Renewed fight between Chinese merchants and animal rights activists

Just when it looked like animal
rights activists and merchants in San Francisco’s Chinatown had reached
an uneasy truce, once again the two groups are squaring off over the sale
of live animals in Chinatown’s markets.

For a brief recap, the animal
activists charged live animals being offered for sale in the markets were
being treated cruelly. The merchants argued the activists were interfering
with their traditional cultural practices. The activists sued, but the
whole issue appeared to be resolved when the merchants agreed to abide
by a voluntary code of conduct and the activists agreed, in return, not
to appeal a judge’s ruling against the activists.

The whole agreement broke
down, however, over hard-shell turtles. The merchants currently remove
the turtle’s shell and then cut off the animal’s head, which the
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals considers cruel. Instead,
it wants the merchants to cut off the turtle’s head first and then remove
the shell. The merchants argue that because turtles instinctively withdraw
their heads into their shells, trying to cut the head off before removing
the shell is too dangerous.

The markets are very crowded,
and “when you try to chop off (the head)while your finger is right
next to the butcher knife, you have to beware of the workers walking back
and forth behind you,” said Michael Lau who works in the market.
“Sooner or later you’ll chop off something besides the head.”

The ASPCA accuses the merchants
of failing to meet an October deadline for adopting humane practices on
the storage and slaughter of frogs and soft-shell turtles. The merchants,
in response, say the ASPCA never really gave them a fair shot at resolving
the implementation problems.

The ASPCA is now apparently
going to join animal rights groups appealing to the California Fish and
Game Commission seeking legislation to regulate the markets’ treatment
of live animals.

Poverty In America: Are They Serious?

       Leftist social criticism of the
American economy usually follows two contradictory impulses — on the
one hand American citizens are lambasted for being greedy consumers of
most of the world’s resources. On the other hand, tens of millions of
Americans allegedly live in Third World-style squalor. Some critics go
so far as to charge that 30 million Americans suffer from hunger.

       The two conflicting views were
highlighted in the recent release of new Census Bureau statistics on American
poverty and a United Nations Human Development Report. Everyone from the
Pope to the Heritage Foundation responded by weighing in on the issue
of poverty in America and the world.

       The Census Bureau statistics on
poverty were promising but still highly misleading. According to the most
recent report, 35.6 million Americans (13.3 percent of the population)
lived below the poverty line in 1996. This figure represented the third
straight annual decline in the poverty rate. Median family income increased
1.9 percent after inflation, with black families seeing median income
jump 4.3 percent after inflation. Another interesting trend in the Census
Bureau’s statistics that Christian Science Monitor reporter Laurent
Belsie picked up on is the emergence of what she calls the “mass
upper class.” In 1967, 3.2 percent of all families earned at least
$100,000 while in 1996 the figure was 11.8 percent — an amazing increase
in only three decades.

       But for now lets stick with the
poor. Just how poor are America’s poor? Are they the overconsumptive spoiled
First Worlders the Left loves to despise, or are they the oppressed, struggling
Third Worlders the Left loves to romanticize?

       Certainly there is no denying that
real poverty continues to persist in the United States. By historical
and contemporary economic standards, however, many of those counted as
living in poverty by the Census Bureau possess relatively high standards
of living.

       In 1995, for example, 41 percent
of households living in poverty owned their own home. Seventy percent
owned a car. Only 3 percent of poor households said they “often”
didnt have enough to eat, and in fact the overwhelming
nutritional problem suffered by those living in poverty (as with other
Americans) was obesity rather than malnutrition.

       How can this possibly be? How could
someone be officially listed in poverty and yet own a home, car, TV and
VCR, and eat just as well as the upper class? What’s going on here?

       As the Heritage Foundation’s Robert
Rector notes, the problem is with the way the Census Bureau chooses to
measure poverty. In the early l960s the Census Bureau set up specific
income thresholds for families of various sizes; any family below those
thresholds was considered poor. Any family of four making less than $3,100
in 1963 and $16,404 in 1997, for example, would be considered poor. Left-wing
groups, unsatisfied with those levels, often define poverty at even higher
income levels, with a popular definition of poverty being 150% of the
official poverty rate or about $24,000 for a family of four in 1997.

       The main problem with the Census
Bureau’s method is that it dramatically undercounts the financial resources
of the people it classifies as “poor.” As Rector points out,
the problem becomes immediately obvious by comparing the total personal
income in the United States as measured by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s
National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA) with the figure arrived at
by the Census Bureau. Whereas NIPA reported total personal income in1996
at $6.8 trillion, the Census Bureau’s official figure was only $4.8 trillion
— a whopping difference of $2 trillion (larger, Rector points out, than
some national economies.)

       Not all of this $2 trillion belongs
to the poorest Americans, but a significant portion of it does. According
to the Census Department, for example, those in the bottom fifth of income
earned an average of $8,350, but according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s
Consumer Expenditure Survey, the average household in this group spend
$14,607. This gap of about $1.75 in spending reported by the Dept. of
Labor for every $1 of income reported by the Census Bureau has generally
persisted throughout the l980s and l990s.

       As Rector notes, this figure itself
is also too low, since the Department of Labor survey leaves out most
governmental transfer spending such as public housing and health subsides.
Add those in, and the average household income of the bottom
fifth of Americans is $20,335.

       Now things seem to make a bit more
sense. It’s hard to imagine how people could afford to own their own homes
making only $8,350 a year, but if in fact they have $20,335 in resources,
these figures about home and car ownership as well as the figures about
food consumption suddenly make sense.

       Rector is certainly correct that
if “poverty is defined as generally lacking adequate nutritious food
for one’s family suitable clothing, and a reasonably warm, dry apartment
in which to live, or lacking a car to get to work when one is needed,
then there are few poor persons remaining in the United States.”

Don’t hate us because we’re rich

       Now I happen to think it is an incredibly
good thing that the bottom quintile of Americans has an average of $20,000
per year in income. The United Nations and the Pope happen to disagree.
As my local newspaper chose to sum it up, the UN’s most recent Human Development
Report bemoaned that “the rich consume the resources.”

       According to the UN report, not
only do First Worlders consume most of the resources, but they pass along
environmental damage to the Third World. “All over the world,”
the report declared, “poor people generally live nearest to dirty
factories, busy roads and waste dumps.” Richard Jolly, the report’s
chief author, told reporters “though the rich create most of the
damage, the poorest in the world suffer most of the consequences.”

       But this merely begs the question.
Why are the world’s poor so poor? Why do they consume so few resources?
Looking at who the poor are tells much of the story. The poorest 10 countries
in the UN’s report were Sierra Leone, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Burundi,
Ethiopia, Eritrea, Guinea, Mozambique and Gambia. All ten are among the
most poorly managed countries in the world. Marked by petty dictators,
often constant civil wars and a legacy of failed socialist experiments,
these ten countries would be among the worst places in the world to live
even if they weren’t dirt poor.

       As Investor’s Business Daily
put it, “Why work hard and start a business if the state can seize
it when it becomes prosperous … That’s the real problem most poor countries
face … It’s that the incentives are all wrong. A country doesn’t need
much to develop. But it must have private property and the rule of law.”

       Which puts the Pope’s comments that
the contrast between the world’s rich and poor is “truly intolerable.”
John Paul II told a gathering of the faithful in September, “It is
isn’t right to be resigned to the immoral spectacle of a world in which
there are still those who die of hunger, who don’t have homes, who lack
the most elementary education, who don’t have access to health care in
case of sickness, who cannot find work.”

       Certainly this is a great crime,
but it is not one that the First World is guilty of. Instead, blame lies
squarely at the feet of Third World governments more intent on enriching
their own coffers and expanding state power rather than improving the
livelihood of their citizens.

       Which, finally, provides an answer
to the UN’s lament that the First World uses most of the worlds resources.
Why? Because the First World produces most of the world’s resources.

       The UN Human Development Report
notes, for example, that only 20 percent of the world has 74% of all of
the telephone lines. This did not happen because the First World stole
telephone lines from the Third World, but because the First World allowed
telephone companies to operate relatively independently (at least compared
to the state-run behemoths present in many Third World nations) and respond
to consumer demand, rather than the demands of the state.

       It is the same with the UN factoid
that the richest 20 percent in the world own 87% of the world’s vehicles.
The First World let entrepreneurs form multitudes of automobile companies
and forced them to face often withering competition. No, the system was
never a perfectly free market, but it was light years beyond that in the
Third World where setting up a business often involves knowing the right
people and paying the right bribes and often includes the right to use
the state to restrict competition almost completely.

Health Care Coverage Declining — Thank Your Government

       For several years now, both state
and federal lawmakers tried to score points with voters by piling mandates
on health insurance plans. From setting minimum hospital stays for women
who give birth to meddling in pharmaceutical drug coverage, the political
class claimed it could snap its fingers and make health care problems
disappear.       Unfortunately the bill
for this political meddling is now past due.

       A recent survey by Dun & Bradstreet
Corp. revealed that only 39% of small businesses now provide health care
benefits to their workers compared to 46% in 1996. From l996 to 1997 the
percentage of uninsured Americans increased from l5.6% to 16.1%. Why are
more Americans uninsured? Because, once again, medical costs and health
insurance premiums are rising.

       According to a survey by KPMG Peat
Marwick, rising medical costs caused insurance premiums to jump 3.3% this
year. In an article on the growing problem, Business Week cited
Thompson Marine Transportation Co. in Morgan City, Louisiana, which operates
tugboats. Thompson Marine saw insurance premiums for its 25 workers increase
50% this year. Although most small businesses won’t drop insurance coverage
altogether, they are asking their employees to assume more of the costs
of such insurance plans. Many employees are deciding the cost is simply
too high.

       So what is the government’s big
solution to the dilemma of increasing costs of health insurance premiums?
Add more mandates. The big piece of legislation on the horizon is the
so-called Patient Bill of Rights. Proposed by President Bill Clinton,
both Democrats and Republicans are offering competing versions of legislation
that would mandate even more spending by HMOs.

       In order to keep medical costs
down, HMOs have created a private sector version of Clinton’s own 1994
proposal for reforming the health care system. HMOs decide which medical
procedures, drugs and other items they will cover. If patients want something
that isn’t approved, they’ve got to pay for themselves (which is
the primary difference with the Clinton scheme, which would have left
consumers with no way to go around the government to obtain health care).

       The various Patient Bill of Rights
make such cost controls virtually impossible. For example, one of the
ways HMOs keep medical costs under control is by authorizing emergency
room visits only for genuine life threatening emergencies. Usage of emergency
rooms for nonurgent medical problems is a serious problem — some studies
suggest that close to half of all people who go to emergency rooms do
so for routine, nonurgent care.

       The various Patient Bill of Rights
proposals eliminate the ability of HMOs to save costs by preventing such
visits. For example, if I call my HMO tonight and complain that I have
an intense headache, they will tell me to take an over-the-counter pain
killer and see a doctor the next day if the pain persists. According to
some doctors and patient advocates this is a dangerously callous attitude
– my headache could actually signify any number of life threatening conditions
such as a brain aneurysm or tumor. Any number of seemingly nonurgent symptoms,
after all, could represent a life threatening problem.

       True as that may be, any health
care system which buys into that thinking will soon find medical costs
spiraling out of control. And that’s just what the Patient Bill of
Rights proposed to do – open the floodgates of medical spending.

       The end result will be a sort of
government-sponsored shell game with health care. As HMO spending increases,
so will premiums and fewer people will be able to afford insurance. This
decline will be used to justify ever more expensive regulations, which
in turn will raise the cost of insurance and so on in a vicious cycle
that will likely be resolved only with a return to free market principles
for medicine or, more likely, the continual socialization of health care
along the lines envisioned by President Clinton’s 1994 proposals.

Do other primates deserve the same rights as human beings?

A group of New Zealand activists calling itself
the Great Ape Project of New Zealand recently asked that nation to amend
its constitution to grant great apes the same rights as human beings.
Chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and bonobos would be given the same
legal right to life and freedom from torture and invasive surgery that
humans have.

According to David Penny of the Great Ape Project,
“There is now a mountain of evidence that the great apes are as intelligent
as young human children and very similar in their emotional and cognitive
development.”

Damned if you do . . .

One of vice-president Al Gore’s big environmental
projects has been to force chemical companies to test thousands of chemicals
already on the market for toxicity – most of these chemicals were
in widespread use before modern safety regulations and thus never went
through the testing regimen that new compounds go through. The Environmental
Protection Agency pressured the Chemical Manufacturers Association into
running a battery of five animal toxicity tests on 3,000 or so chemicals.

The use of animal toxicity tests brought an
objection from the Humane Society of the United States, which wants the
EPA to use this initiative to develop and implement alternatives to animal
testing, saying among other things that “the relevance of all this
animal testing to human safety is questionable, according to several toxicologists
with whom we have conferred.”

According to HSUS, the LD50 test (which establishes
the dose level that kills 50 percent of the experimental animals) is “widely
criticized on humane and scientific grounds.”

In fact, if interpreted properly, the LD50
tests still give important information about toxicity that can’t be gleaned
solely from the tissue and cell culture alternatives that HSUS and other
animal rights organizations push.

Those tests certainly have their place,
especially for establishing potential toxicity before conducting animal
tests, but there is still an enormous gap between testing on isolated
tissues and cells and testing on a whole organism.

Tumor-destroying virus tested in mice

A reovirus that normally causes mild respiratory
infections in human beings has been found to be an effective killer of
cancerous tumors in mice.

According to a report in Science,
the reovirus uses the Ras pathway in the cells of mice, which normally
regulates cell growth. It is the Ras pathway that is activated in about
75 percent of human cancers.

Other viruses have been found to destroy tumors,
but this is the first virus that uses the Ras pathway. “This is the
pathway everyone wants to target,” said Peter Forsyth, an oncologist
at the University of Calgary. “The treatment is very effective.”

The main advantage of the reovirus is that
it doesn’t seem to affect noncancerous cells. Clinical trials in human
beings are years away, however.