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Thursday, July 14, 2011

No Such Thing as "Conscientious Carnivore" - Obama Betrays Left - How Republicans Warp Laws to Favor Big Business & Hurt People - Fox "News" Ignores Phone Hacking Scandal - Fox Doesn't Pay Taxes - Universal healthcare - US Growing in Unpopularity - more

- A Looming Betrayal
    On Thursday, headlines on both the Washington Post and the New York Times announced that President Obama had put both Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block, as part of some "grand bargain" with House Speaker Boehner and the [Republican Party] to cut the deficit and avoid blowing the August 2 debt limit deadline.

    My reaction to this news, along with most everyone else aligned with the left side of politics, was predictable. I was aghast, dumbfounded, sickened, and enraged. The Republican Party has been working hammer and tong to eliminate these vital programs since the day they were first conceived. Sometimes their efforts were out in the big wide open, such as George W. Bush's doomed privatization proposal. If it wasn't their hood ornament, it was at least always on the dashboard, right out front, a core element of their philosophy, and always somewhere in their platform. In all those years, however, the GOP had only managed to nibble at the edges of these programs, having never summoned either sufficient muscle or sufficient will to kill them off entirely.

    And now here is a Democratic president, after all those years of struggle to defend and protect the social contract created by these policies, offering them up for destruction because he can't seem to stop himself from agreeing with Republicans. Here
- ALEC Bills Expose Corporate Drive to Advance Business Over Public Interest
     Today’s release of more than 800 “model” bills and resolutions drafted and promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) opens a window to the workings of a powerful and secretive corporate front group that has enlisted thousands of state lawmakers to pass legislation on its behalf, often in conflict with the public good, Common Cause said today.
    “This is a real eye-opener,” said Bob Edgar, president of the non-partisan government watchdog group. “Dozens of corporations are paying millions of dollars a year to write business-friendly legislation that is becoming law in state houses from coast to coast, with no regard for the public interest. This is proof positive of the depth and scope of corporate influence on our democratic processes...
- ALEC Exposed
    The articles that follow are the first products of that examination. They provide an inside view of the priorities of ALEC’s corporate board and billionaire benefactors (including Tea Party funders Charles and David Koch). “Dozens of corporations are investing millions of dollars a year to write business-friendly legislation that is being made into law in statehouses coast to coast, with no regard for the public interest,” says Bob Edgar of Common Cause. “This is proof positive of the depth and scope of the corporate reach into our democratic processes.” The full archive of ALEC documents is available at a new website,
- Universal Health Care: Can We Afford Anything Less?
    Why only a single-payer system can solve America’s health-care mess.
- UN Report: 'Deadliest Six Months' for Civilians in Afghanistan
    The first six months of 2011 were the deadliest for civilians in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001, a UN report has found.
- US more unpopular in the Arab world than under Bush
    I've written numerous times over the last year about rapidly worsening perceptions of the U.S. in the Muslim world, including a Pew poll from April finding that Egyptians view the U.S. more unfavorably now than they did during the Bush presidency.  A new poll released today of six Arab nations -- Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco -- contains even worse news on this front...What's striking is that none of these is among the growing list of countries we're occupying and bombing. 

    While Americans are continuously inculcated with the message that Iran is the greatest threat to that region, the people who actually live there view the U.S. in that light.  And as the above-referenced links to other polls demonstrate, that is a routine finding in surveys of Arab and Muslim opinion in that part of the world.
- CNN Confirms: Fox News Watch Admitted Avoiding Parent Company's Hacking Scandal
    As Media Matters first noted, Fox News' media criticism program, Fox News Watch, avoided any mention of the scandal over the British tabloid News of the World and its publisher News Corp., which also owns Fox News. And in a video posted on, panelists appeared to admit during a commercial break that they were intentionally avoiding the topic.
- How CNN, MSNBC, And Fox Are Covering News Corp. (owner of Fox News) Hacking Scandal
    CNN And MSNBC Report On News Corp. Scandal More Than Twice As Often As Fox News. According to a Media Matters analysis*, in the nine days since the News Corp. phone-hacking scandal reignited, CNN reported on the developing story in 109 segments, MSNBC covered the story in 71 segments, and Fox News  covered the story in 30 segments.
- Phone hacking: Murdoch paid lobbyists who oppose US anti-bribery law
    Rupert Murdoch donated $1m to a pro-business lobby in the US months before the group launched a high-profile campaign to alter the anti-bribery law – the same law that could potentially be brought to bear against News Corporation over the phone-hacking scandal.
- Phone-hacking scandal: live coverage
    Only last month David Cameron, Ed Miliband and others were paying homage to the tycoon at his London summer party. If you had told Cameron and Miliband over the champagne that only a few weeks later that they would be uniting in the Commons to pass a motion opposing Murdoch's bid for BSkyB they would have thought you were barmy. Yet that's exactly what's going to happen today. As the New York Times has argued, Britain is going through its own version of the Arab spring. Truly, a spell has been broken.
- Guess Who Didn't Pay Federal Income Tax And Got Billions In Refunds? News Corp!
    Fox News is famous for complaining about taxes. They consistently decry what they see as President Obama's desire to "soak the rich"; they see "class warfare" against the rich almost everywhere; they consistently whine that middle- and low-income families pay no federal income tax; and they relentlessly attacked GE for not paying any federal income tax this past year, going so far as to suggest that this was somehow because GE's CEO is part of Obama's Economic Advisory Panel. But here's a story I wouldn't expect Fox to be highlighting any time soon. As it turns out, News Corp., Fox News' parent company, not only hasn't paid federal income tax in years, it reportedly received billions in tax refunds, mainly from the U.S. government.

How 'Conscientious Carnivores' Ignore Meat's True Origins
Supporting small farms without addressing the pain of the slaughter perpetuates desensitization—just as factory farms do
By James McWilliams

Published Jul 12 2011, at the Atlantic

4143519867_f5074de9af_b_wide.jpg If there's one phrase I'd like to put to pasture it's the increasingly popular designation of "conscientious carnivore." As with so many other expressions in the food movement's growing lexicon of culinary virtue, this one euphemistically masks a harsh reality with a soothing, but ultimately damaging, rationalization.

The rationalization is that because factory farming is so horrifically brutal to animals, the conscientious carnivore can vote with his or her fork by purchasing meat from farmers who raise their animals in a more "humane" manner—free-range pork, grass-fed beef, cage-free eggs, and all that. The reality, however, is that the so-called conscientious consumers who support these alternative systems are doing very little to challenge the essence of factory farming. In fact, they may be strengthening its very foundation.

I don't mean to discount the benefits that a farm animal experiences when allowed to move about with relative freedom, eat a natural diet, socialize, and care for offspring. And indeed, there's no denying that if our conceptualization of alternative systems stops right here—that is, with a relative comparison to the hellhole of a factory farm—then carnivores who opt for meat produced through alternative methods are certainly acting in a more conscientious manner.

But that's not saying much. Broaden your perspective on the concept of "conscientious carnivorism" and it becomes clear than it's little more than a catchy justification that helps consumers avoid investigating the deeper implications of nurturing an animal to kill it for food we don't need. It's so much easier, after all, just to focus exclusively on the relative happiness farm animals experience while alive rather than to contemplate the entirety of the animal's life cycle. Narrowing our moral vision this way, something every "conscientious consumer" inevitably does, obscures several aspects of "conscientious" meat eating that deserve due consideration. Three stand out.

First, how do conscientious consumers reconcile their rationale for avoiding factory farming with their willingness to tolerate the slaughter of a sentient animal? Logically speaking, it makes no sense. Supporters of alternative meat base their advocacy on the belief that an animal should never be subjected to the pain and suffering endemic to a factory farm. This kernel of compassion is critical. It confirms the fact that conscientious carnivores know full well that an animal has intrinsic value as a living, breathing, and feeling organism. That's precisely why they want it freed from the factory farm in the first place. Nonetheless, despite the evident presence of this compassion, the conscientious carnivore supports killing that animal for a reason as arbitrary as, for example, some fancy restaurant in Manhattan deciding it's time for the animal to die because pork bellies are all the rage. How can this sentiment (concern for animal welfare) and this act (killing the animal) coexist? To this question, there is no compassionate answer.

Second, there's economics. What if we all did "the right thing" and became "conscientious carnivores"? That is, what if enough consumers placed enough demand on humanely raised meat so that producers had to multiply and expand their "humane" operations to meet growing demand? Currently, about 1 percent of all the meat we eat comes from alternative systems. What if the situation was reversed, and only 1 percent of meat was factory farmed?

Presumably, this is exactly what advocates of small-scale animal farming want. But it's hard to imagine how the proliferation of free-range alternative farms, all of which would be competing with each other on some level to meet demand, could possibly avoid cutting corners to achieve efficiencies of production. This ineluctable quest for efficiency would be fine if we were talking about gadgets. But we're not. We're talking about humans owning and exploiting sentient beings—beings with a foremost interest in staying alive—in order to make a profit.

In this respect, alternative systems might look innocuous at 1 percent, but at 10, 20, 30 percent basic business history dictates that expansion in scale and scope will lead the industry to assume aspects of the factory farming system it originally intended to replace. When you have people owning, raising, and killing animals to meet growing demand, does anyone really believe that animals are going to be given primary consideration? Do we truly think that a farmer whose livelihood depends on owning and killing animals is, in the face of economic competition, going to sacrifice market share to a competitor for the sake of his animals (who are going to be turned into meat anyway)? Within the confines of free-market capitalism, selling animals for food will always entail unnecessary suffering. It goes without saying that there would be nothing conscientious about this inevitable downward cycle of economic efficiency, animal exploitation, and market capitalization.

Finally, if conscientious producers and consumers put their money where their mouth is and get closer to where our food comes from, they'll confront the act of killing an animal. And as they do so, as more and more consumers get closer to the slaughter, they'll have no choice but to call into question the justice of commodifying emotionally aware animals. Last year an online article for Food and Wine interviewed chefs who, in an (admirable) effort to shorten the supply chain and connect with the food they served, slaughtered their own animals. Here is what one of them had to say:
I first harvested an animal—an adult goat and two kids—eight years ago . . . It's a whole mix of emotions—fear, hate, joy, awe—all the big ones. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, holding this baby goat in my arms and petting him until he died, trying to make him comfortable. Did I cry? Yes. Do I cry every time I harvest animals? Yes. I cry every time I talk about it.
It's poignant testimony, and I respect the chef for his openness. The fact that this chef has since gone on to kill many animals and start two successful restaurants that serve every part of those animals to "conscientious carnivores" is unfortunate. But the gut-level emotionalism of his first slaughter should not be downplayed, for it highlights not only the overall quest to get closer to the means of meat production, but it pinpoints the precise reason why we ultimately will not be able to create a reformed food system while continuing to kill animals for pleasure and profit. In essence, it reminds us that killing animals for food we don't need is bloodsport.

The emotional pain the chef experienced was real. The fact that he's gone on to rationalize the experience as a hard knock of economic life—something no doubt assuaged by his usage of euphemisms such as "harvest"—does not make him a conscientious carnivore. It makes him a desensitized one. This guy went to the brink of true change, experienced the rawness of his reaction, and instead of taking a leap, backed away.

As more and more "conscientious carnivores" do what their designation dictates and, as did our chef, move closer to confronting the ethics of slaughter, they'll be similarly jarred into recognizing the gravity of killing a live animal. They'll witness firsthand the fact that the animal does not want to die. And in so doing, they will either have to acknowledge the easy way out of the carnivore's dilemma (choosing not to kill animals for food) or they will have to, a la the chef, desensitize themselves to the slaughter, thereby undermining the conscientious part of "conscientious carnivore."

All these problems with conscientious carnivorism—the killing of an animal despite acknowledging its moral worth, the economics of efficient production, and the desensitization required to deal with the slaughter—end up collectively supporting the very foundation of factory farming. As long as we're willing to commodify a living creature that has intrinsic worth, directly link its lifespan to consumer demand, and numb ourselves to the painful essence of the slaughter, we're doing nothing more than reaffirming the core values of factory farming. It might feel good to call ourselves "conscientious carnivores," but at some point we'll have to recognize that the only conscientious carnivore is, alas, an herbivore.