Friday, August 29, 2008

Palin a Republican in Women's Clothing

With the great support both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton received during the primary, John McCain and his staff finally realized something: You mean there are other people in this country besides white men?

And so McCain has chosen Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. I don't for a second believe that this decision means that McCain gives a damn about issues that most women care about.

It doesn't change the fact that he thinks people who make $2 million a year are part of the middle class. It doesn't change his too-often support of President George W. Bush's policies. It doesn't change his eagerness to drill offshore for oil, thereby harming more of our already damaged environment. It doesn't change his support of the ill-planned, deceptively begun Iraq war.

No, McCain is still McCain, part of the Good Ol' Boy Republican machine.

Palin does veer from the Good Ol' Boy stereotype. She is a former beauty pageant contestant, so she looks good and speaks well. She's also young, which will help counter McCain's age. She has criticized ethics violations by Alaska's Republican leaders.

Like the Good Ol' Boys, though, Palin holds a lifetime membership in the National Rifle Association, and her record for caring about animals is abysmal.

She supports aerial hunting of wolves and bears, in which hunters fly over the animals and shoot them. The program is justified by claiming it's "aimed at boosting moose and caribou populations for hunters."

Three days ago Alaskans were asked for the third time to ban aerial hunting of wolves -- the first two times Alaskans voted to end the horrific practice. In those cases the Alaska Legislature caved to animal-abuse special-interest groups and reinstated the killing. This time Palin approved spending $400,000 to "educate" Alaskans about aerial hunting, and the ballot initiative failed.

Palin also hunts, ice fishes, eats moose hamburgers and supports the cruel Iditarod, in which several dogs die each year, not counting those who are bred for the "sport" but don't make the cut.

In 2004 USA Today sports writer Jon Saraceno wrote this about the Iditarod:

The economic impact to Anchorage, site of the ceremonial star, is estimated at more than $5 million. [...] The dogs, of course, get their usual take. More suffering."
While I'd love to see a woman hold a high office, it can't be just any woman. She has to share my values. And let's not forget: We're voting for president. It's John McCain vs. Barack Obama. Their running mates are simply window dressing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Police Trap Peaceful DNC Protesters

I wasn't going to start blogging about politics until closer to the election, but this video changed my mind. It shows Denver police trapping peaceful protesters and then pepper-spraying them. Regardless who you're going to choose for president Nov. 4, violations of the First Amendment should alarm you.

Ironically some of the protesters in Denver don't like Barack Obama, calling him the lesser of two evils. While I don't like that he voted to give telecommunication companies immunity for helping the government spy on Americans, I do support him for president. I agree that we need to reform politics and make it about "the people" instead of corporations, but I don't know how protesting the Democratic National Convention will do that. However, people have that right, and I think it infringes on the First Amendment when protesters are forced to demonstrate blocks from where the event they're protesting is held.

And now, the part of the DNC that you won't see on TV:

Made in China

Remember when it seemed every brand of pet food was being recalled? Or when children's toys were removed from shelves due to lead content? Or when the FDA alerted us to DDT-laced seafood? Ok, I don't remember that last one, but it did happen.

All of these products came from China, and Mother Jones has an informative story looking at the numerous recalls and what the United States has done (or hasn't done) to ensure they don't happen again.

The story concludes ominously: "If anything, the Bush White House has put Americans at greater risk." It says that the Bush Administration is more interested in trade than in the safety of products.

Consistent with that agenda, the White House Office of Management and Budget, normally slow on regulatory matters, took all of one day to green-light US imports of Chinese-processed chicken in April 2006. "We are trying to open up our beef trade with China," says [Tony Corbo of the consumer group Food & Water Watch]. "The Chinese always say that they want the US to import Chinese poultry in exchange for US beef."

The decision came despite unsettling findings by the USDA team that had visited the Chinese poultry facilities two years earlier. At one plant, inspectors had found paint from the ceiling "on the table used for edible product," while workers at another facility wiped down meat-handling areas with dirty cloths. Parts of a third factory, designated for sanitary operations, were contaminated with "grease, blood, fat, pieces of dry meat, and foreign particles."
(Image courtesy of

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Violent Vocation

The meat and dairy industries don't want people knowing how their products harm people's health, nor do they want others to know how much the animals suffer. With Labor Day approaching, I thought it a good time to write about the third issue the industries want to keep hidden: the effects of working in a slaughterhouse.

"Slaughterhouse" by Gail Eisnitz documents testimony from employees at various U.S. slaughterhouses. They talk of a production system that moves too fast to render animals unconscious. Despite numerous complaints to management -- as well as countless injuries -- the companies refuse to make changes because slowing the process would mean not making as much money. When animals are not properly stunned (rendered unconscious), they fight for their lives, kicking workers, falling on top of them, running over them.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, almost one in three slaughterhouse workers gets ill or injured each year. In other manufacturing jobs the rate is one in 10.

In August a Cargill slaughterhouse worker was injured after a cow "fell off a hook" and onto him. I'm willing to bet the cow was still conscious and struggling.

In December 2007 it was revealed that some of the workers at a slaughterhouse in Austin, Minn., which supplies Hormel Foods, were diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder. Since all the affected people work at the "head table," where they "cut up pigs' heads and then shoot compressed air into the skulls until the brains come spilling out," scientists suspect the inhalation of brain matter may have triggered the illness.

Eric Schlosser writes in "Fast Food Nation" that it is commonplace for slaughterhouses to employ illegal immigrants. If American workers don't blow the whistle on plant violations because they fear losing their jobs, illegal immigrants surely won't come forward because they risk deportation.

In May federal immigration officials raided Agriprocessors, the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the United States, rounding up almost 400 illegal immigrants and more than 20 underage workers, some of whom were 13 years old. After the Iowa raid the immigrants told investigators about their working conditions.

Elmer L. said that he was clearing cow innards from the slaughter floor last Aug. 26 when a supervisor he described as a rabbi began yelling at him, then kicked him from behind. The blow caused a freshly-sharpened knife to fly up and cut his elbow.

He was sent to a hospital where doctors closed the laceration with eight stitches. But he said that when he returned, his elbow still stinging, to ask for some time off, his supervisor ordered him back to work.

The next day, as he was lifting a cow’s tongue, the stitches ruptured, Elmer L. said, and the wound bled again. He said he was given a bandage at the plant and sent back to work.
Virgil Butler, now deceased, worked for a Tyson chicken slaughterhouse in Arkansas for five years before going on the record with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals about the abuse he witnessed. In 2006 he told Satya magazine of his experiences.

All but one of the most serious accidents I saw the whole time I worked for Tyson occurred in the kill room. Some of those accidents happened to me. I have scars all over my hands and arms where I cut myself. I had several nasty infections from it. When I would go to my supervisor to complain, he would tell me to prove that I got infected there and not somewhere else. I even sewed up my own hand once at break time. It took five stitches.
In addition to physical illness and injuries, slaughterhouse work takes a toll on employees mentally and socially. According to "Fast Food Nation," towns see an increase in criminal activity after a slaughterhouse opens. A year after a slaughterhouse opened in Lexington, Neb., the town of 7,000 had the highest crime rate of any in the state.

From the Satya interview, Virgil said this about his job:

[I]t really bothered me when I missed one and heard the poor bird go through the scalder alive, thrashing and bumping against the sides of it as it slowly died. I worked to become really good at killing so that I wouldn't miss so many. I did become really good, but at a steep price. The more I did it, the less it bothered me. I became desensitized. The killing room really does something to your mind—all that blood, killing so many times, over and over again. Working as a killer was what I hated the most. [...]

And all of this brutality definitely leads to violence outside the factories as well. I know that it did with me and others that I worked with. Other co-workers became violent towards their own families, even. I know that the longer I worked there, the more violent I became. Life became meaningless—other peoples’ lives became meaningless. I got to thinking that if I had this ability to kill and not care, that others also did, so I trusted no one.
(Image of worker at chicken slaughterhouse courtesy of

Sunday, August 24, 2008

"Thanking the Monkey"

Karen Dawn writes that the intent of "Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals" is "not to force [her] values on others. The idea, rather, is to tell you everything you wanted to know about animal rights but were afraid to get into a fight about, and to let you weigh that information against your own values. You can decide what practices you find acceptable or not, and how you might avoid supporting what you cannot condone."

And she succeeded. I wanted to bring "Thanking the Monkey" to AR2008 to have her sign it but decided the book was too heavy for my sole piece of luggage. A writer with the Washington Post was surprised by its heft, too.

But that's good -- I like getting a lot of bang for my buck. Dawn has filled this book with every aspect of animal rights (animals used for food, clothing, entertainment, research), and it's written to allow you to read the chapters out of order. That's what I did because while Dawn peppers humor and animal-themed comics throughout the book, I was surprised when I got to Chapter 3 and felt like I couldn't read any more.

Because it does include all current animal-abuse issues, it's a bit daunting. But it's also helpful to have them in one book and can serve as a useful research tool. If you want to know why people are protesting the circus that's just come to town, grab the book and read about animals in entertainment. If you don't understand why your friend has just gone vegetarian, flip to the chapter about animals used as food.

So read the book, learn about the various aspects of animal rights and decide for yourself if your behavior jibes with your beliefs.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The More Things Change ...

I've been waiting to write about Monsanto's sale of Posilac -- or rBGH (bovine growth hormone) or rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin) -- to Eli Lilly until I heard what the latter company plans to do with it. Unfortunately, according to a column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch -- Monsanto's headquarters is in St. Louis -- Eli Lilly plans to continue providing the synthetic hormone to the animal-agriculture industry.

Eli Lilly said the sale "means farmers have continued access to this vital technology, and that consumers can continue to have access to affordable, wholesome milk."

While it may be affordable, its wholesomeness is another issue. Because rBGH increases a cow's milk production to 10 times what is natural, the stress on the cow leads to an infection of the udder called mastitis. Blood, pus and bacteria from the infection are then released with the milk and consumed by people. To treat the infection, dairy farmers pump the cows full of antibiotics -- just as other farmed animals are -- which leads to disease-resistant strains of bacteria in the animals and in people.

rBGH has been banned in Canada, Japan, Australia and parts of Europe, but the U.S. government hasn't seemed worried about it. Could that be because of Monsanto's ties to the FDA?

Check out this site to see the link Monsanto has had with high government officials.

So while Monsanto has sold rBGH to Eli Lilly, it looks like business as usual within the U.S. dairy industry will continue.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

AR2008: Final Thoughts

While I learned a lot at AR2008, the most important realization I had was that we have a lot of intelligent, strong, caring people leading our movement.

I almost feel guilty counting myself as part of the group because I'm relatively new to it, and many people are doing more (and have done more) than I am. But the veterans of the movement encourage "beginners" to participate. They're giving of their time, their knowledge and their resources.

From what I saw at the conference, it's not about egos. It's about working together -- everyone focusing on the segment of the movement that most interests them and using their particular talents -- to speak up for and end the abuse of all animals.

And back home, in an environment that is heavily meat-based, it's a powerful, wonderful feeling to know that many others around the country -- around the world, in fact -- believe in respecting animals and are working hard to end their suffering.

To all of them, thank you!

(Photo courtesy of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.)

AR2008: Miscellaneous Tidbits

The following are extra tidbits from AR2008 presentations:

n Erica Meier of Compassion Over Killing shared a joke during the "Newcomer Orientation."

How many factory farmers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
None because they want to keep you in the dark.

n After giving up her law career, Cherie Thompson founded Healing Species to teach children to love animals. She says many crimes are committed by people who have a "depravity of heart." If we can nurture children's love of animals, we can eliminate cruel behaviors.

n Elizabeth Farian of the National Organization for Women said we need to better understand Christianity and what it says about animals. She said theologians aren't talking about animals and that misinformation exists.

n Janet Epoch and Steve Hindi, both of SHARK, pushed for boycotts of major companies, such as Coca-Cola, AT&T, Century 21 and State Farm Insurance, because of their sponsorship of cruel events like the Iditarod and rodeos.

n Camille Hankins of W.A.R. told us about the "Gateway to Hell" campaign that targets ports used for the importation of animals used for research. For example, Nepal is going to import Rhesus monkeys to Portland, OR, for research.

n Greg Lawson, a National Park Service ranger, gave a powerful speech at Thursday night's plenary, which ended with him urging people to go vegan.

He said that the National Park Service doesn't protect wildlife. Last winter the group killed one-third of the bison to help cattle. The Bureau of Land Management was supposed to protect wild horses and burros, but they take them to give cattle more room. For every one horse, there are 160 cows on public land. The group now wants to kill 30,000 horses because they aren't having success in adopting them out.

The gray wolf was delisted from the Endangered Species List this year. Idaho's governor said he wanted to be one of the first to shoot one, and he only wants to 100 wolves left. A judge in Montana ordered that the gray wolf be put back on the Endangered Species List. More cows are killed by inclement weather than by wolves. Wildlife Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, kills wildlife for farmers. They poison wildlife, and then some pets accidentally die after ingesting the poison. Of course, our tax money pays for this.

n Jenny Brown, who you should read about, runs Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary and reminded participants that "humanely" raised animals end up at the same slaughterhouse as factory-farmed animals.

n Karen Davis, founder of United Poultry Concerns and the Eastern Shore Sanctuary, said that although "cage-free" chickens aren't in cages, they are crowded into buildings. She also said that chickens rescued from battery cages know how to perch in trees if given the chance.

n Jonathan Balcombe, with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, spoke about animal cognition. He said prairie dogs have different calls for warning each other about a person approaching vs. a person approaching who has a gun. He also said beavers create pencil-shaped sticks to plug up holes.

n Charles Patterson, whose background is in Holocaust studies, was rejected by 83 publishers before Lantern Books agreed to distribute "Eternal Treblinka," which focuses on the similiarity between the Holocaust and animal abuse. He interviewed people who survived the Holocaust and who became active in the animal-rights movement. As a child, Alex Hershaft of FARM hid in the woods of Poland during World War II. Later he was reunited with his mother, but his father and other relatives had been killed. Henry Spira, after whom an AR award is named, also was a survivor of the Holocaust.

n lauren ornelas of the Food Empowerment Project said that the safety of toxins in pesticides is determined by how they affect the end user (ie. the consumer) rather than by how they affect the people picking the crops. She said there is no easy solution to oppression and that we must speak out against all forms of oppression and have empathy for people who are different from us.

(Photo courtesy of National Geographic.)

AR2008: Vivisection

In a session on "Vivisection Campaigns" Matt Rossell from In Defense of Animals described his two years working as a lab tech at a primate research center. He says he documented violations but was ignored, so he went to IDA and saw some changes. Now, though, the center has more monkeys than before.

Rossell talked about seeing baby monkeys snatched from their mothers' cages. He said all 100 monkeys in the room would go crazy, and they'd stick their arms out of the cages in a futile attempt to retrieve the babies.

He said researcher Elliott Spindel injected pregnant monkeys with nicotine and then dissected the babies in his fetal nicotine research. He found that vitamin C helps the babies (although certainly dissection doesn't), but that finding was already discovered in other studies.

Rossell said we lag behind Europe in alternatives to animal testing. Although someone said (I wrote down that it was him, but it may have been Camille Hankins) that they don't like the term "alternative methods" because it implies that animal research works, but it doesn't. Researchers are trying to use monkeys to explain divorce or to cure diseases that monkeys don't even get.

He also said that in most states cruelty laws don't apply to medical research. The National Institutes of Health are in charge of enforcing standards for federal labs, they they own the labs.

He said pharmaceutical companies have a vested interest in keeping people sick. They aren't preventing diseases by promoting healthy eating.

George Guimaraes of VEDDAS in Brazil expects U.S. and European labs to move to Brazil because of its more lax laws.

Camille Hankins of W.A.R. said that companies, including Procter & Gamble, are fighting alternatives to animal research, in part because it's easier to manipulate data with animal studies. Researchers don't have to report the results of tests that don't go in their favor. If this happens, they can simply study a different species or manipulate the dose until a study goes the way they want it to.

An audience member suggested that vivisectors don't want to change they ways they operate because that's what they know.

(Image courtesy of In Defense of Animals.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

AR2008: Activist Repression

Activist repression at the hands of the government and corporations is what I most looked forward to at AR2008, partly because I'm intrigued by spy games and partly because Will Potter would be speaking about it. If you couldn't tell already from my blog, I love Potter and think he's brilliant.

Since I already wrote about corporate threats, this post will discuss the government's tactics in silencing our movement (and others).

I liked that several people alluded to the surveillance by both animal abusers and by law enforcement. Steve Hindi of SHARK (SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness), which focuses on cruelty at rodeos, began his speech about "Applying Direct Action" by asking, "Is there anyone here who is not an animal activist? And we'll leave the FBI out of this -- they don't have to raise their hands."

Dawn Moncrief of FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement), the organization that puts on the national animal-rights conference every year, was talking about how everyone is welcome regardless of their ability to pay, and she paused and said something like, "Well, except for that guy from [the Center for] Consumer Freedom. We kind of gave him a nudge."

It's not that we're paranoid; it's that the FBI and animal-abuse groups have infiltrated AR conferences in the past.

During the session about the "History of Activist Repression," Heidi Boghosian, the executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, said government repression goes back a long way in the United States. The Sedition Act of 1798 prohibited criticizing the government. The Pinkerton Detective Agency, a private police agency, began after World War I. The FBI's counter-intelligence program, COINTELPRO, operated from the late '50s to the '70s, and it's goals were to discredit, disrupt, infiltrate and provoke movements that the government didn't like.

Potter discussed three tiers of the current Green Scare:

1) Legal -- criminal court cases
2) Legislative -- making new laws
3) Extra-legal -- PR, smearing, scaremongering

He said the State Department created a document to help companies deal with animal-rights activists. He also said we're in the midst of a turning point for environmentalism and animal rights in this country.

pattrice jones (another person whom, I believe, likes her name lowercase) has been involved with several movements, including animal rights and gay/lesbian rights. She said activist repression is a sign of progress and that governments exist to protect private property.

When an audience member said grand juries are sometimes convened to get background for provocateurs to fit in with groups, jones also said the grand juries are used to scare people, to have a chilling effect.

In the session on "Current Activist Repression" Boghosian said that conspiracy is easier for prosecutors to prove than an actual act.

I was surprised to learn that former corporate attorney Odette Wilkens founded the Equal Justice Alliance after she heard Potter talk about the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act at AR2006. The mission of the EJA is to get that law repealed.

Wilkens said the AETA is vague. It's terms are undefined, and its penalities inflated. She also said 36 states have an AETA-type law, 33 of which are on par with or more severe than AETA.

She said a California bill had been "virtually shelved" but was brought back "with a vengence" and in a more egregious form after the Santa Cruz firebombings. Despite what the press is touting as true, Potter doesn't think the firebombings were the work of animal-rights activists.

At Thursday night's plenary Camille Hankins, an outspoken opponent of vivesection, said that the SHAC campaign globally have experienced government surveillance. Three different SHAC groups in Great Britain are in jail, and as one group gets arrested, another group takes its place.

At the end of an anti-vivesection session, a girl approached Hankins and told her she was suspicious of the guy who sat next to her. And the girl may have been right. At least one proponent of vivesection did indeed attend the conference.

(Image courtesy of

AR2008: The Corporate Threat

Corporate executives are out to protect their companies' bottom lines. I still don't understand how someone could have no conscience and would rather get richer than protect our Earth and its inhabitants. Maybe it's good that I don't understand it.

Debra Erenberg from the Rainforest Action Network, an environmental organization, listed five tactics that corporations use to repress progressive movements:

1) Challenge Non-Profit Funding
2) Police Surveillance
3) Exploit 9/11 Culture of Fear
4) Aggressive-Model Legislation
5) Lawsuits Against Public Participation

Erenberg also cited a 2006 Satya story that outlined three tactics that a PR exec encouraged the Cattlemen's Association to use to diminish the effectiveness of the animal-rights movement.

1) Isolate the radicals
2) "Cultivate" the idealists and "educate" them into becoming "realists"
3) Co-opt the opportunists into agreeing with industry

What this means is that the animal-abuse industry must identify the radicals(1), those people or groups who won't back down from what they want. Then the industry must convert the idealists by "educating" them about "commonsense" expectations. In this way the idealists become "realists"(2), and the radicals look like extremists. Finally, the industry must target opportunists, people in the movement who are looking for publicity and power, and give them the "perception of a partial victory"(3).

Harold Brown was born on a family farm and spent three years in the dairy industry. He now helps farmers transition from animal agriculture to plant-based farming, and he seems very knowledgeable.

He calls "free markets" a colonization of the Western diet to other lands and says the U.S. government has turned a blind eye to agricultural monopolies.

He cautions us not to underestimate slick PR companies, the "right hand of corporations." They've given us a false vision of a typical farm -- red barn, silo, green grass and happy animals.

He says PR companies have taken down governments in South America, and they stop Americans from being cohesive.

Similarly to what Erenberg said, Brown said that realists push radicals to the sidelines.

The top two lobbyists in the United States are the pharmaceutical industry and agriculture.

In the 1800s the United States gave rights to corporations, which are non-breathing entities. So surely animals can obtain rights. Brown said the 14th Amendment was used twice to help blacks and was used at all other times to help corporations.

Part of the solution to overcoming animal agriculture is to tell everyone we know about the abuses and thereby reduce demand.

Camille Hankins of W.A.R. (Win Animal Rights) said that we cannot underestimate the threat and power of corporations. But she also said the animal-abuse industry won't win because they're in it for money, and we're not. She believes circuses are on their last leg because they're giving away tickets.

A vivesection foe, she says we should call pharmaceutical companies drug companies. She joked that the names of drugs have X and Z in them to make us think they have magical powers and said that the pharma industry wants Huntingdon Life Sciences to stay in business. (HLS is where many pharma companies get the animals they test on.) She also said the National Institutes of Health runs Webinars about the animal-rights movement.

She said that if we hadn't been relying on animal testing, we may have found cures for more diseases by now. Brown also said that instead of "Race for the Cure," it should be "Race for the Cause" -- something I believe. We need to focus on eliminating the cause of cancer and other diseases.

lauren ornelas (who prefers her name lowercase, I believe), in a different session, mentioned that Coca-Cola had killed union workers in Colombia, definitely something I need to research further.

(The "Challenge Corporate Power" photo courtesy of

AR2008: Activist Prisoners

When I was younger and watched "The Cosby Show," I thought it was inappropriate that Sondra and Alvin named their twins Nelson and Winnie. Nelson Mandela had been in prison, so obviously he was a harmful criminal, right? I didn't know why he had been in prison, but the fact that he had was enough for me to judge him as a bad person. Later, of course, I discovered that he was imprisoned because he spoke out against apartheid, and my feelings about him changed.

The same process is true regarding my perceptions of the SHAC7. I first came across them in a progressive magazine. I can't remember if I read the story -- if I did, I don't remember doing so -- but I do remember that I thought, "These people are in prison. Why should I care about them?" If one is in prison, one is automatically a horrible person. At least that was my thinking at the time.

Now, though, I know that that's not necessarily true. Yes, many people -- especially murders and rapists who are truly guilty -- deserve to be in prison. (Although I'd like to see more rehabilitation occurring.) But as Will Potter said during the AR2008 session on activist prisoners, political prisoners aren't necessarily guilty.

The SHAC7 are a good example of our warped criminal justice system. Or as Potter said, "It's not a criminal justice system; it's the criminal system." The SHAC7 did not get justice.

As I've written before, the SHAC7 ran a Web site against Huntingdon Life Sciences. They were not involved in criminal activity; they simply had a Web site. And now they are in prison. Odette Wilkens, an attorney who founded the Equal Justice Alliance, announced that Andy Stepanian, one of the SHAC7, had recently been moved to a maximum-security prison, and he's not doing well. A person who simply ran a Web site is now living among the country's most violent criminals. As Potter noted, he's there because of his beliefs.

Similarly, Camille Hankins, a controversial figure even at the conference and an outspoken opponent of vivesection (torturing animals for research), spoke about the Austrian animal-rights activists who were imprisoned in May and still haven't been charged with a crime. Hankins speculated that they were taken into custody because they were planning an international animal-rights conference. One of the people arrested had been organizing a coalition of all animal-rights groups in Austria.

Hankins also said three founders of SHAC (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty) in Great Britain have been arrested but not charged with crimes. (I don't know how long they've been held.)

Potter also discussed the trend of labeling an animal activist a terrorist. Prosecutors in recent cases of activists being tried for vandalism, for example, have pushed for harsher sentences by tacking on terrorism charges simply because the act was allegedly carried out for the purpose of helping animals. Potter said that when someone is labeled a terrorist, it changes how he is treated in prison. (And that may be why Stepanian is in a maximum-security facility.)

Finally, Potter said that even if we are opposed to direct action, we should still take a stand against labeling activists as terrorists. We should also remember that the activists in prison are real people and shouldn't be treated as martyrs.

Edited to add: I forgot to include Tammy Grimes in this post. She's the founder of Dogs Deserve Better, an organization that opposes chaining dogs. At Thursday night's plenary she showed a video and spoke about her arrest and conviction. She was arrested in 2006 for taking a chained and obviously very ill dog to the vet.

Long story short -- After repeated attempts to have officials come out and look at the dog, Grimes finally did it herself, videotaping what she found. We saw a dog who was too ill to stand. He was lying on the ground, a wide, thick metal brace around his neck, and he was barely able to lift his head. Grimes brought him to the vet and contacted police, offering them her video as evidence of animal cruelty. The police were not interested in it and instead arrested her for theft and receiving stolen property. She was not allowed to show the video at her court case, was found guilty and was sentenced to a $1,700 fine, 300 hours of community service and one-year probation -- all for saving the life of a dog. She's appealing the verdict.

(Photo courtesy of

Monday, August 18, 2008

AR2008: Sea Shepherd

All I knew about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society before the conference was that they're a group of people led by Capt. Paul Watson who take to the oceans to try to prevent Japanese whalers from killing the animals. (They also protect other marine life.) I also knew that Watson had been shot recently by someone on an enemy ship. Fortunately, he was wearing a bullet-proof vest.

At AR2008, however, I quickly learned that Sea Shepherd has a lot of fans. On Thursday I had dinner with a man who was wearing a Sea Shepherd shirt, and one or two people came up to him to thank him for his work. He had, in fact, volunteered on a ship.

Watson gave a powerful speech at Friday's plenary. I didn't take notes that night, but I did at two other occasions that members of Sea Shepherd spoke.

With a fantastic smile, in which she squints her eyes, and a bopping blond ponytail, Kim McCoy seems an unlikely member of Sea Shepherd. She spoke at a session about "Enforcing Animal Protection Laws," describing Canada's ironically named Seal Protection Act. This law makes it illegal to go within a half-mile of a seal being slaughtered. It is illegal to videotape the slaughtering of a seal.

McCoy also explained that a United Nations law exists that says that if a nation isn't enforcing an environmental or conservation law, a non-governmental organization (NGO) can go in and enforce it. This is what Sea Shepherd sometimes does. Whaling is illegal in the Australian Whale Sanctuary, an area of water near Antarctica. Yet Australia doesn't enforce the law, thereby allowing Japanese whalers to hunt there. Also, whaling is legal in Japan only if done for research purposes. So after Japanese whalers take in their catch, they put them in boxes labeled "research" and then ship them to stores.

Jonny Vasic of Sea Shepherd spoke at "Applying Direct Action." He said social change comes about from individuals and small, grassroots organizations. He also said 50% of fish go to feed farmed animals, a practice that cannot be sustained.

Three laws govern our planet:
1) The law of diversity
2) The law of interdependence
3) The law of finite resources

Species are like a house of bricks. If we keep removing bricks, we don't know which brick will make the whole house collapse. The same holds true for species. If we keep destroying our planet, which leads to the extinction of species, we don't know which species will cause our ultimate destruction. We'll all interdependent.

In describing how children are taught to eat meat (ie. it's not a natural behavior), he used this example: If you put an apple and a rabbit in a toddler's playpen, the toddler will eat the apple and play with the rabbit.

Vasic also said people accept diminishment. We get used to have less freedom and of expecting less. He also said we have to solve poverty in order to solve our environmental problems and animal abuse.

At the Saturday plenary we got to watch a trailer for a seven-part series called "Whale Wars" that will air this fall on Animal Planet. It's footage taken from a Sea Shepherd voyage, and it looks more exciting than a Hollywood movie. I don't have cable, but I'm going to find a way to watch all seven episodes.

In one part of the trailer a woman on the Sea Shepherd ship was shown running into the bathroom and getting sick. I was in an elevator with her the day after the plenary and someone commented on her Sea Shepherd shirt. She said she was part of the crew, and the man said that hopefully her next voyage will be her last -- hopefully whaling will stop, so they won't have to go out again (although there are other species they'll need to protect) -- and then he said she could take a cruise to relax. She replied that she gets severely seasick and that if it weren't for the animals, she'd never set foot on a ship. Talk about moving outside one's comfort zone to help the animals!

AR2008: Strong Women

I wanted to title this post "AR2008: Feminism" but thought that might detur some people from reading it, as that word may hold negative connotations for them. To me, though, feminism at its most basic is about empowering women. And while AR2008 was an animal-rights conference, I, as a woman, felt empowered by many of the female speakers. (The male speakers will get their due in other posts.)

If you have a school-age daughter, I recommend attending this conference with her. She's likely to be at least moderately interested in animals, and attending sessions with female activists can show her career paths and doors that she may not have realized are there. At least four lawyers spoke. Activists with nonprofits showed how strong and determined they were. And they all made public speaking look comfortable and as natural as breathing. I actually wish I had attended a conference like this when I was 12.

The woman who struck me the most was Debra Erenberg of the Rainforest Action Network. It's easier to look to someone as a role model if you share similar traits, one being appearance. I liked Erenberg because, like me, she wears little or no makeup and generally has her hair in a ponytail. Of course, I also liked her dedication and determination, which came across in her informative speeches. I hadn't heard of her or her organization before the conference, but now I'm a supporter.

lauren ornelas (who, I believe, likes her name lowercase) is small in stature but powerful. She founded the Food Empowerment Project that advocates for healthy food in low-income neighborhoods and for fair and healthy working conditions for produce workers.

To look at her, one may think that Shannon Keith is a dumb blonde (who created that ridiculous stereotype anyway?), but she'll surprise you. She's an animal-rights attorney from California and also runs her own nonprofit.

While these are only three of the many women who spoke at the conference, they're typical of the others. They're all nice, but I think it's safe to say that they don't take crap from people. They believe strongly in what they're fighting for (a better world), and they're going to do their damndest to win. That's a great lesson to give the world's daughters.

(Photo of Shannon Keith courtesy of

AR2008: An Overview

I'm back home from AR2008, and I had a blast! If you've never been to the national animal-rights conference, I highly recommend you go next year. It was incredible to see leaders in our movement (some of which I hadn't heard of before) and to hear them speak.

I took lots of notes and will be writing several posts regarding different aspects of the conference. They may be a bit disjointed, as I only wrote bits and pieces from people's presentations. Also, I'm taking speakers at their word, so feel free to do your own research to find independent sources to support what they've said.

For this post, though, I just want to provide an overview of the conference, specifically for people who haven't been to one before.

The conference began Thursday evening with registration and a reception. At the reception I met a woman named Kathy, who works in D.C. She's not yet vegetarian but wanted to become one -- and I think the dinners helped in that regard. The food (vegan, of course) was delicious! After the reception, we had our first dinner and then the opening plenary, a session attended by everyone.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, beginning at 9 a.m., conference attendees had their choice of three or four sessions to attend each hour. One track was for people new to the movement, and these sessions discussed different aspects of animal exploitation (ie. for food, for entertainment, for research, etc.) Another track centered on rap sessions, in which participants sat in a circle and were able to discuss issues with each other. Other sessions for more experienced people discussed oppression in other movements, activist repression, media campaigns, corporate campaigns, direct action.

In addition to the sessions, participants could browse the exhibit hall. I bought several AR-themed T-shirts. The one I'm wearing now is from Farm Sanctuary. It has a picture of a pig, a chick and a cow and says, "Be Their Voice ... Go Vegetarian." It's very cute.

At Saturday's plenary Heather Mills received an award, given each year to a celebrity making a difference for animal rights. I sat two tables from her. She got a lot of crap in her divorce from Paul McCartney, but I don't know either of them personally, so I'm not taking sides. We watched a video of Mills' work, and then she spoke as flashbulbs continued to go off.

A bigger thrill for me, though, than seeing Mills was watching Joe Espinosa get an award for his work. He's not a celebrity by any stretch, but I think that makes his work all the more special. He volunteers for Vegan Outreach's Adopt A College program. (I knew of him through the group's newsletter but hadn't met him until that afternoon.) Matt Ball, a co-founder of Vegan Outreach, told the plenary audience that Joe works Saturdays at his full-time, non-AR job so he can leaflet schools during the week. (I already knew this from Vegan Chicago Meetup because Joe, who lives in the same county as I, could never attend get-togethers because they are always on Saturdays.) That's dedication and sacrifice -- all for the animals.

I was also surprised to see two people from The Humane Society of the United States there -- although I didn't recognize Paul Shapiro. (His Facebook picture doesn't look like him.) He also received an award.

I don't know why the two biggest animal-rights organizations (HSUS and PETA) weren't represented at the conference. Yeah, Shapiro was there, but only to receive an award. No one from those organizations spoke, and they didn't have a table in the exhibit hall. I know there are differences in tactics within our movement, but I'd like to see all groups who fight for animals unite at least for one weekend. In the end, we're all fighting for the same thing, and a variety of tactics can be helpful.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

USDA in Good Hands?

Erik Marcus at, which I've started checking daily because it has news I don't find elsewhere, has a hilarious post regarding the secretary of the USDA. (It's short -- go read it.)

The story he cites is about USDA Secretary Ed Schafer maintaining that, although there have been eight meat recalls in the past week, the USDA doesn't need to change its procedures.

[Schafer] noted the many innovative ways the industry has stepped up to control bacteria in its facilities, from using 87,000 lbs of water pressure to kill bacteria to using black light to detect contamination.

87,000 pounds of water pressure? That should be good for the environment.

A blog by a North Dakota resident -- Schafer used to be that state's governor -- reveals that the USDA secretary has plagiarized articles for a conservative magazine at least twice.

While not a criminal offense, I have to question this guy's intelligence. He has an MBA, which means he went through high school, college and graduate school -- and he never learned that plagiarism is wrong? This man is in charge of the safety of our country's meat and dairy -- ok, that's a bit oxymoronic, but you know what I mean. I'm just saying I'd prefer someone with better judgement.

In announcing Schafer's nomination, President George W. Bush said, "At every stage of his career, Ed has shown wisdom, foresight and creativity."

Except when it comes to writing apparently.

In accepting Bush's nomination, Schafer said, "[I]t will be a great pleasure to join forces with the dedicated, talented and loyal employees of the USDA to enhance our country's vibrant agriculture economy, to advance renewable energy and protect America's food supply, improve nutrition and health, and conserve our natural resources."

One out of five ain't bad.

(Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bush Plots More Planetary Destruction

Is Bush out of office yet? Hasn't he done enough damage to the United States and to the planet? Apparently not.

The Bush Administration wants to water down the Endangered Species Act by allowing the executive branch to determine whether animals and plants face endangerment by infrastructure.

The Bush administration wants federal agencies to decide for themselves whether highways, dams, mines and other construction projects might harm endangered animals and plants.

New regulations, which don't require the approval of Congress, would reduce the mandatory, independent reviews government scientists have been performing for 35 years, according to a draft first obtained by The Associated Press.

And why does the administration want to do this? Because of that pesky, fictitious rumor called global warming.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said late Monday the changes were needed to ensure that the Endangered Species Act would not be used as a "back door" to regulate the gases blamed for global warming.

It's hard to make ever-increasing amounts of money when you have to comply with rules about not destroying our planet.

The draft rules would bar federal agencies from assessing the emissions from projects that contribute to global warming and its effect on species and habitats.

I hope this insane, illogical measure does not pass. And I hope someone sit Bush and Cheney in front of a Wii until January. No more plotting about how to make more money while making Americans suffer. Just play like good boys until you get evicted.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Challenge Tradition

In less than a week cockfighting will become illegal in all 50 states. Louisiana was the last hold-out, and it's law banning cockfighting goes into effect Friday.

While cockfighting doesn't concern the majority of Americans, it's an element of a bigger issue: tradition.

"The culture, the custom of the Cajun people, it's gone," said Chris Daughdrill, who breeds fighting roosters in Loranger. "It's another one of the rights that big government has taken away from the people."

Simply because a behavior has been practiced for 100 years or hundreds of years or even 1,000 years, the timeline doesn't justify the behavior. Slavery was legal for hundreds of years. American women weren't given the right to vote until 150 years after our country was founded. Girls in some African countries undergo painful female circumcision as part of tradition. Japan justifies whale slaughter by calling it cultural tradition.

We need to look at the traditions, customs and norms of our lives and ask ourselves if they jibe with our beliefs. If they don't, then we need to get rid of them and create new traditions.

Regarding the previous quote, Cajun people have a rich history. Surely they can celebrate their heritage in some other, more civilized way.

(Photo courtesy of The Humane Society of the United States.)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

"A Life Connected"

I just watched "A Life Connected," a short video about the benefits of being vegan. Without being graphic or preachy, it talks about veganism as it relates to the environment, people worldwide, our health and the animals.

I especially liked this part:

How can it be that 95% of Americans feel it is wrong to unnecessarily hurt and kill helpless animals, yet 95% of Americans continue to unnecessarily hurt and kill helpless animals?

Check it out!

Beef Recalled Due to E. coli

Although this is the second beef recall for Nebraska Beef Ltd. in less than a month, I haven't heard much about it in the news.

Federal authorities last month assured consumers that a meat plant linked to nearly 50 illnesses caused by tainted ground beef had made enough changes after a recall to ensure that its products were safe. Less than a month later, the same processor has recalled 1.2 million pounds of other beef products that might have sickened more than 30 people.

According to the story, that company slaughters 2,000 cows each day, and E. coli, a bacteria found in the intestines of animals, sickens 73,000 Americans each year.

Edited to add: Erik Marcus of has a good post about this issue, with a link to a Page 1 story in The Washington Post.

The Post story tells us that this most recent recall "is not related to the recent spate of E. coli illnesses among Boy Scouts at a gathering in Goshen, Va." I hadn't heard about that incident, but nice to know.

The story also points out Nebraska Beef's penchant for suing instead of improving its facilities.

From September 2002 to February 2003, USDA shut down the plant three times for problems such as feces on carcasses, water dripping off pipes onto meat, paint peeling onto equipment and plugged-up meat wash sinks, according to agency records.

After the third suspension, Nebraska Beef took USDA to court, arguing that another shutdown would put the company out of business. A judge agreed and temporarily blocked the department. The USDA and the company then settled out of court and inspections resumed. However, when federal meat inspectors found more violations, Nebraska Beef sued the department and the inspectors individually, accusing them of bias. The suit was later dismissed.

And this in 2006:

Minnesota health officials blamed Nebraska Beef for sickening 17 people who ate meatballs at a church potluck in rural Minnesota. Several victims filed lawsuits against Nebraska Beef, including the family of a woman who died. The company last fall sued the church, arguing that the volunteer cooks did not cook the meatballs properly.

Finally, if you thought E. coli was bad, take a look at this:

In 2004 and early 2005, Nebraska Beef ran afoul of new regulations aimed at keeping animal parts that may be infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, out of the meat supply. Meat processors are required to remove certain high-risk parts, such as brains and spinal cords. Between July 2004 and February 2005, federal meat inspectors wrote up Nebraska Beef at least five times for not removing spinal cords and heads.

(Photo is of an unidentified slaughterhouse.)

Letter to the Animal-Abuse Industry

Dear Those in the Animal-Abuse Industry:

The national conference for the animal-rights movement is approaching, and I expect some of you to be there. After all, if the FBI is interested in infiltrating vegan potlucks, then surely they -- and those in the animal-abuse industry -- will want to attend the movement's biggest event.

I'll be looking forward to reading your reports. But while you're at AR2008, instead of focusing on veggie bumper stickers like in previous years, think about why 1,000 people would come to this conference from around the world. We're not being paid to attend. We have to cover our own airfare, hotel accommodations and food. We have to take vacation days from work -- likely not paid vacation days for many. We'll be spending four days listening to speaker after speaker in a hotel when we could be lounging on a beach in the Caribbean.

So why will we be there? We'll be there because we care about animals. Plain and simple. We don't get paid to care about them. We care about them because we care about justice, compassion and respect. We detest injustice, suffering, torture and slaughter.

We also care about the truth. The truth that farmed animals live lives of misery until they are murdered. The truth that meat production releases more greenhouse gases than does transportation. The truth that many cancers (and heart disease) can be prevented by abstaining from animal protein.

The truth that animals in the circus are beaten to behave in ways they wouldn't naturally. The truth that fur comes from animals who are anally electrocuted. The truth that the AKC supports puppy mills. The truth that animal testing is barbaric and unnecessary.

The animal-abuse industry pays a lot of money to keep these truths hidden. But we believe that people deserve to know the truth -- and that animals will benefit from this knowledge.

Perhaps it's naive, but I hope that while you're taking notes about the goings-on of AR2008 (so you can report back to your various animal-abuse industries), you'll come to realize that animals are worth more than the profit they provide you. That their lives -- like those of human animals -- have intrinsic value that our monetary system cannot comprehend.

Please come to AR2008 not with dollar signs in your heads, but with hearts and souls in your body.

An Animal Advocate

(Photo courtesy of

Friday, August 8, 2008

Rescued Pigs Give Birth

So now that you've decided to stop eating nasty processed meats, I'd like to introduce you to three young mothers who have endured a lot in their young lives: Mango, Rosebud and Mabel.

Farm Sanctuary rescued these three pigs and dozens others from Iowa after the Mississippi River flooded earlier this summer. Mango, Rosebud and Mabel were among at least 10 pigs who were in the midst of late-term pregnancies. This Farm Sanctuary blog tracks the rescues and the births.

What struck me as I viewed the photos of the infant piglets nursing on their mothers is how similar the pigs' teats (is that the proper term?) look to a woman's breasts. I don't mean this in a vulgar, offensive way at all. I find it remarkable how human animals are similarly constructed to nonhuman animals. For example, if I were to get down on my hands and knees, my body parts are, for the most part, in the same place as a female dog's are.

Some people may find this kind of talk degrading or perverse (even my boyfriend didn't like this post). But I don't mean it that way. If people take some time to think about the similarities that exist between us, instead of the differences, they're more likely to behave compassionately toward other animals.

For those of you who are mothers, look at these pictures. Does your mind go back to when you gave birth to your tiny bundle of joy or to what it felt like to have your baby nurse? Do you remember the bond you felt?

Of course, I don't know what goes through a pig's head as she gives birth or allows her babies to nurse. But I have to think that she feels more comfortable being able to stretch out on a bed of hay and have her babies close to her than she would have, had she remained on that Iowa farm -- in a building with a cement floor, in a farrowing crate with bars between her and her babies.

Unfortunately, gestation crates and then farrowing crates and then eventual slaughter are the norm for pigs raised for meat.

Cancer Researchers: Avoid Processed Meats

My thanks to the blog Veggie Karma for posting the latest on the debate about whether processed meats are harmful. Well, ok, it's not really a debate. But when the Center for Consumer Freedom gets involved, everyone has to spend time defending themselves.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine published a letter after Tony Snow, former press secretary to President George W. Bush, died of colon cancer recently. In it a rep for PCRM cited a report by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund that found that no amount of processed meat was safe to eat.

The CCF and the meat industry, of course, begged to differ. Now, though, as Veggie Karma has written, the AICR has issued a statement defending its report and criticizing the American Meat Institute.

Here is some of what the AICR says:

The expert panel did not issue a recommendation unless the epidemiological data was clear, consistent and supported by strong laboratory evidence.

Among the panel’s recommendations: limit consumption of red meat to 18 ounces (cooked) per week. But according to the report: “The evidence on processed meat is even more clear-cut than that on red meat, and the data do not show any level of intake that can confidently be shown not to be associated with risk.”


AICR now recommends avoiding hot dogs, sausages, bacon, ham, cold cuts and other processed meats.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Environmental Discussion Not So Eco-Friendly

In the last post I mentioned "Chicago Tonight." It's a one-hour news program on Chicago's PBS station, and I watch it every night. Each show touches on a variety of topics -- politics, education, the arts, the environment, health -- while remaining calm, informative, entertaining and contextual.

Last night, though, I had to e-mail the producers to question their choice of guest for an environmental segment they aired. Phil Ponce, the show's host, read questions from viewers regarding environmental issues. For example, "Are CFL bulbs really better for the environment?" Two people labeled as "environmental specialists" were on hand to answer these questions. Simple enough, right?

One person was someone (I think his name was Max) from Environment Illinois. The other was Zonia Pino from the Heartland Institute. While Max gave informative, factual answers, Pino's answers were a bit odd. To two questions she responded that people should do what they want. Then her answers, which were supposed to be environmentally friendly, got bizarre, and I began to wonder what, in fact, the Heartland Institute promoted and who funded it. After doing a bit of research, I wrote this letter to producers:

Why on earth would you invite someone from the Heartland Institute to answer viewers' questions about being environmentally friendly? A quick search on revealed that the Heartland Institute opposes the Kyoto protocol, promotes genetically engineered food and dismisses claims that secondhand smoke is harmful. This information makes it a lot easier to understand Zonia Pino's environmentally unfriendly -- and just plain idiotic -- recommendations during tonight's show. Pino, of the Heartland Institute, opposes the legislation that Environment Illinois is proposing to raise the mandatory MPGs for cars in Illinois, saying that poor people then wouldn't be able to afford cars. That's ridiculous. Demand for more fuel-efficient cars would be high; therefore, production would increase, thereby driving down price. But Pino's answer regarding organic produce was the most bizarre. She didn't think highly of organic fruits and veggies because, at least according to her, it takes more land to produce them. But using chemicals to grow food strips the soil of nutrients without replacing them, leading to desertification and forcing farmers to move to new land. Also, growing food with chemicals leads to polluted groundwater and cancer and other health risks. The next time you do a segment on the environment, please invite only people who are true environmentalists.

I hope that my letter is read on the air tonight to clear up any confusion that viewers may have regarding the conflicting advice that arose from the segment.

(Photo courtesy of

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

TRUE Domestic Terrorism

While the FBI has labeled animal-rights advocates the No. 1 domestic terrorist threat and is focusing its efforts on vegan potlucks, peace rallies and First Amendment rights, I'd like to show you what true domestic terrorism looks like.

A total of 36 Chicago Public School students have been killed since September. Each week it seemed like another student's murder was making headlines. Innocent children and teenagers are dying because they were caught in gang gunfire. "Chicago Tonight" even devoted an entire hour to the problem.

A story in today's Chicago Sun-Times reveals the results of a survey the paper conducted of first- through eighth-grade students at three Chicago schools.

Many Chicago kids are scared to go to the store. Others avoid stepping off their block or going to the park. Fearing for their safety because of guns and gangs, they’ve lost the freedom to play.

The story says fifth- through eighth-graders were the most affected, with half knowing a friend or a relative who has been shot at and a third having a friend or a relative who was fatally shot.

Fear of the guns and gangs that plague her Little Village neighborhood has left Maria [Rivera] virtually a prisoner in her own home -- an image she drew for a fifth-grade social studies project. Her artwork shows a little girl standing in front of a barred second-story window, looking down at gang-bangers, a drug deal and a shooting on the street below.

Gangs' behavior is true domestic terrorism. Thousands of children should not be worried about getting shot. They should be worried about tests or about their best friend not liking them anymore. They should be anxious about whether they'll get that hoped-for present for their birthday. They should not have to worry about whether they will die as they walk home from school.

Law-enforcement officials need to focus on giving these children back a quality of life. It doesn't matter that they're poor, that they're black or that they're Hispanic. That's crap. What matters is that they are American children whose childhoods have been taken from them.

"Oh my god. If my community had no gangbangers, no guns, no dangers, it would be very cool. The reason is because we would be able to dress however we want. We will be able to play where ever we wanted. We would be free to do whatever. There would be more block parties without gunshots. No more people getting scared of letting their children go outside and play. There would be children out in the streets playing and laughing. You would see smiles and laughs and children all around." -- eighth-grade girl, Little Village Academy.

(Photo by Chris Sweda, courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Times)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Tabling/Leafleting a Success

I volunteered to help Mercy for Animals table and leaflet during Veggie Fest 2008 on Saturday -- my first time doing either -- and it went very well.

We handed out boxes and boxes of Vegan Outreach's "Why Vegetarian?" brochures. The crowd was very receptive, with only a few people crinkling their noses and saying they couldn't look at the pictures of abuse in the pamphlet.

I met a few vegans and many vegetarians. Several people said they wanted to get their moms or sisters to go veggie, and some took pamphlets for their friends.

Tabling was equally successful, as we sold a lot of shirts. I bought the black cami and wore it to work today. Looks great! The "Not Cool" T-shirt, though, was the biggest hit.

Many people also donated money to MFA and told us to keep fighting for animals.

The food, too, was excellent. I had corn on the cob and a watermelon drink from Baja Fresh, and I had yummy, yummy vegetable fried rice and veggie chicken from Caribbean Kitchen. In addition to the Caribbean fare, other food was available: Thai, American, Indian, Chinese and Mexican.

Here are a few of the highlights from the day:

n An older man from Puerto Rico told me about his Siberian Husky named Ruby as I leafleted. An hour or so later he came back when I was tabling and asked where he could get vegetarian dog food. I wrote down the name of the one I feed my dogs.

n An older man and a younger man walked by, the latter with a little boy on his shoulders. I asked them if they wanted a pamphlet, and the younger man took one and handed it to his son, saying something like, "We need to get Grandma to read this."

n While I leafleted, a man asked me about the undercover videos he's seen online, saying they all are several years old and that maybe conditions for farmed animals have changed. I quickly told him that he could find several recent undercover videos on the Web, including the one from the Hallmark/Westland slaughterhouse in California, which he could find on the HSUS site, and that resulted in a massive beef recall. He said he'd check it out.

(Photo courtesy of

Friday, August 1, 2008

Don't Shop at Wal-Mart

I don't shop at Wal-Mart. I don't like their stores, and I don't like how they do business.

A story in today's Wall Street Journal illustrates Wal-Mart's philosophy. Because Wal-Mart opposes a bill to make unionizing easier for employees, it's human-resource personnel have been having meetings with store managers and supervisors about the upcoming election.

"The meeting leader said, 'I am not telling you how to vote, but if the Democrats win, this bill will pass and you won't have a vote on whether you want a union,'" said a Wal-Mart customer-service supervisor from Missouri. "I am not a stupid person. They were telling me how to vote," she said.

If Obama becomes president and Democrats still control Congress, there's more of a chance for the Employee Free Choice Act to pass. I'm not an expert on unions. I've worked in both a union newsroom and a non-union newsroom. But I feel that if workers want to unionize, they should have that right. This bill would make it easier for them to do so, without intimidation from management.

Wal-Mart has gone to great lengths to discourage unions.

On June 30 the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Wal-Mart illegally fired an employee in Kingman, Ariz., who supported the UFCW and illegally threatened to freeze merit-pay increases if employees voted for union representation.

And this:
Through almost all of its 48-year history, Wal-Mart has fought hard to keep unions out of its stores, flying in labor-relations rapid-response teams from its Bentonville, Ark., headquarters to any location where union activity was building. The United Food and Commercial Workers was successful in organizing only one group of Wal-Mart workers -- a small number of butchers in East Texas in early 2000. Several weeks later, the company phased out butchers in all of its stores and began stocking prepackaged meat. When a store in Canada voted to unionize several years ago, the company closed the store, saying it had been unprofitable for years.

Wal-Mart clearly cares only about its bottom line -- and the hefty salary their executives take home. They give little to no consideration to their workers.

Oh, and by the way ... guess who else is trying to squash the pro-union bill. Rick Berman. Yes, the same Rick Berman who is president of the Center for Consumer Freedom. He runs the Employee Freedom Action Committee, a pro-business group. He also has a Web site called the Center for Union Facts. Although I can assure you, the "facts" are lies. He's very anti-union.

(Image courtesy of

One Myth of (Animal) Milk

I listen to four radio stations on a regular basis, one of which is WGN Radio in Chicago. Unfortunately, they air Paul Harvey, at which time I turn the station. Today, though, I caught a glimpse of one of his news items: a study (or studies, not sure) found that drinking cow's milk one or two times every day vs. once a week had no effect on the occurrence of broken bones. Harvey and his syndicated radio segments are highly conservative, so I was surprised that he'd mention a news item that didn't cast cow's milk in a favorable light.

Harvey said that calcium (from cow's milk) has long been thought to protect our bones as we age. Yet, he added, the Chinese consume less calcium than Americans and suffer fewer broken bones. He wondered how this was possible.

Well-researched vegans know exactly how this is possible, and it's one of many facts that the dairy industry wishes to conceal: Consuming excess protein causes calcium to leach from bones.

Almost all Americans consume too much protein. And in an effort to consume calcium, they look to the source we've all been told is the best for that mineral -- cow's milk. But cow's milk also contains protein, which we're already getting too much of through our meat eating.

The Chinese don't consume nearly the amount of protein we do, so the calcium they consume isn't leached from their bones.

For more about this issue, please read "The China Study," which I'll be reviewing in the near future. Or visit