November 23, 2009

Healthcare is a Human Right: VT postcard campaign

Healthcare is a Human Right

Click the above link to sign a postcard to be delivered to legislative leaders in Vermont on Jan. 6, the first day of the next session.

human rights, Vermont

November 22, 2009

We're better than other animals. That's why we get to kill them.

Gary Steiner writes in today's New York Times:

Lately more people have begun to express an interest in where the meat they eat comes from and how it was raised. Were the animals humanely treated? Did they have a good quality of life before the death that turned them into someone’s dinner?

Some of these questions, which reach a fever pitch in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, pertain to the ways in which animals are treated. (Did your turkey get to live outdoors?) Others focus on the question of how eating the animals in question will affect the consumer’s health and well-being. (Was it given hormones and antibiotics?)

None of these questions, however, make any consideration of whether it is wrong to kill animals for human consumption. And even when people ask this question, they almost always find a variety of resourceful answers that purport to justify the killing and consumption of animals in the name of human welfare. Strict ethical vegans, of which I am one, are customarily excoriated for equating our society’s treatment of animals with mass murder. Can anyone seriously consider animal suffering even remotely comparable to human suffering? Those who answer with a resounding no typically argue in one of two ways.

Some suggest that human beings but not animals are made in God’s image and hence stand in much closer proximity to the divine than any non-human animal; according to this line of thought, animals were made expressly for the sake of humans and may be used without scruple to satisfy their needs and desires. There is ample support in the Bible and in the writings of Christian thinkers like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas for this pointedly anthropocentric way of devaluing animals.

Others argue that the human capacity for abstract thought makes us capable of suffering that both qualitatively and quantitatively exceeds the suffering of any non-human animal. Philosophers like Jeremy Bentham, who is famous for having based moral status not on linguistic or rational capacities but rather on the capacity to suffer, argue that because animals are incapable of abstract thought, they are imprisoned in an eternal present, have no sense of the extended future and hence cannot be said to have an interest in continued existence.

The most penetrating and iconoclastic response to this sort of reasoning came from the writer Isaac Bashevis Singer in his story “The Letter Writer,” in which he called the slaughter of animals the “eternal Treblinka.”

The story depicts an encounter between a man and a mouse. The man, Herman Gombiner, contemplates his place in the cosmic scheme of things and concludes that there is an essential connection between his own existence as “a child of God” and the “holy creature” scuffling about on the floor in front of him.

Surely, he reflects, the mouse has some capacity for thought; Gombiner even thinks that the mouse has the capacity to share love and gratitude with him. Not merely a means for the satisfaction of human desires, nor a mere nuisance to be exterminated, this tiny creature possesses the same dignity that any conscious being possesses. In the face of that inherent dignity, Gombiner concludes, the human practice of delivering animals to the table in the form of food is abhorrent and inexcusable.

Many of the people who denounce the ways in which we treat animals in the course of raising them for human consumption never stop to think about this profound contradiction. Instead, they make impassioned calls for more “humanely” raised meat. Many people soothe their consciences by purchasing only free-range fowl and eggs, blissfully ignorant that “free range” has very little if any practical significance. Chickens may be labeled free-range even if they’ve never been outside or seen a speck of daylight in their entire lives. And that Thanksgiving turkey? Even if it is raised “free range,” it still lives a life of pain and confinement that ends with the butcher’s knife.

How can intelligent people who purport to be deeply concerned with animal welfare and respectful of life turn a blind eye to such practices? And how can people continue to eat meat when they become aware that nearly 53 billion land animals are slaughtered every year for human consumption? The simple answer is that most people just don’t care about the lives or fortunes of animals. If they did care, they would learn as much as possible about the ways in which our society systematically abuses animals, and they would make what is at once a very simple and a very difficult choice: to forswear the consumption of animal products of all kinds. ...

The challenges faced by a vegan don’t end with the nuts and bolts of material existence. You face quite a few social difficulties as well, perhaps the chief one being how one should feel about spending time with people who are not vegans.

Is it O.K. to eat dinner with people who are eating meat? What do you say when a dining companion says, “I’m really a vegetarian — I don’t eat red meat at home.” (I’ve heard it lots of times, always without any prompting from me.) What do you do when someone starts to grill you (so to speak) about your vegan ethics during dinner? (Wise vegans always defer until food isn’t around.) Or when someone starts to lodge accusations to the effect that you consider yourself morally superior to others, or that it is ridiculous to worry so much about animals when there is so much human suffering in the world? (Smile politely and ask them to pass the seitan.)

Let me be candid: By and large, meat-eaters are a self-righteous bunch. The number of vegans I know personally is ... five. And I have been a vegan for almost 15 years, having been a vegetarian for almost 15 before that.

Five. I have lost more friends than this over arguments about animal ethics. One lapidary conclusion to be drawn here is that people take deadly seriously the prerogative to use animals as sources of satisfaction. Not only for food, but as beasts of burden, as raw materials and as sources of captive entertainment — which is the way animals are used in zoos, circuses and the like.

These uses of animals are so institutionalized, so normalized, in our society that it is difficult to find the critical distance needed to see them as the horrors that they are: so many forms of subjection, servitude and — in the case of killing animals for human consumption and other purposes — outright murder.

People who are ethical vegans believe that differences in intelligence between human and non-human animals have no moral significance whatsoever. The fact that my cat can’t appreciate Schubert’s late symphonies and can’t perform syllogistic logic does not mean that I am entitled to use him as an organic toy, as if I were somehow not only morally superior to him but virtually entitled to treat him as a commodity with minuscule market value.

We have been trained by a history of thinking of which we are scarcely aware to view non-human animals as resources we are entitled to employ in whatever ways we see fit in order to satisfy our needs and desires. Yes, there are animal welfare laws. But these laws have been formulated by, and are enforced by, people who proceed from the proposition that animals are fundamentally inferior to human beings. At best, these laws make living conditions for animals marginally better than they would be otherwise — right up to the point when we send them to the slaughterhouse.

Think about that when you’re picking out your free-range turkey, which has absolutely nothing to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. All it ever had was a short and miserable life, thanks to us intelligent, compassionate humans.

November 16, 2009

The enemy of the good

There is an excellent essay at Counterpunch today by Alan Nasser: "Obama's Flawed Case Against Single Payer".

Similar to what he notes about Obama, it seems to be a motto for the sometimes slightly progressive neoliberal politicians in Vermont that "We can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good [so let's not even consider it, or for that matter whether what I'm going along with actually is any good]." It's one big antidemocratic thumbing of their collective nose and most people just nod at this signature wisdom.

And so by dismissing actual good as too "perfect", as irresponsible madness, all that is usually left is quite a bit less than good.

And so we have health insurance reform from our Congress and President: the same lousy system, only more punitive.

human rights, Vermont, anarchism, anarchosyndicalism

November 6, 2009

Local Organic Meat

Bushway Packing in Grand Isle, Vermont, was certified organic. As this video shows, being local and organic doesn't change the facts about killing and eating animals. This also illustrates the dark side of the dairy industry, which should also be called the veal industry.

animal rights, vegetarianism, Vermont, ecoanarchism

November 4, 2009

Single-payer, not-for-profit health care system

Dennis Kucinich, Ohio, July 31, 2009:

Mr. Speaker, I've listened to the health care debate, as all Members have, for the last few months. And what's very interesting about it is that in this debate, we've essentially talked past the single most effective way to reduce costs and to provide health care for all Americans, and that is to create a single-payer, universal not-for-profit health care system.

Such a system is envisioned in and provided for in H.R. 676, Medicare for All, a bill that I had the privilege of writing with John Conyers of Michigan, a bill that is supported by 85 Members of Congress, by hundreds of community organizations and labor unions, by over 14,000 physicians, and a bill which represents an idea whose time has come.

Some basic facts require discussion when we're speaking about our health care system. And that is that we spend about $2.4 trillion on health care in America, all spending. That amounts to about 16 to 17 percent of our gross domestic product. Clearly health care is a huge item in the American economy.

If all of that money, all of that $2.4 trillion went to care for people, every American would be covered. But today, not every American is covered. As a matter of fact, there are 50 million Americans without health insurance and another 50 million underinsured. Why is it in this country which has so much wealth in this country, which has given so much of its wealth to people at the top, we can have 50 million Americans without insurance? By and large, it's because people cannot afford private insurance.

Why not? Well, it's very simple. When you look at the fact that an individual can pay $300 to $600 a month or more for a premium, when you look at the fact that a family can pay $1,000, $2,000 a month or more for a health care premium, when you consider that a family budget cannot in any way countenance the kind of health care expenses that most families can run into, when you understand that any family can lose its middle class status with a single illness in that family, you come to understand the dilemma that we have in America.

Why isn't health care a basic right in a democratic society? Why do we have a for-profit health care system? I will tell you why. Because out of that $2.4 trillion that is spent every year in health spending, $1 out of $3, or $800 billion a year, goes to the activities of the for-profit system for corporate profits, stock options, executive salaries, advertising, marketing, the cost of paperwork; 15 to 30 percent in the private sector as compared to Medicare's 3 percent.

This is what this fight is about in Washington. This is why the insurance industry is hovering around Washington like a flock of vultures. $800 billion a year is at stake. And so they will do anything that they can to be part of this game so that the government can continue to subsidize insurance companies one way or another.

One out of every $3 goes for the activities of the for-profit system. If we took that $800 billion a year and put it into care for everyone, we'd have enough money to cover every American. Not just basic health care, with doctor of choice, but dental care, mental health care, vision care, prescription drugs, long-term care, all would be covered. Everything.

People say how is that possible? It's because we're already paying for the universal standard of care. We're just not getting it.

Israeli violations of international law must not be acknowledged

House resolution "opposing any endorsement or further consideration of report of the United Nations fact finding mission on the Gaza conflict" (the "Goldstone report") -- Nov. 3 -- Peter Welch of Vermont boldly votes "present".

human rights, Vermont

November 1, 2009

Canadian wind industry's cynical dismissal of health concerns

Deconstructing CanWEA Health “Research”

On October 6, 2008, the industry trade group Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) posted a press release titled “Scientists conclude that there is no evidence that wind turbines have an adverse impact on human health” in response to news coverage of Dr. Nina Pierpont's work describing and explaining "wind turbine syndrome", stating:
[T]he Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) has compiled a list of articles and publications on the subject from reputable sources in Europe and North America. ...

These findings clearly show that there is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence indicating that wind turbines have an adverse impact on human health.
In May, Wind Concerns Ontario reviewed the seven articles cited by CanWEA, asking the following questions:
  • Do they support the claim in the title of CanWEA’s press release?
  • Do they support the conclusion of CanWEA’s press release?
  • Do they refute Dr. Pierpont’s research?
None of the articles “conclude that there is no evidence that wind turbines have an adverse impact on human health”.

None of the articles state that “there is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence indicating that wind turbines have an adverse impact on human health.”.

None of the articles review Pierpont’s research.

Only one article mentions Pierpont’s case studies, stating that “One cannot discount the information”.

Six of the articles identify wind turbine noise as a health concern which must be considered.

Only one of the articles discusses noise in the assessment of adverse health effects related to various forms of electricity generation.

None of the articles study patients or reports of patients describing adverse health effects when exposed to wind turbines.

None of the articles consider recent research in addition to Pierpont's regarding health effects related to wind turbines.

The seven articles are:
  1. Infrasound from wind turbines – fact, fiction or deception. Geoff Leventhall (noise and vibration consultant). Canadian Acoustics 2006;24(2):29-36.
  2. Wind turbine facilities noise issues. Ramani Ramakrishnan (acoustician); prepared for Ministry of the Environment of Ontario. Aiolos report no. 4071/2180/AR155Rev3 (Dec 2007).
  3. Wind turbine acoustic noise. Anthony Rogers (mechanical engineer), James Manwell (mechanical engineer), Sally Wright (mechanical engineer), Renewable Energy Research Laboratory, Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, University of Massachusetts at Amherst. June 2002, amended Jan. 2006.
  4. Research into aerodynamic modulation of wind turbine noise. Andy Moorhouse (acoustician), Malcolm Hayes (acoustics student), Sabine von Hünerbein (acoustician), Ben Piper, Mags Adams (social scientist), University of Salford; prepared for Dept. for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, contract no. NANR233. July 2007.
  5. Electricity generation and health. Anil Markandya (economist), Paul Wilkinson. Lancet 2007 (Sep. 15);370(9591):979-990.
  6. The health impact of wind turbines: a review of the current white, grey, and published literature. David Colby (MD), Acting Medical Officer of Health, Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit; prepared for Chatham-Kent Municipal Council. June 2008.
  7. Energy, sustainable development and health (background document, Fourth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health). Anil Markandya (economist) et al. (no MDs). June 3, 2004.
Also posted at Wind Concerns Ontario is an assessment of CanWEA's press release by Wayne Gulden of Amherst Island Wind Information. (Gulden also analyzed the Chatham-Kent review, as did Dr. Robert McMurtry.)
CanWEA has included a quote from each of these sources that appears to support their contention. As any reader will quickly discover, however, these quotes generally have little to do with the gist of the article. It quickly becomes obvious that CanWEA has “cherry-picked” the articles for the most supportive sentence, completely out of context.

Anyone can play this game, and as an example I could take The Doctors’ position and use quotes out of the very same 7 references to support it. Such a statement might look something like:
There are numerous reports of health issues caused by wind turbines and we want to have an epidemiological study to determine the facts. We have compiled a list of articles and publications on the subject from reputable sources in Europe and North America.

1. Leventhall. “Attention should be focused on the audio frequency fluctuating swish, which some people may well find to be very disturbing and stressful, depending on its level.”

2. Ramakrishnan. “However, additional concerns still need to be addressed in the next round of revisions to their assessment process. These revisions may need to be addressed after the results from future research provide scientifically consistent data for effects such as meteorology, human response and turbine noise source character.”

3. Rogers. “Community noise standards are important to ensure livable communities. Wind turbines must be held to comply with these regulations.”

4. Salford. “The results showed that 27 of the 133 windfarm sites operational across the UK at the time of the survey had attracted noise complaints at some point.”

5. Lancet. “In varying degrees these [renewable] sources share four main drawbacks: ... and environmental effects, aesthetic effects, or both, that might in part off set the broader environmental and health gains derived from lower air pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions.”

6. Colby. “Despite extensive searching of the current literature, limited information is available on health concerns relating to wind turbines.”

7. WHO. “[H]ealth effects from wind energy are negligible, however issues such as sleep disturbance, school absenteeism, eventually resulting from noise in vicinity, could not be evaluated.”
Why don’t they? Aside from the time constraints of not having their livelihoods supplied by the wind energy industry, they have a different set of priorities. CanWEA’s main interest, perhaps their only interest, is making money for their clients and themselves.

With that goal, the appearance of being truthful is far more important that actually being truthful. The Doctors, on the other hand, deal with real people having real health issues,and the real truth is the basis of how they deal. And the real truth being conveyed by these seven references – most of which are, as CanWEA says, respectable – has very little to do with health issues and epidemiological studies for people living in the shadow of wind turbines.

To use these otherwise useful references in this way is fundamentally dishonest, but it creates a “he said, she said” confusion that serves the interests of the industry.
wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, human rights