Reports from chimpeachment weekend

Last Saturday (April 28th) was a day filled with pro-impeachment events in over 125 locations in the U.S., and even a few locations overseas. The nationwide impeachment protests were organized by A28.org, and consisted of many types of public display of free speech. Here is an example from Madison Park in Seattle:

One of my favorite forms of this type of exercise in free speech is the posting of signs along the freeway. And the foremost proponent of this technique is Scarlet, a.k.a. The FreewayBlogger, who has personally posted over 4,000 such signs. (I believe it was Scarlet who first used the word “Chimpeachment.”)

Here is FreewayBlogger’s collection of freeway blogging from the April 28th Impeachment Event.

Locally, the Backbone Campaign has been busy placarding in Seattle for some time. They’ve recently had a showdown with the police, but it appears that the police backed down. I’ve not heard of any police-related incidences from this weekend.

The fact is, this is generally considered free speech protected by the first amendment. But, state and local laws may restrict where signs can be placed. Here’s an easy way to find out what is legal in your area:

It is your right as a citizen to display non-commercial signs and banners, with some exceptions. Rules regarding signposting along roadways vary from state to state, and locality to locality. So, call your local department of transportation to find out more. Ask for public relations and say you’d like to put up some American flags and “Support the Troops” signs… they will likely be more than helpful. Don’t feel bad if that’s not precisely what you intend to put up: this is America, and the rules apply equally to all points of view.

And Scarlet offers these defiant words of inspiration:

It is our contention that the town square of colonial times has now become the interstate: for better or for worse, that’s where all the people are. With this in mind, we feel it is our God-given and constitutionally-granted right to post our messages on the interstates, freeways, or wherever-the-hell-else-we-think-people-will-read-them and we’re willing to fight for this right all the way to the Supreme Court.

But you’ll have to catch us first.

Interested in doing you own freeway blogging? As can be seen in his video the making of signs is extremely easy. For about a buck per sign, you too can reach 100,000 readers a day!

The really fun part comes after you make the signs. “Picking locations for signs is something of a chess game,” Freeway Blogger told me last July when he showed up at the Seattle gathering of Drinking Liberally. I’ve been saving large pieces of cardboard ever since….

Running away from the brand

Gov. Bill Richardson uses GOP-style talking points to attack another Democrat:

“Democrats, whenever we have a solution, we want to tax,” Richardson said. “I’m different. I’m a tax cutter.”

Curious. I know Democrats are sometime pegged as the tax-and-spend party, but I find it odd that a Democrat, running for president, would so willingly adopt the language of the opposition. Why Richardson would be proud of cutting taxes in a state that recieves more federal taxes than it sends to Washington D.C., strikes me as odd. If any primary voter was really concerned about cutting taxes, they’d probably be on the other team.

No, Hell didn’t just freeze over

The Seattle Times editorial board and I completely agree on Internet radio. Don’t get scared… things like this happen.

And in somewhat tangentially related news, publishers of our city’s two dailies are popping champagne corks this morning: “Seattle newspapers’ circulation dip smaller than in years past.” Though…

The new numbers indicate the declines at The Seattle Times and P-I would have been steeper but for increased sales of deeply discounted papers.

Um… how do you “deeply discount” something that costs 50-cents?

Melamine-spiking “widespread” in China; human food broadly contaminated

Shandong Mingshui Great Chemical
The Shandong Mingshui Great Chemical factory in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province, which manufactures urea, melamine and melamine scrap. (Ariana Lindquist for The New York Times)

Who knows what kind of shit is adulterating our imported and domestic food supply? But whatever it is, it’s about to hit the fan.

Months after dogs and cats started dropping dead of renal failure from melamine-tainted pet food, American consumers are beginning to learn how long and how wide this contaminant has also poisoned the human food supply. Last week, as California officials revealed that at least 45 people are known to have eaten tainted pork, the USDA announced that it would pay farmers millions of dollars to destroy and dispose of thousands of hogs fed “salvaged” pet food.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Through the salvaging practice, melamine-tainted pet food has likely contaminated America’s livestock for as long as it has been killing and sickening America’s pets — as far back as August of 2006, or even earlier. And while it may seem alarmist to suggest without absolute proof that Americans have been eating melamine-tainted pork, chicken and farm-raised fish for the better part of a year, the FDA and USDA seem to be preparing to brace Americans for the worst. In an unusual, Saturday afternoon joint press release, the regulators tasked with protecting the safety of our nation’s food supply go to convoluted lengths to reassure the public that eating melamine-tainted pork is perfectly safe.

In a fit of reverse-homeopathy the press release steps us through the dilution process, tracing the path of melamine-tainted rice protein through the food system. The rice protein is a partial ingredient in pet food, we are told, which is itself only a partial ingredient in the feed given to hogs, who then “excrete” some of the melamine in their urine. And, “even if present in pork,” they reassure us, “pork is only a small part of the average American diet.”

How comforting. But the press release reaches its Orwellian best in its insistence that there is no evidence of any “human illness” due to melamine exposure:

“While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention systems would have limited ability to detect subtle problems due to melamine and melamine-related compounds, no problems have been detected to date.”

Translation: “We are unable to detect such problems, but don’t worry, no such problems have been detected.”

It is hard to read this as anything but a preemptive press release, a calculated effort to reassure the public that it is safe to eat trace quantities of melamine… just days before they inevitably reveal that Americans have in fact been consuming it unawares for months. Menu Foods, the company at the center of the controversy, has recalled product dating back to November 8, 2006. Manufacturing forty to fifty percent of America’s wet pet food, the salvaged product from their massive operations must have surely contaminated livestock feed nationwide.

And it gets worse. Tomorrow the New York Times will report from China, detailing how nitrogen-rich melamine scrap, produced from coal, is routinely ground into powder and mixed into low-grade wheat, corn, soybean or other proteins to inflate the protein analysis of animal feed:

The melamine powder has been dubbed “fake protein” and is used to deceive those who raise animals into thinking they are buying feed that provides higher nutrition value.

“It just saves money,” says a manager at an animal feed factory here. “Melamine scrap is added to animal feed to boost the protein level.”

The practice is widespread in China. For years animal feed sellers have been able to cheat buyers by blending the powder into feed with little regulatory supervision, according to interviews with melamine scrap traders and agricultural workers here.

[...] Many animal feed operators advertise on the Internet seeking to purchase melamine scrap. And melamine scrap producers and traders said in recent interviews that they often sell to animal feed makers.

“Many companies buy melamine scrap to make animal feed, such as fish feed,” says Ji Denghui, general manager of the Fujian Sanming Dinghui Chemical Company. “I don’t know if there’s a regulation on it. Probably not. No law or regulation says ‘don’t do it,’ so everyone’s doing it. The laws in China are like that, aren’t they? If there’s no accident, there won’t be any regulation.”

“The practice is widespread in China,” the Times reports, and has been going on “for years.” And it is not just wheat, corn, rice and soybean proteins that should be suspect, but the animals who feed on it, including all imported Chinese pork, poultry, farm-raised fish, and their various by-products. Despite FDA and USDA efforts to allay concerns about consuming melamine-tainted meat, the health effects are unstudied, and the permissible level is zero. If China could impose a three-year (and counting) ban on the import of U.S. beef after a single incident of Mad Cow disease, then surely the U.S. would be justified in imposing a ban on Chinese vegetable protein and livestock products due to such a prevalent, industrywide contamination.

And if in the coming weeks this ban is finally imposed, the question we must ask government regulators is… why so late? Why did they wait until our children licked the last remaining drop of bacon fat off their fingers before alerting the public to the potential health risk, however low? It seems inconceivable that the regulators tasked with overseeing the safety and purity of our nation’s food supply did not at least imagine the potential scope of this crisis back in early March when they first learned that Chinese wheat gluten was poisoning dogs and cats. Indeed, the very fact that they were so quick to focus in on melamine as the adulterating agent suggests they at least suspected what they were facing.

It may make for entertaining TV, but popular shows like CSI get forensic toxicology exactly backwards. You don’t run a substance through a mass spectrometer and 30 seconds later get a complete readout of its chemical makeup. Rather, you painstakingly look for specific chemicals or groups of chemicals one at a time, until you find the offending toxin. Once you get beyond the basic “tox screen,” forensics is as much art as science — investigators use evidence and intuition to narrow the search to those compounds that are most likely to be the culprit.

And so it begs the question as to why — in the face of an apparent wheat gluten contamination that reportedly killed nine out of twenty dogs and cats in Menu Foods’ quarterly taste test — would FDA scientists test for melamine, a chemical widely believed to be nontoxic?

Why? Because they thought they might find it.

Lacking adequate cooperation from FDA officials one is constantly forced to speculate, but given the circumstances it is reasonable to assume that the search for melamine was prompted by the “nitrogen spiking” theory, rather than the other way around. Based on their knowledge of the evidence, Chinese agricultural practices, the globalizing food industry, and perhaps prior history, the FDA hypothesized that unscrupulous Chinese manufacturers may have intentionally adulterated low quality wheat gluten in an effort to pass it off as a high-protein, high-value product. And nothing would do the job better than melamine.

According to one synthetic organic chemist, melamine is by far the perfect candidate. It is high in nitrogen (66-percent by weight), nonvolatile (ie, it doesn’t explode,) and dirt cheap. It is also — at least according to both the scientific literature and chemical supply catalogs — widely considered to be nontoxic. For FDA officials, the mystery never seemed to be how melamine made its way into wheat, rice and corn protein, but rather, why it was suddenly killing dogs and cats.

The technical answer may center on the unexpected interaction between melamine, cyanuric acid, and other melamine by-products, but the practical answer may be much more pedestrian. Some samples of adulterated wheat gluten reportedly tested as high as 6.6-percent melamine by weight, an off the chart concentration that was likely the accidental result of some less than thorough mixing. Had this accident never occurred — had cats, with their sensitive renal systems, not been the canary in the coal mine of melamine toxicity — we might never have known that our children and our pets were being slowly poisoned by Chinese capitalism.

Well, despite the FDA’s best efforts, now we know.

NOTE:
The New York Times article referenced above originally appeared in the online edition of the the International Herald Tribune. It has since been pulled.

UPDATE:
The NY Times piece is now online.

“The David Goldstein Show” tonight on Newsradio 710-KIRO

Tonight on “The David Goldstein Show”, 7PM to 10PM on Newsradio 710-KIRO:

7PM: Q&A with Jay
Rep. Jay Inslee joins me at the top of the hour to talk about his new bill intended to save Internet radio, and to give us an update on the food safety hearing earlier this week before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

8PM: Food Safety: the melamine hits the fan
Yup, I’m talking about the pet food recall again, only it isn’t just pet food anymore. The New York Times will report tomorrow on how “widespread” melamine adulteration is in China. Meanwhile, expect the scope of our known livestock contamination to expand dramatically. Scary stuff. Christie Keith from PetConnection.com joins me.

9PM: TBA

Tune in tonight (or listen to the live stream) and give me a call: 1-877-710-KIRO (5476).

The real Port scandal

40can.jpg

Drop a backpack in a garbage can on a Washington State ferry, and you will shut down the system for hours, as officials evacuate the ship and X-ray the suspicious bag for explosives. So what happens when you leave a 40-foot shipping container, unattended by a highway overpass?

This is a Hyundai container, destined either to or from Terminal 5, but is not going anywhere. There is no semi-tractor in sight, and the container is parked next to the highway 99 overpass, just a few hundred feet from the West Seattle bridge, which are two main highways that connect all of south and west Seattle, to downtown via the Viaduct. I find these things from time to time stretching along the main drags that run through Georgetown. This container is sitting on a patch of gravel across the street from Terminal 25 on East Marginal Way, just a stone’s throw from their gate security office.

Perhaps this is the real Port scandal… the 95-percent of containers that go uninspected, and the lax security and lack of accountability throughout our entire shipping and trucking industry?

“The David Goldstein Show” tonight on Newsradio 710-KIRO

Tonight on “The David Goldstein Show”, 7PM to 10PM on Newsradio 710-KIRO:

7PM: Is our food safe to eat?
Um… no. Weeks ago I warned that melamine-tainted wheat gluten had likely made its way into the human food supply. Now with the USDA preparing to spend millions paying farmers to destroy melamine-tainted hogs, and California officials revealing that about 45 people are already known to have eaten contaminated pork, my journalist friends are beginning to realize that this is more than just a “pet food recall” — humans are at risk. And I fully expect the news to get much worse over the next week or so, as the extent to which adulterated protein concentrates have poisoned livestock feed and other products starts to become known. Worried yet?

(FYI… be sure to frequently check Itchmo.com for the latest news in this developing crisis.)

8PM: Is the 2nd Amendment absolute?
Again… no. But every time I mention my discomfort with the notion of living in a locked and loaded society, the gun folks react as if I’m more dangerous than an armor-piercing bullet. What’s the greatest threat our personal safety? Armed nutcases? Or people like me who lampoon them?

9PM: TBA

Tune in tonight (or listen to the live stream) and give me a call: 1-877-710-KIRO (5476).

PROGRAMMING NOTE:
Tune in tomorrow night at 7PM, when Rep. Jay Inslee will join me to discuss food safety and his bill to save Internet radio.

I’m for Darcy

Darcy

Over a month ago, I said this about the race among Democrats to take on Reichert in the 8th CD:

Unlike Goldy, I’m not committed to supporting a single candidate. At least not yet.

Today, I announce that I will be supporting Darcy Burner for Congress.

Democrats need an energetic new voice in Washington. We need a voice from Seattle’s Eastside that will advocate for fiscal restraint and personal responsibility. We need someone who understands not only the high-tech businesses of Bellevue and Redmond, but also the VFW halls of Auburn and Buckley. Darcy Burner meets or exceeds all of these requirements.

While some folks question whether Darcy is the candidate who will lead Democrats to victory, I don’t. Darcy fell just 8,000 votes short of victory in 2006. In New Hampshire, Paul Hodes lost to Rep. Charlie Bass by 20 points in 2004. Two years later, Hodes won, 52-45. The truth is, Darcy is much closer to victory in ’08 than many candidates who are giving it second try.

Darcy Burner isn’t the anointed candidate; if there are challengers, she’ll have to beat them. If Dwight Pelz does what Paul Berendt did in 2004 by finding a celebrity candidate to run in the 8th, Darcy will have to beat that candidate, too. No one is owed a seat in Congress, or even a party’s nomination.

Darcy has learned much from her first campaign, and I see no reason why she can’t get another 10,000 votes somewhere in the 8th District.

Open thread. End of the world edition.

Bill Maher listed off some New Rules yesterday.

In doing so, Bill pointed out that a recent poll showed 25% of Americans think the second coming of Christ would happen sometime this year.

Those 25% may be on to something. You see, way back in the early 1990s, televangelist and former presidential candidate Pat Robertson predicted, based on happenings in the Middle East and using some good old biblical numerology, that the world would end this year. In fact, he predicted that it would end tomorrow, on Sunday, 29 April 2007.

Its been nice knowing y’all. So long, and thanks for all the hits.

Rep. Inslee files bill to save Internet radio

Kudos to Rep. Jay Inslee (WA-01) for filing legislation yesterday to reverse a federal Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) decision that threatens to kill Internet radio.

The CRB decision would charge webcasters $0.0019 per song per listener in 2010, increasing rates by between 300 and 1200 percent, depending on the current size of audience. It would not apply to terrestrial broadcasters on the AM and FM bands, but would apply to their web streams.

The Inslee-Manzullo Internet Radio Equality Act would provide royalty parity, vacating the CRB’s March 2 decision and applying the same royalty rate of 7.5 percent of revenues to commercial Internet radio, satellite radio, cable radio and jukeboxes.

“This Titanic rate increase is simply untenable for many Internet radio broadcasters,” said Inslee, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

“You can’t put an economic chokehold on this emerging force of democracy,” he added. “There has to be a business model that allows creative webcasters to thrive and the existing rule removes all the oxygen from this space.”

Rep. Inslee will be my guest on “The David Goldstein Show” this coming Sunday at 7PM, on Newsradio 710-KIRO. We will be discussing Internet radio and food safety.

WARNING: 2nd Amendment under attack!

Oh no… our unfettered right to keep and bear arms is under attack!

Simultaneous raids carried out in four Alabama counties Thursday turned up truckloads of explosives and weapons, including 130 grenades, an improvised rocket launcher and 2,500 rounds of ammunition belonging to the small, but mightily armed, Alabama Free Militia.

[...] Agents encountered booby traps at one site. They found trip wires and two hand grenades rigged as booby traps at the Collinsville camper home of 46-year-old Raymond Dillard, who holds titles of both militia major and fugitive from justice on an unrelated federal case in Mobile.

Of course, we’d all be freer and more secure if we’d just arm ourselves like that patriot, “Major” Dillard. Damn you ATF! “Head shots, head shots…. Kill the sons of bitches!”

Another of the 2nd Amendment martyrs arrested yesterday was 30-year-old Michael Wayne Bobo, who lives with his parents, and drives a red pickup truck displaying bumper stickers such as “Welcome to the South, Now Go Home,” “The Second Amendment: You do not know you need it until they come to take it away” and “Work Harder, Millions on Welfare Depend on You.”

Hmm. Sounds like a frequent commenter here on HA.

I just thank God we live in a nation where it is legal to carry a concealed weapon, but illegal to wear a gas mask to a street protest.

Montana Republican Leader to Gov. Schweitzer: “Stick it up your ass!”

I’ve sometimes been accused of undermining my own credibility and sullying the reputation of the progressive netroots through my occasional, joyful use of profanity. Hmm. Well, if that’s true, and my foul mouth and I eventually wear out our welcome in the blogosphere, at least House Majority Leader Michael Lange has shown me that with “honor and integrity and diginity,” I’ll always have a home in the Montana State Republican Party.

What matters are your integrity and your honor and your values. [...] So my message to the governor is, “Stick it up your ass!” That’s my message to him, “Stick it up your ass!”

If you outlaw guns, only Mike Huckabee’s son will have them

Oops.

David Huckabee, a son of Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, was arrested at an Arkansas airport Thursday after a federal X-ray technician detected a loaded Glock pistol in his carry-on luggage.

When asked if he thought this incident might hurt his father’s presidential chances, Huckabee responded, “It shouldn’t.” Hmm. Was his usage intended to be imperative or indicative?

Whatever.

Nugent said David Huckabee had a .40-caliber Glock pistol in his black carry-on bag. Eight live rounds were in the gun – none in the chamber – and a nine-round clip was also in the bag. The weapon and ammunition were detained by Little Rock police while David Huckabee’s gun permit was seized and given to the Arkansas State Police.

Mike Huckabee said his son grabbed the bag on the way to the airport and didn’t realize the gun was inside.

“It’s one of those stupid things,” Mike Huckabee said. “He knows better.”

Yeah… so, here’s a guy, so well trained that he has a license to carry a concealed weapon, and he just leaves bags stuffed with loaded guns lying about the house, willy-nilly. And you wonder why I’m left feeling just a tad nervous by the dystopian dream of a heavily armed society?

USDA: melamine-tainted pork unfit to eat

The USDA and FDA announced today that meat from hogs fed melamine-tainted “salvaged” pet food would not be approved for human consumption, indirectly raising the specter of a much wider contamination of the nation’s pork and chicken supply.

WASHINGTON, April 26, 2007 – The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today notified State authorities that swine fed adulterated product will not be approved to enter the food supply. [...] Because the animal feed in question was adulterated, USDA cannot rule out the possibility that food produced from animals fed this product could also be adulterated. Therefore, USDA cannot place the mark of inspection on food produced from these animals.

Approximately 6,000 hogs from eight pork producers in California, Kansas, North Carolina, New York, Oklahoma and South Carolina are under state quarantine or are voluntarily being held by producers. The USDA is offering to compensate producers who euthanize swine, and to provide assistance in carrying out “depopulation” and disposal.

While the USDA’s actions impact only a tiny fraction of the 100 million hogs slaughtered annually, the 6,000 affected hogs represent only those traced to a single batch of salvaged pet food made from contaminated rice protein concentrate imported by Wilbur-Ellis during the week of April 2, 2007. During a conference call with reporters this afternoon, FDA Office of Enforcement Director, Captain David Elder would not rule out wider adulteration from earlier batches of melamine-tainted, salvaged pet food.

“We are still tracking salvaged pet food from other manufacturers,” Captain Elder told reporters.

A spokesperson for Diamond Pet Foods, the source of the salvaged pet food eaten by the 6,000 adulterated hogs, explained that “it is a common regulated practice for animal food facilities to provide salvage product to farms with non-ruminant animals.” For example, at Diamond, food mixture from the beginning of each production run is routinely sold as salvage because it is “too high in moisture content to run through the manufacturing process.”

Assuming that Menu Foods, Purina and Del Monte also sold salvaged food as livestock feed, the number of affected swine and chickens could increase exponentially. Menu Foods alone manufactures hundreds of different recipes at its three facilities, and has recalled over 60 million cans and pouches manufactured from November 8, 2006 through March 6, 2007. Menu Foods would not make itself available for comment, but if it follows practices standard at other manufacturers, salvage from its multiple production runs could have contaminated feed fed to hundreds of thousands of animals over a four-month period. Much of the resulting adulterated pork and chicken would have already made it to supermarket shelves before news of the first round of pet food recalls broke on March 16.

While the FDA and USDA continue to downplay the risk of melamine exposure in humans, they are obviously concerned enough to compensate farmers to destroy thousands of affected pigs. FDA Chief Medical Officer, Dr. David Acheson voiced particular concern over how melamine and other related, contaminating compounds such as cyanuric acid might interact: “This mixture may be more toxic than melamine alone.”

With no prior studies of the toxicity of ingested melamine in humans, the exact danger is unknown, but with no established safe level of melamine and related compounds, it seems likely that recalls, quarantines and other precautionary actions will continue to expand.