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Friday, December 12, 2008

PROP 2: Like the Obama Campaign, But Smaller

This article was originally published on on Friday, December 12, 2008:

Barack Obama's campaign, as many commentators have often stated, has been brilliantly run. There's another campaign which, in a different way and by a different yardstick, has done a superb job: the Yes on Prop 2 campaign in California. This proposition, under the rubric "Prevention of Farm Cruelty to Animals Act" initially but now officially titled "Standards for Confining Farm Animals", seeks to codify minimum humane standards for farm animals. These standards are absolutely basic: "that they be allowed, for the majority of every day, to fully extend their limbs or wings, lie down, stand up and turn around," the measure reads.

Anyone who has ever taken pets on an airplane will know that airlines have strict regulations about the size of their carriers. We accept that pets should not travel - even for a few hours - if they do not have enough room to be comfortable. Yet what was perhaps not well-known before Prop 2 was that in factory farms in this country, millions of pigs, cows, veal calves, and chickens are confined to spaces which do not give them room to even stretch their limbs, and they are kept that way for their entire lives.

HSUS, the Humane Society of the United States -- which the No on Prop 2 side refers to, ominously, as a "well-funded, Washington, DC-based special interest group" -- has been urging California legislators to institute humane farming standards for 20 years. ('Humaneness' being the "special interest", I guess, which nefarious animal lovers' $20 and $30 donations have funded.) On several occasions, California state legislators have even stood up for livestock's lying down and rolling over, but the bills that would require factory farms to make that much room have been killed in committee. Big Agribusiness has of course, been considered the culprit behind the bills' demise.

Yet in spite of the formidable foe, the ad hoc Californians for Humane Farms got this initiative on the ballot through months of hard work by volunteer signature-gatherers. If the No on 2 side doesn't  believe it was volunteer, I'll send them the old emails I received requesting I attend planning sessions, take petitioning shifts, follow careful directions on ensuring the validity of signatures, make deadlines, etc. (I expressed interest and never took the time to help out - so PLEASE vote Yes on  2. I'll feel really guilty if it fails!)

Since making the ballot, the energetic Yes on 2 activists have gone for it, if you will, whole hog. Knowing the fight that Big Agribusiness would put up, Yes on 2 volunteers have secured endorsements from 700 veterinarians in the state, 90 veterinary clinics and hospitals, 150 veterinary students, and the California Veterinary Medical Association; and also from 70 doctors who treat human animals. The Center for Food Safety, the Consumer Federation of America, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest are on board. The simple decency and the common sense of the proposition moved celebrities... do testimonies for Prop 2 - even the cynic Bill Maher endorsed it - and Ellen and Oprah spread the word about the ballot initiative on their shows. Supporters have pounded the pavement and very sagely reached out to a wide swath of Californians, garnering even more endorsements from 400 California business, over 100 religious leaders, and just as many small farmers and organizations for farmers and farm workers' rights like Family Farm Defenders, National Black Farmers Association, United Farm Workers, and the Cesar Chavez Foundation. And, what I think is a really wonderful coup: the California Democratic Party. Animal welfare concerns weren't always part of the Democratic Party platform. But now Prop 2 materials are at Obama campaign offices, and a slew of City Councils, Mayors, Assembly Members, State Senators, U.S. Representatives, and both Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein back the measure. Various newspapers have been impressed by Prop 2's arguments as well.

I think this is incredible. Campaign manager Jennifer Fearing, who says she witnessed the cruel conditions of factory farming first-hand...

...has created a grassroots effort that has caught fire and, like Obama's, attests to what passion and conviction can inspire and achieve.

As for the No on Prop 2 side, well, they did come up with a lovely name for their coalition -  "Californians for SAFE Food." They boast that they have small farmers on their side, too, but when Green reporter Cameron Scott checked, those claims turned out to be deceptive.

Meanwhile, coalition members who are definitely in good standing include: Alliance of Western Milk Producers, Broiler & Egg Association, California Cattlemen's Association, California Dairy Campaign, California Egg Marketing Association, California Pork Producers Association, National Pork Producers Council, Texas Egg Council, Western United Dairymen and other purely-good-samaritan folk. One of their gambits is to claim that suddenly your food will be less safe if, for instance, hens are not confined in wire-floor battery cages stacked on top of each other so that the ones on top defecate all over the ones below. Mmmm. Yumm. Let's watch that on the Food Network.

Actually, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production reports that restriction of natural motion in farm animals creates a great deal of stress. (I'd like to see the No on Prop 2 people prove this isn't so by confining themselves to a space with no elbow room or head space. Let's say for a month or two.) Of course, when animals experience that much stress, they tend to chew, bite, scratch, scrape - develop festering wounds, in short, and inflict them on their cell-block mates. Their overcrowding also spreads diseases quickly. On the other hand, the Pew Commission finds, when the animals are reared with humane standards and have at least minimal living space, they are safer for the food chain.

It isn't just liberal bastions like California who care about this issue. In the last six years, four states have banned gestation crates for pregnant sows: Oregon and Colorado via their legislatures, and Florida and Arizona via ballot initiatives. These states did not try to address as many species at one time as California's Proposition 2 does, but that's why Prop 2 is historic in an election year of firsts. Still, Prop 2 isn't out to turn factory farming on its head, it just asks that specific species of animals be given a modicum of space; and it gives these companies 7 years to comply.

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, an author who explores animal emotions, writes in his book The Pig Who Sang to the Moon:
  • that for "farm animals subjected to factory is impossible to perform any meaningful natural behavior." Yet "domesticated animals who live on our farms are very little removed from their wild ancestors and therefore have all the emotions that belong to those wild animals who live under conditions of freedom. This means that confinement is going to be all the more painful for farm animals, conflicting as it does with emotions that evolved under far different conditions."
Prop 2 simply offers a recognition that animals in factory farms are living beings. Yes, please!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

L.A. Protest Against the Siege of Gaza

This article was originally published on on Wednesday, December 10, 2008:

On Thurs., Dec. 4th, a rally was held outside the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles to protest the ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip, which has cut off supplies to the impoverished population of 1.5 million Palestinians who live there. On the same day as the protest, the Arab League called on the UN Security Council to try to end the siege.

Although Israel’s siege of Gaza had eased under a five-month truce, on Nov. 4th 
Israel re-instated a severe blockade, putting hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who depend on humanitarian aid at risk of starvation. Not even UN agencies have been allowed through, despite entreaties from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; Israel has also barred European Union diplomats and foreign journalists from Gaza, over the objections of Reuters, the BBC, the Associated Press, and CNN.

Even Israeli journalist Amira Hass, correspondent for Israel’s oldest paper, Haaretz, has had trouble reporting on the situation in Gaza, and was detained by Israeli police upon her return. Hass had previously written, among other pieces, an oped about the siege of Gaza which asked: "Is Israel deliberately strengthening Hamas?"

So at noon on Thurs., on the one month anniversary of the renewal of the siege, dozens of activists gathered on the sidewalk on the main Los Angeles thoroughfare, Wilshire Blvd., to protest the siege and the ongoing Israeli Occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.

The rally was organized by ANSWER-LA and Al-Awda (which means "Return" and advocates for a Right of Return for all Palestinian refugees), working closely with local groups such as the International Action Center. The protest lasted two and a half hours outside the Israeli Consulate.

Some of the participants came from outside of L.A. to participate, such as Richard Herman, a member of the Cousins Club of Orange County, which he explained is made up of Palestinian Arabs, Israeli Gews, and "Gentiles like myself" working for peace in the Middle East. Herman says he has studied the Arab-Israeli conflict for 40 years, and since retirement, has made "justice for Palestinians [his] main hobby." He lived in the Middle East from 1968 to 1984 and is amazed that he did "not find much animosity towards Jews in Palestine," considering the injustices that have been going on. As an American, he is very concerned that: "The U.S. is party to the crimes of Israel. We support Israel militarily, monetarily, and diplomatically. I’m part of a regime that is supporting horrible crime."

Other protesters who drove up from Orange County included Chuck Anderson, a KPFK-Radio volunteer, who came "because I’m a great-grandfather and I want Palestine to be free" and brought five car-loads of people from Anaheim, and Reza Pour, with the Union of Progressive Iranians, who said "we are here in solidarity with the Palestinian people because their land is being stolen and occupied by Israelis with the help of the U.S." He added that "the majority of people in the Middle East have a common struggle to defeat all these reactionary governments and build a unity for the common interest of the people there", citing Syria and Egypt as examples of other oppressive governments in the region. Pour believed the task of those who seek justice in the Middle East is to "unite the many to defeat the few."

Carlos Hernandez, an organizer with 
ANSWER-LA (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), called the protest "particularly important because of the siege, but also because little victories are important: a 100-person demo in front of the Israeli consulate is a little victory in the longer struggle". One of the longer-term goals of that struggle, he said, is "to stop U.S. aid to Israel. Without that aid, they would not be able to continue the Occupation."

He also defined ANSWER’s objectives as "not just a struggle to free Palestine, but a struggle against U.S. Imperialism." Hernandez pointed out that "the U.S. uses Israel as a watchdog state against the Arab nations", especially Lebanon and Syria. "The U.S. uses Israel to bring down any kind of movement to help the needs of working people."

Hernandez also gave a brief speech to the assembly from the street corner:

One of the initiators of the Dec. 4th event, Mazen Almoukdad, said the organization he represents, Al-Awda, felt a street protest was "the least we could do to inform the public" that "the siege in Gaza has gone too long". He deplored the privations Palestinians are going through as a result of the siege: no electricity in cold weather, no suitable drinking water, and so on. He described their plight as "so serious right now". Al-Awda issued a 
press release in Nov., during the siege’s second week. The grassroots coalition’s release calls on the public to write to the media and to their congressional representatives, and to get involved in street demonstrations, to end the siege.

Almoukdad wants to see "this immoral, illegal occupation" end, but he believes "Americans are really busy right now worrying about the economy", and have also been overwhelmed by the recent election, "which cost 5 billion dollars while people are hungry all over the world."

Although Almoukdad thinks the American public does know about the siege, a Press TV news report found that much of the public is actuallyunaware of the extremity of the crisis going on. However, some do know. L.A. Jews for Peace was among the groups at the Dec. 4th rally protesting the siege of Gaza. One of its members, B.J. Jordan, said "we all abhor terrorism, but we need to stop these discriminatory, hostile attacks" against Palestinians. She is a fan of the writings of anthropologist Jeff Halper, Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. However, she says "many Jews are afraid to speak up because everybody slaps them down."

On the opposite side of Wilshire, facing the Israeli Consulate, 
smaller counter-demonstration of supporters of Israel's policies held up flags and signs.

One of a handful of counter-demonstrators who stuck it out until the initiating protest had left, Shai Abi, a recent UCLA graduate in History and Communications, brought a sign which said:"Enough – Heaven ran out of 72 virgins".

Abi said he always comes out for events like these and believes "the Israeli government is doing everything it can." His view of a solution for the Middle East is: "When the Arabs love their children more than they hate us there’ll be peace." His female friend told him "that’s beautiful." Abi claimed "the Palestinian cause is a mask", since it brings in money for groups like Hamas from "rich sheiks"; though he simultaneously argued that "Palestinians have no support from other Arab states."

He didn’t want to talk much about Israel’s siege of Gaza, though he finally said he was "not in favor of any siege because a siege without purpose has no meaning". Abi was more intent on relaying that "Palestinians are the most educated Arabs in the region yet their schoolbooks teach them: ‘kill one Zionist plus five Americans, and how many do you get?’". A couple of his peers backed up his claim that Palestinians teach their children to add up to six with this example.

Allegations that Palestinian textbooks incite students to hate Israel have been made by those as high up as Israel’s former Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. A main voice critical of content in those schoolbooks is the Center_for_Monitoring_the_Impact_of_Peace.

But according to
 a 2004 overview published by the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education Curriculum Development Center, the European Union, Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (in a report for the U.S. Congress), and various studies by academics at George Washington University, Hebrew University, and University of Rostock do not find these allegations to be true of new Palestinian Authority textbooks.

Another 2004 report, this time by CNN, gave a more complex overview of the cultural bias in both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks – but still didn’t report any instances of arithmetic instruction that involved indoctrination to murder.

 Speaking of indoctrination, a "news" story on the Dec. 4th protest against the siege of Gaza is up on a site called Democast. Readers of that piece would be pretty clear that the theme of the pro-Israel counter-demonstration was opposition to terrorism, but they’d have to take the anonymous author’s word for it that the rally organized by ANSWER and Al-Awda called for a "phased-destruction of Israel", that it was "culturally-insensitive", and that it consisted of "an unholy alliance of Islamist and Far-Left groups," since the reporter provided not one photo or video of the main protest, no quotes from any of the protesters against the siege, and no information as to why the protest at the consulate was actually called, except for speculation by the counter-protesters.

Incidentally, one of the counter-demonstrators chosen by the reporter for the edited-down video called himself a Christian, urged the nuking of Iran, and claimed that "God says ‘take ‘em out’". (The author’s byline does not appear with the piece, but an interviewer on the counter-demo side of the street on Dec. 4th told me he was Scott Jenkins from Democast.)

Interestingly, the full page of reportage on Democast padded its visuals on the counter-demonstration with a photo of a bustling crowd of pro-Israel demonstrators which a reader would probably assume is from the Dec. 4th, 2008 counter-protest in L.A.. However, since both it and a borrowed photo of the late Daniel J. Kliman appeared on the San Francisco Voice for Israel site in late Nov. 2008, it is clear that the photo in Democast’s piece on the L.A. event is from a different protest altogether – one that took place, in fact, on July 13th, 2006. 

Which explains why it doesn’t look anything like my photo of the 16 or so counter-demonstrators on Thurs.:

Another reason it doesn’t look anything like the counter-protest outside the Israeli Consulate in L.A. is that it was in San Francisco -- as this YouTube video of both the strong, vocal protest against Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon, and the pro-Israel counter-protest shows.

Perhaps would not mind their photo being used to illustrate the Democast piece. Zombietime’s most recent – and anonymous – report at our time of publication was a photo essay on the Nov. 28th Iraq Veterans Against the War street action in San Francisco. It called IVAW members "anti-American" and alleged they were not really veterans, then claimed that the Iraq War is over.