Baby steps in the right direction

This week, the FDA issued a “draft guidance” that in effect asks industrial meat producers to pretty please, at least think about limiting the practice of pumping massive quantities of antibiotics into factory animals meat machines.

The big lobbying groups, predictably, were outraged by this intrusion of mere science into their god-given right to make a bundle at the expense of the world’s health (both animal and human).

Tom Scocca at Slate sums up just how late this is in coming:

Forty-one years after the United Kingdom concluded that feeding antibiotics to healthy animals to make them gain weight could promote drug resistance in bacteria, 12 years after the European Union banned the use of medically important antibiotics in livestock for weight gain, nine years after researchers found widespread antibiotic-resistant salmonella in American ground beef, and four years after the EU banned all feeding of antibiotics to healthy animals, the Food and Drug Administration today issued a “draft guidance” urging “judicious use of medically important antimicrobial drugs” in the American livestock industry.

At Grist Tom Laskawy some excellent background on the issue as well as a slightly more optimistic view. “While this may sound like so much bureaucratese, it represents a strong statement by the FDA and suggests further action is forthcoming.”

This draft, though clearly preliminary and subject to industry feedback, also gives Congress a reason to move forward on legal restrictions knowing that a scientific consensus is forming — though in reality it’s unlikely a law could be passed much before November, if at all.

The question remains just how hard Big Meat will fight this guidance. The FDA wants to bend over backwards to limit problems for livestock producers by phasing in restrictions and taking their concerns into account. But will groups like the Pork Board — which denied the very existence of the problem to CBS News anchor Katie Couric in her blockbuster report on the subject — take the hand the FDA has offered? Or will they bite it?

Or will CAFO operators simply seek to bypass any regulation altogether, by claiming that routine doses of antibiotics are medically necessary to prevent disease in close quarters? I’m contacting an expert on this topic to find out if the FDA’s draft guidance indicates such loopholes will exist, and whether industry will head for them.

We know that subtherapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock is unnecessary. The Danes have, somewhat famously, proved it by banning the practice and significantly reduced the threat of antibiotic resistance with no long-term effects on livestock health or productivity. The American Society of Microbiologists knows it. The FDA does, too. Even over a hundred House members and 17 senators (that being the number of cosponsors attached to the pending legislation) know it. With any luck, the industry will finally get the message.

Stop presses: Politician found with a spine

The Obama regime has, for me, been an even bigger nightmare than the preceding eight years. The Democrats first swept into power in the 2006 midterms, and cemented their stranglehold on Congress and the Executive branch two years later. They promised change, and transparency, and delivered neither.

Whatever protestations Obama and his party make about ideals and values, the Health Care Reform debacle shows the real lay of the land. If you thought the Democrats would take decisive action to actually represent the interests of the voters against the predations of corporations, by now you should be pretty well disabused of any such notions.

For the White House and most of Congressional Democrats, the idea behind their version of “reform” is simple. Cut a deal with the insurance and pharmaceutical industries in exchange for … money, and throw a few cosmetic improvements into the package that will in no way flatten the ever ascending arc of the profit margins of the insurers and pharmaceutical companies.

It’s really that simple. The Republicans, for their part, hate the Deal not because it violates their principles, but because they want to be the party cutting it.

Only Dennis Kucinich has consistently spoken up for what is the only rational (and ultimately much cheaper) solution to what is a crisis for many, if not most, Americans: single payer, medicare for all. Take five minutes and listen to this man.

For further reading, spend some time at firedoglake, where Jane Hamsher and Jon Walker and others have been providing enlightening accounts of the deceptions and delusions behind this disastrous piece of legislation. Here is a list of health care-tagged posts.

Margaret Flowers evokes memories of another Margaret

A terrific, informative Bill Moyers interview with Dr. Margaret Flowers of Mad as Hell Doctors and Physicians for a National Health Program.  Dr. Flowers presents her case for Medicare for All/Single Payer in a calm, resolute, persuasive manner.

Dr. Flowers and Dr. Carol Paris have spoken before Congress, and were arrested at the Senate Finance Committee Hearings on HCR for daring to speak up for single payer after the solution favored by most Americans was yanked off the table.

More recently, Drs. Flowers and Paris took Obama up on his “Let me know” spiel at the State of the Union address–and were again arrested for their troubles.  (“If anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen medicare for seniors and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Let me know. Let me know. I’m eager to see it.” Does ANYONE in America believe that?)

The tale Dr. Flowers tells is not a pretty one, and it may be surprising, if you still harbor the delusion that the Obama Administration is a force for positive change.

I loved the Moyers comment:

When I saw pictures of Margaret Flowers being led away, I remembered those famous words attributed to another Margaret, the anthropologist Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Against all the evidence, I find Dr. Flowers’ resolve to be a reason for optimism. And I am grateful for Moyers, who has given her air time on his program (which, sadly, is in its last season on television).

more about “Bill Moyers Journal . Watch & Listen …“, posted with vodpod

Alice Waters: she-devil in the garden

alice and the gardeners
Save these children from this woman!

If only Alice Waters and do-gooder school administrators would stop destroying our country!

Contrary is good. I’m all about the contrary. Received wisdom is often really, really wrong. But something happened to the concept of contrary in the oughts, to the point where being contrarian became pretty much synonymous with railing against the sacred cows of liberals or, as they are known on Fox News,  the “politically correct.”

Here is a catalog of some of the hits and near-misses of contrarian (or counter-intuitive) thinking, through the past decade, as compiled by Alex Pareene, then of New York magazine:

Boys are the biggest victims of sex discrimination.
Breast-feeding is not worth the trouble.
Bush’s second term will be good for liberals.
Car seats are unsafe.
Consumption isn’t just good for the economy, it’s good for the soul.
Conventional wisdom is right.
Corporate fraud should not be punished.
The Iraq War was a success.

Gosh. Do you see a pattern here? Writes Pareene: “In the aughts, the shocking hidden side of everything became the only side of anything worthy of magazine covers and book deals. Social scientists applied their techniques to the problem of climate change; liberals who wanted to be taken seriously had to come up with arguments for conservative policies and vice versa.”

I’m not too sure about the vice versa part. Please feel free to enlighten me about conservatives coming up with arguments for liberal policies in the oughts, or aughts, or whatever that decade was called. In fact, I would argue that nearly every contrarian take in major media was a snooty, arch, convoluted defense of … exactly the way things were. The stock market’s rocking [this is pre-2008]; we, the high-end journalists, are doing awfully well; and what WERE we thinking during Vietnam? The military is so cool! NAVY SEALS! Watch, we’ll win these wars yet, and you stupid hippies will be sorry! Global warming? NOT SO FAST. There are many unanswered questions about it, you know…..

Last fall, the Economist had an article titled “Contrarianism’s end?” which featured this spot-on definition of contrarianism: “a cheap way of allowing ideological hacks to think of themselves as fearless, independent thinkers, while never challenging (in fact reinforcing) the status quo.”

So now. Contrarianism’s moment has passed, but Caitlin Flanagan didn’t get the memo. In Cultivating Failure, Flanagan (“the rich lady who’s made a career of telling you what a bad wife and mother you are for needing to work”) launches a by-the-numbers hatchet job on Alice Waters (“dowager queen of the grown-locally movement”) and her diabolical introduction of gardens into the curriculum of California schools.

Flanagan plays the concern troll to perfection. She really only has the well-being of an imaginary child of Mexican immigrants in mind, whose family has risked everything to come north for a better life. A “cruel trick has been pulled on this benighted child [!] by an agglomeration of foodies and educational reformers who are propelled by a vacuous if well-meaning ideology that is responsible for robbing an increasing number of American schoolchildren of hours they might other wise have spent reading important books or learning higher math (attaining the cultural achievements, in other words, that have lifted uncounted generations of human beings out of the desperate daily scrabble to wrest sustenance from dirt).”

These poor Mexican children come to America with aspirations to a nice job in a cubicle somehere. But, irony of ironies, these pobrecitos, they are forced to pick lettuce in school!  Just like the parents (although just MAYBE with slightly better work conditions).

“Wresting sustenance from dirt” is so NOT the American way! And that Alice Waters! She’s “the founder of Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, an eatery where the right-on, ‘yes we can,’ ACORN-loving, public-option-supporting man or woman of the people can tuck into a nice table d’hôte menu of scallops, guinea hen, and tarte tatin for a modest 95 clams—wine, tax, and oppressively sanctimonious and relentlessly conversation-busting service not included.”

“Yes we can”-baiting? “Public-option-supporting”-baiting? ACORN-baiting? (speaking of Fox News whipping boys!) ACORN?????? In the venerable pages of the Atlantic Monthly? (Well, it need hardly be said that this is not the same institution that published Mark Twain and King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”)

Flanagan proceeds to doggedly erect and knock down a number of straw men, including the statement made by “a pro-Waters friend” (maybe, I’m just guessing, soon to be ex-friend) that “There’s only 7-Eleven in the hood.”

Au contraire.  Brave Caitlin drives to Compton to discover a Superior Super Warehouse, a shining “example of capitalism doing what it does best: locating a market need (in this case, poor people living in an American inner city who desire a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and who are willing to devote their time and money to acquiring them) and filling it.”

Also, she finds time to visit with the “founder and CEO” of charter schools in Los Angeles, who reminds her, high-mindedly, that “[t]he only question in education reform that’s worth anything is this: What are you doing to prepare these kids for college? If I can get a kid to read Shakespeare and laugh at the right places, I can get him to college. That’s all that matters to me.”

For Flanagan, school gardens represent nothing less than a potential “act of theft that will not only contribute to the creation of a permanent, uneducated underclass but will rob that group of the very force necessary to change its fate.”  Does she mention any other factors that figure in the creation of this underclass? Nope. Any delving into the upside of the school garden program, or mention of the only slightly problematic industrial food system in America? No, not really. Basically, Get back into the classroom, kids. No need to grow your own food! Let capitalism do what it does best, and by the way, maybe it’d be best to leave education to privatizing charter school CEOs.

What’s become of the Atlantic Monthly? This is just kind of sad.

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