Thursday, February 05, 2009

Meat And Other Animals

I must have missed this one: that strip club down by the airport held some sort of nude Sarah Palin look-alike contest last week. First prize was apparently a cruise to Alaska. I imagine the last-place contestant had to actually meet the Governor.

These are hard, hard economic times, and I imagine that strip clubs are hurting as much as any other business. While escapist entertainment typically does well during an economic downturn, a lap dance is probably the epitome of discretionary spending, so now the clubs are having to resort to "by-any-means-necessary" techniques to lure the customers in. And even though Gallup says that Georgia is no longer officially a "red state," I think the promoters knew exactly what they were doing in planning a nude contest in Atlanta around a Palin theme. Red libidinal meat for the neo-cons, and after all, who would want to see a nude Cindy McCain look-alike contest?

Oh. Okay, who except for John McCain and a couple hundred horny bikers in Sturgis, South Dakota?

Georgia may no longer be red, but my office sure ain't blue. The latest pressing concern to the reactionary wing-nuts I work with is Obama's nominee for the little-known Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein.

According to a group that calls itself the Center for Consumer Freedom, Sunstein is some sort of radical, animal-rights, vegetarian activist. As evidence, they cite a 2002 paper in which Sunstein proposed that “[T]here should be extensive regulation of the use of animals in entertainment, scientific experiments, and agriculture.”

“Extensive regulation of the use of animals,” the CCF repeated, "That's PETA-speak for using government to get everything PETA and the Humane Society of the United States can't get through gentle pressure or not-so-gentle coercion. Not exactly the kind of thing American ranchers, restaurateurs, hunters, and biomedical researchers (to say nothing of ordinary consumers) would like to hear from their next 'regulatory czar.'”

This is a classic propaganda technique - take a statement, give that statement a darker meaning, and then attack the speaker on the grounds of your new interpretation of what was said. However, according to the on-line abstract of Sunstein's article, his meaning was something quite different:
"Do animals have rights? Almost everyone believes in animal rights, at least in some minimal sense; the real question is what that phrase actually means. By exploring that question, it is possible to give a clear sense of the lay of the land - to show the range of possible positions, and to explore what issues, of theory or fact, separate reasonable people. On reflection, the spotlight should be placed squarely on the issue of suffering and well-being. This position requires rejection of some of the most radical claims by animal rights advocates, especially those that stress the autonomy of animals, or that object to any human control and use of animals. But this position has radical implications of its own. It strongly suggests, for example, that there should be extensive regulation of the use of animals in entertainment, in scientific experiments, and in agriculture. It also suggests that there is a strong argument, in principle, for bans on many current uses of animals."
That certainly does not sound like the words of a radical animal rights activist. In fact, it explicitly rejects "some of the most radical claims by animal rights advocates" and suggests that, if we are to focus on the issue of suffering and well-being of animals, that position has "radical" implications of its own, namely extensive regulation of the use of animals. And he's not even advocating that, he's just giving "a clear sense of the lay of the land" on the range of possible positions on the issues. So the CCF has taken his quote out of context, and then suggested sinister alternative meanings to his misquoted words.

The CCF also cites a 2004 book that Sunstein co-edited titled Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions. In that book, CCF claims Sunstein sets out an ambitious plan to give animals the legal “right” to file lawsuits. “[A]nimals should be permitted to bring suit, with human beings as their representatives, to prevent violations of current law … Any animals that are entitled to bring suit would be represented by (human) counsel, who would owe guardian like obligations and make decisions, subject to those obligations, on their clients’ behalf.”

I have not read the book, but the quotes provided by CCF sound like a far cry from Sunstein's position a mere two years earlier in which he rejected "radical positions" that "stress the autonomy of animals." The quotes provided by CCF sound much more like theoretical, possible postilions that are once again taken out of context.

So who are the CCF? According to Wikipedia, the Center for Consumer Freedom is a nonprofit organization whose mission is defending the "right of adults and parents to choose what they eat, drink, and how they enjoy themselves." CCF obtained its startup funding from the Philip Morris tobacco company and has been criticized for lobbying on behalf of the fast food, meat, and tobacco industries while allegedly representing consumers. Acknowledged corporate donors to CCF include Coca-Cola, Wendy's, Tyson Foods, and Pilgrim's Pride.

Some groups targeted by CCF have questioned its ethics and legitimacy. The president of the American Federation of Teachers referred to the CCF's leader as "a shameless lobbyist who has shilled for pesticide, alcohol and tobacco companies." It has also been criticized for its efforts to portray groups such as the Humane Society of the United States as "violent" and "extreme", and for its opposition to banning the use of trans fats. Some corporations, including PepsiCo and Kraft Foods, have declined to work with CCF, saying they do not agree with some of the group's arguments or its approach to advocacy.

CCF also runs a website that claims it provides the public and media with in-depth profiles of anti-consumer activist groups, along with information about the sources of what is called their exorbitant funding. The site features generally negative profiles of various groups it believes oppose consumer freedom, such as Greenpeace, PETA and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. It also hosts "biographies" offering negative portrayals of key activists and celebrity supporters for various groups. The site reports what it claims are links between profiled groups and extremism, and in general argues that the groups profiled hold extreme views that are contrary to the public interest.

This is exactly what they are trying to do now to Sunstein. Lobbyists for fast food, meat, tobacco and alcohol, funded by Philip Morris and food industries, they are apparently quite alarmed by Cass Sunstein and are tarring him with the "animal-rights extremist" paintbrush.

In the rather extensive list of Sunstein's publications on Wikipedia and the list of his articles for The New Republic, titles that suggest animal rights come up very infrequently. A legal scholar, he mostly writes about constitutional law, administrative law, environmental law, and law and behavioral economics. So what is it that has the Center for Consumer Freedom and its sponsor Philip Morris so worked up? Could it be something like this, from the February 1993 issue of The New Republic?:

"Let us begin with a few numbers. On a usual day in America, thirty Americans are killed at work, fifty-six are killed at home, and 133 die in car accidents. About 4,000 Americans die each day as a result of cancer. Tobacco smoking contributes to about 30 percent of these deaths. By contrast, occupational hazards help account for about 4 percent of cancer deaths; medicines and medical procedures, for about 1 percent; pollution, for about 2 percent. . .

If we are thinking about protecting American life and health, [we are] right to focus our attention on smoking, for the risks here are far higher than for most other environmental hazards. The dangers are well documented: about 300,000 smokers die as a result of their smoking each year. On average, smokers lose ten to fifteen years of life. Smokers have a 10.8 times greater chance than non-smokers of dying from lung cancer; a 6.1 times greater chance of dying of bronchitis or emphysema; a 5.4 times greater chance of dying of cancer of the larynx; a 4.1 times greater chance of dying of oral cancer; and almost double the chance of dying of heart disease. Studies also suggest that people exposed to tobacco smoke ("passive smokers") face a 34 percent greater risk of lung cancer than do non-smokers who are not similarly exposed. This means that passive smoking produces about 2,500 fatal cancers each year--a number that exceeds the number of people killed by all airborne pollutants regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (with the exception of asbestos)."

Sunstein is a proponent of using cost/benefit ratios in determining public policy (so am I). However, this approach has alarmed many environmentalists and other progressives, who feel that "the almighty dollar" should not be considered when it comes to protecting human health and the environment. Fair enough, but when you realistically consider that you only have so many dollars to go around, why not spend them where they would do the most good, for the most people; that is, where they have the highest cost/benefit ratio? This approach may not bode well for interest groups who want to, say, spend millions on environmental restoration of some remote Superfund site, but very easily justifies the small cost of banning public smoking to the benefit of millions of potentially exposed persons.

So the CCF, alarmed over someone who is alarmed about the dangers of tobacco, and who can justify taking on Big Tobacco based on cost/benefit ratios, have apparently decided to take some of Sunstein's comments about animal-rights law out of context, give those comments sinister additional meanings, and then through innuendo and distortion portray him as some sort of vegan extremist, all so they can protect their tobacco-industry sponsors.

And my co-workers are falling for it, hook, line and sinker.

1 comment:

kitano0 said...

Of course they believe it...because they want to believe it and be part of a bigger group that believes it. One thing that the last eight years has taught us is that there is a large part of our population who will believe anything, facts be damned. And they want the "facts" they believe in be cause for action, or inaction. It also is interesting to note that some of my co-workers who never before uttered anything political in the office, now are fiscal experts.."We shouldn't be spending that much if we have to borrow from China..." Hell, before they didn't even act like they knew where China was..(they still probably couldn't find it on a map)