When I attended graduate school at American University in 2011-2012, I posted all of my classwork on this blog. As such, much of it is rough – it was my first time learning to do some of these multimedia projects. I keep it around mostly for kicks. To see my professional website, clips and more about me, visit www.rachaelmarcus.com


The state of California wants to remove “downed” pigs from the food supply, but the National Meat Association cites conflicts with the federal law

The Supreme Court is weighing whether California has the right to exclude a certain class of animal – “downed” pigs that can’t walk, in this case – from the food supply, consequently removing it from U.S.

Tourists, lawyers and interested parties queue up outside the Supreme Court for NMA v. Harris (photo by Rachael Marcus)

Department of Agriculture oversight.

National Meat Association v. Harris questions whether California’s “downed animals” law encroaches on the federal law, which has a specific clause saying states cannot pass laws “in addition to or are different than” those set by the federal act.

This case puts at stake the range of oversight granted to the USDA as well as tests the limits of states’ rights.

“It’s really about the national versus state laws,” said Jeremy Russell, representative for the National Meat Association, the meat business’ trade association. “Sick animals are not allowed into the food supply, and that’s been true for a long time.”

The federal law, called the Federal Meat Inspection Act, gives the USDA the capacity to monitor, inspect and, if necessary, deem unfit, livestock heading for slaughter to be sold for public consumption.

California’s law, passed in 2008, says downed animals cannot enter the meat supply and must be euthanized immediately.

Animal abuse sparks a new state law

When an undercover investigation in 2008 revealed employees at the Westland/Hallmark slaughterhouse in Chino, Calif., moving downed cows with forklifts, spraying water up their noses, and repeatedly using electric prods to make downed cattle move, California’s Congress took notice.

The Humane Society of the United States, whose employees carried out the undercover investigation, helped draft a law that forbids slaughterhouses from processing downed animals into the food supply.

The National Meat Association immediately filed suit.

While the Humane Society and the public are primarily concerned with animal welfare and public health, the National Meat Association, argues constitutional issues: The state’s law illegally preempts the federal law, they say.

While California’s law was born of the public outrage over abuse of nonambulatory cattle, the real contention now lies with downed swine.

‘Travel fatigue’ or illness?

When a cow won’t stand, it can be safely assumed it’s seriously ill, but pigs have been known to lie down simply because they’re tired, said Russell.

“Hogs in particular get travel fatigue,” Rosemary Mucklow, Director Emeritus at the National Meat Association, said in an interview. “If they want to lie down, they lie down. They’re ornery creatures.”

The Humane Society, though, says “travel fatigue” is a euphemism.

“It’s very predictable that when you put a pig on a truck in Nebraska and drive it to Los Angeles, it’s either going to die, or it’s going to be so sick or injured that it’s not going to able to walk when it gets out of the truck,” Peter Brandt, senior attorney for farm animals at the Humane Society, said in an interview.

Around 250,000 pigs die in transport each year, Brandt said, and 440,000 more become nonambulatory.

Those downed pigs are especially susceptible to abuse: “The facility has an economic incentive to do whatever they have to do to get them up so they can walk to slaughter,” he said.

California’s law requires immediate euthanasia of downed animals not just to prevent abuse, but also for public health reasons.

Losing the ability to walk is often a sign of illness. It could be influenza, hoof and mouth disease, or salmonella, which can kill off thousands of livestock and be passed to the public through the food supply.

“A state should be able to regulate what kind of meat comes into its steam of commerce,” said Ashley Belin, a law fellow at the Humane Society, said in an interview. “On a health level, they have a right to say that.”

The constitutional issue

More than public health, at issue in the Supreme Court is whether California has the right to remove a specific class of animal from the food supply. While in the past, states have removed entire species from the food supply – dogs, cats and horses, for example – removing a subset of animals, such as downed pigs, is a gray area.

Since California’s law excludes downed animals from the food supply categorically, and since the Federal Meat Inspection Act only applies to animals entering the food supply, there is no state-federal law conflict, Smith said.

Justice Elena Kagan also pointed out that the Federal Meat Inspection Act does in fact have oversight of some animals that ultimately won’t become meat, which means the two laws do conflict. Downed animals can be labeled “suspect” by federal inspectors, separated, and watched for signs of improvement. If they get better, they can be slaughtered and processed.

“If [slaughterhouses] are going to obey they federal law, they have to violate the California law,” said the National Meat Association’s Russell.

Oral arguments hinged on whether California’s law adds “requirements…that are in addition to or are different than” those set by the federal act, which would be illegal.

“We do not dispute that the provisions in the state law are ‘requirements,’” said Deputy Attorney General Susan Smith. “I want to be clear, though. With this law we are not setting up an inspection and examination process.”

“But in fact it requires a parallel inspection system,” Kagan said. “It’s trying to do the exact same thing that the Secretary [of Agriculture] is trying to do, which is trying to remove animals with a certain kind of disease.”

Other justices also challenged Smith’s claims that California’s law does not create new inspection processes and does not fall under the scope of the Federal Meat Inspection Act.

Steven Wells, who argued for the National Meat Association, received fewer, and less pointed, questions.

If, like oral arguments, the justices’ ruling depends on the interpretation “additional requirements,” the court is likely to rule in favor of the National Meat Association and overturn California’s downed animals law on the basis that it goes above and beyond the requirements set by the federal law.

Read more:

The Humane Society’s press release
National Meat Association’s press release

Politicians and experts scramble to find a way to make cuts without drastically reducing food assistance programs or harming small farmers 

Listen to a clip: While Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says conservation is a priority, a $2 billion cut in conservation programs in the Farm Bill is likely. Former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman spoke about the importance of encouraging creative private-sector solutions to save money and protect the environment. Listen to him tell the success story of an Oregon power company that saved $10 million by turning to local landowners.

[audio http://dl.dropbox.com/u/37199971/Oregon%20conservation%20story.mp3]

Listen to a clip: John Reilly (Center for Environmental Policy Research) and Ken Cook (Environmental Working Group) elaborated on the link between climate change and agriculture at the Barilla Center’s panel, focusing on big farm groups’ resistance to climate change initiatives. 

[audio http://dl.dropbox.com/u/37199971/climate%20change%20quotes.mp3]


With the Farm Bill up for renewal this year, farmers, scientists, economists and politicians are debating how the Farm Bill can not only fund, but also improve, more than a dozen agriculture and nutrition program divisions – and still cut $23 billion.

“Right now proposals are flying fast and furious,” said Rusty Rumley, staff attorney at the independent research group, National Agriculture Law Center.

He named crop insurance and food assistance as the two most controversial proposed cuts.

Left to right: panelists Dan Glickman (former secretary of agriculture), John Reilly (Center for Environmental Research), Ken Cook (Environmental Working Group), Corby Kummer (The Atlantic) and moderator Matthew Cooper (National Journal Daily)

While nearly one in seven Americans receives food assistance, the programs still face cuts. Nearly three-quarters of the Farm Bill’s budget goes to food assistance programs, Rumley said, so they’re ripe for pruning.

But, “Do you take cuts from food stamps?” Rumley said. “That’s not a politically attractive option.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) would rather big agribusiness take the hit.

His proposal for the 2012 Farm Bill suggests cutting direct subsidies to farmers, which he says benefit agricultural corporations more than small and medium-sized farmers.

“Americans deserve a better Farm Bill,” he said at a press conference Wednesday, reports the Oregonian. “Current agricultural policy spends too much money supporting large corporations.”

But the Farm Bill isn’t just nutrition programs and subsidies. In fact, the Farm Bill has 15 “titles.” These different categories of programs also include food assistance, international food aid, conservation, agriculture research, rural development, trade and tax provisions, and more.

The budget cuts provide an extra challenge for the 2012 Farm Bill, which must be approved by December 23, said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack at a panel hosted by the think tank Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition on Wednesday.

“In the past, the policy has been developed first, and then [Congress] basically tries to shoehorn that policy into whatever budget is available,” Vilsack said. “I think this time around we are going to see the money move the policy.”

He said he expects cuts to come from the agriculture side but without taking away farmers’ protections from crop failure.

“We need a safety net,” he said. “I think you’re going to see an elimination of direct payments and a restructuring of that safety net to focus on revenue and crop insurance and risk management.”

The current proposal cuts $15 billion from commodity programs, $6 billion from conservation, and $2 billion from nutrition programs, reports ArgriLife Today.

“It’s more than just a Farm Bill,” said Vilsack, “It’s a food bill, it’s a jobs bill, it’s a research bill, and it’s an agriculture bill.”

Optimism remains for the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrant youth despite gridlock and anti-illegal-immigrant attitudes

Latino education leaders and immigration activists are looking forward to getting the DREAM Act before Congress this session, even though obstacles remain.

The DREAM – Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors – Act, would give conditional permanent residency upon high school graduation to most students who came to the United States illegally under the age of 16 and stayed out of trouble with the law. Youth would have six years to complete either two years of military service or two years of higher education to be granted lawful permanent residency.

Political holdup

But the bill needs bipartisan support to pass.

“Most people thing [the DREAM Act] would be very difficult to get out of the House,” which is Republican-led, said Adey Fisseha, policy lawyer for the National Immigration Law Center.

A similar version of the act came before Congress last year and missed making it out of the legislature by a 55-41 vote in Senate.

In June, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a new hearing, but the bill has yet to be scheduled for the floor of either the House or Senate.

The best-case scenario for this session of Congress, Fisseha said, “would be recognition by House Republicans that prohibiting such a large and growing population from accessing education is a no-win.”

‘Like apartheid’

Anti-illegal-immigrant attitudes in the states have contributed to Congress’ hesitation in supporting the act, activists said at a conference on Latino education last Wednesday.

“It’s like apartheid,” said activist Antonio Medrano.

While 11 states already have various forms of the DREAM Act, other states, including Arizona and Alabama, have made news for their stringent illegal immigration laws.

At the Center for Immigration Studies, critics say that the DREAM Act would cost $12 billion in tuition subsidies, since one provision of the act grants in-state university tuition to those illegal immigrant youths eligible under the act.

Supporters say that the act would actually have a positive fiscal impact because it incentivizes high school graduation. High school graduates earn more – and pay more in taxes – and rely less on government welfare and criminal justice, says the National Immigration Law Center.

Latino leaders say they will continue to push for the bill.

“Students just want to go to school and get a better job to help out their parents,” Medrano said. “Why should we penalize those brought here by their parents?”

Adams Morgan’s alternative arts and crafts festival attracted more than 30,000 vistors Saturday, October 1.

Listen to rubber stamp maker Gioconda Padovan discuss her process, product and inspiration. 

Gioconda and son Leonardo, 6, show off her handmade rubber stamps at Crafty Bastards.

More than 170 artists and 30,000 of shoppers came to Crafty Bastards, the alternative arts and crafts fair, on Saturday, Oct. 1 in Adams Morgan.

Despite the drear and drizzle, shoppers browsed booths of punk-rock baby clothes, handmade rubber stamps, jewelry, ceramics and more.

Local food trucks and “crafty food” businesses – those that adhere to the D.I.Y. philosophy – also appeared at the festival for the first time.

Sponsored and organized by City Paper, fair planners said they hold the festival because City Paper feels a responsibility to underground art and “strives to connect the voice and vision of the indie craft community with our readers.”

Festival director Kimberly Dorn said she and her team count this year as another major success.

“Despite the chilly weather and rain, we were extremely happy with the size of the crowd, as well as their enthusiasm to shop,” she said.

For the first time, the festival hosted Young and Crafty, which allowed children between ages 9 and18 sell their crafts.

One of the Young and Crafty participants, Corey’s Green Gifts, won third place in the Craftiest Bastard contest. He makes objects from things people throw away.

“I make vinyl bowls from old record albums…I also make magnets old beer caps I get from bars that save them for me,” he said in his Crafty Bastards bio. “I love the earth and I love making things so I figured why not do both at the same time?”

First place went to Anne Marie Chua Lee, from Maryland, who makes stuffed animals, clothing and accessories inspired by Asian pop culture. She won a $200 Etsy shopping spree and a store makeover.

Second place went to chirp & bloom from Wilmington, Del. They sell girls’ and babies’ clothing made with appliqués, embroidery, and vintage linens.

The crafty kids and adults alike did good business.

“We heard from many of the vendors that they had much selling success,” Dorn said.

From the children’s troupe to hobby groups to international award winners, Turkish folk dance performers attracted a big crowd at the Turkish Festival

Watch an audio slideshow of the D.C. Turkish Folk Dance Children’s Troupe:

Their instructor danced along from in front of the stage, skipping along in her red dance slippers and traditional blue headscarf, watching and smiling intently as the troupe of 9- and 10-year old Turkish-American children performed Kastamanu and the other folk dances they had been practicing for months.

It was clearly a moment of triumph for the Turkish Folk Dance Children’s Troupe as the crowd of over a thousand danced along and cheered loudly.

The dancers backstage attracted a lot of attention for their colorful costumes.

Selin Suboybeyi, 10, is a member of the Turkish Folk Dance Children’s Troupe and has been dancing for three years. She said loves the folk dances.

“You do it with feeling,” she said. “It’s really fun when you do the turns and stuff. When you do it all together…it looks really nice.”

One of the dancer’s mothers, Esra Tercan, spoke of the sense of community the troupe created.

“It’s become a family. They’ve enjoyed each other and they enjoy the music,” she said. “It’s a great way to keep the culture and the language and the traditions together.”

FOMGET, a folk dance troupe based in Ankara, Turkey, elicited cheers from the audience with their international award-winning routine, involving, most popularly, swords.

The Nomad Dancers, under the direction of Adriane Whalen, also performed.

At the festival they performed an Azeri folk dance, but they do dances from up and down the Silk Road, said Whalen. “We do a lot of Persian. We do Uzbek. We do Tajik. We have Afghani dances. We do a lot of Indian Bollywood.”

FOMGET, a dance troupe from Turkey, has won a folk dancing world championship.

Many of the dances told stories.

“We’re doing a dance from a very mountainous region,” said Lauren McGaughy, another performer. “It’s based on what a goat looks like when it’s trying to walk through the mountains. It’s a lot of skipping and jumping and hopping. It looks very simple but actually the foot movements can be very complicated.”

“What is the Turkish culture?” asked Ata Istor of the American Turkish Association of Washington, D.C. “Food. Our flag. Our hospitality.”

And after watching an afternoon of traditional folk performances, dancing definitely fits in there, too.