Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Food

Singing the blues about red meat

Red Meat counter
It might be smart to take the new data against red meat -- a study links the consumption of even a small portion daily to a higher risk of dying -- with a grain of (possibly blood-pressure-raising) salt. Not that red meat should get a pass: Overconsumption has been tied, over and over again, to poor health outcomes. And the fact that your grandfather ate 12 ounces every day until his 102nd birthday is no argument against the study; lots of people who smoke cigarettes live to a ripe old age. But there is no getting around the number of people who would live to much riper ages if they abstained from tobacco.

Still, this study was correlational, meaning that we know red meat is tied statistically to higher death rates within the time range of the Harvard study. If that's even so: The study didn't examine what people ate; it asked them what they ate. The question is, did the red meat cause the deaths? Was it all of the reason for the deaths, most of it, a small part of it, or perhaps an indicator of other factors? And is it the meat itself, or perhaps substances used in the raising of cattle or in cooking? Processed meat was linked to still-higher death rates.

Maybe people who avoid red meat are more likely to live healthier altogether. Considering the warnings over the years about beef, that's entirely possible. People who heed health warnings might be more likely  to eat vegetables, exercise regularly, meditate occasionally, fasten their seatbelts and, of course, not smoke, since cigarettes are still the No. 1 cause of premature death.

That would help explain the seemingly nonsensical finding that people who partake of red meat only occasionally and sparingly are less likely to die of any cause -- not just heart attack, diabetes or other ailments associated with poor diet but, say, in accidents. The only way a hamburger is more likely to cause a fatal accident is if it's being held in one hand by a driver.

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Red meat will kill you? Stick a fork in me, I'm done!

--Karin Klein

Photo: Red meat. Credit: Dave Thomson / AP Photo

Red meat will kill you? Stick a fork in me, I'm done!

Red meat is linked to premature death
You can have my steak when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

I hate to be politically incorrect, but that's my, well, gut reaction to a study released Monday that says eating any amount of red meat increases one's risk of premature death.

Now mind you, it's not that I don't believe the study. Its lead author is a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, and only really smart people get into Harvard. And it's not as though the researchers weren't thorough: They looked at the eating habits and the health of more than 110,000 adults for more than 20 years. Which, on a scale of boring tasks, certainly tops the homework in the geology class that I took in college.

But first I read this -- "adding just one 3-ounce serving of unprocessed red meat ... to one's daily diet was associated with a 13% greater chance of dying during the course of the study" -- and I think, wow, I'm pretty sure that just two bites of that T-bone I had last month were more than 3 ounces.

Then I read this -- "Even worse, adding an extra daily serving of processed red meat, such as a hot dog or two slices of bacon, was linked to a 20% higher risk of death during the study" -- and I think, that probably means the bacon-wrapped hot dogs I had for lunch last week should've killed me by now. (To give me some credit, I skipped the onions and the fries; perhaps that's why I'm still walking around.)

Also, this part moves me not at all: "Eating a serving of nuts instead of beef or pork was associated with a 19% lower risk of dying during the study. The team said choosing poultry or whole grains as a substitute was linked with a 14% reduction in mortality risk; low-fat dairy or legumes, 10%; and fish, 7%."

Well, I had peanuts on Saturday afternoon. It didn't make me glad it wasn't steak; it made me think of being on an airliner. Then I had sushi on Saturday night. It made me think of fishing.

But here's the part of the study that has me really puzzled:

The Harvard researchers hypothesized that eating red meat would also be linked to an overall risk of death from any cause. ... And the results suggest they were right: Among the 37,698 men and 83,644 women who were tracked, as meat consumption increased, so did mortality risk.

Which means what, exactly? If I grill a nice New York strip on Sunday, that increases my chances of being hit by a bus on Monday?

Granted, I didn't go to Harvard, but that seems like a stretch. Or maybe it's just that all the red meat is killing my brain cells, in addition to clogging my arteries (and making me more likely to die in an airplane accident).

Probably a lot of people are going to have fun with this story. They may even ignore the more salient points, among them that at least cutting down on the consumption of red meat is good for your health and good for the planet.

But sorry, Harvard, my bottom line remains: As a red-blooded, red-meat-eating American, I just can't stomach a future that doesn't include a juicy rib-eye.

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Photo credit: William Thomas Cain / Getty Images

$3 billion in U.S. humanitarian aid buys little respect

Aid to refugees in Darfus
Americans see themselves as generous people, and the dollars spent on humanitarian aid abroad bear that out.

So why don't others see us the same way?

Reporting on a new study of humanitarian aid by the group DARA, a nonprofit that has offices in Switzerland, Spain and the United States, The Times said Wednesday:

The U.S. ranked 17th out of 19 countries in aid effectiveness in the report, ahead of Luxembourg and Italy. Norway topped the list for the most effective aid.

Political and economic agendas have gotten in the way of help for suffering people, the group said. Foreign humanitarian groups overwhelmingly said they believed U.S. aid was driven by other economic or political interests, one factor that dragged down its rating….

The U.S. gives more money than any other country, more than $3 billion last year, according to the United Nations Financial Tracking Service. However, it gives a smaller percentage of its income (0.21%) than the 0.7% the United Nations has urged, the report says.

So, in a nutshell: We're the biggest donors, but apparently still not big enough, and those who use the money don't like the strings we attach to it or trust our motives. (Although the report doesn't mention any of them turning down the aid. I guess they just hold their noses when taking the money.)

Of course, the accusation that the United States uses foreign aid to further its political agendas isn't news.  For example, in an Op-Ed on Wednesday titled "Why Egypt doesn’t trust us," former Times staff writer Stanley Meisler talks about the troubled history of U.S.-funded pro-democracy groups such as the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House and the International Center for Journalists.

Most Americans typically see these groups as working for positive change.  The Egyptians, and obviously other countries, see more sinister motives.

Whatever the truth is, it's troubling that, at least when it comes to humanitarian aid, the United States is viewed so negatively.  When $3 billion is being spent, it would be nice to know that it's actually doing some good. (And heck, it might even be nice that those getting the aid show a little appreciation.)

Perhaps we should examine what Norway is doing to earn that No. 1 spot. (Of course, it might be just that no one mistrusts Scandinavians, while plenty of people apparently mistrust Americans. Although try telling that to Dag Hammarskjold.)

Still, perhaps we could solve the problem by funneling our $3 billion to Norway, and let the Norwegians handle the rest.

We might not get the credit, but at least we might get more bang for our bucks.

And the Norwegians might even say "Thank you."

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--Paul Whitefield 

Photo: Donated food is divided at a refugee camp in Darfur in 2004. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

Alabama's immigration law: Denying children food stamps

Alabama
Alabama's immigration law was the focus of a recent episode of "This American Life." For the segment, Jack Hitt traveled to Alabama shortly after HB 56 went into effect to see how the draconian law, which has been compared to the Fugitive Slave Act, had quickly created a culture of fear and shame.

Every Latino person, legal or illegal, whom I spoke to noted at some point that there's just something hateful in the air now. Before the law, they felt accepted. They had American friends. They didn't feel out of place.

Now when they go to a store, every single one of them told me they feel that people are looking at them weirdly, like, what are you still doing here? When the law changed to make them less welcome, they actually became less welcome, in a day-to-day, "passing you on the street" sort of way. School kids told me they're fighting off comments like, I'm glad you're all moving, we don't want you here, you take our jobs. At a pep rally, where Latinos were all sitting up front, kids started shouting, Mexicans move to the back. And most of them did.

In addition to turning state and local police into immigration agents and requiring schools to determine the immigration status of students, HB 56 also prohibits undocumented immigrants from entering into a business transaction with the state. Try having electricity if you're not allowed to pay an electric bill.

Not only has this forced undocumented immigrants into hiding -- although HB 56's ultimate goal is to encourage undocumented immigrants to self-deport -- it's made everyone else afraid of them too. One woman Hitt interviewed said this hateful new way of life had even made its way to the church.  

Gabriella

Yes, because even in the church, you find people that say, well, we are in God's house. And then they don't want to talk at you. And they don't want to give the peace to you. That is so sad.

Jack Hitt

So in your church, you have the passing of the peace, that part of the service? And so in your church, when they do that, what normally happens? You turn and shake hands with people?

Gabriella

Yes. They shake hands and everything. But now I found some people that say, I don't want to do peace with you.

And it gets worse. On Wednesday, ThinkProgress' Amanda Peterson Beadle shed light on how HB 56's taint had extended to the food stamp program.

Because a portion of Alabama's harmful immigration law makes it a felony for undocumented immigrants to enter into a "business transaction" with the state, some public utility companies have interpreted this measure so broadly that they have prevented undocumented immigrants from receiving water or power at their homes. And a library has even required people show proof of citizenship before they can sign up for a library card because of the "business transactions" provision.

Now U.S.-born children with undocumented immigrant parents even have been denied food stamps because of this portion of the anti-immigrant law. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reports that five people have called the group's hotline to report that they were denied food stamps under the law because of their immigration status even though the benefits are for their American citizen children.

It's troublesome enough to impose restrictions on what food stamps recipients can and can't buy with their food stamps, but denying access to food stamps altogether is quite possibly the most shameful outcome resulting from Alabama's destructive immigration law.

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Photo: Demonstrators protest Alabama's immigration law during Gov. Robert Bentley's State of the State address at the Capitol in Montgomery, Ala., on Feb. 7. Credit: Dave Martin / Associated Press 

Food stamps and the right to make unhealthy decisions

Market
Is it fair to mandate to food stamp recipients what they can and can't eat? Sen. Ronda Storms (R-Fla.) thinks so, which is why she authored a bill that imposes restrictions on what people can buy with federal aid. Times reporter Richard Fausset writes:

A few months ago, Storms, 46, started noticing that some fellow shoppers were using federal food stamp money to purchase a lot of unhealthful junk. And it galled her -- at a time when Florida was cutting Medicaid reimbursement rates, public school funding and jobs -- that people were indulging in sugary, fatty, highly-processed treats on the public dime.

Naturally, Storms' bill hit a nerve.

In an editorial, our board writes:

The list in Storms' bill is so long -- foods containing trans fats, sweetened beverages, "sweets" from jello to doughnuts, and "salty snacks" -- that it seems to include most items not found in the produce or meat aisles. The notion that poor people have any more time to cook from scratch than other Americans who rely on prepared supermarket "junk" food is clearly absurd, and infantilizing them by restricting their choices in this way is demeaning. […]

The best way to prevent people from making bad food choices is to give them proper nutritional information. But for the government to reach into their supermarket carts is downright -- dare we say it? -- socialistic.

On our discussion board, several readers complain that beggars can't be choosers. "When you eat on someone else's dime you eat what's provided and say thanks rather than whine about how oppressed you are," writes David in LA. Furthermore, argues kroneborge, "I strongly support the right of people to make unhealthy decisions, they should be able to smoke, eat and do whatever drugs they want as long as they pay for it and their healthcare themselves. But if I am paying for it, then they need to be living right."

Question is, who determines what it means to be "living right"? It could also be argued that obesity and diabetes aren't the only health risks associated with our food consumption. If you're going to go about banning risky foods, why not put the kibosh on Florida tomatoes too? And microwaveable popcorn? Or milk, poultry and red meat? Or food that comes in cans? Most people know that chips are bad for you, but I doubt there are a lot of people out there who've ever considered that a can of chicken soup could be toxic.

That's all beside the point, though. "The point of the food stamp program is to stop vulnerable Americans from going hungry, not to impose some sort of national dietary regime," writes Elizabeth Nolan Brown on Blisstree. "And while it may seem more helpful (in a sort-of paternalistic way) to limit what folks on food stamps can buy to certain healthy or cost-efficient foods, what good does that do anyone if those foods aren't things a food stamp user will actually eat?"

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Photo: La Casa Market in East Los Angeles. Credit: Los Angeles Times

The Supreme Court and the slaughterhouse

Pigs
Could Southern California Republican congressman Elton Gallegly please step in, and make one of his last acts in Congress a humane one –- one more time?

The Supreme Court just threw out a California law, saying the state overstepped its constitutional authority when it ordered changes in how slaughterhouses euthanize pigs and cows and goats who can't walk into the slaughterhouse chute.

It’s a complicated matter, and the justices ruled unanimously on the constitutional question that state law can’t be stricter than federal law in some matters. They didn’t rule on the humane issues or food safety questions, two of the matters that prompted California’s law. The pork industry took California to court, and won.

The questions of possibly tainted meat from potentially ailing animals -– pigs, cows, goats -- getting into the food chain was one of the confluent forces in the California law; the other was about animal cruelty. The public was horrified at a humane group’s video of cows that couldn’t walk being prodded and forced into the slaughterhouse to feed the American appetite for cheap and plentiful meat.

Gallegly stepped in once before on an animal welfare issue. The Supreme Court had ruled that a law banning the sale of animal cruelty videos violated free speech rules.

That law had originated in a ban on "crush videos," showing little creatures getting stomped to death by women, which evidently feed some creepy niche sexual thrill.

Gallegly, who is retiring from Congress, became a hero to animal groups for crafting a new law, along with some of his colleagues, that met those constitutional requirements for banning those so-called crush videos.

President Obama signed the law. Justice Samuel Alito, in perhaps a rare moment of agreement with the president, had dissented in the Supreme Court animal-cruelty video case.

In his opinion, Alito quoted from a Humane Society brief in describing this cruelty porn.

Warning -– this is very rough reading, so stop right here if you can’t deal with it:

[A] kitten, secured to the ground, watches and shrieks in pain as a woman thrusts her high-heeled shoe into its body, slams her heel into the kitten's eye socket and mouth loudly fracturing its skull, and stomps repeatedly on the animal's head. The kitten hemorrhages blood, screams blindly in pain, and is ultimately left dead in a moist pile of blood-soaked hair and bone.

Alito also wrote of the "criminal conduct" in the dog-fighting videos that brought the case to the Supreme Court, saying, "The videos record the commissions of violent criminal acts, and it appears that these crimes are committed for the sole purpose of creating the videos."

Another law that also meets constitutional muster could address the slaughterhouse animal treatment issue. Beyond that, the Agriculture Department could be a lot more vigorous in pursuing this as a safety issue of "downer" animal meat in the public food supply.

The ultimate answer to any of these practices that occur in the course of slaughtering billions of animals, whether on family farms or by ritual killing techniques or in mega-slaughterhouses, is also perhaps the best chance of survival of our species too.

It’s a move toward a vegetarian diet. Meat protein generally consumes more land and water and energy than vegetable protein, and all of those -– land, water and energy -– are going to be scarcer and more expensive in the decades to come. 

Because we humans feel pretty helpless to do anything to change the world by our lonesomes, I once asked Jane Goodall what was the single thing that one individual could do to make the biggest impact on the planet and the prospect of human survival, and she said, "Stop eating meat."

Until we do, isn’t it the least we can do to treat with respect and consideration these animals we kill by the billions in order to feed ourselves?

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 Photo: Pigs in the food chain. Credit: Reuters

The fate of the Twinkie -- financially, legally, deliciously

Twinkie
Could it be RIP for the Twinkie, that mainstay of cultural jokes and teen diets?

Hostess has filed for bankruptcy, again, and who knows whether the snack company's survival has a Sno-Ball's (cream-filled cake with pink frosting and coconut flakes)] chance in h-e-double-hockey-sticks, as Mitt Romney would say.

Hostess makes HoHos and Twinkies and "old school" cupcakes with ingredients that read like  Margaret Thatcher's homework; Thatcher studied chemistry and was a research chemist before going into politics, and she helped to develop emulsifiers for ice cream, though I don't expect Meryl Streep spent a lot of time at the soft-serve machine prepping for "The Iron Lady."

If Twinkies do vanish from the snack shelves, we should remember that they still have a place in California jurisprudence.

After former San Francisco Supervisor Dan White shot and killed Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978, he was convicted of manslaughter rather than murder, and faced less than eight months in prison rather than the death penalty, in part because of what became known as the "Twinkie defense."

Popular culture has wrongly reduced the Twinkie defense to the notion that eating Twinkies makes you go crazy and do things like shoot people. But in point of fact, the real Twinkie defense was the evidence that White -- a fitness buff and former athlete, a devotee of nutrition -- got so depressed that he'd stoop to pigging out on sugar, candy, sodas and junk food (Twinkies and their ilk), and that that exacerbated his depression.

It fit into his lawyers' case that all of that was evidence of mental illness, which meant that White couldn't have maliciously premeditated the killings –- and therefore could not  be prosecuted for murder, only for voluntary manslaughter. The jury agreed. (White committed suicide less than two years after he was released from prison.)

The Twinkie defense shorthand so outraged Californians that voters and legislators limited the "diminished capacity" courtroom arguments -- the range of psychiatric considerations under which White's case was defended -- and replaced it with the idea of "diminished actuality." In Sacramento, one unhappy legislator even reportedly waved a Twinkie in the air to illustrate his point.

The Twinkie defense even reached the U.S. Supreme Court --  not as a case but during an argument in a 2006 case, United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez, during which Justice Antonin Scalia, talking about the right to counsel, declared: "I don’t want a 'competent' lawyer. I want a lawyer to get me off. I want a lawyer to invent the Twinkie defense. I want to win."

Jurisprudence aside, whatever perils the cupcake genre poses to those who eat them, the TSA in Las Vegas found last month that a cupcake-in-a-jar might be a threat to national security: agents confiscated a containerized cupcake a woman was carrying onto her flight. The TSA pointed out that your standard-issue off-the-shelf cupcake was fine but that a cupcake sealed in a jar constituted a gel.

And that, I suppose, is its own kind of Twinkie defense.

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Photo: A box of 10 Hostess Twinkies is seen in this photo taken on Jan. 11. Credit: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Men at the market: It's a lost cause

Grocery shopping men
Hey guys, wanna get together and go grocery shopping?

Didn't think so.  But according to The Times, more men are doing exactly that

Seems that the trend of men doing the grocery shopping has been growing for years, but then the recession put more men out of work, leaving them at home to handle domestic chores.

Sorry, I'm not buying it.

Now, I don't really have a lot of formal research to back me up on this.  

What I do have is "man's intuition" -- you know, the same thing men use to find their way when they are lost, or when they need a birthday gift for their wives/girlfriends, or when they want to lay down a few bucks on the Packers vs. Steelers in the Super Bowl.

It's not that I've never been grocery shopping.  Of course I have. Here's how it works:

My wife gives me a list of what to get.  I go to the store and wander the aisles. I see many of my favorite things: Cheetos, English tea cookies, Whoppers, Diet Coke. None of those are on the list.  I get them anyway. 

Then I find that I've lost the list somewhere in the store.  So I buy what I think was on it.

When I get home, my wife says: "Where are the eggs?"

And it's back to the store for the eggs.

The Times' story says some stores are creating "man aisles" to make it easier on guys.

This isn't new. There's always been a man aisle.  That's where the magazines are.  We used to stand there and read Road & Track or Hot Rod while our moms or sisters or girlfriends or wives shopped. 

Sadly, now it's mostly magazines with stuff about Kim Kardashian, and who wants to read about some poor guy getting dumped before the gifts have been unwrapped? (Maybe he refused to do the grocery shopping?)

Anyway, I also have anecdotal evidence to refute this man-grocery-shopping myth. And you can try this  yourself.

Next Mother's Day, go to the market, early.  Watch carefully.  Hundreds of husbands, some with kids in tow, will be wandering the aisles, seeking ingredients to make their wives breakfast in bed.

If they are lucky, the dads will have daughters.   They'll know where the stuff is.

Otherwise, it's ugly.  By the time they finish shopping, you can forget breakfast. 

How about a nice brunch in bed, honey?

You want to know what else happens when men grocery shop? Check out this excerpt from The Times' story:

On the food side, Barry Calpino, vice president of breakthrough innovation at Kraft Foods Inc., said the company selected several products to market to men in 2011, with solid results. The Northfield, Ill., company developed, packaged and marketed MiO, bottles of liquid flavor droplets to make water more enticing.

"Guys, when it comes to shopping and cooking, they love to customize and add their own personal touch," Calpino said, adding that the interest also extends to beverages.

That's right.  We like to buy stuff to make water "more enticing."  And we "love to customize."

So, working women of America, when you get home tonight, be sure to compliment your man on the "enticing" water and the "customized" cheeseburgers. (I think Cheez Whiz is even better than that silly sliced stuff, don't you, honey? 

Who knows.  Maybe we'll at least solve the obesity problem.

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Photo: A man shops at a discount grocery store in Reading, Pa., in October. Credit: Spencer Platt / Getty Images

The San Francisco solution: To improve the economy, pay workers more

Palio D'Asti restaurant

Did you catch the latest bit of insanity out of San Francisco? Effective Jan. 1, Baghdad by the Bay's minimum wage will climb to $10.24 an hour.

So long, San Francisco. That little earthquake in 1906 was nothing compared with what this will do to your city. Might as well shut down those cute cable cars. Maybe you can find someone to buy that nice bridge. Too bad, too: Just when the 49ers are starting to win again, and the Giants are better than the Dodgers.

What's that you say? It's not the end? From The Times' story Tuesday:

San Francisco's minimum wage has climbed steadily since voters in 2003 approved a local initiative mandating an annual increase in the minimum wage using a formula tied to inflation. In recent years, the city has also required many employers to provide their workers with health benefits and all employers to offer paid sick time.

Critics have derided the mandates as anti-business job killers. But San Francisco's economy has proved resilient. The city's unemployment rate was 7.8% in November, well below the 11.3% statewide rate. Over the last year, the San Francisco metropolitan area, which includes parts of neighboring San Mateo and Marin counties, created 3,900 new jobs, mostly in bars and restaurants within the city of San Francisco, according to the California Employment Development Department.

We've been told lately that the only way to get the economy back on track is to cut, cut, cut -- workers and their pay and their benefits. Oh, and cut, cut, cut -- taxes for the wealthy, the so-called job creators.

But maybe there's something in the water in San Francisco: Better wages, better benefits -- and new jobs?

Of course, not everyone is happy:

"It makes these jobs so high-paying that they disappear," said Daniel Scherotter, executive chef and owner of Palio D'Asti, an Italian restaurant in the downtown financial district. "It's hurting the people it's trying to help."

As a result, Scherotter said he cut his kitchen staff by eight people in the last five years and shifted pastry production outside the city limits.

I understand what Scherotter is saying. He's got a business to run.

But he's wrong, and here's why. 

Call it America's dilemma: Consumers complain that everything costs too much, and they've seen their wages stagnate or their jobs disappear. With unemployment high and consumers not spending as much, businesses look to reduce costs -- usually labor costs.

But that formula just doesn't cut it.

For this country to work, people have to work. And that work has to pay enough for people to live on. Even at $10.24 an hour, that's $21,299.20 a year annually for a full-time worker. (Provided they don't take any time off, of course.)

If, as Scherotter says, the economics of running a restaurant require that workers be paid less than $10.24 an hour, then perhaps it's the business model that's broken.

Well-paid workers become free-spending consumers. Free-spending consumers fuel the economy. A better economy breeds more jobs.

Who knows, maybe San Francisco is on to something. And it might just work better than cutting the taxes of all those job creators.

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Photo: San Francisco's Palio D'Asti restaurant. Credit: Eric Risberg / Associated Press

Pardons aren't just for presidential turkeys this week

President Obama pardons a turkey
What's with this sudden surge of pardoning?

On Wednesday, President Obama did the usual presidential thing and pardoned a turkey (resist the temptation -- no Republican presidential candidate jokes here).

Actually, two turkeys were pardoned: One, named Liberty, got to share the spotlight with Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha; another, named Peace, was a no-show (resist the temptation --  no acidic comments on Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan or Israel/Palestinians).

It's unclear whether these birds qualify as heritage turkeys. If they do, though, Obama's pardon cost someone some real cash.

According to a story Wednesday in The Times, people are going crazy for heritage birds, paying $6 to $12 a pound (resist the temptation -– OK, maybe not -– to point out that thousands of people in L.A. stood in line this week for free food for Thanksgiving).

Obama's gesture came the day after Newt Gingrich suddenly went crazy under the bright lights of a GOP presidential candidates' debate and said something sensible. Gingrich proposed that we give some illegal immigrants in this country a break, finding a way for them to work here legally (though not become citizens; he's still a Republican, after all).

His rivals, of course, pounced, calling the proposal "amnesty," which, to Republicans, is a four-letter word. It may be Thanksgiving, but Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann couldn't resist acting like turkeys. (Hope Romney's yard crew of illegal immigrants -- OK, OK, I know, that's old news -- will have the place looking nice for the holidays.)

Back in the animal kingdom, though, it was a good week for Yellowstone's grizzly bears. The U.S. 9 th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erred in removing Endangered Species Act protections for "one of the American West's most iconic wild animals."

(The bears can now enjoy Thanksgiving dining on white-bark pine -- if they can find it.  One reason for the court's decision was that a beetle infestation is killing off the pines.)

Rounding out the week was Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, who on Tuesday declared a moratorium on the death penalty in his state. Gary Haugen was scheduled to be executed on Dec. 6, and had even sought to hasten his own death sentence.

But Kitzhaber, who in a previous term as governor had approved the only two executions carried out in Oregon since the state adopted the death penalty 27 years ago, stepped in, saying:  

"They were the most agonizing and difficult decisions I have made as governor, and I have revisited and questioned them over and over again during the past 14 years. ...

"The death penalty as practiced in Oregon is neither fair nor just, and it is not swift or certain. It is not applied equally to all.

"It is time for Oregon to consider a different approach. I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer, and I will not allow further executions while I am governor."

Kitzhaber's remarks make quite a contrast with Texas Gov. Rick Perry's, who, you'll recall, said in a presidential debate in September that he had "never struggled" with the issue because "the state of Texas has a very thoughtful, very clear process in place."

In this week of Thanksgiving, one thing we can be thankful for is that there are still some political leaders in this country with consciences.

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Photo: President Obama pardons Liberty, the national Thanksgiving turkey, during a ceremony at the White House on Wednesday. Credit: Mark Wilson / Getty Images

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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.



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