in this situation. In other words, a Christian takes his lumps, as it were, when he makes a mistake, even if it hurts. He does not try to work against or around the law to benefit himself at the expense of others. This is an attitude that imitates that of Jesus, who "when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously" (I Peter 2:23).

In Washington, it will unfortunately continue to be business as usual. What will it be in our house?

Friday, December 1, 2006

A Day of Inconvenient Truths

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Former presidential candidate and senator from Tennessee, Albert Gore, Jr., spent the first half of 2006 jet setting throughout the United States and Europe to tout his new documentary,
An Inconvenient Truth. In it, he proclaimed the end of the world as we know it, but despite his Bible Belt origins, his apocalyptic vision does not include even a whiff of biblical prophecy. He is a proponent of sudden, disastrous, worldwide climate change due to global warming, the kind imagined in another recent movie, The Day After Tomorrow. So, any day now—perhaps even as soon as this coming Sunday—everyone north of the Tropic of Cancer or thereabouts will either be frozen solid or huddled, shivering and blue, in their own custom igloos.

The irony of the Gore movie's title is delicious, right alongside Bill "The Gambler" Bennett's Book of Virtues and the late Sam Walton's Made in America. An Inconvenient Truth purports to marshal the facts on global warming and predicts the dire consequences of ignoring them. Yet, the movie itself turns a blind eye to the mounds of scientific evidence that contradict its premise. They are themselves rather inconvenient.

For instance, the Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels has written two well-documented books, The Satanic Gases and Meltdown, both of which conclusively explain that, while there has been some increase in global temperatures over the past few decades, the warming trend has been quite gradual and natural—and certainly will not produce catastrophic results. In fact, temperatures rose much more rapidly in the decades before 1940, and there were no adverse effects then. Michaels' offerings are just a few of the many books and studies published in the last few years to balance the environmentalist left's Chicken Little scenario.

That is exactly what it is: a fake crisis, based loosely on debatable science, promoted to advance a political agenda. As Michael Crichton explained in his book, State of Fear, movers and shakers of all stripes have learned that manufacturing crises, producing doubt and fear in the populace, opens the electorate to suggestion and manipulation. Although these influential members of society and advocacy groups assert the truth is on their side, they really care little about it. Their first rule is "the ends justify the means."

In the past few weeks, another issue has moved forward in the face of inconvenient facts. New York Congressman Charlie Rangel, a Democrat and soon-to-be powerful House Ways and Means Committee Chairman, has pledged to introduce a bill to reinstate involuntary conscription to the U.S. military—the draft. The crisis he has created, along with willing abettors in the mainstream media, is that of class warfare. He claims that the poor and disadvantaged comprise a disproportional percentage of the armed forces. In other words, the wealthy and elite in this country do not contribute their fair share to the nation's defense in terms of manpower.

What are the inconvenient truths that Rangel ignores? The Heritage Foundation's Dr. Tim Kane has engaged in an exhaustive study of the composition of U.S. military recruits since 1999. He and his associates have found that Representative Rangel has reached the exact opposite conclusion to the facts. For instance, Kane's "Who Are the Recruits? The Demographic Characteristics of U.S. Military Enlistment, 2003–2005" relates:

The current findings show that the demographic characteristics of volunteers have continued to show signs of higher, not lower, quality. . . . Those who have been so quick to suggest that today's wartime recruits represent lesser quality, lower standards, or lower class should be expected [to] make an airtight case. Instead, they have cited selective evidence, which is balanced by a much clearer set of evidence showing improving troop quality.

. . . For example, it is commonly claimed that the military relies on recruits from poorer neighborhoods because the wealthy will not risk death in war. This claim has been advanced without any rigorous evidence. Our review of Pentagon enlistee data shows that the only group that is lowering its participation in the military is the poor. The percentage of recruits from the poorest American neighborhoods (with one-fifth of the U.S. population) declined from 18 percent in 1999 to 14.6 percent in 2003, 14.1 percent in 2004, and 13.7 percent in 2005. . . .

In summary, the additional years of recruit data (2004–2005) support the previous finding that U.S. military recruits are more similar than dissimilar to the American youth population. The slight differences are that wartime U.S. military enlistees are better educated, wealthier, and more rural on average than their civilian peers. (Emphasis ours.)

What is Representative Rangel up to? How can he ignore such obvious facts? He is advancing a political agenda to punish the wealthy and privileged, as he imagines them, and to extort money and benefits for his poor and downtrodden constituents, as they are only in his own mind. Stripped of all its rhetoric, his proposal is sheer socialism, arbitrarily redistributing wealth and advantage to those who have shown no inclination to earn it for themselves. But then, socialists have never let the truth weigh them down.

As Christians, as keepers of the Ten Commandments, we are bound to the truth. Whatever kind of truth it is—religious, scientific, political, social, financial—we must give it its due regard. Yet, we live in a nation—in a world—in which the pursuit and respect for truth is waning and almost gone. God says through Jeremiah: "'And like their bow they have bent their tongues for lies. They are not valiant for the truth on the earth. For they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me,' says the LORD" (Jeremiah 9:3).

But we do know Him, and we have a responsibility to "buy the truth, and sell it not" (Proverbs 23:23, KJV). As liars and deceivers increase (II Timothy 3:13), we must be on the lookout for those who press on with their agendas despite the inconvenient truths of reality. No good end will come on those whose lives are built on lies.