Hillary Clinton Denounces Forced Family Planning at Hague Forum

“Today I hope we can agree first and foremost that government has no place
in the personal decisions a woman makes about whether to bring a child into the
world,” U.S. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton told the delegates at the
Hague Forum. The Hague Forum is a meeting of government and non-government representatives
discussing the progress the world has made on population issues since 1994s UN
Conference on Population in Cairo, Egypt.

When it comes to family size, “that is a decision that should be made
freely and responsibly without government coercion,” Clinton said.

The Hague Forum produced the usual round of commentary about overpopulation.
The Boston Globe, for example, followed Paul Ehrlich’s lead with its editorial,
“A population Bomb.” World population will continue to boom, despite
the ongoing decline in total fertility rates, unless the United States increases
its family planning assistance to developing nations.

On the other side were conservatives such as Jay Ambrose who noted “Lester
Brown of the World Watch Institute is still watching and still announcing how
close we all have come to endless midnight, though … statistics still
show human welfare improving virtually any direction you look.”

There might be some middle ground here, though. Clinton, the Globe and Ambrose
all agreed that increasing the status and health options of women is of fundamental
importance for the 21st century.

Sources:

Hillary Clinton urges an end to forced family planning. Mike Corder, Associated
Press, February 9, 1999.

Population summit. Jay Ambrose, Scripps Howard News Service, February 9, 1999.

A population time bomb. Boston Globe, February 8, 1999.

Gas Prices Hit Another All-Time Low in the United States

Gasoline prices in the United States reached an all-time inflation-adjusted
low in February, dropping to less than $1 per gallon nationwide. The average
cost of gasoline for all grades and including taxes reached 99.8 cents per gallon
on February 18 according to the Lundberg Survey of 10,000 gas stations nationwide.

After 18 months of perpetually declining prices, however, gas prices might
soon begin to inch upwards. “The price cutting is faster and deeper than it’s
been so far this year, but it is probably fizzing out,” Trilby Lundberg
told the Associated Press. “Behind the average price fall are a few lonely
no-change (prices) or price hikes here and there, from which I infer that retailers
and their suppliers can’t take it anymore.”

Add increased demand in the spring along with pollution control measures that
will likely add to the cost of gas, and American consumers will likely see an
upward correction over the next few months.

So much for those who 3 years ago were predicting an imminent oil shortage
and massive price hikes.

Source:

Gas prices dip to less than $1. Associated Press, February 21, 1999.

India, Poland Good Examples of What Not to Do

India and Poland recently made world news with protests in both countries over
food prices. Both nations, though publicly committing themselves to move away
from socialist-style economies continue to heavily subsidize agriculture as
well as set prices for food.

In Poland, farmers held strikes and set up roadblocks to demand higher prices
for food. Poland is reforming and privatizing is state-run enterprises as it
heads toward European Union membership. Unfortunately, decades of communist
mismanagement of the agricultural sector mean Polish farmers aren’t even
close to being competitive with other European growers, and they fear being
put out of business by cheaper imports from other EU nations.

The farmers solution? Force Polish government (and thereby consumers) to purchase
food from farmers at an extremely high price in order to protect Polish farmers
from competition. The Polish government seems likely to go along with this nonsense.

This is a disastrous policy for several reasons. First, contrary to the Associated
Press’ Andrzej Stylinski who wrote the protests “illustrate that
many are worried about tougher competition that threatens living standards,”
if allowed to flourish agricultural competition will enhance Polish living standards.
Although farmers will experience some short-term financial problems, this would
be more than made up by the benefits to the entire nation of lower food prices.

Second, such subsidies have proven to be long-term albatrosses around the
neck of consumers wherever they have been implemented. The political pressure
which creates them also makes it very difficult to ever remove them, and as
a result once large subsidies are in place the impetus to modernize and become
competitive is lost. Even in the United States, which has a comparatively free
market system, agricultural subsidies passed under emergency conditions or to
address very specific, short-term problems have remained in place decades after
they served any purpose other than enhancing farmers’ bottom lines at
the expense of consumers.

India has a similar problem – after protests it announced it was lowering
announced price hikes on wheat and rice available at government-run ration stores
that serve over 300 million poor Indians. The government buys commodities such
as wheat and rice and then turns around and sells the commodities at a much
lower price in the stores.

Again, such subsidies distort the information that agricultural markets need
to operate efficiently. Since neither the farmers nor the consumers receive
or pay market prices, the farmers have no incentive to be more competitive and
consumers have no incentive to seek out more competitive producers.

The result of such systems can be seen in India which experienced a poor summer
crop and as a result has seen severe shortages of some commodities such as onions.
India’s vast system of subsidies only exacerbates such naturally occurring
problems and magnifies their effect as has happened with the onion shortage.

Sources:

Polish farmers bow to government pressure, suspend protests for higher prices.
Andrzej Stylinski, Associated Press, February 4, 1999.

India lowers wheat, rice prices under pressure. Associated Press, February
2, 1999.

Does the "Nuremberg Files" verdict have any implications for laboratories and animal enterprises?

In two separate trials over
the past several months, anti-abortion activists have been held accountable
in civil trials for their advocacy of violence under laws that may be
exploitable by those trying to stop animal rights violence.

In a Chicago trial last year,
Planned Parenthood and other groups won millions of dollars in awards
from activists who never actually committed acts of violence but did make
(often vague) statements supporting or inciting such violence. In the
recently concluded “Nuremberg Files” case, a jury delivered a
guilty verdict against an antiabortion web site that displayed “wanted
posters” of abortion doctors, along with personal information such
as addresses, phone numbers and even the names of the doctors’ children.

So what dos that have to do
with animal rights violence? A lot actually. In both cases lawyers relied
heavily on the civil provisions of the |Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt
Organizations| (RICO) law. The RICO law was originally passed to allow
prosecutors to go after legitimate businesses that had been taken over
by the mob and used to hide criminal activity.

Along with the criminal provisions,
RICO included provisions allowing private individuals to sue groups and
individuals who illegally interfere with the operations of legal enterprises.

In its release after the trial,
the American Medical Association heralded the verdict and specifically
mentioned possible action “on behalf of biomedical researchers
targeted by an extreme faction of ‘animal rights activists.’” Assuming
the verdict in both the Chicago and “Nuremberg Files”
cases holds up on appeal, some animal rights organizations and web sites
could be ripe for similar lawsuits.

The most vulnerable groups would be
those posting Animal Liberation Front materials or materials in support
of ALF actions. There are several web sites that include instructions
on how to build incendiary devices along with the names and addresses of
fur farms and medical researchers. These individuals and groups are exposing themselves to an
extraordinary degree of liability under RICO.

Even the more “mainstream”
animal rights groups might not be beyond successful prosecution. In the
Chicago case, for example, several defendants were convicted based on
the following set of circumstances: a) they made rather inflammatory statements
about abortion doctors or clinics at one point or another, although they
never personally engaged in violence nor directly incited such violence;
and b) they ended up working in a broad coalition of antiabortion activists
that included both groups that condemned violence and groups that
advocated or at least sympathized with violence.

The jury in the Chicago case
agreed with Planned Parenthood lawyers who argued that the coalition of
groups met the standards of a criminal conspiracy under RICO.

I suspect the Supreme Court
may tighten up some of the requirements for such civil violations of RICO,
but it has already affirmed the fundamental tenets behind such suits.
Such laws could possibly be used to shut down animal rights groups and
sites that are clearly advocating violence.

Sources:

AMA Applauds Verdict Against Web Site That Threatened Violence Against Physicians. American Medical Association, Press Release, February 2, 1999.

Anti-abortion foes vow appeal. Maria Seminerio, ZDNN, February 3, 1999.

Limiting Web speech rights. Brad Knickerbocker, Christian Science Monitor, February 4, 1999.

AIDS in the news

There have been a spate of
developments on the AIDS research front over the past few weeks. The biggest
news item was research purporting to demonstrate conclusively that the
HIV virus was spread from chimpanzees to human beings (hmmm…maybe there
are similarities between humans and non-humans after all.)

The evidence is from a chimpanzee
named Marilyn who died in 1985. According to Dr. Beatrice Hahn, whose
findings were published in Nature, although Marilyn had never been
used in HIV research and had not received human blood products after 1969,
simian immunodeficiency virus was found in Marilyn’s system.

The first known incident
of a human contracting AIDS, a Bantu man who died in 1959 in the Belgian
Congo, occurred in the same area where the particular subspecies of chimpanzee
that Marilyn belonged to resides. There is some speculation, though no
evidence at the moment, that the disease might have passed to humans through
the eating of chimpanzees which does occur in some parts of Africa (personally,
I think there is still far too much that isn’t known about HIV to start
saying this is how AIDS was transmitted to humans).

On a sour note, tests of
a live vaccine antidote for AIDS involving macaques failed when the animals
developed the disease itself. The live vaccine used genetically crippled
versions of the virus, but HIV is so wily that the virus managed to somehow
reconstruct itself and infect the target animals. As Dr. Ruth Ruprecht
of Boston’s Dan-Farber Cancer Institute said, “There is a real
risk of contracting AIDS from the vaccine itself.”

Some AIDS activists are still
pushing the National Institute of Health to approve limited trials of the vaccine in ill patients.
The NIH should approve such trials, but the outlook for this vaccine
is not good.

Finally, Scripps Howard environmental
writer Mitzi Perdue wrote an excellent article, “A different perspective
on AIDS,” on the role of fundamental research which did not address
animal rights specifically but was a good rebuttal of arguments that only
research that provides clear, immediate benefits should be approved. As
Perdue notes, the discovery that AIDS was caused by a virus was in many
ways an accident.

Among the happy coincidences
Perdue mentions is that research and development of techniques involving
viruses, and especially retroviruses, were relatively recent. If AIDS had
hit in the 1960s, the technology simply wouldn’t have been there to identify
it. As Perdue writes,

Dr. Ronald Bosch . . . sees this last point as an important lesson
about medical research. The research we had already done on viruses and
the immune system benefited humanity enormously by enabling us to detect
the AIDS virus as soon as we did. Bosch believes that the current AIDS
research will prove similarly valuable. “Some people argue that the amount
spent is disproportionate to the number who die,” he says, “but much of
it is basic virology and immunology research that may help combat other
diseases such as cancer.”

The bottom line is that medical
research does not follow a simple two or three step process from identifying
a problem to producing a cure. Numerous times over the past few decades
information gleaned from basic research experiments on animals that produced
no immediate benefit for human beings was later the key in understanding
important phenomenon. Any requirement that basic research fulfill some
utilitarian program of immediate beneficial results is simply bad science.

Sources:

HIV: from chimps to humans. Reuters, February 1, 1999.

Chimp research may help AIDS vaccine development. Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, February 2, 1999.

Expert conclude AIDS virus orginated from chipms. Daniel Q. Haney, Associated Press, January 31, 1999.

‘Live’ AIDS vaccine will not work, study shows. Reuters, February 1, 1999.

A different perspective on AIDS. Mitzi Perdue, Scripps Howard, January 26, 1999.

Modified HIV shows therapeutic promise. The BBC, January 29, 1999.

Pig liver keeps woman alive

In another milestone giving
a peek at wonders to come, a 33-year-old woman was kept alive for 8 days
on an artificial liver that uses pig-liver cells to purify blood. The
woman was waiting for a liver transplant which she finally received.

“It was amazing we kept
this woman going for so many days – she was very, very sick,” Elizabeth
Fagan, professor of internal medicine at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s
Medical Center in Chicago, told Wired.

According to Fagan, the woman
would have died without the device, which resembles a dialysis machine
but uses living cells. Contradicting animal rights propaganda about animals
and humans, Fagan noted that “pig livers are very similar in size
to a human’s, and the way the pig liver metabolizes hormones and chemicals
and toxins is similar.”

The success of the artificial
liver moves medical science one step forward to the day when permanent,
genetically engineered organs might replace or augment current human organ
transplantation. As such successes mount, expect animal rights activists,
extreme environmentalists, and others to step up their campaign to have
such procedures banned (on the other hand, the success of such technologies
will likely put another nail into the coffin of whatever slim possibility
the animal rights agenda has of succeeding merely through persuasion rather
than direct action and violence).

Source:

Part machine, part pig liver. Kristen Philipkoski, Wired News, January 28, 1999.