Author archives: Chris Gacek

Obama May Need Environmental Waivers for Spending

by Chris Gacek

January 12, 2009

A recent Los Angeles Times article makes clear that President Obama’s enormous stimulus/spending plan may run into a huge GREEN roadblock - the nation’s environmental laws and, in particular, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  NEPA was signed into law on January 1, 1970, and as Wikipedia puts it: “NEPA’s most significant effect was to set up procedural requirements for all federal government agencies to prepare Environmental Assessments (EAs) and Environmental Impact Statements (EISs). EAs and EISs contain statements of the environmental effects of proposed federal agency actions.”  If significant environmental effects are found, the government has to propose adequate ways of mitigating the harms to be caused by the project.  Spending vast sums on construction, roadway, and other infrastructure projects are certainly going trigger NEPA reviews. 

To spur jobs Governor Schwazenegger is attempting to clear environmental hurdles to various road projects that he believes “would give the state a $1.2 billion economic boost and create 22,000 jobs over the next three years.” The Governator wants to bypass environmental objections to get the projects moving.  In doing so, he “has infuriated the Sierra Club and other groups with such proposals and with a letter he sent to President-elect Barack Obama last week asking that federal environmental reviews be waived on the highway projects.” (my emphasis)

As I read this, Schawarzenegger wants the Obama administration to waive the NEPA requirements.  California’s request here is understandable, and if President Obama wants his stimulus explosion to effect the economy quickly, the Congress, the president, and the primary federal agencies for each “action” may need to waive these laws.  Otherwise, each project could get bogged down.  As Schwarzenegger noted, ” ‘What is important here is not to have projects ready [ ] three years from now, which can happen with the environmental approvals and other kind of red tape that you go through.’”

Having some familiarity with NEPA and related laws, I was beginning to wonder how its requirements were going to be met if the Obama Administration decided to seek a crash building & spending program.  Well, the article from California makes it abundantly clear that environmental regulation of the stimulus spending is going to be a real problem that the Congress will probably have to address statutorily.

Tales of Chemical Abortion in the New York Times

by Chris Gacek

January 8, 2009

 

On January 5, 2009, the New York Times carried an article (“For Privacy’s Sake, Taking Risks to End Pregnancy” by Jennifer R. Lee and Cara Buckley) describing the fact that many Dominican women in New York City are aborting using the anti-ulcer drug, misoprostol (Cytotec).  Misoprostol is also the second drug in the FDA-approved abortion regimen of mifepristone (RU-486 or Mifeprex) and misoprostol.  Using misoprostol alone is a practice that is widely found in Latin American nations because misoprostol is cheap and available in pharmacies while mifepristone is either expensive, restricted in distribution, or both.  (From some quick web research: RU-486 does not appear to be approved in many Latin American nations; it isn’t even approved in Canada.)

Access to RU-486 is tightly controlled in the United States, but misoprostol is sold in drug stores as an anti-ulcer medication for people who take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).  In New York City “women can obtain the pills either through pharmacies that are willing to bend the rules and provide the medicine without a prescription or by having the drugs shipped from overseas.”

The RU-486 regimen was developed so that mifepristone could chemically end the pregnancy’s development while relying on misoprostol to then bring about the violent uterine contractions needed to expel the “products of conception.”  With misoprostol-only abortions the mifepristone-related chemical action does not occur, and abortions, like those reported in the article, depend primarily on termination based on contractions and expulsion.  Because of the dual action, RU-486 abortions are more effective than misoprostol-only abortions, but even they fail 3-5% of the time.

To their credit, Lee and Buckley do note that misoprostol abortions have “side effects” that “can be serious, and include rupture of the uterus, severe bleeding and shock.”  The article also quotes a doctor who has studied misoprostol abortions in New York City where “he saw a lot of Dominican immigrants with incomplete abortions in the emergency room.” 

Of course, this is the pattern that we at FRC, along with doctors from the American Association of Pro Life Ob/Gyns (“AAPLOG”), have observed.  We analyzed RU-486 adverse event reports obtained from the FDA via the Freedom of Information Act.  Many chemical abortions do not complete themselves and women are forced to seek out emergency room care while they are tremendously sick.  Blood loss can be significant sometimes requiring transfusions.

Instead of portraying these abortions as events that end the life of a human being while abusing the bodies of the women who have them, chemical abortions are portrayed in a benign light in the article.  But the reality is much different. 

For more on RU-486 abortions and the drug’s U.S. approval, download Politicized Science: The Manipulated Approval of RU-486 and Its Dangers to Women’s Health.

Viacom-Time Warner Cable Cut Deal for Price Increases

by Chris Gacek

January 6, 2009

Last week, cable giant Time Warner “negotiated” a deal to keep showing Viacom’s channels after December 31, 2008.  As a Los Angeles Times article indicated the companies were battling hard with Viacom threatening to turn off kid’s shows to get their money:

Viacom had purchased newspaper advertisements, featuring a tearful Dora the Explorer, and placed an on-screen crawl on its channels to alert viewers to the impending programming blackout. The ads encouraged viewers to complain to Time Warner Cable.”

“The tactic worked — parents reported having to soothe children who were upset over the prospect of not being able to watch their favorite shows on Nickelodeon, including ‘SpongeBob SquarePants.’” 

Emotional blackmailers of children - in which circle of Hell did Dante place such scoundrels?  Not a pleasant one I’ll bet.

Well, of course, Time Warner capitulated and agreed to a 12% increase for the Viacom channels.  Under the old agreement, for example, Viacom received about 32 cents per subscriber per month from cable operators for MTV.  If you didn’t want MTV - tough.  Time Warner carries Viacom channels into 13.3 million houses, so one-third of a dollar per month per subscriber ain’t chicken feed.

Unfortunately, the mechanism to protect consumers from such price increases, manipulation of children, and unwanted purchases of cable channels is not in place.  What would that be?  It is having the power to refuse to purchase and pay for cable channels. 

This episode points to the need for consumer choice in cable TV channel selection.  If cable subscribers had that power - - SpongeBob SquarePants would probably be the one who would need some serious consolation right now after many adults turned him off and pocketed the change.

More on the Crushing Costs of Higher Education

by Chris Gacek

December 12, 2008

As a follow-up to my earlier post on the growing unaffordability of higher education and its effects on families, I bring your attention to a Wall Street Journal article.  The author, Philip Shiskin, writes, “As the economy shrinks, joblessness expands and small-business owners lose income, many students and their parents are struggling to make payments for the second half of the academic year, which are typically due this month or in January.”  The story describes one parent who is carrying $100,000 in debt for her three children while planning to fund a fourth child.  Finally, it seems standard now that a good private college or university will be cost $50,000 per year.  In my opinion, this “business model” is completely unsustainable and is crushing parents and young adults across America.

Higher Education’s Broken Business Model

by Chris Gacek

December 8, 2008

    Jay Ambrose has written an important column about a recent study publicizing the skyrocketing costs of higher education.  Ambrose’s article discussed the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education’s recent report, “Mearusing Up 2008”.  “Measuring Up” makes it clear that the higher education business model is broken - like a lot of American institutions, it seems.  These hard realities are underscored by the current economic downturn.

    From 1982-2007, college costs increased 439% while median family income went up only 147%.  Of course, such numbers are always subject to various adjustments and corrections, but that it is a huge disparity that reflects what we have all observed.  College costs are out of control. The New York Times has also discussed the report here and here.

    Ambrose notes that some leaders in the educational establishment want more government money, but he correctly points out that “government assistance and student loan programs have contributed to the inflationary spiral at these institutions already, supporting them in their bad, old ways and keeping them from needed reform.”  There is a great deal of truth in this observation.

    Finally, Ambrose reiterates a point made by Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute, and with which I agree, that a major restructuring of college education may be in the offing.  It may be time for us to consider training professionals - like accountants, financial advisers, software engineers, nurses - with a combination of online education and apprenticeships.  A larger point is this:  the universal four-year liberal arts education may have become economically untenable given the debt levels students are being forced to bear post-graduation.  If the federal government would like to do something, it should construct aid programs that force colleges to compete for federal aid monies and students based on affordable tuition prices and cost containment.

Two Important Pieces from the Washington Times

by Chris Gacek

December 2, 2008

Over the extended holiday weekend, the Washington Times published an editorial and a commentary piece that are well worth reading:

  • The Times editorial appeared on Friday, November 28, and was entitled “Judicial Imperialism.”  First, the paper discusses the worrying ramifications of the recent settlement by eHarmony, a California company, which was forced by the state of New Jersey to offer dating services to gay customers in New Jersey.  Second, the editorial discusses the dangerous and illegitimate effort to have the California Supreme Court thwart the will of the Golden State’s voters and declare its recently-passed marriage amendment unconstitutional. 
  • The commentary piece was authored by Jeffrey T. Kuhner.  His first Sunday opinion column with the Times was published on September 28th.  In Kuhner’s latest, entitled “Obama vs. Pope Benedict,” he recognizes the struggle that may erupt between Mr. Obama and the Pope should the new administration pass the Freedom of Choice Act.  He sets the stage as follows:

Mr. Obama signing the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) “would be the equivalent of a war,” a senior Vatican official told Time magazine last week. “It would be like saying, ‘We’ve heard the Catholic Church and we have no interest in their concerns.’ ”

FRC Submits Comments to HHS on Conscience Protection

by Chris Gacek

October 5, 2008

      On August 26, 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) asked the public for comments about rules it proposed to protect the rights of conscience of health care providers - in particular, to permit them to refuse to assist in, provide, or refer patients for abortions.  These conscience rights were created by three historic federal statutes known more commonly as the Church, Coats, and Weldon Amendments.

     The Family Research Council and several other groups filed comments on September 25th responding to HHS.  Get a copy of them here.

     Here is a summary of our main points:

  • HHS’s proposed rules (regulations) are needed because many participants in the health care system are violating the Church, Coats, and Weldon Amendments. Many intended beneficiaries of these landmark civil rights laws - intended to protect health care providers’ right of religious and moral conscience - do not know their rights under the law. HHS regulations are needed to clarify the extent of these statutory protections.
  • HHS should adopt a fertilization-based definition of pregnancy (and thus abortion) because that is consistent with the prevailing medical dictionary definitions, religious thought, and medical science on when life begins: these are, after all, conscience protections, so they should protect the conscience’s of the various health care providers.
  • Even if HHS does not adopt a fertilization-based definition of pregnancy, it should reject the implantation-based definition in HHS’s human-subject regulations for a number of reasons.

 o   For example, non-uterine, ectopic pregnancies demonstrate that uterine implantation cannot define the onset of pregnancy.

  • As a final alternative, HHS should recognize that the reasonable, subjective religious or moral conviction of the individual or institutional health care provider should govern, given the statutory focus on protecting conscience. Religious freedom and conscience in this country plainly reflect the views of the individual or institution, not the views of third parties.
  • Recognizing a right of conscience does not discriminate against women or violate any concepts mandated in Roe v. Wade and its progeny which do not purport to require any particular health care provider to participate in abortions.
  • HHS should enforce the Church, Coats, and Weldon Amendments in the same manner as it enforces other civil rights statutes, like Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
  • HHS’s Title X regulations, which require grant recipients to counsel and refer for abortions, appear to violate the law as set forth in the Church, Coats, and Weldon Amendments.

 

 

HHS Proposed Conscience Regs Published in Federal Register

by Chris Gacek

August 26, 2008

Today, the Federal Register published the Department of Health and Human Services’ notice of proposed rulemaking that seeks to ensure that HHS “funds do not support coercive or discriminatory policies or practices in violation of federal law” (lower case mine). The notice for these proposed conscience protection rules can be found in PDF via this link. The deadline for filing comments is September 25, 2008.

HHS Announces Conscience Protection Regulations

by Chris Gacek

August 22, 2008

Julia Duin (Washington Times) has written a fair article today on the proposed regulations that HHS will publish soon in the Federal Register and which are designed to “protect doctors and other health care professionals from being fired or discriminated against for refusing to provide abortions for conscience or religious reasons.” HHS Secretary Michael O. Leavitt has blogged about the regulations and the reasons that make their promulgation necessary. A draft copy of the proposed regulations is available from Sec. Levitt’s blog using this link. Yesterday, Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, released this statement.

More Gossip

by Chris Gacek

July 25, 2008

Back on May 5, 2008, I posted a blog note about the sleazy TV show - “Gossip Girl.” Well, Gossip Girl is in the news again - see the article in Newsweek. It appears that the geniuses who produce this sleazefest have decided to quote the show’s critics in advertising posters promoting the new season of raunch. So, for example, one ad quotes Parents Television Council which had called the program, “Mind-Blowingly Inappropriate.” If you have the maturity of a 14-year-old boy this is probably mind-bogglingly clever.

I prefer to see these ads as another a piece of evidence that this country needs cable choice (a la carte) more than ever. Parents need to be able to block networks like CW - even though it is a broadcast channel - from entering their home. Perhaps then the folks at CW and Gossip Girl will be less like likely to mock the decent Americans who really do care about the welfare of teenagers and young adults more than the prospect of selling ads and making buckets of money. Oh, sorry, I should have said - producing great art.

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