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Christopher Bangs

The “employment” of chickens, or how not to argue for animals

This is a response to the recent column “Mills: The Employment of Chickens and Other Topics.”Ty Mills’ recent Herald article, “The Employment of Chickens and Other Topics” should be renamed “The ‘Employment’ of Chickens, or How Not to Argue for Animals.” While I’m sure he intended his article as an argument for animal welfare, it was anything but. I hope to debunk some of his claims.Mr. Mills’ most outrageous assertion is his least supported: he just presents it as a fact. Animals, we all know, are “gracious” to be that “hunk of animal” around which “the majority of familial social bonding occurs.” I might even buy that: perhaps by the time they are to be slaughtered, factory farm animals have been so abused that they welcome death as the alternative to any more suffering. That is not, however, a recommendation for the system.I certainly don’t mean to impugn Mr. Mills’ moral character, but I cannot wrap my mind around why any creature should be grateful for its death.The rest of his article is so ignorant it makes me want to cry. Full disclosure: I am a vegan, so perhaps I am predisposed towards animal welfare, but every right-minded person should see through his arguments.The easiest one to tackle: Contrary to Mills’ implication, PETA is not against pets. Many vegetarians and vegans have large numbers of pets and they love them dearly. What PETA does not support is the dog breeding industry, which both encourages euthanasia, by glutting the already overflowing market with product, and creates dogs with personality issues as a result of the abuse and neglect of the breeder and the pet shop. If you want a pet, get it from a shelter.On the subject of bulls and beef, let’s run through the timeline of a bovine life. At birth, most of the male calves… Read More

American Left Taking the High Road on Political Funding

In between ensuring rape victims’ access to abortion and defending the Patients’ Bill of Rights from attack, Democrats have found the time to take an important step to healing American democracy. I am the first to admit that I am a partisan, but even the staunchest conservative should cheer at the news.The 2012 Democratic presidential nomination convention will be paid for entirely by individual donations. Coupled with President Obama’s commitment to refusing donations from lobbyists and political action committees (a commitment that he has upheld for his entire time in office), corporate and special interests are losing their monetary hold on the Democratic Party.Notice what is left out: corporations can still donate money to campaigns (although the convention will be purely citizen-funded, with a limit set on the size of donations), unions can open their checkbook at will, and PACs can still engage in third-party “issue” advocacy. Democrats obviously have a ways to go on this front before they eliminate special interest money from their balance sheet, but it is a strong step forward.This announcement comes at a time when money in politics is especially worrisome. Canadians have to worry about the Conservatives eradicating public funding for political parties; Americans have to worry about industries eradicating the need for any other funding for political parties.The recent Citizens United ruling struck down the lax restrictions on “electioneering communications,” laws that had been court-tested in 2002 and 2007. In their place is nothing. The few restrictions that remain are functionally useless. Corporations and unions are not allowed to donate directly to campaigns or coordinate ads with campaigns, but they can run their own attack ads, hire “former” campaign employees, and spend unlimited amounts of money promoting their interests.This is a bad deal for all of us, and American citizens know that. A ridiculously high number of… Read More

Morality and Mortgages

A lot of moralizing goes on in public discourse: whether it regards drugs, healthcare, the deficit, or military spending, politicians and talking heads like to infuse a moral element into these debates.One area particularly afflicted with moral judgment is the housing market. In this recession, a huge housing crisis swept across America, although Canada was largely spared. As the contagion spread from its epicenters in Florida, California, and Nevada, it took on an increasingly moral quality. Many started condemning the borrowers for greed and irresponsibility, and anyone who walked away from a mortgage might as well have been Bernie Madoff.This moralizing is wrong, though. In America, there is nothing intrinsically devious or immoral about leaving your house to your creditors.I specify “in America” because this isn’t necessarily true in Canada. The difference comes from the regulation in place. When Canadians cannot pay their mortgage, the lender can both repossess the house and sue for the difference between the house’s value and the loan’s value. So if the house dropped precipitously in value, Canadians are on the hook for that difference. In America, banks lend against the value of the house. Lenders get either the money, if the home owners pay the mortgage, or the house, if the owners cannot pay. Even if the house dropped in value, lenders cannot get more money to cover the difference out of borrowers.There are arguments as to which system works better. Regardless of which you prefer, one thing is clear: lenders in each country know what system they operate under.So in signing the contract and agreeing to front money in America, they did and do so with the full knowledge that the physical property is the only thing they will get if the borrowers do not pay. Borrowers can walk away at any time,… Read More

Wisconsin’s Union-Busting is Misguided

Despite the crushing defeat my city’s Pittsburgh Steelers met at the hands of the Green Bay Packers, I can still extol the virtues of Wisconsin. The great cheese state should be proud of its football team and proud of its unions. Sadly, its Governor is instead trying to strip public unions of the right to collective borrowing. Along with his “Right to Work” – read: “Right to Freeload on the Dues of my Coworkers” — proposals, Wisconsin’s middle class is under attack.But there is hope. Republican Governor Walker and his Republican majorities have aggressively pushed this bill through, ostensibly to cut a budget deficit of their own making. Democrats have come up with an innovative way to fight.When the Democrats lost the state house in 2010, Wisconsin was expected to have a rainy day fund of $120 million at the end of this year. Now, Gov. Walker is scrambling to close a $137 million deficit for this fiscal year, and deficits on the order of $3 billion for the next two. What happened? Well, three bills happened. A conservative health-care bill, large tax breaks for businesses, and tax breaks for new employees: all were passed in a Special Session. These three bills are projected to add over $56 million to the deficit over the next two years. These irresponsible policies turned fiscal solvency into budget deficits.Instead of seriously working to fix this shortfall, Walker has proposed a new bill that would strip almost all public sector unions of the right to collective bargaining. The only ones spared are public safety unions, the Republican-leaning state workers. All other government worker unions, including teachers, will lose the right to strike or bargain.In defense of their policies, Republicans say that public workers are overcompensated. Public employees are paid about the same as public… Read More

Collective Bargaining Is a Right

North Americans are not particularly fond of unions, for some reason. Unlike in union-friendly Europe, our conception of a classless society is undermined by the existence of unions: they remind us that America and Canada are anything but equal societies. Class tensions may be swept under the rug, but America’s unions are the only powerful group fighting for the working class left, especially now that ACORN has been disbanded by smear campaigns.Regardless of your opinion of unions and the interests they represent, the argument that any group of workers can be denied collective bargaining rights should ring false. Sensible reform of the method of public-union bargaining could be legitimate, but collective bargaining remains an inalienable right.All conservatives cheer about contracts: the government, in their view, should exist principally to enforce contracts and other private agreements. As an individual, we all have the right to individually negotiate with our employer for better conditions. We can negotiate a better contract, negotiate better working conditions, and negotiate job security individually. The result of all of this negotiation is enshrined in a contract between the worker, singularly, and the company. If both sides cannot agree, the worker can find work elsewhere.If there is any objection to the idea of individual bargaining, I would love to hear it. If not, we can move on.In our society, we frequently “loan” our rights to other actors. By donating money to the ACLU, PETA, the NRA, or Greenpeace, we are asking these political organizations to speak for us. By voting for a politician, we are asking them to represent us. By investing our money, we ask companies to conduct economic activity on our behalf.These actions make our society work. The entire concept of democratic rule is based on the principle of “loaning” rights.If we can allow other actors… Read More
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