Tag Archives: compassion

American attitudes toward animals are shifting

Ever since WiG added a pet section last year, countless stories have come to our attention demonstrating the surprising lengths that Americans go to care for their furry friends. At a time when senseless violence dominates the news, greed overwhelms our society and hateful, divisive rhetoric guides our political process, these stories remind us that the human heart still beats strong.

The manner in which people treat animals says a lot about them. Psychologists have discovered a strong correlation between cruelty to animals and a predisposition for violence toward people, marking them as a threat to society.

Although most animal abuse cases go unreported, those that do come to public attention face increasingly harsh penalties. Before 1986, only four states had felony animal cruelty laws on their books. Today, all 50 states have such laws, although punishments vary greatly in severity.

In addition to concern about their pets, a growing number of people are also questioning the treatment of the domesticated animals we eat. Scientists have discovered that mammals raised as food, like those bred for human companionship, possess the same levels of self-awareness, intelligence, personalities and emotions that pets do. That’s an uncomfortable thing for people who enjoy a pork chop or a steak to consider.

Until very recently the treatment of “farmed” animals was largely overlooked. A growing number of revelations about the brutal, torturous conditions under which factory farm animals suffer, however, has made it all but impossible to ignore the cruelty any longer.

Paul McCartney once said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we would all be vegetarians.”  Posing as slaughterhouse workers, members of groups such as Mercy for Animals have made and released numerous videos of the heinous abuse that awaits factory farm animals at the end of their miserable lives. They’ve lifted the curtains.

In response, Big Ag has given money to lawmakers to introduce so-called “ag-gag” bills that make it a crime to video or photograph abuse. Eight states have enacted such laws, but a federal judge struck down a bill in Idaho, raising First Amendment questions about all such laws.

Wisconsin Republicans planned to introduce an ag-gag law in the state last year but apparently decided to put the idea on hold.

The revelations about factory farms are changing how Americans eat. The number of vegetarians and vegans in the United States skyrocketed from 1 percent in 2009 to 5 percent — or 16 million people — last year. Raw Food World reports that roughly 42 percent of people who’ve given up consumption of animal products cite an educational film with prompting their decision. Sixty-nine percent said they chose to eat a vegan diet to support the ethical treatment of animals.

Food producers didn’t object to the cruelty, but they are responding to the shift in consumer behavior. In October, Starbucks joined McDonald’s, Unilever, Burger King, Walmart and other major food providers in setting a specific timeline to switch over to cage-free egg suppliers. Although the term “cage free” doesn’t mean what it sounds like, it’s better than the alternative.

But male chicks continue to be dumped alive into meat grinders.

Aware consumers are also influencing lawmakers. Nine states, including the agricultural behemoth California, have banned battery cages, which pile chickens together in such small quarters that many are crushed to death. States have also banned gestation crates, which confine pregnant pigs to cages so small that they can’t stand or move.

Those actions represent the start of a revolution in the way Americans think about the treatment of animals, and we urge readers to join in. Support animal welfare groups. Contact your elected officials are urge them to vote no on bills such as ag gag. Ask restaurants if they use “cage free” eggs and where they source their meat and dairy products.

As Czech writer Milan Kundera put it, “Humanity’s true moral test, its fundamental test … consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.”

See also:

Majority of Ashland, Bayfield county residents oppose proposed mega hog farm

Petco drops small-animal supplier amid federal probe

ACLU to Scott Walker: No biased exclusion of Syrian refugees

Some Wisconsin legislators and Gov. Scott Walker want to turn away Syrian refugees.

The ACLU of Wisconsin responded …

We are saddened by calls from our governor and others to turn our backs on the world’s most vulnerable people when they need us the most.

We mourn and condemn the horrific attacks in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad.

However, the attempt by Gov. Scott Walker and other lawmakers to draw a link between such tragedies and the admission and resettlement of Syrian refugees in Wisconsin is a reflexive overreaction.

The U.S. already has an extremely rigorous and multi-layered security screening program in place for refugees seeking to resettle here. Attempting to shut out refugee resettlement in Wisconsin blames refugees for the very terror they are fleeing, and erodes our own civil liberties.

The governor’s and other Wisconsin legislators’ position is badly wrong.

It betrays Wisconsin values of hospitality and compassion, and flies in the face of the laws of this country.  The brazenly discriminatory nature of this position raises grave legal concerns, and should be abhorrent to all Wisconsinites who believe in the values on which our country was founded.

Research links Congress’ low approval to decline in warm, agreeable language

A new study links Congress’ low approval ratings — record lows — to a decline in the use of warm, agreeable language in the House of Representatives.

The study, co-authored by University of British Columbia business professor Karl Aquino, found the use of prosocial words — such as “cooperate” and “contribute” – by lawmakers predicts public approval of Congress six months later.

“If members of Congress want to be viewed more positively by the public, it appears that the words they use matter,” said Aquino, a marketing and behavioral science professor in at UBC’s Sauder School of Business. “Our study suggests that the electorate is listening and reacts favorably when congressional members use prosocial language.”

The researchers’ results were derived from a textual analysis of 124 million words spoken in the U.S. House of Representatives between 1996 and 2014, using a computer model that searched for words validated as having prosocial connotations.

The words whose decline most strongly predicted a decline in public approval were “gentle,” “involve,” “educate,” “contribute,” “concerned,” “give,” “tolerate,” “trust” and “cooperate.”

Congress’s approval rating has slumped precipitously since 2002, when public approval was reliably over 50 percent. Recent polls cite ratings as low as only 10 percent.

Aquino and his co-authors controlled for factors that may have contributed to declining approval, such as the unemployment rate and governance factors, such as the number of bills passed and presidential vetoes. They found that warm, prosocial language was the strongest single predictor of public sentiment.

The research, “A Decline in Prosocial Language Helps Explain Public Disapproval of the U.S. Congress,” was co-authored by Aquino with Jeremy Frimer,Harrison Oakes, Jochen Gebauer and Luke Zhu.

U.S. Catholic bishops elect new president

The new leader of the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops says he will draw on his years as a pastor to guide American bishops as they attempt to shift focus under Pope Francis, who wants more emphasis on compassion than on divisive social issues such as gay marriage.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Kentucky was elected on Nov. 12 as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a role that makes him the U.S church’s spokesman on national issues and a representative of American bishops to the Vatican and the pope.

Kurtz, a 67-year-old Pennsylvania native and a former bishop of Knoxville, Tenn., pledged after his election Tuesday to focus the bishops’ work on reaching out to the poor and underserved, a mission emphasized by the new pope.

“The challenge for us in welcoming people and most especially serving people who are voiceless and vulnerable, spans right across the board from our work in immigration (to) our work in serving people who are poor,” Kurtz said.

But Kurtz has also used his time as Louisville Archbishop to take strong stands on the kind of hot-button cultural issues the new pope says have occupied too much of the church’s focus. Since coming to Louisville, he has joined praying protesters in front of an abortion clinic, donated $1,000 of archdiocese money to a same-sex marriage repeal effort in Maine and joined other Catholic leaders in denouncing a federal requirement for employers to provide health insurance that covers artificial contraceptives.

And Kurtz is not without critics in his archdiocese. Among them are victims of clergy abuse who successfully sued the Louisville archdiocese and reached a $25 million settlement in 2003. The agreement included 242 plaintiffs.

Some of those victims who remain outspoken on clergy abuse issues said Kurtz hasn’t done enough to heal the lingering wounds from the scandal.

“To me there’s no real outreach to survivors,” said Jeff Koenig, a member of the Louisville chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “We had to approach him, he has never reached out to us.”

Koenig said archdiocese officials have offered the survivors group a brief meeting with Kurtz, but they have sought a longer interaction.

At the bishops meeting, Kurtz won just over half the votes in a field of 10 candidates. He succeeds New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is ending a three-year term. The new vice president is Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Texas.