- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 8, 2005

Is a deal a deal?

Perhaps it is contrary to the world’s best interests to prosecuteAugustoPinochet (“Pinochet placed under house arrest,” World Scene, World, Thursday) on human-rights grounds, since this would establish a precedent that would encourage future dictators to hold onto office, rather than, as Gen. Pinochet did, offer the public the chance to switch to democracy on the condition that the dictator be granted amnesty.

The people voted for democracy and amnesty. Gen. Pinochet held up his side of the deal, and democracy was restored bloodlessly. Now the people want to renege on the amnesty part and prosecute him.

It shows other dictators that you can’t trust a democracy, so they must hold on to power at all costs. No more peaceful transfer of power.

JAMES KEEFER

San Francisco

Safety of biotech foods

Henry Miller and Gregory Conko’s effort to paint the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology as an anti-biotechnology activist group (“Pew’s parallel universe,” Commentary, Thursday) is both wrong and regrettable.

I’ve participated in several of the Pew Initiative’s conferences and read its reports, and I’ve always found it to be balanced, unbiased and informative. Indeed, I believe that the work done by the Pew Initiative is exactly the kind of painstaking, thoughtful work that is going to have to take place if biotechnology is going to be accepted throughout the world.

If Mr. Miller and Mr. Conko truly believe there is no “genuine controversy” over biotech foods, I wish they had attended with me the workshop sponsored by the initiative in Mexico City in 2003. I can assure them that Mexican citizens were very concerned about reports that native strains of maize had been “contaminated” with genetically modified varieties.

The Pew Initiative workshop was the first to bring together leading U.S. and Mexican scientists and other experts in a public session to discuss the issues in an open, balanced and constructive way. I can think of few other groups with the credibility to have brought such diverse voices together.

No unbiased observer sampling opinions in Mexico or Europe could possibly conclude that there is no “genuine controversy,” regardless of how senseless they might believe that controversy to be. Indeed, those who make such assertions seem themselves to be living in a “parallel universe,” out of touch with the reality of public opinion.

Certainly, public fears over the safety of biotechnology are largely misplaced, and the public’s lack of information about biotechnology is regrettable. But that’s precisely the reason we need more activities such as those supported by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology — not fewer.

But belligerence, inflammatory language, name-calling and labeling people trying to improve the situation by providing reliable information “putrescent activists” are certainly not going to help make the situation better. Passion is fine in its place, but people need more thoughtfulness, civility and consideration if they are going to be able to make objective decisions for themselves.

DR. PETER RAVEN

Director

Missouri Botanical Garden

St. Louis

Safeguarding public lands

An Associated Press article (“Bonds fall short on oil, gas leases,” Nation, Dec. 27) made the assertion that taxpayers could be left with a liability of as much as $1 billion if companies with federal oil and gas leases renege on their cleanup responsibilities.

The article’s contention is based on an apocalyptic scenario under which all such companies default on their bonds, which is as likely as all homeowners simultaneously defaulting on their mortgage loans.

The Bureau of Land Management, which manages 700 million acres of subsurface mineral property across the nation, is committed to environmentally sound energy development on public lands.

As part of that commitment, the BLM requires companies to obtain bonds to ensure that wells are plugged and the land is reclaimed when oil and gas operations are complete.

The agency’s bonding policy is sound, as evidenced by the fact that over the past five years, the BLM has had to spend only $2.2 million from the $132 million secured by bonds placed with the bureau to properly plug wells and reclaim the land.

A bonding policy that tolerated no financial risk would not only be unfeasible, but also would be counterproductive to taxpayers’ best interests. It should be kept in mind that the BLM, an agency of the Interior Department, collects more than $1 billion a year in royalties and rental fees from those conducting oil and gas operations on federal lands.

That revenue, which is shared with the states in which the oil and gas is produced, far exceeds the amount of money the BLM has had to spend to carry out plugging and reclamation in cases where operators have defaulted on their bonds.

Even so, the BLM always seeks to minimize risks to taxpayers, which is why the agency has increased 35 bonds over the past five years, requiring companies to post an additional $3.6 million.

The BLM will continue to safeguard the interests of taxpayers by managing activities on the nation’s public lands, including energy development, in an environmentally and fiscally sound manner.

JAMES M. HUGHES

Deputy director for programs

and policy

Bureau of Land Management

U.S. Department of the Interior

Washington

Protect against activist judges

The article “Rehnquist backs life tenure for judges” (Page 1, Jan. 1) is disturbing. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist believes judges should not be punished by Congress because of their decisions and lifetime tenure is needed to protect their independence.

Unfortunately, Chief Justice Rehnquist has forgotten that the intention of the Founding Fathers in writing the Constitution was for the legislative branch to be the most important and most powerful branch and the judiciary the least important and least powerful.

The Constitution places many functions of the judiciary under the oversight of the legislative and executive branches, but the judiciary has no oversight power over the other branches. Because our constitutional republic was to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people, our Founders knew that the most powerful branch needed to be chosen by the people and, as such, accountable to the people.

The judiciary, on the other hand, is not accountable to the people and therefore should be the weakest branch of the government. Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers that “the Judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of power … the general liberty of the people can never be endangered from that quarter.”

Although the judiciary was given the authority to review laws and judge them against the Constitution, it was to do so, as Hamilton stated, as “faithful guardians of the Constitution.”

Unfortunately, this is where the judicial branch has gone astray. Laws were to be judged only against the specific, self-evident wording of the Constitution and no more; to do otherwise would make judges policy-makers.

Hamilton stated that the judiciary was forbidden to substitute its own pleasure for the constitutional intentions of the legislature. Instead of protecting our inalienable rights stated in the Constitution, the judiciary has removed them without any accountability to the people.

Our only recourse is for Congress to do its constitutional duty and remove activist judges.

CARL RUGGIERO

Stafford, Va.

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