Thursday, April 30, 2009

Rep. Broun Baselessly Speculates That The Child Who Died From Swine Flu In The U.S. Was An ‘Illegal Alien’ from Think Progress

Yesterday, Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) was on C-SPAN's Washington Journal and talked about the outbreak of the H1N1 virus. When discussing the first death in the United States from the disease, Broun used the tragedy to rail against "illegal aliens":

Q: What do you think happens next here? Or should happen?

BROUN: Of course, it's sad to see a 23-month-old child die from this disease. We don't have any specifics. I tried to find out this morning specifics about this child that has died -- whether it was someone who is from Mexico, possibly an illegal alien who has been brought into this country.

One big problem we have in this country is an open border. The border is like a sieve, and so these illegal aliens are coming across, and I think a lot of the health care facilities throughout Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California are going to be overwhelmed by cases coming out of Mexico -- Mexican citizens -- putting a further strain on those facilities. So, I don't know if this child was a Mexican, or if it was an American child -- what the situation is -- but it was sad that this child died.

Watch it:

In fact, the child was a Mexican citizen whose family was visiting relatives in the United States. "The family had traveled to South Texas. The child became ill and they transported the child to Houston for medical care," said a Houston health department official. This case had absolutely nothing to do with undocumented immigration. Most of the U.S. cases are arising in people who legally traveled to Mexico for various reasons.

Media Matters and CAP's Eric Alterman have also documented right-wing media figures blaming Mexican immigrants for the spread of the virus. On April 24, hate radio host Michael Savage said, "Illegal aliens are the carriers of the new strain of human-swine avian flu from Mexico," and on April 27, Neal Boortz asked, "[W]hat better way to sneak a virus into this country than give it to Mexicans?"

Transcript: More »« Less

How "The NAFTA Flu" Exploded from Truthout - All Articles

   Smithfield farms fled US environmental laws to open a gigantic pig farm in Mexico, and all we Got was this lousy swine flu.

    US and Mexico authorities claim that neither knew about the "swine flu" outbreak until April 24. But after hundreds of residents of a town in Veracruz, Mexico, came down with its symptoms, the story had already hit the Mexican national press by April 5. The daily La Jornada reported:

    "Clouds of flies emanate from the rusty lagoons where the Carroll Ranches business tosses the fecal wastes of its pig farms, and the open-air contamination is already generating an epidemic of respiratory infections in the town of La Gloria, in the Perote Valley, according to Town Administrator Bertha Crisóstomo López."

    The town has 3,000 inhabitants, hundreds of whom reported severe flu symptoms in March.

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, reporting from Mexico, has identified a La Gloria child who contracted the first case of identified "swine flu" in February as "patient zero," five-year-old Edgar Hernández, now a survivor of the disease.

    By April 15 - nine days before Mexican federal authorities of the regime of President Felipe Calderon acknowledged any problem at all - the local daily newspaper, Marcha, reported that a company called Carroll Ranches was "the cause of the epidemic."

    La Jornada columnist Julio Hernández López connects the corporate dots to explain how the Virginia-based Smithfield Farms came to Mexico: In 1985, Smithfield Farms received what was, at the time, the most expensive fine in history - $12.6 million - for violating the US Clean Water Act at its pig facilities near the Pagan River in Smithfield, Virginia, a tributary that flows into the Chesapeake Bay. The company, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dumped hog waste into the river.

    It was a case in which US environmental law succeeded in forcing a polluter, Smithfield Farms, to construct a sewage treatment plant at that facility after decades of using the river as a mega-toilet. But "free trade" opened a path for Smithfield Farms to simply move its harmful practices next door into Mexico so that it could evade the tougher US regulators.

    The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect on January 1, 1994. That very same year Smithfield Farms opened the "Carroll Ranches" in the Mexican state of Veracruz through a new subsidiary corporation, "Agroindustrias de México."

    Unlike what law enforcers forced upon Smithfield Farms in the US, the new Mexican facility - processing 800,000 pigs into bacon and other products per year - does not have a sewage treatment plant.

    According to Rolling Stone magazine, Smithfield slaughters an estimated 27 million hogs a year to produce more than six billion pounds of packaged pork products. (The Veracruz facility thus constitutes about three percent of its total production.)

    Reporter Jeff Tietz reported in 2006 on the conditions in Smithfield's US facilities (remember: what you are about to read describes conditions that are more sanitary and regulated than those in Mexico):

Smithfield's pigs live by the hundreds or thousands in warehouse-like barns, in rows of wall-to-wall pens. Sows are artificially inseminated and fed and delivered of their piglets in cages so small they cannot turn around. Forty fully grown 250-pound male hogs often occupy a pen the size of a tiny apartment. They trample each other to death. There is no sunlight, straw, fresh air or earth. The floors are slatted to allow excrement to fall into a catchment pit under the pens, but many things besides excrement can wind up in the pits: afterbirths, piglets accidentally crushed by their mothers, old batteries, broken bottles of insecticide, antibiotic syringes, stillborn pigs - anything small enough to fit through the foot-wide pipes that drain the pits. The pipes remain closed until enough sewage accumulates in the pits to create good expulsion pressure; then the pipes are opened and everything bursts out into a large holding pond.

The temperature inside hog houses is often hotter than ninety degrees. The air, saturated almost to the point of precipitation with gases from shit and chemicals, can be lethal to the pigs. Enormous exhaust fans run twenty-four hours a day. The ventilation systems function like the ventilators of terminal patients: If they break down for any length of time, pigs start dying.

    Consider what happens when such forms of massive pork production move to unregulated territory where Mexican authorities allow wealthy interests to do business without adequate oversight, abusing workers and the environment both. And there it is: The violence wrought by NAFTA in clear and understandable human terms.

    The so-called "swine flu" exploded because an environmental disaster simply moved (and with it, took jobs from US workers) to Mexico where environmental and worker safety laws, if they exist, are not enforced against powerful multinational corporations.

    False mental constructs of borders - the kind that cause US and Mexican citizens alike to imagine a flu strain like this one invading their nations from other lands - are taking a long overdue hit by the current "swine flu" media frenzy. In this case, US-Mexico trade policy created a time bomb in Veracruz that has already murdered more than 150 Mexican citizens, and at least one child in the US, by creating a gigantic Petri dish in the form pig farms to generate bacon and ham for international sale.

    None of that indicates that this flu strain was born in Mexico, but, rather, that the North American Free Trade Agreement created the optimal conditions for the flu to gestate and become, at minimum, epidemic in La Gloria and, now, Mexico City, and threatens to become international pandemic.

    Welcome to the aftermath of "free trade." Authorities now want you to grab a hospital facemask and avoid human contact until the outbreak hopefully blows over. And if you start to feel dizzy, or a flush with fever, or other symptoms begin to molest you or your children, remember this: The real name of this infirmity is "The NAFTA Flu," the first of what may well emerge as many new illnesses to emerge internationally as the direct result of "free trade" agreements that allow companies like Smithfield Farms to escape health, safety and environmental laws.


Boss Hog

by: Jeff Tietz  |  Visit article original @ Rolling Stone

    America's top pork producer churns out a sea of waste that has destroyed rivers, killed millions of fish and generated one of the largest fines in EPA history. Welcome to the dark side of the other white meat.

    Smithfield Foods, the largest and most profitable pork processor in the world, killed 27 million hogs last year. That's a number worth considering. A slaughter-weight hog is fifty percent heavier than a person. The logistical challenge of processing that many pigs each year is roughly equivalent to butchering and boxing the entire human populations of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Detroit, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, San Francisco, Columbus, Austin, Memphis, Baltimore, Fort Worth, Charlotte, El Paso, Milwaukee, Seattle, Boston, Denver, Louisville, Washington, D.C., Nashville, Las Vegas, Portland, Oklahoma City and Tucson.

    Smithfield Foods actually faces a more difficult task than transmogrifying the populations of America's thirty-two largest cities into edible packages of meat. Hogs produce three times more excrement than human beings do. The 500,000 pigs at a single Smithfield subsidiary in Utah generate more fecal matter each year than the 1.5 million inhabitants of Manhattan. The best estimates put Smithfield's total waste discharge at 26 million tons a year. That would fill four Yankee Stadiums. Even when divided among the many small pig production units that surround the company's slaughterhouses, that is not a containable amount.

    Smithfield estimates that its total sales will reach $11.4 billion this year. So prodigious is its fecal waste, however, that if the company treated its effluvia as big-city governments do - even if it came marginally close to that standard - it would lose money. So many of its contractors allow great volumes of waste to run out of their slope-floored barns and sit blithely in the open, untreated, where the elements break it down and gravity pulls it into groundwater and river systems. Although the company proclaims a culture of environmental responsibility, ostentatious pollution is a linchpin of Smithfield's business model.

    A lot of pig shit is one thing; a lot of highly toxic pig shit is another. The excrement of Smithfield hogs is hardly even pig shit: On a continuum of pollutants, it is probably closer to radioactive waste than to organic manure. The reason it is so toxic is Smithfield's efficiency. The company produces 6 billion pounds of packaged pork each year. That's a remarkable achievement, a prolificacy unimagined only two decades ago, and the only way to do it is to raise pigs in astonishing, unprecedented concentrations.

    Smithfield's pigs live by the hundreds or thousands in warehouse-like barns, in rows of wall-to-wall pens. Sows are artificially inseminated and fed and delivered of their piglets in cages so small they cannot turn around. Forty fully grown 250-pound male hogs often occupy a pen the size of a tiny apartment. They trample each other to death. There is no sunlight, straw, fresh air or earth. The floors are slatted to allow excrement to fall into a catchment pit under the pens, but many things besides excrement can wind up in the pits: afterbirths, piglets accidentally crushed by their mothers, old batteries, broken bottles of insecticide, antibiotic syringes, stillborn pigs - anything small enough to fit through the foot-wide pipes that drain the pits. The pipes remain closed until enough sewage accumulates in the pits to create good expulsion pressure; then the pipes are opened and everything bursts out into a large holding pond.

    The temperature inside hog houses is often hotter than ninety degrees. The air, saturated almost to the point of precipitation with gases from shit and chemicals, can be lethal to the pigs. Enormous exhaust fans run twenty-four hours a day. The ventilation systems function like the ventilators of terminal patients: If they break down for any length of time, pigs start dying.

    From Smithfield's point of view, the problem with this lifestyle is immunological. Taken together, the immobility, poisonous air and terror of confinement badly damage the pigs' immune systems. They become susceptible to infection, and in such dense quarters microbes or parasites or fungi, once established in one pig, will rush spritelike through the whole population. Accordingly, factory pigs are infused with a huge range of antibiotics and vaccines, and are doused with insecticides. Without these compounds - oxytetracycline, draxxin, ceftiofur, tiamulin - diseases would likely kill them. Thus factory-farm pigs remain in a state of dying until they're slaughtered. When a pig nearly ready to be slaughtered grows ill, workers sometimes shoot it up with as many drugs as necessary to get it to the slaughterhouse under its own power. As long as the pig remains ambulatory, it can be legally killed and sold as meat.

    The drugs Smithfield administers to its pigs, of course, exit its hog houses in pig shit. Industrial pig waste also contains a host of other toxic substances: ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, cyanide, phosphorous, nitrates and heavy metals. In addition, the waste nurses more than 100 microbial pathogens that can cause illness in humans, including salmonella, cryptosporidium, streptocolli and girardia. Each gram of hog shit can contain as much as 100 million fecal coliform bacteria.

    Smithfield's holding ponds - the company calls them lagoons - cover as much as 120,000 square feet. The area around a single slaughterhouse can contain hundreds of lagoons, some of which run thirty feet deep. The liquid in them is not brown. The interactions between the bacteria and blood and afterbirths and stillborn piglets and urine and excrement and chemicals and drugs turn the lagoons pink.

    Even light rains can cause lagoons to overflow; major floods have transformed entire counties into pig-shit bayous. To alleviate swelling lagoons, workers sometimes pump the shit out of them and spray the waste on surrounding fields, which results in what the industry daintily refers to as "overapplication." This can turn hundreds of acres - thousands of football fields - into shallow mud puddles of pig shit. Tree branches drip with pig shit.

    Some pig-farm lagoons have polyethylene liners, which can be punctured by rocks in the ground, allowing shit to seep beneath the liners and spread and ferment. Gases from the fermentation can inflate the liner like a hot-air balloon and rise in an expanding, accelerating bubble, forcing thousands of tons of feces out of the lagoon in all directions.

    The lagoons themselves are so viscous and venomous that if someone falls in it is foolish to try to save him. A few years ago, a truck driver in Oklahoma was transferring pig shit to a lagoon when he and his truck went over the side. It took almost three weeks to recover his body. In 1992, when a worker making repairs to a lagoon in Minnesota began to choke to death on the fumes, another worker dived in after him, and they died the same death. In another instance, a worker who was repairing a lagoon in Michigan was overcome by the fumes and fell in. His fifteen-year-old nephew dived in to save him but was overcome, the worker's cousin went in to save the teenager but was overcome, the worker's older brother dived in to save them but was overcome, and then the worker's father dived in. They all died in pig shit.

    The chairman of Smithfield Foods, Joseph Luter III, is a funny, jowly, canny, barbarous guy who lives in a multimillion-dollar condo on Park Avenue in Manhattan and conveys himself about the planet in a corporate jet and a private yacht. At sixty-seven, he is unrepentant in the face of criticism. He describes himself as a "tough man in a tough business" and his factories as wholly legitimate products of the American free market. He can be sardonic; he likes to mock his critics and rivals.

    "The animal-rights people," he once said, "want to impose a vegetarian's society on the U.S. Most vegetarians I know are neurotic." When the Environmental Protection Agency cited Smithfield for thousands of violations of the Clean Water Act, Luter responded by comparing what he claimed were the number of violations the company could theoretically have been charged with (2.5 million, by his calculation) to the number of documented violations up to that point (seventy-four). "A very, very small percent," he said.

    Luter grew up butchering hogs in his father's slaughterhouse, in the town of Smithfield, Virginia. When he took over the family business forty years ago, it was a local, marginally profitable meatpacking operation. Under Luter, Smithfield was soon making enough money to begin purchasing neighboring meatpackers. From the beginning, Luter thought monopolistically. He bought out his local competition until he completely dominated the regional pork-processing market.

    But Luter was dissatisfied. The company was still buying most of its hogs from local farmers; Luter wanted to create a system, known as "total vertical integration," in which Smithfield controls every stage of production, from the moment a hog is born until the day it passes through the slaughterhouse. So he imposed a new kind of contract on farmers: The company would own the living hogs; the contractors would raise the pigs and be responsible for managing the hog shit and disposing of dead hogs. The system made it impossible for small hog farmers to survive - those who could not handle thousands and thousands of pigs were driven out of business. "It was a simple matter of economic power," says Eric Tabor, chief of staff for Iowa's attorney general.

    Smithfield's expansion was unique in the history of the industry: Between 1990 and 2005, it grew by more than 1,000 percent. In 1997 it was the nation's seventh-largest pork producer; by 1999 it was the largest. Smithfield now kills one of every four pigs sold commercially in the United States. As Smithfield expanded, it consolidated its operations, clustering millions of fattening hogs around its slaughterhouses. Under Luter, the company was turning into a great pollution machine: Smithfield was suddenly producing unheard-of amounts of pig shit laced with drugs and chemicals. According to the EPA, Smithfield's largest farm-slaughterhouse operation - in Tar Heel, North Carolina - dumps more toxic waste into the nation's water each year than all but three other industrial facilities in America.

    Luter likes to tell this story: An old man and his grandson are walking in a cemetery. They see a tombstone that reads here lies charles w. johnson, a man who had no enemies.

    "Gee, Granddad," the boy says, "this man must have been a great man. He had no enemies."

    "Son," the grandfather replies, "if a man didn't have any enemies, he didn't do a damn thing with his life."

    If Luter were to set this story in Ivy Hill Cemetery in his hometown of Smithfield, it would be an object lesson in how to make enemies. Back when he was growing up, the branches of the cemetery's trees were bent with the weight of scores of buzzards. The waste stream from the Luters' meatpacking plant, with its thickening agents of pig innards and dead fish, flowed nearby. Luter learned the family trade well. Last year, before he retired as CEO of Smithfield, he took home $10,802,134. He currently holds $19,296,000 in unexercised stock options.

    One day this fall, a retired Marine Corps colonel and environmental activist named Rick Dove, the former riverkeeper of North Carolina's Neuse River, arranged to have me flown over Smithfield's operation in North Carolina. Dove, a focused guy of sixty-seven years, is unable to talk about corporate hog farming without becoming angry. After he got out of the Marine Corps in 1987, he became a commercial fisherman, which he had wanted to do since he was a kid. He was successful, and his son went into business with him. Then industrial hog farming arrived and killed the fish, and both Dove and his son got seriously ill.

    Dove and other activists provide the only effective oversight of corporate hog farming in the area. The industry has long made generous campaign contributions to politicians responsible for regulating hog farms. In 1995, while Smithfield was trying to persuade the state of Virginia to reduce a large fine for the company's pollution, Joseph Luter gave $100,000 to then-governor George Allen's political-action committee. In 1998, corporate hog farms in North Carolina spent $1 million to help defeat state legislators who wanted to clean up open-pit lagoons. The state has consistently failed to employ enough inspectors to ensure that hog farms are complying with environmental standards.

    To document violations, Dove and other activists regularly hire private planes to inspect corporate hog operations from the air. The airport Dove uses, in New Bern, North Carolina, is tiny; the plane he uses, a 1975 Cessna single-prop, looks tiny even in the tiny airport. Its cabin has four cracked yellow linoleum seats. It looks like the interior of a 1975 VW bug, but with more dials. The pilot, Joe Corby, is older than I expected him to be.

    "I have a GPS, so I can kinda guide you," Dove says to Corby while we taxi to the runway.

    "Oh, you do!" Corby says, apparently unaccustomed to such a luxury. "Well, OK."

    We take off. "Bunch of turkey buzzards," Dove says, looking out the window. "They're big."

    "Don't wanna hit them," Corby says. "They would be ... very destructive."

    We climb to 2,000 feet and head toward the densest concentration of hogs in the world. The landscape at first is unsuspiciously pastoral - fields planted in corn or soybeans or cotton, tree lines staking creeks, a few unincorporated villages of prefab houses. But then we arrive at the global locus of hog farming, and the countryside turns into an immense subdivision for pigs. Hog farms that contract with Smithfield differ slightly in dimension but otherwise look identical: parallel rows of six, eight or twelve one-story hog houses, some nearly the size of a football field, containing as many as 10,000 hogs, and backing onto a single large lagoon. From the air I see that the lagoons come in two shades of pink: dark or Pepto Bismol - vile, freaky colors in the middle of green farmland.

    From the plane, Smithfield's farms replicate one another as far as I can see in every direction. Visibility is about four miles. I count the lagoons. There are 103. That works out to at least 50,000 hogs per square mile. You could fly for an hour, Dove says, and all you would see is corporate hog operations, with little towns of modular homes and a few family farms pinioned amid them.

    Studies have shown that lagoons emit hundreds of different volatile gases into the atmosphere, including ammonia, methane, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. A single lagoon releases many millions of bacteria into the air per day, some resistant to human antibiotics. Hog farms in North Carolina also emit some 300 tons of nitrogen into the air every day as ammonia gas, much of which falls back to earth and deprives lakes and streams of oxygen, stimulating algal blooms and killing fish.

    Looking down from the plane, we watch as several of Smithfield's farmers spray their hog shit straight up into the air as a fine mist: It looks like a public fountain. Lofted and atomized, the shit is blown clear of the company's property. People who breathe the shit-infused air suffer from bronchitis, asthma, heart palpitations, headaches, diarrhea, nosebleeds and brain damage. In 1995, a woman downwind from a corporate hog farm in Olivia, Minnesota, called a poison-control center and described her symptoms. "Ma'am," the poison-control officer told her, "the only symptoms of hydrogen-sulfide poisoning you're not experiencing are seizures, convulsions and death. Leave the area immediately." When you fly over eastern North Carolina, you realize that virtually everyone in this part of the state lives close to a lagoon.

    Each of the company's lagoons is surrounded by several fields. Pollution control at Smithfield consists of spraying the pig shit from the lagoons onto the fields to fertilize them. The idea is borrowed from the past: The small hog farmers that Smithfield drove out of business used animal waste to fertilize their crops, which they then fed to the pigs. Smithfield says that this, in essence, is what it does - its crops absorb every ounce of its pig shit, making the lagoon-sprayfield system a zero-discharge, nonpolluting waste-disposal operation. "If you manage your fields correctly, there should be no runoff, no pollution," says Dennis Treacy, Smithfield's vice president of environmental affairs. "If you're getting runoff, you're doing something wrong."

    In fact, Smithfield doesn't grow nearly enough crops to absorb all of its hog weight. The company raises so many pigs in so little space that it actually has to import the majority of their food, which contains large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus. Those chemicals - discharged in pig shit and sprayed on fields - run off into the surrounding ecosystem, causing what Dan Whittle, a former senior policy associate with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, calls a "mass imbalance." At one point, three hog-raising counties in North Carolina were producing more nitrogen, and eighteen were producing more phosphorus, than all the crops in the state could absorb.

    As we fly over the hog farms, I notice that springs and streams and swamplands and lakes are everywhere. Eastern North Carolina is a coastal plain, grooved and tilted towards the sea - and Smithfield's sprayfields almost always incline toward creeks or creek-fed swamps. Half-perforated pipes called irrigation tiles, commonly used in modern farming, run beneath many of the fields; when they become unplugged, the tiles effectively operate as drainpipes, dumping pig waste into surrounding tributaries. Many studies have documented the harm caused by hog-waste runoff; one showed the pig shit raising the level of nitrogen and phosphorus in a receiving river as much as sixfold. In eastern North Carolina, nine rivers and creeks in the Cape Fear and Neuse River basins have been classified by the state as either "negatively impacted" or environmentally "impaired."

    Although Smithfield may not have enough crops to absorb its pig shit, its contract farmers do plant plenty of hay. In 1992, when the number of hogs in North Carolina began to skyrocket, so much hay was planted to deal with the fresh volumes of pig shit that the market for hay collapsed. But the hay from hog farms can be so nitrate-heavy that it sickens livestock. For a while, former governor Jim Hunt - a recipient of hog-industry campaign money - was feeding hog-farm hay to his cows. Locals say it made the cows sick and irritable, and the animals kicked Hunt several times, seemingly in revenge. It's a popular tale in eastern North Carolina.

    To appreciate what this agglomeration of hog production does to the people who live near it, you have to appreciate the smell of industrial-strength pig shit. The ascending stench can nauseate pilots at 3,000 feet. On the day we fly over Smithfield's operation there is little wind to stir up the lagoons or carry the stink, and the region's current drought means that lagoon operators aren't spraying very frequently. It is the best of times. We can smell the farms from the air, but while the smell is foul it is intermittent and not particularly strong.

    To get a really good whiff, I drive down a narrow country road of white sand and walk up to a Smithfield lagoon. At the end of the road stands a tractor and some spraying equipment. The fetid white carcass of a hog lies in a dumpster known as a "dead box." Flies cover the hog's snout. Its hooves look like high heels. Millions of factory-farm hogs - one study puts it at ten percent - die before they make it to the killing floor. Some are taken to rendering plants, where they are propelled through meat grinders and then fed cannibalistically back to other living hogs. Others are dumped into big open pits called "dead holes," or left in the dumpsters for so long that they swell and explode. The borders of hog farms are littered with dead pigs in all stages of decomposition, including thousands of bleached pig bones. Locals like to say that the bears and buzzards of eastern North Carolina are unusually lazy and fat.

    No one seems to be around. It is quiet except for the gigantic exhaust fans affixed to the six hog houses. There is an unwholesome tang in the air, but there is no wind and it isn't hot, so I can't smell the lagoon itself. I walk the few hundred yards over to it. It is covered with a thick film; its edge is a narrow beach of big black flies. Here, its odor is leaking out. I take a deep breath.

    Concentrated manure is my first thought, but I am fighting an impulse to vomit even as I am thinking it. I've probably smelled stronger odors in my life, but nothing so insidiously and instantaneously nauseating. It takes my mind a second or two to get through the odor's first coat. The smell at its core has a frightening, uniquely enriched putridity, both deep-sweet and high-sour. I back away from it and walk back to the car but I remain sick - it's a shivery, retchy kind of nausea - for a good five minutes. That's apparently characteristic of industrial pig shit: It keeps making you sick for a good while after you've stopped smelling it. It's an unduly invasive, adhesive smell. Your whole body reacts to it. It's as if something has physically entered your stomach. A little later I am driving and I catch a crosswind stench - it must have been from a stirred-up lagoon - and from the moment it hit me a timer in my body started ticking: You can only function for so long in that smell. The memory of it makes you gag.

    Unsurprisingly, prolonged exposure to hog-factory stench makes the smell extremely hard to get off. Hog factory workers stink up every store they walk into. I run into a few local guys who had made the mistake of accepting jobs in hog houses, and they tell me that you just have to wait the smell out: You'll eventually grow new hair and skin. If you work in a Smithfield hog house for a year and then quit, you might stink for the next three months.

    If the temperature and wind aren't right and the lagoon operators are spraying, people in hog country can't hang laundry or sit on their porches or mow their lawns. Epidemiological studies show that those who live near hog lagoons suffer from abnormally high levels of depression, tension, anger, fatigue and confusion. "We are used to farm odors," says one local farmer. "These are not farm odors." Sometimes the stink literally knocks people down: They walk out of the house to get something in the yard and become so nauseous they collapse. When they retain consciousness, they crawl back into the house.

    That has happened several times to Julian and Charlotte Savage, an elderly couple whose farmland now abuts a Smithfield sprayfield - one of several meant to absorb the shit of 50,000 hogs. The Savages live in a small, modular kit house. Sitting in the kitchen, Charlotte tells me that she once saw Julian collapse in the yard and ran out and threw a coat over his head and dragged him back inside. Before Smithfield arrived, Julian's family farmed the land for the better part of a century. He raised tobacco, corn, wheat, turkeys and chickens. Now he has respiratory problems and rarely attempts to go outside.

    Behind the house, a creek bordering the sprayfield flows into a swamp; the Savages have seen hog waste running right into the creek. Once, during a flood, the Savages found pig shit six inches deep pooled around their house. They had to drain it by digging trenches, which took three weeks. Charlotte has noticed that nitrogen fallout keeps the trees around the house a deep synthetic green. There's a big buzzard population.

    The Savages say they can keep the pig-shit smell out of their house by shutting the doors and windows, but to me the walls reek faintly. They have a windbreak - an eighty-foot-wide strip of forest - between their house and the fields. They know people who don't, though, and when the smell is bad, those people, like everyone, shut their windows and slam their front doors shut quickly behind them, but their coffee and spaghetti and carrots still smell and taste like pig shit.

    The Savages have had what seemed to be hog shit in their bath water. Their well water, which was clean before Smithfield arrived, is now suspect. "I try not to drink it," Charlotte says. "We mostly just drink drinks, soda and things." While we talk, Julian spends most of the time on the living room couch; his lungs are particularly bad today. Then he comes into the kitchen. Among other things, he says: I can't breathe it, it'll put you on the ground; you can't walk, you fall down; you breathe you gon' die; you go out and smell it one time and your ass is gone; it's not funny to be around it. It's not funny, honey. He could have said all this somewhat tragicomically, with a thin smile, but instead he cries the whole time.

    Smithfield is not just a virtuosic polluter; it is also a theatrical one. Its lagoons are historically prone to failure. In North Carolina alone they have spilled, in a span of four years, 2 million gallons of shit into the Cape Fear River, 1.5 million gallons into its Persimmon Branch, one million gallons into the Trent River and 200,000 gallons into Turkey Creek. In Virginia, Smithfield was fined $12.6 million in 1997 for 6,900 violations of the Clean Water Act - the third-largest civil penalty ever levied under the act by the EPA. It amounted to .035 percent of Smithfield's annual sales.

    A river that receives a lot of waste from an industrial hog farm begins to die quickly. Toxins and microbes can kill plants and animals outright; the waste itself consumes available oxygen and suffocates fish and aquatic animals; and the nutrients in the pig shit produce algal blooms that also deoxygenate the water. The Pagan River runs by Smithfield's original plant and headquarters in Virginia, which served as Joseph Luter's staging ground for his assault on the pork-raising and processing industries. For several decades, before a spate of regulations, the Pagan had no living marsh grass, a tiny and toxic population of fish and shellfish and a half foot of noxious black mud coating its bed. The hulls of boats winched up out of the river bore inch-thick coats of greasy muck. In North Carolina, much of the pig waste from Smithfield's operations makes its way into the Neuse River; in a five-day span in 2003 alone, more than 4 million fish died. Pig-waste runoff has damaged the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound, which is almost as big as the Chesapeake Bay and which provides half the nursery grounds used by fish in the eastern Atlantic.

    The biggest spill in the history of corporate hog farming happened in 1995. The dike of a 120,000-square-foot lagoon owned by a Smithfield competitor ruptured, releasing 25.8 million gallons of effluvium into the headwaters of the New River in North Carolina. It was the biggest environmental spill in United States history, more than twice as big as the Exxon Valdez oil spill six years earlier. The sludge was so toxic it burned your skin if you touched it, and so dense it took almost two months to make its way sixteen miles downstream to the ocean. From the headwaters to the sea, every creature living in the river was killed. Fish died by the millions.

    It's hard to conceive of a fish kill that size. The kill began with turbulence in one small part of the water: fish writhing and dying. Then it spread in patches along the entire length and breadth of the river. In two hours, dead and dying fish were mounded wherever the river's contours slowed the current, and the riverbanks were mostly dead fish. Within a day dead fish completely covered the riverbanks, and between the floating and beached and piled fish the water scintillated out of sight up and down the river with billions of buoyant dead eyes and scales and white bellies - more fish than the river seemed capable of holding. The smell of rotting fish covered much of the county; the air above the river was chaotic with scavenging birds. There were far more dead fish than the birds could ever eat.

    Spills aren't the worst thing that can happen to toxic pig waste lying exposed in fields and lagoons. Hurricanes are worse. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd washed 120,000,000 gallons of unsheltered hog waste into the Tar, Neuse, Roanoke, Pamlico, New and Cape Fear rivers. Many of the pig-shit lagoons of eastern North Carolina were several feet underwater. Satellite photographs show a dark brown tide closing over the region's waterways, converging on the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound and feeding itself out to sea in a long, well-defined channel. Very little freshwater marine life remained behind. Tens of thousands of drowned pigs were strewn across the land. Beaches located miles from Smithfield lagoons were slathered in feces. A picture taken at the time shows a shark eating a dead pig three miles off the North Carolina coast.

    From a waste-disposal perspective, Hurricane Floyd was the best thing that had ever happened to corporate hog farming in North Carolina. Smithfield currently has tens of thousands of gallons of open-air waste awaiting more Floyds.

    In addition to such impressive disasters, corporate hog farming contributes to another form of environmental havoc: Pfiesteria piscicida, a microbe that, in its toxic form, has killed a billion fish and injured dozens of people. Nutrient-rich waste like pig shit creates the ideal environment for Pfiesteria to bloom: The microbe eats fish attracted to algae nourished by the waste. Pfiesteria is invisible and odorless - you know it by the trail of dead. The microbe degrades a fish's skin, laying bare tissue and blood cells; it then eats its way into the fish's body. After the 1995 spill, millions of fish developed large bleeding sores on their sides and quickly died. Fishermen found that at least one of Pfiesteria's toxins could take flight: Breathing the air above the bloom caused severe respiratory difficulty, headaches, blurry vision and logical impairment. Some fishermen forgot how to get home; laboratory workers exposed to Pfiesteria lost the ability to solve simple math problems and dial phones; they forgot their own names. It could take weeks or months for the brain and lungs to recover.

    Smithfield is no longer able to disfigure watersheds quite so obviously as in the past; it can no longer expand and flatten small pig farms quite so easily. Several state legislatures have passed laws prohibiting or limiting the ownership of small farms by pork processors. In some places, new slaughterhouses are required to meet expensive waste-disposal requirements; many are forbidden from using the waste-lagoon system. North Carolina, where pigs now outnumber people, has passed a moratorium on new hog operations and ordered Smithfield to fund research into alternative waste-disposal technologies. South Carolina, having taken a good look at its neighbor's coastal plain, has pronounced the company unwelcome in the state. The federal government and several states have challenged some of Smithfield's recent acquisition deals and, in a few instances, have forced the company to agree to modify its waste-lagoon systems.

    These initiatives, of course, come comically late. Industrial hog operations control at least seventy-five percent of the market. Smithfield's market dominance is hardly at risk: Twenty-six percent of the pork processed in this country is Smithfield pork. The company's expansion does not seem to be slowing down: Over the past two years, Smithfield's annual sales grew by $1.5 billion. In September, the company announced that it is merging with Premium Standard Farms, the nation's second-largest hog farmer and sixth-largest pork processor. If the deal goes through, Smithfield will own more pigs than the next eight largest pork producers in the nation combined. The company's market leverage and political clout will allow it to produce ever greater quantities of hog waste.

    Smithfield points to the improvements it has made to its waste-disposal systems in recent years. In 2003, Smithfield announced that it was investing $20 million in a program to turn its pig shit in Utah into alternative fuel. It now produces approximately 2,500 gallons a day of biomethanol and has begun building a facility in Texas to produce clean-burning biodiesel fuel.

    "We're paying a lot of attention to energy right now," says Treacy, the Smithfield vice president. "We've come such a long way in the last five years." The company, he adds, has undergone a "complete cultural shift on environmental matters."

    But cultural shifts, no matter how genuine, cannot counter the unalterable physical reality of Smithfield Foods itself. "All of a sudden we have this 800-pound gorilla in the pork industry," Successful Farming magazine warned - six years ago. There simply is no regulatory solution to the millions of tons of searingly fetid, toxic effluvium that industrial hog farms discharge and aerosolize on a daily basis. Smithfield alone has sixteen operations in twelve states. Fixing the problem completely would bankrupt the company. According to Dr. Michael Mallin, a marine scientist at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington who has researched the effects of corporate farming on water quality, the volumes of concentrated pig waste produced by industrial hog farms are plainly not containable in small areas. The land, he says, "just can't absorb everything that comes out of the barns." From the moment that Smithfield attained its current size, its waste-disposal problem became conventionally insoluble.

    Joe Luter, like his pig shit, has an innate aversion to being contained in any way. Ever since American regulators and lawmakers started forcing Smithfield to spend more money on waste treatment and attempting to limit the company's expansion, Luter has been looking to do business elsewhere. In recent years, his gaze has fallen on the lucrative and unregulated markets of Poland.

    In 1999, Luter bought a state-owned company called Animex, one of Poland's biggest hog processors. Then he began doing business through a Polish subsidiary called Prima Farms, acquiring huge moribund Communist-era hog farms and converting them into concentrated feeding operations. Pork prices in Poland were low, so Smithfield's sweeping expansion didn't make strict economic sense, except that it had the virtue of pushing small hog farmers toward bankruptcy. By 2003, Animex was operating six subsidiary companies and seven processing plants, selling nine brands of meat and taking in $338 million annually.

    The usual violations occurred. Near one of Smithfield's largest plants, in Byszkowo, an enormous pool of frozen pig shit, pumped into a lagoon in winter, melted and ran into two nearby lakes. The lake water turned brown; residents in local villages got skin rashes and eye infections; the stench made it impossible to eat. A recent report to the Helsinki Commission found that Smithfield's pollution throughout Poland was damaging the country's ecosystems. Overapplication was endemic. Farmers without permits were piping liquid pig shit directly into watersheds that fed into the Baltic Sea.

    When Joseph Luter entered Poland, he announced that he planned to turn the country into the "Iowa of Europe." Iowa has always been America's biggest hog producer and remains the nation's chief icon of hog farming. Having subdued Poland, Luter announced this summer that all of Eastern Europe - "particularly Romania" - should become the "Iowa of Europe." Seventy-five percent of Romania's hogs currently come from household farms. Over the next five years, Smithfield plans to spend $800 million in Romania to change that.



by: R.G. Wallace  |  Visit article original @ Farming Pathogens

    Cases of swine flu H1N1 are now reported in Honduras, Costa Rica, Brazil, Argentina, Austria, Thailand, Israel, etc. Can't keep up at this point.

    H1N1 is making its way across the world by hierarchical diffusion. By the world's transportation network it is bouncing down a hierarchy of cities defined by their size and economic power and their interconnectedness to Mexico City, the international city closest to the initial outbreak. It's no coincidence that New York and San Diego were among the first cities hit. The virus is also engaged in contagious diffusion, spreading out within each new country hit.

    For the most part only a few cases have been reported in countries other than Mexico. But as influenza, unlike SARS, can transmit before symptoms show, there may be no way to stop H1N1 now. New York now reports hundreds infected.

    What is clear is that the more countries affected, the more likely the virus will find chinks in the world's epidemiological armor. The new strain may develop the right epidemiological momentum once it reaches those countries whose public health infrastructures are underdeveloped or undermined by structural adjustment programs. On the other hand, that may have happened from the start. Since the early 1980s Mexico has been subjected to IMF-specified truncations in animal and health infrastructure.

    Unchecked transmission in vulnerable areas increases the genetic variation with which the new H1N1 can evolve characteristics that accelerate transmission and increase virulence. In spreading over such a great geographic extent fast-evolving H1N1 also contacts an increasing variety of socioecological environments, including locale-specific combinations of prevalent transportation infrastructure, vaccine and antiviral coverage, and host genetics.

    In this way, by a type of escalating demic selection, the new H1N1 can better explore its evolutionary options. A series of fit variants, each more transmissible than the next, can evolve in response to local conditions and subsequently spread. For the H5N1 subtype, until last week influenza's superstar, the Z reassortant, the Qinghai-like strain, and the Fujian-like strain all outcompeted other local H5N1 strains to emerge to regional and, for the Qinghai-like strain, continental dominance. The more genetic and physical variation produced across geographic space, the more compressed the time until the most transmissible infection evolves. H1N1 is likely fine-tuning itself as it spreads.

    H1N1's variation may accumulate from point mutations along its genome. But genetic variation can also arise by what's called reassortment.

    Influenza's genome is segmented. When two influenza strains infect the same host, the strains can trade segments, like card players on a Saturday night. Most resulting genomic 'hands' are piss poor, but every once in a while the virological equivalent of a royal flush emerges and trumps all other hands. That virus outcompetes all the others.

    Early reports have identified the sources of the new H1N1's genome as strains that have infected humans, birds and pig populations from both North America and Europe. In an important way, then, 'swine flu' is a misnomer. This influenza is a 'swine-bird-human' reassortant. The extraordinarily complex origins of the new influenza - across so many host types and geographic regions - is telling us something about influenza's present ability to cross host species and bridge great spatial distances between livestock populations.

    First, we know that agribusinesses are moving their companies into the Global South to take advantage of cheap labor and cheap land (something to which we will return). But companies are also engaging in sophisticated corporate strategy. Agribusinesses are spreading their entire production line across the world. For example, the Thailand-based CP Group, now the world's fourth largest poultry producer, operates poultry facilities in Turkey, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and the US. It has feed operations across India, China, Indonesia and Vietnam. Trade in live animals is also expanding in geographic extent.

    These new configurations act as a cushion against the market's putative ability to correct corporate inefficiencies.

    For instance, the CP Group operates joint-venture poultry facilities across China, producing 600 million of China's 2.2 billion chickens annually sold. When an outbreak of bird flu occurred in a farm operated by the CP group here in the province of Heilongjiang, Japan banned poultry from China. CP factories in Thailand were able to take up the slack and increase exports to Japan. In short, the CP Group profited from an outbreak of its own making. It suffered no ill effects from its own mistakes.

    There is, then, another reason why the 'swine flu' tag fails. It detracts from an obvious point: pigs have very little to do with how influenza emerges. They didn't organize themselves into cities of thousands of immuno-compromised pigs. They didn't artificially select out the genetic variation that could have helped reduce the transmission rates at which the most virulent influenza strains spread. They weren't organized into livestock ghettos alongside thousands of industrial poultry. They don't ship themselves thousands of miles by truck, train or air. Pigs do not naturally fly.

    The onus must be placed on the decisions we humans made to organize them this way. And when we say 'we', let's be clear, we're talking how agribusinesses have organized pigs and poultry.

    Although considerable attention is being paid to the role of a particular company in the emergence of the new influenza, and rightfully so, we might better focus on the deregulation that allowed such porcinopolises to grow to the point that whole human communities are pushed off the land pigs now occupy.

    So if we are to impart responsibility where it should lay, North America's new influenza would be better called the NAFTA flu.

    The North American Free Trade Agreement, pushed by Bill Clinton in 1993 and approved by a bipartisan Congress, reduced trade barriers across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Products could now be marketed across the three countries without levies that favored domestic industries. The agreement also allowed companies to purchase and consolidate businesses in other member countries. Granjas Carroll, the Veracruz-based company under present scrutiny for the present outbreak, is a subsidiary of U.S.-based Smithfield Foods.

    NAFTA had a fundamental effect on North American agriculture, including Mexico's hog industry. As Batres-Marquez and her colleagues reported in 2006,

Among the changes that have occurred since NAFTA, many small commercial producers have exited the industry because of their inability to both produce animals more efficiently and meet the quality standards required by their buyers. As a result of the exit of smaller producers, the scale of production has increased and the industry has become more highly integrated. This reduction in small commercial production and expansion of technologically advanced production has taken place alongside continued production using traditional backyard methods.

    Batres-Marquez et al., trade boosters, go on to praise the sanitary conditions of large commercial operations at the expense of those of smallholders, but their censure misses an obvious point. Smallholders may be individually less able to control outbreaks, but how do the most virulent strains emerge in the first place? Can we blame small farmers for their failure to control pathogens that first evolved in factory farms? In short, why did the veritable zoo of newly evolved human-specific influenzas arise only with deregulation and once vertically integrated livestock spread across the globe? Is this nothing more than a coincidence?

    As Mike Davis notes,

Six years ago, Science dedicated a major story (reported by the admirable Bernice Wuethrich) to evidence that "after years of stability, the North American swine flu virus has jumped onto an evolutionary fast track."

Since its identification at the beginning of the Depression, H1N1 swine flu had only drifted slightly from its original genome. Then, in 1998, all hell broke loose.

A highly pathogenic strain began to decimate sows on a factory hog farm in North Carolina, and new, more virulent versions began to appear almost yearly, including a weird variant of H1N1 that contained the internal genes of H3N2 (the other type-A flu circulating among humans).

    The newly porous borders raise another question. Could the new influenza have percolated first in the United States before crossing Mexico's border? The blame game is already underway:

Mexican Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova late Monday said no one knows where the outbreak began, and implied it may have started in the U.S.

"I think it is very risky to say, or want to say, what the point of origin or dissemination of it is, given that there had already been cases reported in southern California and Texas," Cordova told a press conference.

    Fascinating that a nationalist ethos reemerges once free trade appears implicated in a disease that could kill millions of people worldwide. The cross-border fisticuffs have the additional effect of detracting from core causes. Will the business nomenklatura who pushed NAFTA across all three countries be held to account for their decisions?

    Where the housing bubble and banking collapse mark the aftermath of financial deregulation, H1N1 is only one of several pathogens that now track neoliberalism's effects on global health.

Gutierrez Urges No Delay on Credit Card Reforms He Delayed from The Washington Independent

Toward the end of Thursday's House debate on credit card reform — legislation that passed with broad bipartisan support — Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) took to the floor to attack a Republican attempt to delay the vote until a drawn-out study could be performed.

"We should not delay one day more the suffering of the American consumers at the hands of deceptive practices of the credit card industry," Gutierrez said.

This is a weird thing for Gutierrez to say because the original bill would have put the new consumer protections into place 90 days after the bill passed — and then Gutierrez, as chairman of the House Financial Services subpanel on consumer credit, pushed that timeline from three months to 12. Good of him to draw the line of what constitutes an acceptable delay at 275 days and not 276.

Durbin blames lobby for bankruptcy bill from Politico Top Stories

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin blames the powerful banking lobby for legislation defeat.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin blames the powerful banking lobby for Thursday's defeat of legislation he championed empowering bankruptcy judges to modify some troubled mortgages.

But some Democrats suggest he look to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as well.

Democratic supporters of the measure say that President Barack Obama invested far less political capital in the controversial bankruptcy measure than he did credit card legislation, another campaign priority over which Democrats are going head-to-head against big financial interests.

"I cannot tell that President Obama has used [his] powers on this issue," said Rep Brad Miller (D-N.C.), who worked with Durbin on the bill that failed overcome a 60-vote filibuster hurdle Thursday. .

Another supporter, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), said the Obama administration always showed "some ambivalence" about the bankruptcy legislation. "The administration said they were for it," he said. "I wouldn't expect much more, probably. Credit cards is a larger issue. It's a lot more pieces."

As the bankruptcy bill founders, the credit card legislation is on a glide path to becoming law — possibly as early as next week.

As a candidate, Obama advocated the bankruptcy change, widely known as "cramdown" because it would allow brankruptcy judges to force lenders to accept reductions in the interest rates and principle amounts of home loans. But after Inauguration Day, the new administration sounded cautionary notes on the bill, with top officials emphasizing the need for "tailored" and "targeted" legislation.

"We are supportive of carefully designed changes" to bankruptcy law, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said in response to a question at a recent hearing. "It's a difficult balance to get right, as you know."

Beyond such tepid endorsements, the administration was largely absent as the debate moved to the Senate. Durbin said he kept in touch with administration officials as he worked on his bill. But there were no high-profile meetings at the White House or the Treasury, no arm-twisting calls for votes from the president or other intervention when months of Senate negotiations stalled.

In contrast, the White House has thrown the full force of its persuasive powers behind winning passage of credit card legislation.

First, top Obama economic adviser Lawrence Summers took to the Sunday shows to declare the president was joining congressional Democrats' push to crack down on "credit card abuses," pitching the move as a way to look out for average Americans while rebuilding the nation's financial system.

Then last week Obama had 14 top credit card executives over to the White House for a stern talking-to, an event that was widely covered by the press. "The days of any time, any reason rate hikes and late-fee traps have to end," Obama told reporters after the meeting.

That was followed by another meeting this week among Geithner, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the sponsor of the House credit card bill, consumer groups, civil rights activists and outraged credit card customers to tout the legislation's benefits.

The White House also got involved in the legislation itself, recommending several amendments that were considered on the House floor Thursday.

"[Obama] has given us great momentum and leadership," said Maloney. "When you have the president of the United States, when you have the secretary of the treasury along with the Federal Reserve standing up and saying that these practices are unfair, deceptive and anticompetitive, that's a pretty strong statement."

But while she praised the administration for its help on credit cards, she wondered "where's been the meetings at the White House" on the cramdown bill.

Banking lobbyists suggested that the administration simply decided to devote greater resources to the more winnable fight.

The White House ratcheted up its public push for credit card reform after bills had already passed committees in both the House and the Senate. Dodd is currently working with Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the highest-ranking Republican member on the banking committee, to iron out the details of a compromise credit card bill that is likely to be introduced next week.

Passing bankruptcy cramdown legislation was always much more of a long-shot. Although a bill passed in the House, few expected it to survive the Senate.

Credit card companies are also a far easier political target then mortgage lenders. Even as many homeowners struggle to stay in their homes, the public still wants to take out mortgages and own homes. Helping homeowners who got in over their heads has proved to be a hot button issue. In February, CNBC reporter Rick Santelli sparked days of outrage after he criticized the administration's plan to bail out troubled homeowners.

Credit card companies, who are widely reviled by consumers, have a more serious reputation problem. Delinquencies are up 60 percent since 2005, according to the Federal Reserve, a fact that's made consumers acutely aware of rate hikes, double-cycle billing and due date gimmicks. On Thursday, Majority Leader Harry Reid noted that 90 percent of voters want Congress to act on credit cards.

"Credit cards as a whipping boy is such an easy sell right now," said one banking lobbyist. "On the other hand, even through some [homeowners] are underwater, people still need and want mortgages."

The credit card bill also picks a far smaller fight with industry. Although banks and card companies oppose some amendments included in the House credit card bill, most of the legislation simply codifies rules already being put in place by the Federal Reserve.

The cramdown bill, however, is fiercely opposed by mortgage lenders, credit unions and bankers large and small.

Durbin contends that the banking lobby just proved too strong, however frustrated the disgraced industry's continued influence makes him.

"The president supports this proposal, and he's made that position clear," Durbin said when asked by POLITICO if the White House could have done more. "I'll be honest with you: When the American Bankers Association and the Independent Community Bankers Association walked away from the table, I don't think any president's going to bring them back."

The GOP and KKK retool their selling pitches from Scholars and Rogues

While the Republican Party is closing its ranks and entrenching itself in their ideology, the White Power movement wants you to 'come see the lighter side' of racism.

While the Republican Party is closing its ranks and entrenching itself in their ideology, the White Power movement wants you to 'come see the lighter side' of racism and is hoisting its own "Big Tent". It looks like the Grand Ol' Party isn't the only one playing with rebranding.

First, President Obama got the jump on the republicans by making a big show of courting their votes and then, after almost every single one of them voted against his stimulus and just about everything else the democrats put up, he successfully tarred them with being the Party of No.  Since then they have retreated into their "base", the core of their ideologically rigid fans, and lost a senator in the process.

On the other hand, the Christian Revival Center and the Knights Party - the term KKK is so passe these days - are looking to remake themselves as communities of love and celebration rather than hate and discrimination. They don't do "cross burnings" anymore. It's called "lightings" now, thank you very much. Oh, and they don't have "Grand Wizards" anymore. Thomas Robb, the head of the Knights prefers to be called the "national director" and bristles at the insinuation that they are hate-mongers.  "Why is it that when a black man wants to preserve his culture and heritage it's a good thing, and when a white person wants the same thing, we're called haters?" he says.

Even the notorious has a new policy for its site to "have no swastikas and Third Reich symbols to turn off first-time visitors." And the host of a white-supremacist radio show says that "The emphasis is different now. We don't talk as much about what blacks have done to us; we're more focused on ourselves and our own culture."

It is amazing that these two conservative groups are taking such different approaches in the Age of Obama. And it looks like they are having different results. The number of hate groups have gone up 5% since 2007 and up 48% since 2000 according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. In contrast, the number of Americans who identify themselves as Republican has tanked from the beginning of the year to 20%, and just 30% have a favorable view of the Republican Party, the lowest in 25 years.

Will the GOP start to take marketing lessons from the KKK?

Grijalva: Boehner video "racist"


A video produced by House Republicans -- meant to highlight Obama
administration laxity on national security and terrorism -- contains
images of the 9-11 attacks and Obama's "bow" to a Mideast dignitary.

Oh, yeah, and a clip of the president meeting with the Congressional
Hispanic Caucus.

And that has top Latino lawmakers calling for an apology.

"It is completely inappropriate and irresponsible for House Minority
Leader Boehner to link American public servants to terrorism and
9-11," said Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.). "It is not only
inflammatory to the Latino community but the singling out of a groups
for that categorization is racist. I hope Mr. Boehner shows better
judgment and removes the ad immediately."

"Latinos contribute to the progress of this nation, and have a long
standing history of serving of our country," said Brooklyn Democratic
Rep. Nydia Velazquez, Chairwoman of the CHC. "The video posted on
Congressman John Boehner's official website is a completely
inappropriate message for the leader of the minority party to send to
the American people. It's disrespectful to the hard-working Latinos
across the nation, serving in every sector of our economy and on our
military's front lines. The CHC demands an apology from the Minority
Leader for this insensitivity and that the video be removed

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told my colleague Marty Kady the CHC
compliant is "beyond silly."

He added: "The video also includes an image of the President speaking
at the House Democratic Retreat in Virginia. Is the Congressional
Hispanic Caucus suggesting that every Democrat in the House is
connected with terrorists? Of course not. America's national security
is serious. This complaint is not."

The Time and Place For Being a Dick [TV News] from Gawker

We've been hard on ABC News' Jake "The Octogon" Tapper, because we think he can seem rather dickish. But today he used his dickishness for good and not evil, and for that we thank him.

This afternoon, Tapper asked White House press secretary Robert Gibbs about Joe Biden's crazy panic-inducing call for Americans to save themselves by withdrawing from society on the Today Show. Gibbs stammered and blinked a lot and reformulated Biden's comments into his dreamworld version in which they were totally anodyne.

Tapper followed up with his traditional furrowed brow, cocked eye, and subdued voice betraying just a hint of barely restrained outrage. We braced for dickishness!

With all due respect, and I sympathize with you trying to explain the vice president's comments, but that's not even remotely close to what he said.

Gibbs countered with, "Jake, I understand what he said. And I'm telling you what he meant to say." Everyone in the room laughed at him.

Score one for Journalist Jake! If you limit your outbursts to clean hits like that, Tapper, one day we'll stop juxtaposing your photograph with Paul Rudd playing Brian Fontana in Anchorman every time we write about you. Also, you asked a substantive, well-phrased question about torture at the White House press conference last night, so there's that.

For the record: We don't hate all gaffe-centered political reporting, just fake-gaffe-centered political reporting. This one was as real as they come.

What the NCNA doesn't want to talk about from Political Animal

WHAT THE NCNA DOESN'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT.... When prominent Republican leaders leaked word of their "National Council for a New America," we got a glimpse of the party's latest rebranding initiative.

At least that's what it seemed like this morning. This afternoon, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told Fox News, "[I]t's not a rebranding effort. What this is, is an attempt to engage and begin a conversation with the American people." I don't know what this means. Neither, I suspect, does Cantor.

In either case, we're starting to get a sense of what this "conversation" will focus on. Cantor's office sent Ben Smith the NCNA's "policy framework," which highlights five areas of interest.

Economy: Real Solutions for Economic Recovery: As the country battles through the worst economic crisis in a generation, we must remain focused on the foundations and institutions that have made us the most prosperous people in the world and the ideas that create jobs and grow our economy....

Healthcare: Building a 21st Century, Patient-Centered System: ...All Americans deserve access to high-quality, affordable care. But such coverage cannot come at the expense of their ability to choose their own doctor and have access to the right care, at the right time, in the right setting without waiting in line while sick....

Education: Preparing Our Children to Succeed: A high-quality education should not be dependent upon a parent's income or address.... We must return power from Washington to parents and well-paid teachers who know what's best for our children.

Energy: Solutions for Energy Independence: ...We must implement a comprehensive energy policy that includes traditional fuels, alternative energy, and conservation resulting in affordable, reliable domestic energy....

National Security: Defending American Liberty and Freedom: The threats posed to our nation are more varied and evolving more than perhaps at any other time in our history. Modern communications, technology and the proliferation of weapons of all types have empowered our enemies and those who support them....

OK, so Republicans want tax cuts, school vouchers, and pretty much everything Republicans have pushed for a couple of decades now. The NCNA may not be rebranding initiative, but it certainly sounds like yet another weak attempt to tell Americans, "Don't believe your lying eyes; the Bush/Cheney agenda really works."

But what may be the most interesting thing about this new group's "policy framework" is what it doesn't say. There's no mention of gays, abortion, state-sponsored religion, guns, or immigration. It's almost as if Republicans don't feel like fighting a culture war anymore.

Hey, activists in the GOP base, is sounds like the Republican Party is trying to throw you under the bus. Are you going to take this lying down?

The Era Of "More Democrats" Officially Ends from Open Left - Front Page

After vowing not to support cloture on the Employee Free Choice Act in his first day as a Democrat, and then voting against the Democratic budget in his second day as a Democrat, Arlen Specter has now, in his third day as a Democrat, voted against the housing bankruptcy reform legislation known as "cramdown." So far, Specter's party switch has gained progressives a whole lot of nothing in terms of votes.

Specter's post-switch voting record is now a perfect demonstration of why having 60 Democratic Senators is not, and never was, a magic number for Democrats. In June, when Al Franken is seated, there won't be a single piece of legislation that has been defeated so far in the 111th Congress (cramdown, EFCA, 100% cap and trade) but will pass when Democrats have 60 Senators. Not a single one.

We will shortly reach 60 votes in the Senate, but the more progressive aspects of the Democratic legislative agenda will still be stalled. This means we have officially reached the era where "more Democrats" is completely irrelevant to the progressive cause. From now on, all progressive electoral activity must be targeted in support of candidates who will add, or maintain, progressive votes on key pieces of legislation like cramdown, the Employee Free Choice Act, and putting a price on all carbon usage rather than just some carbon usage.

The "D" next to a the name of a Senate candidate or incumbent has become irrelevant. Now we need letters list "B" for bankruptcy reform, "C" for putting a price on all carbon, and "E" for EFCA. No matter what party a with which candidate identifies, Senate campaigns are now only relevant to progressives in terms of which pieces of defeated legislation their election or re-election will assist. And that's it.

Banking lobby successfully defeats mortgage cram-down provision. from Think Progress

Today, a proposal to change bankruptcy law and allow bankruptcy judges to cram-down mortgage payments for troubled homeowners failed in the Senate by a vote of 45-51. The provision, which was introduced as an amendment by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), required 60 votes to pass. In recent weeks, support for the measure evaporated in the face of furious lobbying by the banking and mortgage industries. Prior to the vote, Durbin -- who this week said that bankers "are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill" -- took to the floor to decry the banking industry's influence in the cram-down debate:

At some point the senators in this chamber will decide the bankers shouldn't write the agenda for the United States Senate. At some point the people in this chamber will decide the people we represent are not the folks working in the big banks, but the folks struggling to make a living and struggling to keep a decent home.

Watch it:

The American News Project noted that the Mortgage Bankers Association was "in a celebratory mood" at its annual meeting this week because "a massive lobbying campaign" against cram-down appeared to be working.

Cramdown Crammed Down Big — By Democrats from The Washington Independent

If there was ever a question of who controls the Senate, it was answered this afternoon when Democratic leaders fell a whopping 15 votes shy of moving legislation to empower bankruptcy judges to alter mortgages for the protection of homeowners.

The finance industry had fought fiercely to kill the proposal, and kill it they did. Supporters needed 60 votes to defeat what was expected to be a largely Republican filibuster. Instead they got 45.

Going into the vote, there was talk that a handful of big-bank-state Democrats would join all Republicans in opposing the bill. Instead, that handful became a dozen. They were:  Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Tom Carper (Del.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Byron Dorgan (S.D.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Ben Nelson, (Neb.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Arlen Specter (Pa.).

Quite a difference Specter's defection made.

Fox wants to know why they didn’t get a question from Daily Kos

During last night's 100 day press conference, President Obama took questions from ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC — but not Fox.

FNC host Greta Van Susteren wants to know why:

Let's see, here's few possible explanations:

  1. Fox has spent the past 100 days launching dishonest attack after dishonest attack.
  1. Fox isn't a real news organization, as evidenced by their decision not to broadcast President Obama's news conference on their main network.
  1. Fox literally sponsored the teabagging parties as a stunt to attack Obama, and in the aftermath, they cheered on talk of states seceding from the Union.

You probably have a few you could add to the list as well...but the important thing is we can all agree on this: it's a damn good thing that Fox got shut out.

And it's even funnier seeing the President mock them for their antics.

Time has Beck praising Limbaugh's "honesty" in Time 100 profile

For its annual Time 100 "World's Most Influential People," Time magazine commissioned Fox News host Glenn Beck to profile conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, as one of the year's most influential figures. In the profile, Beck wrote of Limbaugh: "His consistency, insight and honesty have earned him a level of trust with his listeners that politicians can only dream of." However, Media Matters for America has documented numerous incidents over the years in which Limbaugh has engaged in false or misleading commentary, which belies Beck's claim of Limbaugh's honesty.

Additionally, Media Matters has also documented repeated instances in which Beck himself has also advanced false or misleading claims, which may undermine Beck's credibility in praising Limbaugh's honesty.

Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck

Time Magazine


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Texas, Run by Secessionist Guv, Has Received More Federal Disaster Relief Than Any State

Like everyone else, I was amused when Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, requested help from the CDC with swine flu medication just a week or so after he said that the "federal government has become oppressive" and that if Texans started considering seceding from the union, "who knows what might come out of that." Perry didn't seem to realize that throwing off the yoke of the federal government would mean no more help when the going got tough.

Today comes news that Perry has issued a disaster declaration for the state of Texas, the first step in getting assistance from federal agencies like FEMA, DHS, and HHS. I decided to take a look at how many times the federal government has bailed Texas out during Perry's tenure. The results are pretty incredible.

According to FEMA's website, Texas has been the site of 13 "major disaster declarations" since Perry took office following George W. Bush's departure in 2001. That includes five instances of severe storms and flooding, two tropical storms, one "extreme wildfire threat," and Hurricanes Claudette, Rita, Dolly, and Ike. (Texas received significant federal assistance following Hurricane Katrina, but it did not appear on FEMA's website in the "major disaster declaration" category.)

David Riedman, a public information specialist at FEMA, explained to me that a major disaster declaration is issued when a governor "determines the state's resources are overrun." From that point forward, the federal government, under federal law, is required to reimburse the state for at least 75 percent of the cost of recovery. Help is primarily targeted at rebuilding roads and bridges, debris removal, and reparing damage to public buildings. In the relief efforts that are still under way from the damage done by Hurricane Ike, the federal government is reimbursing Texas for 100 percent of all expenses, according to Riedman.

In fact, since FEMA's record-keeping began, Texas has received federal disaster assistance more times than any other state. From FEMA's website:

I've asked FEMA for the total amount of money Texas has received in the form of federal disaster assistance during Perry's tenure as governor. As soon as I get that figure I'll update this post.

When will Larry Summers apologize?

Simon Johnson has a close reading of Larry Summers's speech on the crisis, and notes what is conspicuous by its absence:

There was not even an indirect mention of political economy. Summers' public narrative for the crisis is essentially that there was an accident: stuff happens. This narrative matters.

Johnson puts this in a context of asking Summers for a mechanism to avoid regulatory capture in the future — which is certainly important. But there's another reason why it's important for Summers to admit that government policies were part of the cause of the crisis: we've had virtually nothing in the way of apologies for screwing up the global economy, and it would do us all a lot of good if people who both caused and benefitted from the financial-services boom would man up and admit to their mistakes.

Top of the list, just by dint of his present importance in the government, is Larry Summers. In his tenure as a senior Treasury official during the Clinton years, Summers was intimately involved in laying the regulatory and philosophical foundations for the bubble. Johnson, who's been following Summers's thinking for some time, says that it has evolved in interesting ways, especially as regards the over-reliance on the financial sector for economic growth in the 1990s. It's not a giant leap from that evolution to a simple admission from Summers that he made mistakes at the time. Except there's the whole problem of Larry's massive ego, which makes it hard for him to ever admit being wrong.

Of course, Summers isn't the only person who should be apologizing: I very much look forward to reading or watching something similar from Bob Rubin, who managed to compound his errors at Treasury with further massive blunders at Citigroup. And the list goes on. Greenspan would be nice, but he's already admitted being wrong on some fronts, and has at least engaged substantively with his critics on most others. Ken Lewis and Stan O'Neal and Sandy Weill and Dick Fuld, of course. Phil Gramm, absolutely. But let's start with Summers, since he's the one name on the list who's still actively involved in making incredibly important decisions which affect the future of the country. And if he can't admit to making mistakes, how can he learn from them?

Joe Biden: Run to the Hills, Run For Your Life [Aporkalypse Now] from Gawker 

Joe Biden went on the Today Show this morning and very calmly explained that you are going to die from swine flu if you don't lock yourself in a safe room now.

Biden told Matt Lauer that he has advised his family members not to travel on airplanes, cars, subways, or go to any "confined" spaces, including schools. That sentiment, which is rather at odds with Barack Obama's measured advice last night that everybody wash their hands and cover their mouth when they cough, has provoked a shitstorm. It's almost as though Biden has become such a connoisseur of gaffes that he couldn't resist the opportunity to commit a formally exquisite, potentially panic-inducing one when the opportunity presented itself.

Biden's comments were in response to a question from Lauer about why we haven't closed the border with Mexico. A normal person in the vice president's situation would have said something along the lines of: "Well, because things aren't that bad yet, and our scientists are telling us that it wouldn't help." Biden went the other way: Close the border with Mexico? You're so naive. We're way past that, man. Don't you see? Closing the border with Mexico won't stop the scythe of death that is sweeping across this nation—it's too late. It's too late!

Instead of closing the border, Biden recommends living out a contemporary version of The Decameron: Get out to the country and wait out the plague. "If you're out in the middle of a field and someone sneezes, that's one thing. If you're in a closed aircraft, or closed container, or closed car, or closed classroom, it's another thing."

Within hours of the Today Show appearance, Biden's office released a statement asserting, falsely, that his advice was merely what the president had been saying all along: "That [Americans] should avoid unnecessary air travel to and from Mexico. If they are sick, they should avoid airplanes and other confined public spaces, such as subways."

The beauty of Biden's penchant for saying unbelievably stupid things is that the more he does it, the less seriously people take him, and the more he can relax and just be the crazy uncle in the White House. This episode will likely not cause too much lasting harm, simply because the fact that Biden is a serial exaggerator is already so widely understood. After his bone-chilling announcement, Biden laughed it up a little with Lauer about the fact that he didn't make People magazine's list of Barack's Beauties. So it's pretty clear that he's not to be taken seriously. Which seems fine by him.