Meat is murder - of humans, too

This is interesting: apparently the E. coli outbreak in spinach was actually caused by groundwater pollution from factory farms that raise cows. Cows aren't built to handle the grain diet forced on them in the factory farms, leading to the proliferation of this particularly harmful form of E. coli, which gets into the water and contaminates everything.

Of course, an even more serious and similarly indirect way that factory farming hurts people is from pesticide runoff in our drinking water. It takes about 10 times more grain to feed animals and eat them than if we just ate the crops directly. So to produce enough grain for all the animals we eat, we have to use pesticide-fumigated monoculture agriculture rather than relying on the lower yields of organic farming. All the chemicals that get in our water are one of the main reasons most of us will probably end up with cancer.

For me, all this is academic next to the horrific killing and torture of the animals. But for those people who are more concerned about the less severe - but neverthelss very real - suffering of humans caused by the meat industry, these can be very compelling arguments.

Wilmette repulses an attack of the subhumans

You always sort of know abstractly how reprehensible are the views of people in rich suburbs on the issue of poor people, black people, and other marginalized groups. But it's good to be reminded more concretely once in awhile:
A developer who wants to build a 50-unit apartment complex in Wilmette for low-income disabled people has met fierce resistance from village residents who complain the project would be a threat to property values and security.
This issue may have mobilized more Wilmette residents to participate politically than anything in a long time. More than 100 people went to the Zoning Board meeting and stayed late into the night to make sure they don't have live near people different from themselves.

The attitude was typified by one woman:
when [a developer of low-income housing] displayed a picture of a brick apartment building in Calumet City that most closely resembled the Wilmette proposal, a woman in the audience clutched her husband's arm.

"I think I'm going to be sick," she whispered loudly.


Recycling in Chicago

It seems like Chicago's ridiculous blue bag recycling program may finally be on the way out. If Chicago really is a laughingstock around the country, it should be because this program has lasted so long rather than because the city council banned one of the most repugnant forms of animal torture, raising foie gras.

The blue bag program, where you put recyclables in a blue bag and throw it in with the rest of the trash, from which it is then sorted at trash receiving stations, has been in place for 10 years now. It generated both low participation and low recovery of recyclables from those that were actually blue bagged. So it's good news that the pilot curbside collection program is being expanded, perhaps eventually to the whole city. It would be worthwhile to contact your alderman and encourage him or her to make the new program permanent.

But the blue bag program is only the beginning of Chicago's atrocious record on recycling. An outstanding recent article in The Reader revealed that even if the curbside collection program is adopted citywide, it will only cover about 25 percent of the garbage produced in Chicago - that coming from houses, two-flats, and other smaller residences. The other three quarters of waste comes from commercial properties and apartment buildings, each accounting for an equal share.

Chicago has a good law mandating commercial and large residential recycling, but as The Reader article detailed, the city has refused to enforce it since it was adopted in 1995. So there's two things we can do. First, talk to your landlord and tell her or him that they must provide recycling services to be in compliance with the law. Most landlords aren't even aware of this law, so bringing it to their attention may be enough (unless they figure out the city isn't enforcing it). Second, when you write to your alderman, tell her/him to demand that Daley start carrying out the law on recycling. You can also contact Daley at MayorDaley@CityofChicago.org and tell him the same thing.


Creating a progressive culture

It's shocking to me that, years after it became clear that global warming would be a catastrophe, people still drive when they could walk, bike, or take public transit, they still waste electricity by leaving lights on or leaving their cell phone chargers plugged in, they still buy SUVs when an energy-efficient car would be just fine, they still eat meat (even if the animal torture doesn't bother you, getting our calories and protein from meat is one of the most energy inefficient things we do). And they do all these things even tho the green alternatives are usually less expensive!

Obviously ignorance plays a big role, and we can thank the media, schools, politicians, and business leaders for that. But I know people, ostensibly environmentalists, who know very well that meat is environmentally destructive and still eat it. I know people who don't recycle. I know people who live in the exurbs with two SUVs for one family. It's not just ignorance. It's a failure of will, borne of the absence of a progressive culture that could counteract the dominant market-driven culture pushing everyone to buy things all the time, to drive all the time, to live in the suburbs and to hell with what kind of world that's going to leave their grandkids.

One of Michael Albert's themes has always been that the left alienates "regular" people - potential allies or members - by shoving an intolerant culture down their throats. But I think creating an intolerant culture is one of our most important tasks. A culture that does not tolerate racist jokes, sexual harassment, homophobia, or the slaughter of animals. A culture that demands popular participation, economic human rights, and respect for the environment. These values cannot flourish in a culture that celebrates inequality and does not hold people accountable for the effects their decisions have on everyone else.

How we go about creating this culture is a delicate task. Most people take it as their right to consume the resources of future generations or to sacrifice the lives of animals for the fleeting pleasure of a meal. Changing their mind about that cannot be done by browbeating them or excluding them. Good arguments and the power of example must remain our primary methods, at least when interacting one-on-one. Confrontation thru mass action has its place too, but the consequences should always be carefully considered.

Yet Michael Albert's point is also well-taken. Concentrating too much on individual purity distracts us from the fact that changing systems is more important that changing individuals. A progressive culture is needed not so much for our own self-satisfaction as it is to create a base area out of which progressive organizing can expand. What's so galling to me about people whose choices hurt people, animals, and the environment is not so much the miniscule impact those actions have on the world. It's that those choices make it hard for them to take part in the movement.

Hmm, I didn't originally intend to write about this. I was just going to recommend this article on California's admirable steps to fight global warming.

Anyway, any thoughts about this idea of progressive culture?


Corruption + sexism = Springfield

Christi Parsons, the Tribune correspondent on the Illinois legislature for the past 11 years, brutalizes the good ol' boys culture of corruption in Springfield. This is my favorite part:
My first day on the job, I was greeted in the pressroom by a visitor drinking a beer and smoking a cigar. He mused that I must be the "broad" they'd sent down from Chicago.

Not long after that, I introduced myself to a legislative staffer who flipped through a copy of Playboy as we talked.

By comparison, the famously chauvinistic Senate President James "Pate" Philip seemed a sensitive, modern man, merely rolling up some papers he was carrying at the time we met and cheerfully patting me on the head with them.
Having an exceedingly rare story like this makes it clear that "objective" journalism is just not capable of conveying how power works and feels.


The lightbulb revolution!!!!

Here's a breathless article ostensibly doing boosterism for the ultra-efficient compact flourescent lightbulb, altho doing at least as much boosterism for Wal-Mart. Even so, it does a good job driving home how amazing these lightbulbs are. They not only save electricity, reducing greenhouse gases and pollution, they also last for 5-10 years (10-40 times longer than conventional lightbulbs), saving huge amounts of energy and resources currently expended on the production, packaging, distribution, and disposal of conventional lightbulbs. And because they're more energy efficient and last so much longer, they also save the consumer quite a bit of money in reduced electricity bills and lightbulb replacement costs (GE's new packaging promises $38 in saved energy).

The main problem is that the efficient lightbulbs cost a lot more than conventional ones up-front ($3-$4 vs 30-50¢) and most people aren't aware that they'll not only help the environment but also save money by buying them. The author of the article sees Wal-Mart as the Lenin of the lightbulb revolution, both lowering prices and educating consumers thru a promotional blitz.

The writer is wide-eyed and enthusaistic in the face of Wal-Mart's attempts to portray itself as environmentally responsible. He passes on this touching story:
"Last fall," says Kerby, "we had had two hurricanes"--Katrina and Rita--"we had oil production disrupted, we had millions of people displaced in the South, and at a Friday officer's meeting not long after Katrina, Lee Scott said, 'Our customers are hurting, our customers' dollar is not going as far as it could.' He challenged everyone in the room to find relevant rollbacks, to lower the price of living and make a difference for our customers." (Wal-Mart-ers really talk that way among themselves.)
I guess the reporter knew this because Wal-Mart executives told him so?

(Kerby, a vice president and divisional merchandise manager, is the same person who at another point refers offhandedly to "Our friend Oprah".)

The writer sees Wal-Mart's massive market power, its ability to decide the rise and fall of entire industries, as unproblematic - even beneficial, given Wal-Mart's efforts to protect the environment and "make a difference for their customers". Nor does he see anything wrong with the fact that Wal-Mart's patronage will give GE a stranglehold on the efficient lightbulb industry.

He also suffers from a bit too much enthusiasm about the potential of energy efficient lightbulbs. If every American family replaced a single convential bulb with an efficient one, he writes, the energy savings could power a city of 1.5 million people. So the potential really is huge, and Wal-Mart really could be a force for good - if we look at the issue in a highly circumscribed way. Yet to pretend that solving the environmental catastrophes that consumer capitalism is crafting for us will be as easy as changing your lightbulbs (and saving money in the process!) is a bit naive. We have to consume better, but what's more important is consuming less.