Review--Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret

It is often joked that even paranoids have real enemies and a case in point is the alarming new documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret.  It may be paranoid to suggest that environmental groups ignore the leading cause of deforestation, methane and ocean degradation --animal agriculture--for financial gain. But why won't Emily Meredith, spokesperson for the industry group, Animal Agriculture Alliance, deny donating to such environmental groups? Twice saying she cannot answer the questions as she looks at an off camera adviser?

 

It may be paranoid to allege that activists who challenge the cattle industry risk their lives, yet activist nun Sister Dorothy Stang was shot six times outside the town of Anapu, Brazil for doing exactly that. A rancher in Brazil’s Amazon was sentenced to 30 years in prison for ordering the killing.

 

Directed by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, Cowspiracy connotes other popular movies like Bowling for Columbine, Super Size Me and An Inconvenient Truth with its blend of entertaining statistics and "gotcha" style interviews.

 

And some organizations are definitely "got." When asked about the role of animal agriculture in environmental degradation, Ann Notthoff, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, emits a drawn-out creepy laugh and says she doesn’t know anything about "cow parts." When asked about the sustainability of any fishing given the huge numbers of unintended species that become "bykill," Dr. Geoff Shester with Oceana gives director Kip Andersen a lesson in capitalism. The ocean is a "conveyer belt" and fish are constantly replenishing he says. As long as we catch and eat the "interest" and not the "principle," there is no problem.

 

A spokesman for Amazon Watch cannot answer what the "leading cause" of deforestation is and hems and haws for excruciating seconds on camera. A spokesman for the Surfrider Foundation acknowledges that animal agriculture might be an environmental problem somewhere but not in California. And director of the Sierra Club Bruce Hamilton's answer when asked by Andersen about animal agriculture--"What about it?"--is so disingenuous, it becomes the lead-in to the entire movie. Few if any of the environmental groups even cite animal agriculture on their web sites, says Andersen.

 

Andersen's interview of California Water Resources Control Board officials was more nuanced. They admit, somewhat sheepishly, that animal agriculture is the top water user in the state but say it is not their "area" and that you can't change human "behavior." Andersen tells the officials he doesn't buy it--telling people to take "shorter showers" and make other water lifestyle changes, is also asking people to change their behavior.

 

Early in the movie, Andersen says he had been made a passionate environmentalist after watching Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and pledged to bicycle everywhere and take short showers. But then Andersen discovered that animal agriculture was the leading and often undisclosed source of resource degradation and pollution, accounting for a third of the earth's fresh water usage, most rain forest destruction and the ocean's growing dead zones. He discovers eating one hamburger uses as much water as two months of showers. Cowspiracy was born.

 

Environmental organizations that ignore agriculture are not the only groups coming off badly in the movie. Grass-fed beef operations are "even more unsustainable than factory farms," because they require three times more resources says the movie after a visit to one such farm. The farming couple who say they "love animals" which is why they are in the "meat business" (and whose child hugs the pigs while saying "they are going to be bacon") reveal grass-fed operations as nothing more than feel-good exercises for their operators.

 

One spokesperson in Cowspiracy compares animal agriculture to the alcoholic in a family who no one wants to talk about even as the harm spills over into the family, society and onto the highway. Ironically, two representatives of animal agriculture who are interviewed in the film are in less denial than the environmental and grass-fed cattle groups who are shown. There is not enough land available to do "this type of dairying" a dairy manager, surrounded by cows, admits on camera. A dairy CEO makes a similar concession. The world cannot be fed with animal based products, he says.

 

Despite the film's name, Cowspiracy addresses industrial fishing and shows disturbing scenes of fish and shark butchery. It shows a very-much-alive dairy cow loaded by several workers onto a front loader, no doubt a "downer," and the bloody teats of another cow. On a free-range duck operation, the farmer allows Anderson to film the slaughter of two ducks, tame enough to lie on a table awaiting their deaths. The farmer says he was taught to slaughter animals by his father who trained him as a boy to kill his own pet rabbits which, he says, had "names." "After a while you just learn it is something you have to do," he tells the camera crew.

 

Cowspiracy leaves little doubt about the scourge of animal agriculture in the US and the world and includes interviews with Michael Pollan, Dr. Richard Oppenlander, Dr. Will Tuttle, Will Potter, representatives from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and a former board member of Greenpeace.  Less clear is the reason for environment groups' silence about animal agriculture or "cowspiracy." Could it be the same thing that propels animal agriculture itself--money?

 

 

Visit Cowspiracy for more information about the film.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You don't have to see a doctor to imbibe a witch's brew of prescriptions pain pills, antibiotics and psychiatric, cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy and heart drugs. They are free in many public drinking water systems says the Associated Press. Also found in drinking water is the toxic plastic, Bisphenol A. Some of the Bisphenol A comes from plastic bottled water which people, ironically, drink to avoid tap water risks!

 

Both the drug industry and water treatment experts say you don't have to worry about prescription drugs in drinking water. But it is only recently that serious testing has even been conducted. Mary Buzby director of environmental technology for Merck validated the fears in 2007. "There's no doubt about it, pharmaceuticals are being detected in the environment and there is genuine concern that these compounds, in the small concentrations that they're at, could be causing impacts to human health or to aquatic organisms," she remarked at a conference in 2007.

 

Fish are a good indicator of the health of the water like canaries in the coal mine and they are revealing shocking effects. Fish caught near wastewater treatment plants near five major U.S. cities had residues of cholesterol, high blood pressure, allergy, bipolar and depression drugs reported Discovery news. Male fish in the estrogen-saturated St. Lawrence River around Montreal are developing ovaries, reported Daniel Cyr, at Quebec's National Institute for Science Research according to the Independent Post.  Feminized frogs with both female and male sex organs are already increasingly found in U.S. waterways and even suburban ponds. Fish in the same area as the feminized fish are also showing signs of the antidepressant Prozac in their systems says the University of Montreal.

 

The Southern Daily Echo News also reported fish on Prozac. The fish that were observed were five times more likely to swim toward light than away from it, making them also more susceptible to predators.

 

Shrimp are also believed to be at risk. ''Crustaceans are crucial to the food chain and if shrimps' natural behaviour is being changed because of antidepressant levels in the sea this could seriously upset the natural balance of the ecosystem," says Dr Alex Ford, from the University of Portsmouth's Institute of Marine Sciences.

 

Big Ag is also putting drugs in the water. Even if you don't eat hormone-grown cattle you can ingest the hormone trenbolone from ear implants reports the Associated Press. Water taken near a Nebraska feedlot had four times the trenbolone levels as other water samples and male fathead minnows nearby had low testosterone levels and small heads.

 

What can we do about the drug store in our drinking water? Certainly, never flush your meds down the toilet since water systems are clearly not removing everything. Ask your local government how often and how carefully your drinking water is tested for prescription drugs. Avoid foods grown with chemicals like hormone and antibiotics, especially animal products. And finally, stop taking drug just because you saw an ads on TV. Many drugs people take for "seasonal allergies," GERD, insomnia and "depression" are unnecessary and were never taken before drug ads on TV. There are natural cures that are safer for people, aquatic life and drinking water.

 

Have you read my cartoon-illustrated book on these topics? Born With a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks, and Hacks Pimp the Public Health will make you laugh, cry and change your eating habits. It is available from Random House, at Barnes and Noble, as an ebook on Amazon and in most libraries. A great holiday gift.

 

 

 

One out of four people has a "mental illness." You hear the statistic all the time. People who were once "nervous" or "high strung" now have "general anxiety disorder." People who have the "blues" from real life issues like job, relationship and family problems now have "major depressive disorder." People who are "up and down," again from real life issues, are now "bipolar." Adults who can't focus on the work at hand, either because they didn't get enough sleep or because the work at hand is boring--hello?--have adult ADHD. All need to be on drugs indefinitely, perhaps for the rest of their life. And notably, all suffer from diseases that are medical "judgment calls" that can't be verified on blood or other diagnostic tests. Ka-ching.

 

Less than thirty years ago, depression was not considered a lifelong illness but a self-limiting condition that would "go away." Before SSRI antidepressants like Prozac, anxiety was a transient condition requiring a tranquillizer as needed. Key words "as needed." Once SSRIs became available, anxiety became a chronic condition requiring chronic medication. Suddenly people who had anxious moments were treated for moments they were fine with drugs that changed their entire blood chemistry and were very difficult to quit. Some of the drugs actually made people worse as the high rate of suicide among soldiers on drugs who have never deployed attests.

 

And there are other examples of the "enlarging" of mental illness diagnoses. Once, only children had ADHD but now adults can join the club. Once only adults had depression and schizophrenia; now Big Pharma markets the conditions in children. What?

 

There are several sociological factors behind the "psychiatrizing" of America.  Direct-to-consumer advertising works and doesn't just convince people they are "depressed," it convinces them they have GERD, insomnia and restless legs. Some postulate the ghastly list of risks with drug ads---coma, death, trouble swallowing--perversely "sell" the drug in the way images of skulls and the word "death" were said to sell consumer products in the advertising expose Hidden Persuaders. Also, commensurate with the idea of "lifestyle" medications, many who feel OK or fine right now think they could or should feel better. Even grief, from the death of a loved one, is now a treatable psychiatric disease. Why should you feel bad just because your spouse died? Go on, be happy.

 

But the main engine behind growing "mental illness" is Big Pharma and Wall Street. Under the pretense of better care, Big Pharma has aggregated and sometimes co-opted patients into lobbying groups for high-priced drugs. While the groups say they fight the "stigma" of mental illness, they spend their time fighting lawmakers and insurers for payment of high-priced drugs. "When insurers balk at reimbursing patients for new prescription medications," says the Los Angeles Times, these groups "typically swing into action, rallying sufferers to appear before public and consumer panels [and] contact lawmakers."

 

How much are the drugs in question? One hundred middle dose pills of the depression drug Abilify can cost $1,644 and Invega, a drug used for bipolar conditions, $1,789. That is more than most people's rent or mortgage payment.

 

The patient front groups include the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, which gets half its funding from Pharma according to the Los Angeles Times and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which received $23 million in just two years from Pharma, according to the Wall Street Journal. In the 1990's, Eli Lilly was NAMI's biggest donor, reported Mother Jones. Related groups have embedded themselves on college campuses where they conduct high-budget campaigns and marches to help students avoid "stigma" and get on drugs. Right.

 

Earlier this year, NAMI was successful in defeating a White House proposal to limit Medicare coverage of Wellbutrin, Paxil, Prozac, Abilify, Seroquel and other expensive drug classes. "The proposal undermines a key protection for some of the sickest, most vulnerable Medicare beneficiaries,” said Andrew Sperling, a NAMI lobbyist using the image of elderly victims to give Pharma billions of our taxpayer dollars.

 

Recently, NAMI tried to "raise awareness" about mental illness within faith communities. Now NAMI has turned its eye to the rock world. "To help raise awareness about mental health" the New York City NAMI has enlisted five New York bands and the advertising giant JWT New York, reports the New York Times to "help combat mental illness."

 

Many top musicians have killed themselves, notes the Times, forgetting that most were philosophically against using music and slick ad agencies to sell products and enrich Wall Street.

 

"When you look at social change, people that really participate and get social change movements going are young people, and they really need to be involved to change the landscape about mental illness stigma," said Wendy Brennan, executive director of the New York City Metro chapter of NAMI. You'd think NAMI were working for some grassroots, social cause. But a woman I interviewed who wants to remain anonymous for medical privacy says she was told by the Chicago NAMI they could not help her with a borderline condition because there was no "drug" for it.

 

 

 

 

 

Is there any constituency whose "gun rights" the gun lobby won't defend? The NRA lobbies for the "gun rights" of the mentally ill, people under orders or protection for domestic violence and convicted felons. When Florida's Sun Sentinel reported that concealed weapon licenses were issued to 1,400 probable felons, NRA lobbyist Marion P. Hammer said, "When you begin taking away the rights of people that you don't like, that's the slippery slope." People you don't like?

 

Now, after California Governor Jerry Brown signed the nation's first law allowing private citizens to ask a court to seize guns from potentially violent family members, gun advocates are defending...potentially violent family members. The new law could deprive them of their "right to defend themselves," say gun advocates "before they had committed a crime."

 

The seven family members allegedly killed by their grandfather/father last month in Bell, Florida might have welcomed a law stopping a perpetrator before he "committed a crime." So would the family of six killed in July in Spring, Texas. Both families were allegedly killed by relatives who posed clear and present dangers long before the bloodshed. Most domestic gun violence is easy to predict and the family of the gunman who allegedly killed six in Isla Vista in May, sparking the California law, warned police of the imminent danger.

 

Last year, an anti-gun violence group wrote about a Nevada woman who repeatedly reached out to state and federal authorities about her former boyfriend obtaining guns despite a conviction for gun-related domestic violence. Both the Henderson, Nevada police department where the conviction occurred and Glendale, Arizona police department where the boyfriend resides, told the group they would have to wait until "something happens."

 

There is another chilling constituency whose "gun rights" the gun lobby defends. People who want to own a sniper rifle which has no defensive use whatever. When a ban was called for of civilian sales of TrackingPoint's sniper rifles which use "innovative optics, automatic ballistics calculation and guided fire control to create the most accurate long-range shooting system in the world," gun advocates screamed the government was coming after their "hunting rifles." Right.

 

Does the Second Amendment protect the rights of someone to own a sniper weapon with no defensive use? Do violent, armed family members really need to "defend" themselves when they, in fact, are the perpetrators?  Is the NRA really against "bad guys" when it defends the "gun rights" of people under orders or protection for domestic violence, convicted felons, the violent mentally ill and people who want to own sniper weapons?

 

 

 

It has been ten years since a "hunter-terrorist" ruined deer season in Wisconsin. In the fall of 2004, instead of shooting deer, Chai Vang, a Hmong immigrant from Laos, shot and killed hunters. Eight hunters were shot in northern Wisconsin, six of whom died including a father and son. No clear motive for the murders became apparent but Vang, a hunting enthusiast, was tried, convicted and sentenced to six consecutive life terms plus seventy years.

 

Vang's rampage was especially disturbing because Wisconsin was just pulling out of an epidemic of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in its deer and elk, a fatal disease similar to Mad Cow. State officials assured residents they couldn't get the fatal human brain disease Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) if they avoided the deer's "brain, eyeballs, spinal cord, spleen or lymph nodes" and if they wore latex gloves. But there were two medical reports that suggested otherwise: A 2002 CDC report titled "Fatal Degenerative Neurologic Illnesses in Men Who Participated in Wild Game Feasts--Wisconsin, 2002." And an Archives of Neurology report called "Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease In Unusually Young Patients Who Consumed Venison."

 

As headless deer waited in trailers in Wisconsin to be tested for CWD before people would eat them, the traditional venison burgers given out on the first day of deer hunting season became problematical. Even if a hunter's own deer was disease free, "if the hunter has the deer processed, does that processor sterilize its equipment after each deer is cut up so cross contamination does not occur?" asked one Wisconsin deer hunter the Capital Times. When his buck turned out to be positive for CWD, another hunter wanted to know about the risks to his wife who had washed his hunting clothes and from blood which had gotten on his steering wheel.

 

The CWD scare also caused a PR problem for hunters and hunter groups who did not want to eat what they killed. Some food pantries refused deer meat. Others gave homeless and hungry patrons informed consent fliers which told them the meat was probably fine but there was a slight chance it would kill them. Suddenly hunter "generosity" looked malevolent. And killing animals without eating them looked gratuitous and cruel.

 

Even if this year's deer are fine to eat (though the CWD incubation period is decades) many young hunters are saying "no thanks" to the sport of their fathers and grandfathers.  Web-based activities are much more fun and a better way to meet girls, they say. But DNR officials worry about the loss of their primary funding--hunters. State exhortations to "thin the herd" are belied by the hundreds of state-registered deer breeding operations. "Overpopulation" is good for business--why else would states like Wisconsin support deer breeding and fight a disease that thins the herd?

 

The number of US hunters is dropping about 10 percent a year.  Hunting groups are especially concerned about the dip in young hunters, aged 16 to 24, whose numbers fell by 300,000 from 1996 to 2006, according to the Wildlife Service.

 

"For every 100 hunters who retire, only 62 take up the sport," warned former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell at the Pitcairn-Monroeville Rod and Gun Club in Allegheny County a few years ago. "If this trend continues, our ability to manage wildlife will be severely affected and Pennsylvania's economy will suffer." Maybe manage should be in quotes.

 

"The single biggest challenge facing our two wildlife agencies in Pennsylvania is money. Or lack thereof," agreed Dale Machesic, outdoors reporter in a column for the Philadelphia suburban paper, the Intelligencer. "The single biggest obligation to all fishing and hunting enthusiasts is to get kids involved."

 

Wisconsin lost 45,000 hunters from just 2000 to 2007, during its battle with CWD and Vang's sniping and afterwards. How many will take to the fields this year? And how many will eat their deer?

 

 

 

 

It has been ten years since a "hunter-terrorist" ruined deer season in Wisconsin. In the fall of 2004, instead of shooting deer, Chai Vang, a Hmong immigrant from Laos, shot and killed hunters. Eight hunters were shot in northern Wisconsin, six of whom died including a father and son. No clear motive for the murders became apparent but Vang, a hunting enthusiast, was tried, convicted and sentenced to six consecutive life terms plus seventy years.

 

Vang's rampage was especially disturbing because Wisconsin was just pulling out of an epidemic of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in its deer and elk, a fatal disease similar to Mad Cow. State officials assured residents they couldn't get the fatal human brain disease Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) if they avoided the deer's "brain, eyeballs, spinal cord, spleen or lymph nodes" and if they wore latex gloves. But there were two medical reports that suggested otherwise: A 2002 CDC report titled "Fatal Degenerative Neurologic Illnesses in Men Who Participated in Wild Game Feasts--Wisconsin, 2002." And an Archives of Neurology report called "Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease In Unusually Young Patients Who Consumed Venison."

 

As headless deer waited in trailers in Wisconsin to be tested for CWD before people would eat them, the traditional venison burgers given out on the first day of deer hunting season became problematical. Even if a hunter's own deer was disease free, "if the hunter has the deer processed, does that processor sterilize its equipment after each deer is cut up so cross contamination does not occur?" asked one Wisconsin deer hunter the Capital Times. When his buck turned out to be positive for CWD, another hunter wanted to know about the risks to his wife who had washed his hunting clothes and from blood which had gotten on his steering wheel.

 

The CWD scare also caused a PR problem for hunters and hunter groups who did not want to eat what they killed. Some food pantries refused deer meat. Others gave homeless and hungry patrons informed consent fliers which told them the meat was probably fine but there was a slight chance it would kill them. Suddenly hunter "generosity" looked malevolent. And killing animals without eating them looked gratuitous and cruel.

 

Even if this year's deer are fine to eat (though the CWD incubation period is decades) many young hunters are saying "no thanks" to the sport of their fathers and grandfathers.  Web-based activities are much more fun and a better way to meet girls, they say. But DNR officials worry about the loss of their primary funding--hunters. State exhortations to "thin the herd" are belied by the hundreds of state-registered deer breeding operations. "Overpopulation" is good for business--why else would states like Wisconsin support deer breeding and fight a disease that thins the herd?

 

The number of US hunters is dropping about 10 percent a year.  Hunting groups are especially concerned about the dip in young hunters, aged 16 to 24, whose numbers fell by 300,000 from 1996 to 2006, according to the Wildlife Service.

 

"For every 100 hunters who retire, only 62 take up the sport," warned former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell at the Pitcairn-Monroeville Rod and Gun Club in Allegheny County a few years ago. "If this trend continues, our ability to manage wildlife will be severely affected and Pennsylvania's economy will suffer." Maybe manage should be in quotes.

 

"The single biggest challenge facing our two wildlife agencies in Pennsylvania is money. Or lack thereof," agreed Dale Machesic, outdoors reporter in a column for the Philadelphia suburban paper, the Intelligencer. "The single biggest obligation to all fishing and hunting enthusiasts is to get kids involved."

 

Wisconsin lost 45,000 hunters from just 2000 to 2007, during its battle with CWD and Vang's sniping and afterwards. How many will take to the fields this year? And how many will eat their deer?

 

 

 

by Robert Wilbur and Martha Rosenberg

 

Last year, a coalition of animal lovers seeking to ban Manhattan's carriage horse industry helped defeat Christine Quinn, once the front-runner for mayor, because she opposed such a prohibition.  Mayor de Blasio, who beat Quinn, pledged his first action as mayor would be to ban the controversial rides. Yet where is the ban?

 

Last month about 30 protesters gathered across from Gracie Mansion to exhort Mayor de Blasio to fulfill his campaign promise. New York's carriage horses are "stripped of the ability to do anything horses would naturally do. They don’t belong here in the city," said Donny Moss, a member of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages "It’s in humane and unsafe."

 

The carriage horses are getting hurt and spooked on streets and some spend nights standing in narrow stalls agreed Brian Gari, a member of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, to the mournful sound of bagpipes.

 

People would be "appalled" at the conditions of the stables that are not shown to the public as the stable on 52nd Street was, added Moss.

 

While Mayor Bill de Blasio reaffirmed his sentiments this week, indicating legislation would soon be introduced paving "the pathway to an ultimate ban" of carriage horses from Central Park, some predict a ban will have a hard time in City Council.

 

Councilman Rafael Espinal, is head of the Consumer Affairs Committee, where previous carriage-related bills have originated recently declared his opposition on the basis of lost jobs. "What will these 300 workers do?" So did, Demos Demopoulos, a leader of Local 553 of the Teamsters, which represents the carriage drivers' union, who predicted  a ban will go nowhere.

 

Just over a year ago, we wrote an article on how a pledge to ban the horse-drawn carriage industry was thrusting the political unknown, Bill de Blasio, into the forefront of the mayoral race. The hapless carriage horses not only brought de Blasio early exposure, they helped to fill his campaign coffers. The horses inspired parking lot czar Steve Nislick to bankroll NYCLASS, an organization devoted to phasing out the carriage horse industry. The backing included help from Wendy Neu, a Manhattan businesswoman who also reportedly poured money into the de Blasio campaign.

 

Riding past Central Park South in an air-conditioned cab this past summer, one of us surveyed the bedraggled horses hooked up to 1500-2000 pound carriages in the ferocious heat. There is a law that authorizes the police to order the horses back to the stables in such weather, but only after a one-hour warning. That and a cornucopia of other toothless laws affecting the horses, are rarely enforced. While NYCLASS is still very much in business, Nislick and Neu did not answer our requests for comment on de Blasio's long-delayed carriage horse ban.

 

One of the leaders in the campaign to abolish the carriage horses is Edita Birnkrant, director of New York Friends of Animals (FOA) whose offices are only a short walk from Central Park South, where the carriage horses can be observed.

 

Nothing is happening, Birnkrant told us. Contrary to the impression that most voters were given last fall, the mayor cannot abolish the industry by executive fiat, but must introduce a bill in the City Council. Mayor de Blasio has not honored a request to meet with Birnkrant and other animal welfare activists, Birnkrant told us.

 

Priscilla Feral, President of FOA says she is hopeful that de Blasio will respond to what she characterizes as "a united front of sane people." Although FOA would prefer an immediate ban, they will go along with NYCLASS's agenda to replace the horses with electric mini-vans over a three-year period. According to a spokesperson for NYCLASS who spoke to us but requested anonymity, a prototype for such a van already exists and was displayed at the 2013 New York Auto Show. In addition to sparing animals hardship, the vans are environmentally responsible.

 

Feral say she is sympathetic to de Blasio's political plight. As a liberal Democrat he is particularly vulnerable to pressure from organized labor, and the carriage horse industry, as Birnkrant explained to us, made a shrewd move back in 2010 of affiliating with the Teamsters Union. This "partnership" is being wrung for all the mileage it can produce yet Birkrant dismissed the claim that the carriage drivers' association is a union as a "total scam....not a real union."

 

A Life of Pain and Thanklessness

 

To get a sense of the life of a New City carriage horse, we interviewed  Susan Wagner, president and founder of Equine Advocates, a horse sanctuary and welfare group. Some of the carriage horses are burned-out workhorses from farms belonging to the Amish, she told us; others are trotter racers which are considered highly desirable because they are already "broken in" from pulling a wagon, though their new "wagon" will be several times heavier.

 

Carriage horses don't last for many years, Wagner told us, thanks to freezing winters, torrid summers and filthy stables in which they can't turn around and, if they want to lie down, must do so in their own excrement. Drivers, motivated by profit not animals,  drivers, know little about equestrian technique.  Should a horse get seriously ill or injured in city traffic, which has happened too much, he will either be sold to a middleman who makes his income dealing with horse butchers and slaughter houses, or, if he is "lucky," will be euthanized by a veterinarian. Disturbingly, City records show when horses arrive in the City...but not when they depart.

 

Horses who do not disappear inevitably wind up at horse auctions in Pennsylvania or Upstate New York, where their value to middlemen depends on the amount of meat on their bones. From there it's on to slaughterhouses in Canada, since horse slaughter is illegal in the United States.

 

A website of the Humane Society of the United States describes what happens to the horses next.  "Slaughter is a brutal and terrifying end for horses." "Because horses are skittish by nature, accurate stunning [with a sledgehammer] is difficult. As a result, horses must endure repeated blows, and sometimes remain conscious while they are dismembered." Even if a horse is not ill or lame, there comes a time when he can no longer pull a carriage, and so it is still off to slaughter.

 

There are roughly 220 carriage horses working at any one time in New York City. Would there be enough venues for them to live out their days in safety if the industry were banned, we wanted to know.

 

We spoke with Holly Cheever, DVM, a veterinarian in private practice and the vice president of the New York State Humane Association. Cheever has been involved in the New York City carriage horse wars since the 1980s. We asked Cheever, who is also consultant to several equine protection groups, whether she was satisfied with the movement to ban the industry.

 

While noting that she didn't see any movement at all right now, Cheever said she would favor an immediate abolition of the industry, but would also welcome a phase-out. I abolition were to occur, Cheever says she would be concerned about preventing the horses them from winding up under the knife of the horse butcher.

 

Cheever believes that the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States, and animal welfare groups like FOA will all have to pull together to find retirement sanctuaries and private families that will take one or more horses. Horses who have been so brutalized by their drivers and stable conditions that they cannot enjoy a humane retirement would no doubt have to be euthanized, she added, which would be a monumental and sad task.

 

Other animal activists believe that  placement of the carriage horses would not have to be such an onerous project. Susan Wagner with Equine Advocates says study was conducted that leads her to conclude that responsible sanctuaries in the tri-state area can accommodate victims of the carriage horse industries.

 

There is one point on which all activists agree: the obsolete, cruel industry has proven itself unsafe to people and horses, and has outlived its appropriateness as a tourist attraction. Are you listening, Mayor de Blasio?

 

 

##

 

Robert Wilbur is a New York City-based writer who writes about forensic psychiatry, clinical psychopharmacology, animal rights and other topics.

 

 Martha Rosenberg is a well-known investigative reporter.

 

 

 

 

 

Size Inflation Gives Americans a False Sense of Thinness

 

 

It is a sad fat that many want to ignore. The more we work out, the more "diet foods" we eat, the fatter Americans are actually getting. A chilling documentary released this summer, Fed Up, narrated by Katie Couric, highlights Americans losing battle with the bulge and indicts government capitulation to the agricultural industries that make the most fattening food. According to the New York Times, the average American man now weighs 194 pounds and woman, an astounding 165 pounds. In 2002, the average American woman weighed 153 pounds and in 1994, 147 pounds, say Florida State University researchers. Does anyone see a trend?

 

Nor are pounds the only sign of the growing American adiposity: the average American woman in the 1950s had a 25 inch waist and today has a waist of  34 inches. Maybe that should be "waist."

 

Not surprisingly, our growing girth is a big problem to the fashion industry. In fact, one industry captain was heard to comment that designers are no longer dressing American women but "upholstering" them. Overweight people do not rush to buy clothes and when they do find themselves squeezed between the garment racks, they do not buy clothes that don't fit or have an insulting size label. It is the same reason shoe stores sometimes leave the size off women's shoes.

 

Enter size inflation, sometimes called vanity sizing, with its ego-flattering Size Zero denomination. Size Zero is said to fit women who measure from 30-22-32 to 33-25-35 inches. But a little quick fashion research shows that those dimensions used to describe a Size 5! In the 1970s, those dimensions described a Size 10.

 

If anyone has a doubt about how size inflation has made us all thinner without losing a pound, go to a resale shop and try to try on the Jones New York Size 7 off-white linen pencil skirt. Prepare to be demoralized.

 

Men don't scour resale shops the way women tend to do but if they did they would likely be just as demoralized if they tried to try on the three-piece powder blue disco suit similar to the one John Travolta wore in Saturday Night Fever. Can a vest be left casually unbuttoned?

 

Many say baggy Hip Hop fashions, low riding pants that sit on the hips and stretchy yoga pants and leggings have enabled Americans to balloon in size without realizing it because their clothes still fit. Once upon a time, our ancestors called elastic waistbands "the Devil's Playground" for exactly that reason.

 

It is often said that Marilyn Monroe wore a Size 14 dress, a fact that is supposed to show that being "plump" used to be more acceptable than it is today. But it is just the opposite. Ms. Monroe rarely weighed as much as 120 and usually weighed between 115 and 118--putting her close to today's Size Zero category, no doubt.

 

No, the truth is that like cars, McMansion houses, food portions and soft drink sizes, Americans are getting bigger every day--and because it is happening everywhere, few notice. Worse, the harder we try to lose poundage with low calorie foods, fitness centers and personal trainers, the bigger we are becoming.

 

While people in industrialized countries other than the United States are also packing on the pounds, it is said that women in France have remained enviably thin. Why?  Because unlike so many of us, they do not "diet." They eat what they want, including  higher calorie foods or even high fat diet foods but not in our super-sized American portions.

 

Clearly, U.S. "dieting" is doing a lot more for diet food manufacturers and fitness centers than the American waistline. Meanwhile, the fashion industry wonders where to go after Size Zero.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicago

 

About 45 people gathered on a hot August night at a Chicago LBGT community center  to hear a chapter in Chicago history that is often forgotten--how John Gacy prowled the streets of Chicago's northside from 1972 through 1978, picking up young men and murdering at least 33 of them. Gacy, one of the most vicious mass murderers in U.S. history, was found guilty of the murders, sentenced to death and executed by lethal injection at Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois on May 10, 1994.

 

Author and activist Patrick Dati spoke about his acclaimed memoir, I Am Me: Survivor of Child Abuse and Bullying Speaks Out which recounts how Dati overcame a life of bullying and emotional terror which included an assault by mass killer John Gacy when he was only 9-years-old. The book has been acclaimed by Fox News, the Chicago Sun-Times and Kirkus Reviews. Dati told the group he hid his true identity as a gay man through two failed marriages and that sharing his story in his memoir, as he has finally done, is the "ultimate coming out journey to find acceptance and love."

 

The book started as a personal diary that Dati's psychiatrist recommended he write to "release the trauma" Dati told the group. But when his best friend who was a writer read the manuscript, he told Dati that the powerful narrative of overcoming shame, childhood abuse and bullying would have national appeal. Soon a book was born and I Am Me: Survivor of Child Abuse and Bullying Speaks Out was launched by Amazon Digital Services earlier this year.

 

Many who now live in Boystown, Chicago's LBGT neighborhood, were not alive when Gacy cruised its streets. On the day of Dati's encounter with Gacy in the winter of 1973, he had been playing outside in the snow with his brother and other children. The boys went into Goldblatt's at Belmont and Central, a prominent Chicago department store chain now closed, to warm up and continue playing. But when he went to the men's room something happened to Dati that meant he "was never a child again," he says. He was sexually assaulted by a knife-wielding John Gacy. Dati fought back, he told the audience, refusing to "leave with" Gacy and possibly saving his own life.

 

Dati was likely only the second of Gacy's scores of victims, Dati told me. The crimes would continue until 1978, with victims usually losing their lives.

 

Dati said the shame and guilt about the violent assault kept him from telling anyone about it for many years. Ironically, when police finally arrested Gacy in 1979, Dati was with a friend of his who lived close to the Gacy Chicago residence. It was only then that he realized who had assaulted him. As soon as he saw Gacy's face flash on the TV screen, Dati said he ran to the bathroom and "I was throwing up and I was crying."

 

In addition to the assault, Dati said he has coped with bullying and abuse most of his life made all the more acute by a strict Catholic upbringing. The youngest of five children, Dati was bullied by his brother and his father would dismiss the abuse as "boys will be boys," he said.  But it wasn't good natured pranks or teasing, says Dati, "It was bullying."

 

Dati struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide after the assault, enduring more abuse in personal relationships because the emotional landscape of exploitation was so familiar to him. Dati also had two marriages before coming out and has a daughter. Since I Am Me has been published, Dati has become an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse and bullying as well as closeted gay men. Eighty to 85 percent of men who have been abused never come forward and reveal the harm and violence done to them, he says. He hopes to become a public speaker on the topics and his talk at the community center was videotaped for an upcoming CD.

 

“Too often in life the person we were raised to be is not the person we are,” Dati explains. “I lived my life to please others and it doesn’t work. I suffered so much and now I want to share my journey with others to that they too can come out of their darkness and into their light. Just be who you are. That’s the message!”

 

In addition to regularly speaking at national forums, he is active in several local and national anti-bullying and child abuse prevention organizations including, RAINN the Rape, Incest National Network.

 

Dati says he now regrets that he "didn't come forward" and reveal his traumatic experience sooner than he did. "I may have been able to save so many other kids' lives," he reflects. Dati is planning a second book to educate parents, teacher and school superintendents about the signs of bullying and abuse.

 

 

 

 

 In Omaha, Nebraska, there is a proposal on the table for people buying meat to choose an animal and watch it being slaughtered. But many are saying this encourages insensitivity and lack of empathy for suffering, whether human or animal. Many anthropologists say there is a strong cultural link between barbaric treatment of animals and barbaric treatment of humans--agony and terror no longer disturb people because they have become used to it.

 

Since the United States and other countries moved from an agrarian society to an urban one, many complain that kids think chicken nuggets grow on trees and that they have no awareness or respect for the fact than an animal died to make lunch. Because meat is daintily wrapped in cellophane at the grocery store, it is easy to pretend no violence, sacrifice or pain was involved--not even the pain experienced by the slaughterhouse workers who also suffer from a shockingly unregulated industry.

 

Many people realize that even though they may eat meat all day and every day, they would not be able to kill an animal themselves. This guilt and awareness of how cushy their dietary situations are can produce a perverse respect for hunters who are not in denial. But of course not all hunters eat what they kill or allow an animal "fair chase." 

 

For example, Madonna told BBC Radio One in 2001, "You have more respect for things you eat when you go through, or see, the process of killing them.” But the pop star was allowing "canned hunts" at her historic Wiltshire mansion, Ashcombe House, stocked with battery cage-raised baby pheasants from France and allowing rich guests like bankers, brokers and celebs Vinnie Jones and Brad Pitt to "pay up to £10,000 a day" to kill the tame and defenseless birds, reported the Sunday Times.

 

Chefs and foodies are also experimenting with slaughter transparency and self-slaughter. College student Jake Lahne enrolled in a meat production course at the University of Illinois, a strong agricultural school, to achieve “a real understanding of where meat comes from.” But during his do-your-own slaughtering, he found that “animals do not want to die. They can feel pain and fear, and, just like us, will struggle to breathe for even one single more second.” He even warns other self-slaughterers, “If you’re about to run 250 volts through a pig, do not look it in the eyes. It is not going to absolve you.”

 

Christine Muhlke, a New York Times food writer, planned to report on one of the first uses of a van-like “mobile slaughterhouse,” which serves customers who live far away from slaughterhouses or who have a hard time transporting animals. But even though she describes herself as a “meat hipster who serves pickled pigs’ tongues,” the frenetic “wild thrashing” of the animal in the box which did not want to die horrified her.

 

New York Times city critic Ariel Kaminer also tried her hand at witnessing slaughter. She decided to take the life of a Bourbon Red turkey with rich brown feathers “flecked with white” at an Islamic slaughterhouse in Queens. But, “Stepping out of the slaughterhouse and squinting at the light, I didn’t feel brave. I didn’t feel idealistic. I felt crummy,” she wrote.

 

Many who eat meat say they feel "squeamish" about the animal's death. But squeamish implies something unpleasant but necessary like giving blood or treating bedsores. Animal flesh is not necessary for a healthy diet and is actually the opposite of a healthy diet when you consider heart disease, stroke and obesity. Do we really want to get over such "squeamishness"?