Friday, January 16, 2009

Cass R. Sunstein -- Obama's Latest Appointment has Center for Consumer "Freedom" Throwing Hissy

Every morning, I scan my customized Google news for interesting articles on animal ethics. Today, I read about someone who's freaking out meat lobbyists -- Barack Obama's latest appointment, Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein. According to The Center for Consumer Freedom (which is funded by the tobacco, alcohol, fast food restaurant and meat industries), he's a "radical animal rights activist". Sunstein, a well respected scholar and legal expert, will be heading the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).

Sunstein and Martha Nussbaum (a philosopher and scholar I've come across more than once)
co-edited an animal ethics book together in 2004, and Sunstein wrote its introduction. The book explored legal, philosophical and political issues surrounding the idea of animals as property, animal sentience, etc. and contained essays exploring these topics from different perspectives. According to the Center, this book's intro expressed the need to increase regulation of the use of animals in agriculture, entertainment and scientific experiments. According to the Center's conservative spin doctors, this means

using government to get everything PETA and the Humane Society of the United States can't get through gentle pressure or not-so-gentle coercion. Not exactly the kind of thing American ranchers, restaurateurs, hunters, and biomedical researchers (to say nothing of ordinary consumers) would like to hear from their next “regulatory czar.”
I find it sort of funny how they equate "radical animal rights activism" with something as moderate as an expression of a need to increase regulation of the use of animals in various industries, which is more in keeping with animal welfarism. The Center cites other stances he's taken, though, including comparing the current treatment of animals in these industries to the mistreatment of humans who'd been deemed lesser persons in the past. Sunstein also had the apparent audacity to argue against greyhound racing, animal testing for cosmetics (which is already regarded as archaic in the mainstream) and meat-eating. They assert that
as the individual about to assume “the most important position that Americans know nothing about,” Sunstein owes the public an honest appraisal of his animal rights goals before taking office. Will the next four years be a dream-come-true for anti-meat, anti-hunting, and anti-everything-else radicals? Time will tell. For now, meat lovers might want to stock their freezers.
This is the first I hear of Sunstein and I haven't watched the speech to which the Center links in its article about his appointment, so I don't really know what his politics actually are in terms of animal ethics. He obviously seems to lean towards more compassionate legislation, but I'm not sure just how far he's willing to take it. I'm also unsure of whether this could in fact have any bearing whatsoever on his new position, since it seems to me that there's an obvious difference between creating legislation / regulations and actually enforcing how they're applied, and where the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) is concerned, I'm fairly sure that any policies they actually develop will have more to do with the overseeing of the application of existing regulations than anything. One way or another, he seems to be making some people nervous. I'll be keeping a close eye on additional developments, since he's got my attention, too.

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