Last week, FOX pulled out all the teabags for their newest charity case, a notorious water district in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Meet FOX’s victim of the month, Westlands Water District. Half One-fourth the size of Connecticut, owned by a few hundred wealthy families and trusts, in hock to us taxpayers for nearly half a billion dollars, and laden with farmers who get triple Federal subsidies (crop, water, electricity). Oh, and, nearly 300,000 acres, much of it public lands, poisoned, so severely with heavy metals that the land will be toxic for millennia.

Dan Bacher caught FOX’s breathless coverage last week when Westlands’ astroturf group created a teabag march for Latino farm workers. Yep, the same network that three weeks before was frothing at the mouth to exclude Mexican farm workers (because they may have exposed to swine flu virus that came from US farms) suddenly discovered they loved them their Latino farm workers.

Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter Speak Out for Big Ag

Meanwhile, Fox News, in its "usual fair and balanced" reporting methods, has taken up the cause of Central Valley agribusiness and the "economic hardship" that is a result of reductions in water pumping from the Delta, according to Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, campaign director of Restore the Delta. And to boot, Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity are speaking out on behalf of San Joaquin Valley corporate agribusiness. Coulter was featured on Fox News last night, while tonight Sean Hannity is hosting a segment entitled "fish or famine," again bringing up the false conflict between "fish and jobs."

Lloyd G Carter is a veteran journalist who has been on the California water beat for decades. He wondered why the UFW wasn’t at the "farm workers" march.

"In reality, this is not a farm worker march, ” Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers of America, the 27,000-member union founded by Cesar Chavez, told the Times. ”This is a farmer march orchestrated and financed by growers.”

Westlands’ astroturf group, the California Latino Water Coalition, purports to protect Latino ag workers. A pretty good joke, considering that the tiny ag communities where many of Westlands’ farm workers and their families have lived for decades are the Appalachia of the west. Unemployment rates over 30%, median income less than $8,000, massive pesticide exposure, and very high rates of cancer, infertility, and learning disorders associated with ag chemicals (from Westlands District farmers) were normal in these communities even before the last three years of drought. Because the few hundred wealthy families who own Westlands love their farmworkers so much.

Water contractors point to 40 percent unemployment in Mendota as evidence of the water crisis. These unemployment estimates for towns aren’t a current survey, but are crude extrapolations from the 2000 Census, the last time any real data were compiled for these areas. . . .

Delta water exports were above average in 2000, and local farm employment was at a nine-year peak. Despite this, the 2000 census found unemployment in Mendota exceeded 32 percent, highest of the state’s 494 towns.

Per-capita income was below $8,000, the lowest level in the state, nearly 20 percent lower than Mexico and many developing nations in Africa, Eastern Europe and South America. Not surprisingly, water contractors don’t issue news releases about unemployment when they have water.

As the Pacific Institute’s Peter Gleick points out, and the above graph shows, in the real world, California’s robust agricultural sector added farm jobs even as Westside Water District farmers (whose water rights are junior to other water users) received less water.

. . . the drought has had very little overall impact on agricultural employment, compared to the much larger impacts of the recession. In fact, in the last three years, while State Water Project allocations have decreased statewide, California’s agricultural job sector has grown (see figure). Further, according to Professor Jeffrey Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, rising unemployment in the Central Valley is largely the result of the bad economy, not a lack of water.

Several years ago, so many Westlands Water District nut farmers planted new trees that in the subsequent years the farmers created a "nut glut". Then prices crashed, decreasing ag jobs. Because of this market failure, life is even harder for the people of Mendota than it was before.

What’s the biggest priority for FOX’s new pal, the Latino Water Coalition? Food, water, and air free of pesticides? Nope. The LWC’s biggest priority? Suspending the Endangered Species Act and getting more water for the Westlands Water District, the official victim for FOX’s May sweeps.

Where will the LWC lay down their astroturf next? Washington, of course. With Republican supporter Paul Rodriruez heading them up, just to make sure the jefe stays on top.

. . .they now want to take their plight to Washington, D.C. "We want to keep building the momentum and bring civic leaders and celebrities to Washington," said. . . Paul Rodriguez

What does Paul Rodriguez do when he’s not marching at the head of his astroturf group? Buddying up to Ahhnuld. Addressing his pals at the California Republican Assembly — and showing up as court jester for Orange County rethugs and pols who want more water, for more sprawl. Wonder if he donates his speaking fees to those Mendota farm workers he says he loves so much?

What do the few hundred mostly absentee Westlands Water District owners want to do with the subsidized water they get? They’d like water rights in perpetuity – and to be able to turn around and sell the water out from under Mendota and the rest of San Joaquin’s farm families, netting the owners between 20 and 40 billion dollars. They love their farm workers about as much as FOX does.

What will the rest of us get? We get to play Shock Doctrine. Even though California’s total agricultural jobs increased as Westlands’ water allocation decreased, Gov Schwarznegger and the state’s very Republican land speculators and industrial farmers launched a massive propaganda campaign for a Peripheral Canal. It’s all about the ag workers, of course.

If you’ve seen rain fall on pavement, you’ve already figured out the paving doesn’t make water. One of the Bechtel boys funded a "non-partisan" study that miraculously concluded California’s chronic water problems could only be solved with a Peripheral Canal. Of course, the Contra Costa Water District has already demolished Mr. Becthel’s little "gift". That East Bay water district demonstrated what any five year old knows: concrete on the ground won’t make rain fall out of the sky. In dry years, the Peripheral Canal won’t make a difference.

Where’s the Shock Doctrine come in? Pretending market failure is actually a natural resources "emergency." Taking up that intentional lie and using it to demand suspension of Federal law, California law, and a century of water rights senior to Westlands’. Creating the mechanism for a handful of very wealthy, very powerful people to take perpetual control over the commons, in the form of publicly owned water from state and Federal projects. Water that just happens to be the part of the commons that we all require, every day, to live.

The Shock Doctrine also comes in creating faux emergency demand for a useless huge public works project that would profit the Bechtels and other billionaires while sucking billions out of public services. Precisely when California’s too broke to take care of her people, much less adequately fund capital projects that could actually help her people.

The FOX teabag network: all Shock Doctrine, all the time. They, Bechtel, and the few hundred wealthy families that own Westside may have been celebrating their newest teabag propaganda campaign. Me, I’m gonna pass: think I’ll have a whole lotta Cochabamba. Official beverage of the anti-Shock Doctrine wars. I’ll even buy a round for the Bechtel boys – but it’s not their favorite flavor. Too bad.

Bon appetit.

"Forget it, Jake, it’s the Delta."