- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Last we heard from Joseph Califano, it was a year ago and the former health czar under Jimmy Carter was touting a study on under-age drinking conducted by his Columbia University research center. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), fully 25 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States was by teen-agers. It was stunning news and wrong. Mr. Califano's organization had more than doubled the statistic. When called on this deception by the New York Times, CASA's director of policy research said it was an "unfortunate" error, "but we think the 11.4 percent number is way too low, since there's so much underreporting."

Given CASA's proven disdain for the facts, one would think a self-respecting publication might take pause at running another Califano-led study on drinking. But not so. The Journal of the American Medical Association carries another misleading CASA study.

Mr. Califano and his writers set the tone early on. "Although rates of alcohol use for persons aged 12 years or older have declined in the past 20 years," the authors note, "teenage drinking rates have declined little." Of course, a more optimistic way of saying that is that drinking rates have declined across-the-board.

But that would be good news, and if there's one thing Califano Inc. can't abide, it's improvement. Just as CASA sniffs that "the alcohol industry's financial viability depends to a great extent on alcohol consumption by heavy drinkers," one might say the same of CASA itself. After all, if excessive alcohol consumption shows steady decreases, then who needs Mr. Califano?

That's why Mr. Califano has made sure that drunks abound. According to the new report, anything more than one drink a day for women, or two drinks for men, constitutes "excessive drinking." And lest the reader be tempted toward skepticism, CASA quickly adds this non sequitor: "As much as half of violent crime, including murder, rape, assault, child molestation, and spouse abuse, is connected with concurrent alcohol abuse." Have that third glass of wine and the odds are 50 percent you'll kick the dog or beat your kid.

Now, we're certainly not advocating that every man, woman and child in America reach daily for a fifth. And people suffering from addiction should, of course, completely abstain. But given all the doubts that surround Mr. Califano's past work even Donna Shalala, Health and Human Services secretary under Bill Clinton, publicly chided a Califano-CASA study as "seriously flawed" and "misleading" it's hard to take him seriously. Still, if consistency is a virtue, then perhaps Mr. Califano's self-righteousness can be explained after all.


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