Completing the Thoughts
I want to follow up and update some issues from earlier blogs.
1. It may turn out not to be the case that contaminated hog waste from pork giant Smithfield subsidiary Granjas Carroll (raising 950,000 hogs annually) — in La Gloria in the state of Vera Cruz where people have been ill since – is the source of the outbreak of swine flu. Apparently the UN Food and Agriculture Organization is sending a team to investigate these industrial pig farms. But the reaction to the outbreak encapsulates perfectly the North American reaction to globalization and immigration, with the recently resurfaced memory of the flu pandemic of 1918 – which killed more people than the armies of World War I — in the background.
First the anti-immigrant forces have opportunistically seized the moment. The head of ALI-PAC (Americans for Legal Immigration) blames the pandemic on America’s failure to seal its borders. Anti-immigrant activist Frosty Wooldridge intones “such outbreaks of diseases stem from cultures that lack personal hygiene, personal habits and standards for disease prevention.”
Then there are the reassurances from government and health bureaucracies that as Mike Davis puts it:
One of its [the outbreak’s] first victims has been the consoling faith, long preached by the World Health Organisation, that pandemics can be contained by the rapid responses of medical bureaucracies, independent of the quality of local public health. Since the initial H5N1 deaths in Hong Kong in 1997, the WHO, with the support of most national health services, has promoted a strategy focused on the identification and isolation of a pandemic strain within its local radius of outbreak, followed by a thorough dousing of the population with antivirals and (if available) vaccine.
…The swine flu may prove that the WHO/Centres for Disease Control version of pandemic preparedness – without massive new investment in surveillance, scientific and regulatory infrastructure, basic public health, and global access to lifeline drugs – belongs to the same class of Ponzified risk management as Madoff securities. It is not so much that the pandemic warning system has failed as it simply doesn’t exist, even in North America and the EU.
Even if an effective vaccine can be created, how many months will it be before vaccines can be produced and distributed and who will get access?
So let’s turn, as is our wont, and identify the source of the problem as neoliberal globalization. Even if the source of the swine flu is not yet determined, it behooves us to look at the larger contours of the problem. Let us begin with what Professor Robert Wallace calls the post World War II “livestock revolution”, the replacement of small farm animal husbandry by huge animal factories.):
That model was subsequently spread around the world. So, starting in the 1970s, the livestock revolution was brought to East Asia. You have the CP Group, which is now the world’s fourth-largest poultry company, in Thailand. That company subsequently brought the livestock revolution into China once China opened up its doors in 1980. So we have cities of poultry and pork developing around the world.
And this phenomenon goes hand in hand with the very structural adjustment programs that the IMF and the World Bank helped institute during this time. So if you’re a poor country, you’re having financial difficulties, in order to get some money to bail you out, you had to go to the International Monetary Fund for a loan. And in return, the IMF would make demands on you to change your economy in such a way that would allow you—will force you to open up your economy to outside corporations, including agricultural companies. And, of course, that would have a detrimental effect on domestic agriculture. So, small companies within poor countries could not out-compete large agribusinesses from the North that are subsidized by the industrial governments. So they’re not able to compete with them, so there’s—they either must contract their labor and land to the companies, foreign companies that are coming into their country, or they basically retire out of the business and sell their land to the large companies that are coming in. So, in other words, the spread of the cities of pork and poultry go hand in hand with this structural adjustment program.
And, of course, NAFTA is our local version of that. The North American Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1993, instituted in 1994, and has had a subsequent effect on how poultry and pigs are raised in Mexico. So, from that time, the pattern I just described, the small farmers had to either bulk up, in terms of acquiring the farms around them, acquiring the pigs around them, or had to sell out to agribusinesses that were coming in.
Besides the lure of low wages, lax environmental regulations – government regulation tossed aside by structural adjustment and given lip service by NAFTA so as not to discourage investment – bring waste-producing industries to the global south. And the displacement of small farmers has added to the flow of immigrants.
Concentrations of animals are excellent breeding grounds for new diseases:
A 2007 CDC report on emerging infectious diseases among hogs and hog-farm workers anticipated that a “highly virulent” virus like the one responsible for the 1918-1919 pandemic “may similarly be readily transmitted among and between pigs and humans.” The same report went on to say, “Study data suggest that swine workers … are at increased risk of zoonotic [animal-to-human] influenza virus infections.”
Concentrated feeding operations – massive facilities where thousands of animals are closely confined – are ideal breeding grounds for new infectious agents. While workers at these huge hog-breeding operations are supposed to wear sterilized clothing to minimize the spread of disease, that hasn’t diminished their exposure, judging by hog workers’ elevated antibody levels and “self-reported influenza-like illness,” according to the CDC.
This analysis of the role of neo-liberalism may be of limited help in the face of a looming pandemic. It can lend to a healthy skepticism about the state of public health and focus us to move beyond technological fixes or panicky moves to find a solution that takes into account the un-natural, human and social causes of global pandemic so as to act more effectively in the short and long runs. As Mike Davis reminds us, the market metaphysic has downplayed the importance of public health, particularly in the global south, in favor of big pharma; and as Robert Wallace insists, the hands off approach to agribusiness has left it unaccountable to local and global communities, able to disrupt and pollute communities without damage to its bottom line, but with grave consequences for the rest of us.
2. Frank Rich’s op-ed in last Sunday’s New York Times summing up a recently released Senate Armed Services Committee report adds a crucial point to the contretemps about torture and supplements last week’s blog:
The report found that Maj. Paul Burney, a United States Army psychiatrist assigned to interrogations in Guantánamo Bay that summer of 2002, told Army investigators of another White House imperative: “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful.” As higher-ups got more “frustrated” at the inability to prove this connection, the major said, “there was more and more pressure to resort to measures” that might produce that intelligence.
In other words, the ticking time bomb was not another potential Qaeda attack on America but the Bush administration’s ticking timetable for selling a war in Iraq; it wanted to pressure Congress to pass a war resolution before the 2002 midterm elections. Bybee’s memo was written the week after the then-secret (and subsequently leaked) “Downing Street memo,” in which the head of British intelligence informed Tony Blair that the Bush White House was so determined to go to war in Iraq that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” A month after Bybee’s memo, on Sept. 8, 2002, Cheney would make his infamous appearance on “Meet the Press,” hyping both Saddam’s W.M.D.s and the “number of contacts over the years” between Al Qaeda and Iraq. If only 9/11 could somehow be pinned on Iraq, the case for war would be a slamdunk.
But there were no links between 9/11 and Iraq, and the White House knew it. Torture may have been the last hope for coercing such bogus “intelligence” from detainees who would be tempted to say anything to stop the waterboarding.
So once again we underestimated the nefariousness of the Bush administration. The reliability of torture induced testimony was irrelevant; the goal of politically useful information resulting from torture was the bottom line. They may have understood the questionable reliability of torture-based confession better than has been assumed by critics who worry that prisoners may falsely confess to stop the torture.
A recent TomDispatch (https://mail.google.com/mail/?nsr=1&zx=2gdui0ev07jx&shva=1#inbox/120f7d1eb7a7317a )
contains a piece by Karen Greenberg of NYU Law School which tries to grapple honestly with the impact of these policies on the efficacy of the human rights movement. It also notes the ambivalence of the American people about torture:
According to the latest Gallup Poll, a bare majority (51%) of Americans now favor some kind of major investigation “into the use of harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects during the Bush administration.” On the other hand, 55% “still believe in retrospect that the use of the interrogation techniques was justified.”
This adds urgency for Americans to have a more profound discussion of the meaning of the Bush administration’s illegal, immoral, and dangerous program of torture; a discussion that Obama seems anxious to avoid.