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Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013 12:00 pm

Corporatizing animals – from cuteness to cruelty

Both the old and new media agree on this: If you need a story that’s guaranteed to be wildly popular – go with animals. “Kute kittens,” for example, are surefire winners, as is the entire p-group: puppies, porpoises, penguins and polar bears. And don’t forget baby chicks, goats and other farm animals – they can be awfully cute and cuddly, too.

One group that’s noticed this is corporate America, and some of the biggest corporations have jumped on the animal ploy as a way to push some of their ugliest profiteering schemes. For example, the Keystone XL pipeline, a project involving TransCanada Corp. and such oil giants as Exxon Mobil. They want to shove this massively polluting, ozone-depleting, wildlife-threatening pipeline from Alberta, Canada, down through the very center of America, carrying a toxic petro-sludge called tar sands oil all the way to export terminals on the Gulf Coast.

This is not exactly a popular idea in our country, and it was made less popular by a couple of recent, very nasty spills of this tar from existing pipelines – one into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, and the other in the town of Mayflower, Ark. So, cue the animals!

Larry Kudlow, a shameless, corporate-hugging host of his eponymous TV show on CNBC, proclaimed in an August episode that – by gollies – Keystone would be terrific for wildlife. Why? Because, explained this noted expert on the habits of beasts in the wild, the loveable bears, deer, and such “like to snuggle under the pipeline (for) warmth.” An economist at the American Petroleum Institute – the chief lobbying group for big oil – immediately agreed with Kudlow, asserting that, “animals like the Alaskan crude oil pipeline quite a bit.”

How darling! And how wrong.

What we have here are a couple of shills mouthing a right-wing myth that’s been promoted on the political circuit for a while. Actual animal experts, however, note that Canadian caribou are now “listed as threatened,” largely because of the tar sands rush. And independent scientists studying the Keystone project say it will “wreak havoc” on animals all along its nature-destroying path.

How cute is that?

But while big oil is trying to convince the public that it is Bambi’s best buddy, today’s industrial agribusiness operations definitely do not want to be pictured with animals – nor do they want us seeing pictures of the chickens, hogs, cows, etc., that they confine in their animals factories.

They’ve gone so far as to get state laws passed to make criminals of anyone who even tries to photograph or video inside their so-called “farms.” That’s because it’s God-awful ugly in there. For the corporate owners see animals as nothing but profit machines to be locked in tiny cages for life – fed pellets and antibiotics, allowed no connection to their natural world and then slaughtered (often brutally).

Seeing such ugliness has prompted Rep. Steve King of Iowa to spring into action. Declaring that he’s passionate about agricultural cruelty, he got his GOP colleagues in the House to pass his amendment to stop it. Sadly, though, King’s passion has a perverse twist to it: The cruelties that move him to the brink of tears are state laws that he claims are “slowly suffocating production agriculture out of existence.” Yes, he wants the federal government to stop states and cities from passing laws that restrict animal cruelty by corporate agbiz!

No more requirements that chicken cages provide enough room for the birds to stand up, he cries. No more rules outlawing the sale of horse and dog meat, the forced feeding of ducks, or the existence of puppy mills. And no more consumer laws requiring genetically manipulated foods to be labeled.

Jim Hightower is national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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