It's generally recognized that people have the right
to eat. When famine
breaks out, relief agencies rush food to the hungry. Politics and war may get in
the way (indeed, they are often the causes of the famine). Sometimes relief
efforts are too small or come too late. But the advanced industrial world usually
acts as if it has a moral obligation to respond to a hunger crisis.
In recent years, humanitarians have been taking a similar approach to
global public health. Shouldn't we be rushing medicine to people who need it, no
matter where they live and no matter how much money they have in their pockets?
The California energy crisis isn't over: it's only in
remission, thanks to a massive statewide commitment to conservation, a mild
summer, and the judicious retreat by energy conglomerates from their extortionist
pricing tactics. But the state's electricity consumers have been left with
permanently higher utility bills, and the state's taxpayers have been slapped
with a tab of nearly $10 billion to pay for the past year's price spike.
Democratic Governor Gray Davis is demanding a rebate. We'll see how far he gets
with FERC, the Republican-run Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The backlash against gene patenting is heating up, and not a moment too soon. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has already granted more than 1,000 patents on human genes or their fragments, with over 20,000 pending. The patent office plans to issue new guidelines by the end of the year: Researchers will now have to indicate a gene's function--its "specific and substantial credible utility"--and its chemical code to get a patent.