Too much time on my hands: Commodity promotion programs try to conceal their e-mails

I was in an air band.

I went and saw Styx in Toronto.

styxSomehow, these both seemed like good ideas in high school.

Now they’re together, courtesy of Jimmy Fallon and Paul Rudd.

This teenage reminiscence is a reminder to everyone who should know better: all e-mails should be considered public.


There are forensic IT folks who make a fortune from divorce lawyers finding old e-mails on obsolete servers.

Better, don’t try and keep a deception trail about who-you-said-what-to, just be honest. It all becomes public anyway, especially if you’re employed but a public institution.

And don’t e-mail your junk to anyone Why you’re taking pictures of it is disturbing enough (and those will get found out too).

Dan Charles of NPR writes that an increasing number of people are discovering, to their embarrassment, that their emails are subject to the Freedom of Information Act (is this 2016 or 1980?). Scientists at state-funded universities have been forced to disclose emails that revealed cozy ties with the public relations arms of biotech and organic food companies. And last year, a FOIA request compelled the American Egg Board to turn over documents showing that its president tried to organize a public relations campaign against a vegan competitor called Just Mayo.

If the House Appropriations Committee has its way, though, the Egg Board’s private emails will remain private in the future. This past week, the committee passed its version of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2017 budget. And in an accompanying report, the panel urged the USDA to make sure that FOIA does not apply to the American Egg Board and all similar “Research and Promotion boards that the USDA oversees.”

This language refers to a dozen or so “checkoff programs” that promote beef, pork, soybeans and other commodities. They are the source of advertising campaigns like “Pork: The Other White Meat” and “Beef – It’s What’s For Dinner.”

These programs have long been controversial because they use government authority to collect money for private commercial goals, such as advertising campaigns and research on the nutritional quality of particular foods. Farmers themselves vote to set up such programs, but Congress then establishes them and at that point, every farmer is required, by law, to contribute to them.

So do these operations belong to industry or the government? The industry groups “very much want to have it both ways,” says Parke Wilde, a specialist on food policy at Tufts University and a long-time critic of the checkoff programs.

In 2005, Wilde points out, industry groups argued before the Supreme Court that the checkoff programs were, in fact, “government speech.” At that time, the groups were facing a challenge from farmers who didn’t want to pay for those programs. If the programs were part of the government, though, the farmers could be forced to pay up, just as they are forced to pay taxes. The Supreme Court agreed.

Now that they wish to escape from the FOIA, however, the checkoff programs are emphasizing their private nature. In early April, a dozen agricultural industry groups — but not the checkoff programs themselves, because they aren’t allowed to lobby Congress —- asked Congress to declare the checkoff programs exempt from the FOIA because they “are funded solely with producer dollars, and therefore are not agencies of the federal government.” The House Appropriations Committee has now adopted that view. Even if it became law, the language could face a challenge in the courts.

(The original Styx video can be found here. Great air band performance.)

Always the bugs: Alexander the Great died from dirty water

Styx was a terrible band that I actually went to see in Toronto in 1979.

South Park has an episode where Cartman has to sing the entire Styx song, Come Sail Away, whenever he starts the song.

Alexander the Great (356–323 BC) was killed by a deadly bacterium found in the River Styx, rather than by a fever brought on by an all-night drinking binge in ancient Babylon, scientists believe.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that researchers in the US.. have found a striking correlation between the symptoms he suffered before his death in 323BC, and the effects of the highly toxic bacterium.

Alexander fell ill during a party at the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylon, in modern Iraq. He complained of a ”sudden, sword-stabbing agony in the liver” and had to be taken to bed where, over the next 12 days, he developed a high fever and excruciating pains in his joints.

His condition worsened, he fell into a coma, and is believed to have died on June 10 or 11, 323BC – just shy of his 33rd birthday. Historians have speculated that his death was brought about by the heavy drinking, typhoid, malaria, acute pancreatitis, West Nile fever or poisoning.

But experts who have reviewed the circumstances of his death believe instead that he may have been killed by calicheamicin, a dangerous compound produced by bacteria.

Antoinette Hayes, co-author of the Stanford University research paper and a toxicologist at Pfizer Research in the US., said,

”It is extremely toxic. It is a metabolite – one of hundreds produced by soil bacteria. It grows on limestone, and there’s a lot of limestone in Greece.”