Friday, March 24, 2023

The New Yorker
(Click on cartoon for full view)

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Thursday, March 23, 2023

People in SF moving in "wrong direction"?

SFMTA climate road map
 Story in Streetsblog.

How can the city turn in the "right" direction? Get more people on bikes? Make it harder to drive in the city? 

Not clear that either is politically possible, even in San Francisco.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Dr. Fauci

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No panic---yet

The Atlantic Daily

From the Atlantic Daily:
On Sunday, one of the world’s biggest banks, Credit Suisse, narrowly escaped annihilation when it was bought by an even bigger Swiss bank, UBS Group, in a government-brokered deal. 

The hasty move did the job of averting the “too big to fail” lender’s, well, failure. But in the aftermath of the insolvency panic that triggered the falls of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank in the U.S.—not to mention the current precarious standing of First Republic—it’s fair to say that the world’s financial institutions, and their customers, are spooked.

Shaky confidence in global financial markets could spell further trouble, potentially setting off a massive cascade of bank runs that destabilizes the entire system. Right now, that possibility is not off the table. But is it a crisis?

“I would say no,” Arthur Dong, an economics professor at Georgetown University, says. But we’ve gotten a preview of what could happen next, he told me.

In short: After years of very low interest rates, the decision in the U.S. and elsewhere to begin raising interest rates in order to curb inflation led to lowered asset value. That, in turn, led to depositors’ whisperings of relocating their holdings and not-totally-unwarranted fears of bank insolvency. 

For SVB, and other lenders that similarly serve a narrow band of customers (who are likelier than a more diverse pool to react in unison to market shifts), these conditions can add up to a major stress test of client confidence. 

And as SVB has shown, bank failures don’t exactly alleviate wider anxieties—even if federal governments and regulators step in to protect customers’ holdings, as was the case for SVB.

Dong acknowledged that, although the sagas of SVB, Credit Suisse, et al., have certainly created “shock waves through the financial markets” (and inspired worry in the average consumer about whether their deposits are safe), the present climate of economic uncertainty is probably more aptly viewed as a momentary shake-up than an existential disaster. “There are other institutions out there that might be imperiled, in the way that SVB was imperiled, but I don’t think it’s a global crisis,” Dong explained.

But although it isn’t a full-blown crisis, it might be a “mini-crisis,” suggests Paul Kupiec, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “Could it get worse? Yes. Could it be just a bump in the road that goes away? Yes.”

Kupiec says that if the Fed continues to raise interest rates, many institutions’ mark-to-market losses will get worse. More people might be moved to pull out their deposits, which could have far-reaching consequences—especially if multiple banks find themselves in a position of needing to replace those deposits (that they’d collected minimal interest on for a long time in the first place) with Federal Reserve loans whose target rate range is already 4.5 to 4.75 percent, and projected to climb higher.

“We’re not totally out of the woods,” Kupiec told me. “We might avert a panic. There’s going to be some pain going forward, though.”

“This is what happens in this type of environment with higher degrees of volatility, as well as very rapid interest-rate increases around the world,” Dong noted. “And it will very quickly expose the weaknesses of banks that were not necessarily in a state of failure, whose balance sheets were kind of creaky to begin with."

“As the tide goes out, you kind of see who’s swimming there naked,” Dong added with a chuckle, borrowing a well-known aphorism from the investor Warren Buffett. “I think that’s more of the issue here, rather than a widespread or global financial contagion like we saw in 2008.”

For now, we can expect more damage control. Earlier today, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told a conference of American bankers that she was willing to protect depositors at smaller U.S. banks in the event of future bank runs, if necessary.

We can’t know what will happen next. But the picture of what’s happened up to this point, and how to read it, is coming into focus. As my colleague Annie Lowrey wrote last week on the SVB collapse and bailout:
There’s no success story here. The complexity of financial regulations and the dullness of balance-sheet minutiae should not lull any American into misunderstanding what has happened. Nor should the lack of a broad meltdown make anyone feel confident. The bank failed. The government failed. Once again, the American people are propping up a financial system incapable of rendering itself safe.


Diet Pepsi or Diet Coke?

Conservative Bret Stephens in today's NY Times:
He[Ron DeSantis] is parroting Kremlin propaganda. He’s undermining NATO. He’s endangering America by emboldening other dictators with "territorial disputes," starting with China’s Xi Jinping. He’s betraying the heroism and sacrifice of the Ukrainian people. 

He’s turning himself into a kind of Diet Pepsi to Trump’s Diet Coke. He’s showing he’s just another George Costanza Republican, whose idea of taking a foreign policy stand is to “do the opposite” of whatever the Democrats do.
Trump drinks a lot of Diet Coke. Not clear what DeSantis has been drinking.

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Monday, March 20, 2023

Conference of the self-righteous

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Monday, March 13, 2023

People's Park

People's Park
 From the New York Times:

....How do you solve a problem like People’s Park? It all depends on whom you ask.

The leaders of the University of California system want to build much-needed student housing in the famous park, just blocks from U.C. Berkeley’s campus. But moving forward with the plan hasn’t been easy.

The university’s $312 million project, initially set to break ground last summer, has been repeatedly delayed by protests and lawsuits from Berkeley residents and activists who say they want to preserve the park, the center of bloody counterculture protests in the 1960s, as a historic site. 

In late February, a state appeals court in San Francisco sided with the opponents and indefinitely halted construction.

U.C. Berkeley officials say they will appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court. The university houses only 23 percent of its students, by far the lowest percentage in the 10-campus U.C. system — and a telling illustration of the Bay Area’s affordable housing shortage.

“Our commitment to the project is unwavering,” Dan Mogulof, a U.C. Berkeley spokesman, told me. The university’s plan for the park includes building housing for 1,100 students, as well as for 125 people who are homeless, with half the park remaining open space.

However, it seems increasingly likely that obtaining permission to proceed with the redesign of People’s Park may come from somewhere other than the courts.

Last year, in a somewhat analogous lawsuit, longtime Berkeley residents won a court order to freeze the university’s enrollment at 2020 levels. In their suit, they accused the university of violating the California Environmental Quality Act, known as CEQA, by essentially polluting neighborhoods by admitting more students than the city could handle.

But California lawmakers headed off the freeze by passing a law tweaking CEQA that short-circuited the court order and allowed the additional students to be admitted.

Similar legislative fixes are already in the works amid the People’s Park standoff.

The San Francisco appeals court found last month that U.C. Berkeley had again violated CEQA in part by not considering noise impacts from the students who would live in the planned housing development. 

In response to the ruling, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that CEQA needed to change if California was going to address its housing crisis and that he was committed to working with lawmakers this year to do so.

“Our CEQA process is clearly broken when a few wealthy Berkeley homeowners can block desperately needed student housing for years and even decades,” he wrote on Twitter.

State Representative Buffy Wicks, a Democrat whose district includes Berkeley, said she would introduce legislation this month to clarify that people’s voices couldn’t be considered an environmental impact under CEQA. Without such legislation, Wicks said, the People’s Park ruling could spawn new challenges to desperately needed housing construction across the state.

“That could be a slippery slope,” Wicks told me. “It frustrates me so much, and it’s such a classic example of NIMBYism.”

The opponents of the park project, however, say the problem isn’t with CEQA, but with U.C. Berkeley’s mismanagement of enrollment and student housing. They have urged the university to consider places to build student housing beyond Berkeley’s most storied park.

Thomas Lippe, a lawyer for the two nonprofit groups that brought the lawsuit against U.C. Berkeley, said in a statement to The New York Times: “Contrary to Governor Newsom, the plaintiffs in this case are not ‘a few wealthy Berkeley homeowners.’ They are citizens’ groups financially supported by hundreds of people of all walks of life who care about the historic value of People’s Park.”

Their goal, he added, “is to compel U.C. to build student housing to reduce impacts on the community caused by the shortage of student housing while respecting the historic significance of People’s Park.”

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Sunday, March 12, 2023

History lesson

History of the Women's Rights Movement.


Saturday, March 11, 2023

High-speed rail fiasco

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Friday, March 10, 2023

Religious dogma versus reality

In today's New York Times:

To the Editor:

The scenario described in this article illustrates a primary result of states’ abortion bans: not a notable reduction in abortions, but rather delayed ones, occurring later in pregnancy, with greater risk, cost and distress for women in need.

Until “pro-life” activists recognize this reality and fully support free contraception and access to all reproductive health services, they will continue to work against their own convictions, while causing harm.

Is that really what they want?

Steve Heilig
San Francisco

Rob's comment:
Anti-abortion "activists" have nothing to do with "reality." For them it's all about religious dogma, which of course is bullshit. One of our two major political parties is composed of crackpots and led by politicians who pander to them.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Tom Cotton

Well done by Merrick Garland: He allowed the public to see what an ass Tom Cotton is.


Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Talking "tough"---and dumb---on CEQA

Letter to the editor in today's SF Chronicle:

The court decision that delayed a Berkeley housing project because of student noise concerns has led to frantic calls to overhaul California’s bedrock environmental law. 

But before lawmakers start watering down protections that have served the state so well for decades, let’s examine the People’s Park case more closely.

For those who believe that noise from new residents shouldn’t be used to delay an otherwise quality housing project, there’s a solution and it’s found within the California Environmental Quality Act.

UC Berkeley could have resolved the issue before any lawsuit was filed by more thoroughly responding to and addressing community concerns during the administrative process. If the university believed the project’s benefits outweighed any noise impacts, it could also have filed what’s called a "statement of overriding considerations."

UC Berkeley did neither. CEQA has built-in release valves, but lead agencies need to use them wisely and show that their decisions are backed by evidence.

CEQA isn’t broken. It’s a strong environmental review law that offers exemptions for affordable housing and other quality projects. 

Dismantling CEQA as a knee-jerk reaction to a single avoidable ruling will have unintended consequences that harm communities across California.

Aruna Prabhala
San Francisco

Rob's comment:
The Chronicle has always been dumb on CEQA. See Chronicle editorial: Flab-gab and misinformation in 2010.

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Saturday, March 04, 2023

Zombie high-speed rail project staggers on

Managers of California’s bullet train project announced what they termed an “historic milestone” last month: “the creation of more than 10,000 construction jobs since the start of high-speed rail construction.”

....The celebratory press release quoted Amit Bose, who heads the Federal Railroad Administration, as saying,
“Ten thousand jobs created is one of many milestones to come on this historic project, and the Federal Railroad Administration remains committed to strengthening state partnerships to advance even more progress and deliver the passenger rail benefits people want and deserve.”
However, it doesn’t mention that, a few days earlier, the federal government had rejected an application for a $1.2 billion in grants that the project needs if there is any hope of actually completing the San Joaquin Valley section between Merced and Bakersfield.

“There is no doubt that we want federal money, that we need federal money,” Brian Annis, the project’s chief financial officer, told the Fresno Bee.

The San Joaquin segment is being built with funds from a $9.95 billion bond issue approved by voters in 2008, a previous federal grant and some proceeds from the state’s auctions of carbon emission credits, but they are not enough. The 171-mile stretch is currently projected to cost $22 billion, roughly one-fifth of what the entire north-south system would need.

When the bond issue was being presented to voters 15 years ago the total cost was pegged at about $40 billion with an assumption that federal funds and/or private investors would complete financing. Since then, the projected costs have risen steadily to more than $100 billion and officials have searched in vain for additional money.

Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown were enthusiastic supporters. But when Gavin Newsom became governor in 2019, he was openly skeptical.
“The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long,” Newsom said as he took office. “There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency. Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A. I wish there were.”
His critique was widely interpreted as a desire to cancel the project, but its supporters – particularly construction unions – ramped up pressure and Newsom quickly insisted that he wanted to not only continue construction but expand it on both ends to connect Merced with Bakersfield. He later overcame legislative resistance and appropriated the remainder of the 2008 bond issue to continue work.

Nevertheless, the bullet train’s fundamental problem remains: how to get enough money to complete the San Joaquin segment and find another $80 billion or so to make it a statewide system.

The answer may depend on what happens in national politics since generally Democrats support high-speed rail as a tool to battle climate change while Republicans oppose it as a boondoggle – and one of the more vociferous opponents is House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, whose hometown is Bakersfield.

Rob's comment:
That's the only good thing I've ever heard about Kevin McCarthy.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2023

SF and Vision Zero: "How are we doing?"

Vision Zero

According to the city's own numbers, the city is doing poorly, since it's made no progress in reducing traffic fatalities on our streets. 

Since 2006, with annual spikes and dips, the city still averages 29 traffic fatalities every year.

After all the bike lanes installed and the aptly-named Slow Streets program, city streets are no safer. 

That means San Francisco will be nowhere near zero traffic deaths in 2024---Vision Zero's goal in 2014---than it was in 2006.

Note too that 2022 was the worst year since 2007 with 37 traffic deaths, and 2023 is off to a bad start with 4 early fatalities.

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Monday, February 27, 2023

High-speed rail project: still dumb

A conversation around high-speed rail would not be complete without mentioning the California High-Speed Rail project, which ultimately aims to create a 500-mile route connecting Los Angeles with San Francisco. 

Perhaps most notable about the project — besides its promised 225 mph speeds — is its ballooning price tag and lagging completion date. 

The massive infrastructure project is now estimated to cost $113 billion, with its first 119-mile phase through the California Central Valley to be complete by the end of the decade. 

When voters in California approved the project back in 2008, the price tag was placed at $33 billion, with a completion date by 2020.

Rob's comment:
If you want to get from SF to LA quickly, flying is the way to go.

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Thursday, February 23, 2023

Russia's disastrous invasion of Ukraine

The western media called it a convoy. In reality, it was a traffic jam and a major tactical blunder. Forty-eight hours after that first satellite photograph, on 28 February 2022, the line of vehicles had grown to a colossal 35 miles (56 km) long. 

The vehicles were stalled for weeks. Then finally they retreated, and seemingly disappeared overnight.

What happened? Why did such a massive force fail to reach Kyiv?

A BBC team spoke to dozens of witnesses; including military personnel, national and international intelligence services, civilians, veterans, and the territorial defence, all of whom came into contact with the convoy. 

It also gained access to Russian maps and documents that shed light on what the plan actually was, and why it went so spectacularly wrong....

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Tuesday, February 21, 2023

How Repugs govern Ohio

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Monday, February 20, 2023

Help Ukraine beat Russia

Biden and Zelensky

David French in today's NY Times:

....if Russia ultimately defeats Ukraine, Vladimir Putin will have a message for his people: Russia confronted Ukraine and NATO, and Russia won. Russian victory will have a galvanizing impact on illiberal and authoritarian movements in the West.

Western retreat from a winnable war will prove in many quarters the Russian critique of the “woke” West, that it is simply too self-indulgent, decadent and individualistic to survive and thrive.

Make no mistake, this is a winnable war. Yes, Ukraine alone cannot withstand Russia over the long term. It lacks the personnel and the industrial base. 

But American industrial output dwarfs Russia's, and our superior arms can help address the personnel gap. Better weapons can overcome the challenge of fewer people. 

America, the arsenal of democracy, has the capacity to help Ukraine win even a long fight. 

The question is whether we have the will....

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Cowardly attacks on Bay Area cyclists

Deliberately hit by motorist

In the LA Times:

On the evening of Feb. 10, Eleanor Mead was riding her bike in Oakland on the way to the East Bay Bike Party, a meet-up of dozens of bicyclists who then pedal through the San Francisco Bay Area streets.

“Ironically, one of my favorite parts of Bike Party is when I’m on my way there because you slowly start to see more and more cyclists,” Mead said in an interview with The Times.

“There’s a little magic in the air.”

As she was traveling, however, the spell was broken as Mead noticed that a car had been driving close on her left-hand side despite there being “plenty of space” for the gray sedan to pass her.

“Then it happened really, really fast,” she said.

The front passenger door of the sedan was opened into her path, just a few feet ahead.

“The next thing I knew, I was on the ground, falling off my bike,” she said. “The car sped away, and as it did, I heard them laughing”....

In the following days, Mead and other cycling aficionados learned that she was not the only East Bay bicyclist who was “doored,” or hit, in incidents involving what may have been the same vehicle.

The attacks have made the neighborhood’s biking community uneasy as efforts to involve law enforcement have been frustrating.

“It’s a lot bigger than I think any of us kind of imagined,” Mead said, “and it’s just really weird.”

After her attack, a friend of Mead’s reached out to the East Bay Bike Party and asked if it would share information about the incident on its social media pages to potentially track down witnesses.

“We posted that one story and almost immediately there was a flood of messages,” said Charlotte Hyrse, a Bike Party volunteer.

Multiple people reached out to say they had been targeted by what they believed was the same or a similar vehicle before and after the Feb. 10 event....

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Saturday, February 18, 2023

The smell of deregulation

Rob Rogers

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Thursday, February 16, 2023

Waiting to see all the JFK files

Is there anything significant in the JFK assassination files released last month?

When UVA Today put that question to Steve Gillon, a historian and fellow at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, he replied, "I think the documents that have not yet been released are probably very embarrassing to the CIA. It’s very clear that somebody dropped the ball.”

A newly-unredacted memo lends credence to Gillon’s comment, illuminating a story overlooked by major news organizations and unknown to most Americans interested in the assassination.

The 1977 memo, with redactions now removed, reveals for the first time the name of a CIA undercover officer who participated in a secret investigation into JFK’s assassination in 1963 that focused on the enemies of Fidel Castro in the United States.

The memo, written by Donald Heath, shows that while the White House and the FBI were assuring the public that a loner had killed the president, the CIA’s Miami station was actively pursuing suspicions that anti-Castro exiles might have been involved. 

The results of the investigation have never been disclosed, despite the 1992 JFK Records Act mandating release of all government records related to the murder of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963.

This story is only emerging despite determined CIA resistance (which now includes distributing factually false talking points to its favorite reporters in Washington). 

The 1977 memo was among the 7,000-plus JFK files declassified on December 15, per an order from President Biden last year. 

The CIA did not release another 4,000 redacted records related to the assassination. [emphasis added]

The 1992 law called for all of the government’s assassination-related files to be made public by 2017 “except in the rarest of cases.” 

Since the passing of statutory deadline five years ago, President Trump and Biden have both acquiesced to CIA demands for continuing JFK secrecy despite the clear intent of Congress.

The Heath memo sheds new light on an old question: Did the CIA “drop the ball” on Lee Harvey Oswald? Or did the CIA drop a veil of operational secrecy around what it knew about the accused assassin and anti-Castro exiles?

Rob's comment:
Apparently there are 4,000 "rarest of cases"!

Morley also refers to the Mary Ferrell Foundation.

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Saturday, February 11, 2023

The hidden horror

NY Times

In today's NY Times:

Re “Spy Cams Reveal Pork Industry Secrets,” by Nicholas Kristof (column, Feb. 5)

To the Editor:

Bravo to Nicholas Kristof for asking us to see and hear what we attempt to avoid, day in and day out: the true horror hidden in our bacon and ribs.

As I learn more about the extreme suffering of the animals that end up on our plates, I’m also becoming aware of the efforts taken to ensure that we, as consumers, remain ignorant of the animal abuse that underlies our relatively cheap meat.

Big Meat is the obvious villain here, but most of us go to some lengths to avoid knowing. We don’t want to know, and we look away. Thank you for asking us to wake up to this extreme and unnecessary suffering.



Friday, February 10, 2023

Killing pigs for food in China and the US

24 floors dedicated to breeding and raising pigs.
Photo: Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

In today's NY Times:

The first sows arrived in late September at the hulking, 26-story high-rise towering above a rural village in central China. The female pigs were whisked away dozens at a time in industrial elevators to the higher floors where the hogs would reside from insemination to maturity.

This is pig farming in China, where agricultural land is scarce, food production is lagging and pork supply is a strategic imperative.

Inside the edifice, which resembles the monolithic housing blocks seen across China and stands as tall as the London tower that houses Big Ben, the pigs are monitored on high-definition cameras by uniformed technicians in a NASA-like command center. 

Each floor operates like a self-contained farm for the different stages of a young pig’s life: an area for pregnant pigs, a room for farrowing piglets, spots for nursing and space for fattening the hogs.

Feed is carried on a conveyor belt to the top floor, where it’s collected in giant tanks that deliver more than one million pounds of food a day to the floors below through high-tech feeding troughs that automatically dispense the meal to the hogs based on their stage of life, weight and health....

Rob's comment:
The story above on China doesn't report how the pigs are killed. The op-ed below describes how it's done in the United States. 

On an early morning in October, I was sitting in a hotel room in Los Angeles staring at my cell phone as live footage of pigs being gassed to death flashed across my screen. 

The footage was coming from hidden cameras I had placed the night before inside the Farmer John slaughterhouse in nearby Vernon, a meat packing plant owned by Smithfield Foods, the largest pork company in the world.

As a factory farm and slaughterhouse investigator, I’ve recorded the deaths of thousands of animals in California and brought numerous hidden violations to the public’s attention. 

But for years, animal rights activists in the U.S., including myself, have been unable to document exactly how pigs are rendered unconscious, and in many cases, die, in carbon dioxide gas chambers like the one used by Farmer John — until now.

Experience told me that whatever images streamed out of the chamber that October morning were going to be bad. But I wasn’t prepared for what I witnessed: pigs screaming, gasping for air, thrashing violently and desperately trying to escape as they slowly suffocated in a pool of invisible carbon dioxide gas.

Carbon dioxide gas chambers are in widespread use across Europe and Australia and have become increasingly common in the United States. Rather than stunning pigs one-by-one, the animals are herded into a cage that is then slowly lowered below ground. 

Since carbon dioxide gas is heavier than oxygen, when it’s added to the chamber, it sinks to the bottom, pushing breathable air up and out. On one of the days I was undercover at Farmer John, I observed the set point for carbon dioxide in the chamber to be at 90%.

Although administering high concentrations of carbon dioxide has long been known to cause pain, fear and distress in pigs before the loss of consciousness, slaughterhouses claim that the process is humane and in line with U.S. federal law, which requires that carbon dioxide gas accomplishes “anesthesia quickly and calmly.” On its website, for example, Smithfield Foods describes the use of gas as “painless.”

But it only takes viewing a few seconds of footage to know that’s not true. Rather, the growing popularity of gas chambers in U.S. slaughterhouses is due to another reason: efficiency. 

With the use of carbon dioxide, pigs can be asphyxiated in groups. The gas chambers used by Smithfield Foods in Vernon, for example, have been in use since 2019 and kill over 6,000 pigs daily.

Although a former federal prosecutor reviewed the footage, determined that the facility’s use of carbon dioxide violated the federal standard and reported the violation to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, no legal action has been taken against the pork producer.

Why not? Partly because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has wide discretion to interpret the definition of “quickly and calmly.” Coupled with the fact that the evidence of animal cruelty in gas chambers is concealed underground and cannot be seen without the use of cameras — which were not present in the chamber at Farmer John until I installed my own — it becomes easy to see why the department’s inspectors haven’t found Smithfield in violation.

Farmer John’s slaughterhouse has long been the focus of protest by animal activists and criticism from labor groups. In May 2020, the union that represents the workers at the plant demanded that the facility be shut down after a COVID outbreak infected 153 workers. 

In November, California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health fined the plant after determining it had not followed adequate COVID mitigation protocols. More recently, the plant was also fined by the Environmental Protection Agency for violations of the federal Clean Air Act....

In May 2022, Smithfield Foods announced it would close the Vernon plant in early 2023, citing “the escalating cost of doing business in California.” 

While this is welcome news for animal activists in the state, the shutdown won’t change the pork producer’s practices. With slaughterhouses all over the country, the company will likely just expand its operations in other states....

Researchers have long demonstrated that pigs possess cognitive capabilities similar to dogs and young children. They show self-awareness, form likes and dislikes, and experience happiness and fear. They’re smart, social and sensitive creatures and have a language to convey a wide range of messages between themselves and to us.

The message the pigs conveyed in the gas chamber footage is clear: They are in extreme pain, and they want to live. You don’t need the Agriculture Department to tell you that. You can see and hear it for yourself.

Raven Deerbrook is a factory farm and slaughterhouse investigator and member of the grassroots animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere. She lives in Berkeley.

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