MOTHER’s Newsworthies: Loretta Swit, Joseph P. Kennedy II and John McClaughry

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Actress Loretta Swit is an outspoken animal activist.  

Notable celebrities care about the environment — and they are using their voices to make a difference. In this edition of “MOTHER’s Newsworthies,” learn what Loretta Swit, Joseph P. Kennedy and John McClaughry are doing to make the world a better place.

Brief: Loretta Swit

Just like Hot Lips Houlihan — the strong-willed character she plays on the television series M*A*S*H — Loretta Swit speaks her mind with conviction. One of the causes she’s most passionate about is animal abuse. As an active spokesperson for Friends of Animals (a nonprofit animal protection organization based in New York), Swit frequently attends fur fashion shows in order to protest the cruelty of snaring animals in painful leg-hold traps to obtain their pelts for high-fashion garments.

The core of the problem, she explains, is that many more fur-bearers die than are actually needed, because carcasses with non-salable fur are simply “trashed.” For example, Swit notes, it takes an average of 42 pelts to make one 40-inch fox coat, but some 126 other animals will die in steel traps (and later be discarded) “to produce one fox coat for one woman’s vanity!”

The humane-minded actress also deplores other evidence of what she terms the low value commonly placed on mammal and marine life. Rodeos, Loretta maintains, brutalize normally tractable animals in order to put on a “good show” and — of course — thousands of seals are clubbed to death each year in the Bering Sea as part of a routine “harvest.” The television star is further concerned about the treatment of domestic pets: Many people rob cats of their natural defenses by having them declawed, while others neglect to have their animals neutered (which would help reduce the population of homeless dogs and cats). Finally, Swit criticizes the management of zoos (which she calls “overpopulated jails that turn animals into neurotic pacers.”)

Brief: Joseph P. Kennedy II

In 1979, Joseph P. Kennedy II — eldest son of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy — formed a nonprofit oil company called Citizens Energy Corporation (CEC) to help needy people combat the increasing costs of energy. The firm’s stated plan of action involves purchasing crude oil from producing nations, contracting to have it processed, selling off the gasoline and other by-products at market prices, and using the profits to bring cut-rate heating fuel to low-income families.

At present, CEC buys petroleum from the Republic of Venezuela, has it processed in a Caribbean refinery, and sells the resulting fuel oil to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In its first two winters of operation, the company provided the state with more than 13 million gallons (at nearly 40 percent off the market price) and assisted more than 75,000 people who were trapped between the onset of harsh weather and a sharp rise in heating costs.

Citizens Energy Corporation — which has declared its determination to help reverse the age-old trend of Third World resource exploitation — is also in the process of organizing technical assistance programs for the developing nations. It has, for instance, a number of biofuels projects in the works in Costa Rica: On a dairy farm near the Irazu volcano, a recently completed biogas unit now produces power from processed animal wastes and the firm has been working with the Costa Rican government in an effort to use biofuel technology in coffee dryers. The company’s current plans include utilizing the Central American nation’s annual two-million-meter production of wood-wastes by converting them — through pyrolysis — to charcoal and oil.

Brief: John McClaughry

Until last year, John McClaughry  was a typically busy homesteader in northern Vermont, raising a few head of livestock and tending a large garden. In his “spare time,” however, the free-thinking Republican served two terms in the Vermont state legislature, ran for lieutenant governor and operated a one-person think tank-called the Institute for Liberty and Community — which espoused the concept of civic humanism, a sort of neo-Jeffersonian political philosophy based upon decentralization of big government and “restoration of the small-scale human community.”

McClaughry also wrote radio commentaries for Ronald Reagan and served as policy advisor for that candidate’s 1980 presidential campaign. So, when Reagan was elected, he asked the New Englander to join his White House staff as a senior policy advisor. Now, the self-described “hillbilly in Washington” uses his position to promote the need for self-reliance and small-scale food production. As executive secretary of the Cabinet Council on Food and Agriculture, John says he grabs every chance he gets to point out to his federal colleagues the importance of the small farm in this country. Last fall, for example, his office helped prepare a statement in favor of diverse, homestead-based agriculture which was presented by President Reagan at the USDA’s Conference on Small Farms.

McClaughry is also pushing for increased attention to the problems he thinks the U.S. would encounter if a massive disruption of our food production and distribution systems were to occur. In that situation, the Vermont policymaker maintains, our only salvation would likely be the small, localized farm unit.

“Having a source of food and fiber close to home is a very legitimate function of governmental farm policy,” said McClaughry.

Unfortunately — as McClaughry has observed from his unique vantage point inside the Reagan administration — governmental attitudes don’t normally run that way. For instance, he notes, “There is some sentiment in the Agriculture Department that the person who works part time, off the farm, to supplement his or her income isn’t a ‘real’ farmer.”

He feels very strongly that such individuals “have got to be a part of federal or state farm policy, rather than leave that policy exclusively for the major crop producers.”

As long as he’s got access to the presidential “ear,” John McClaughry intends to work energetically to bring about such a change.

In Brief:

  • Walter S. Taylor, the maverick winemaker and veteran of a court battle with Coca-Cola over the right to use his own family name in conjunction with the products of his winery has a new interest: space exploration. To mark the first launch of the Columbia space shuttle, Taylor’s winery introduced a new vintage called Space Shuttle Rose, and Walt is also a member of the NASA team of artists assigned to cover future launches.
  • Britain’s Prince Philip, as international president of the World Wildlife Fund, works to preserve imperiled animal species. The royal consort is also reportedly energy-conscious: He drives a non-polluting electric car around London.
  • Nearly centenarian homesteader and MOTHER columnist Scott Nearing appeared in Warren Beatty’s epic film, Reds, as one of the witnesses who share their memories of journalist John Reed.
  • The 1981 Alternative Nobel Peace Prize (given by the Right Livelihood Foundation) was shared by scientists from Britain and South Africa and Bill Mollison, the author of Permaculture One and Permaculture Two.