Talking Points: Just Don't Call It . . . Well, You Know

By Al Kamen
Friday, May 1, 2009

President Obama insists on calling the swine flu by its scientific designation, H1N1. Government officials, led by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, are going all out to tell us that pork products are safe to eat -- unless, of course, you are in a plane, train or any other confined location, which is, according to Vice President Biden, quite unsafe.

In that same spirit, House Agriculture Committee communications director April Slayton sent an e-mail late Wednesday to all "Democratic press secretaries."

"If I could make a request, please avoid using a pig in any graphics for the current flu outbreak that you are creating for your website and other media," she wrote, noting that the current flu outbreak is most properly called "H1N1 flu." The moniker swine flu "suggests that people are getting sick through consumption of pork products, which is not correct." She attached Vilsack's statement.

"If you could please try to refrain from using 'swine flu' to refer to the outbreak (and please no pig graphics), this would be extremely helpful as the U.S. tries to maintain international trade and consumer confidence in our nation's swine industry," Slayton urged.

Good luck with that.


Speaking of "pig graphics," we got an invitation to a fundraiser being held last Monday just as the swine flu pandemic was gathering steam in the media. It was from the reelection committee for Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) and urged everyone to "come PIG OUT with him at an "Old Fashioned North Carolina BBQ lunch."

The invitation -- sent before the dimensions of the pandemic had become known -- noted, of course, that Price was one of the "Cardinals" on the House Appropriations Committee. Cost was only $2,000 per PAC and $1,000 for individuals.

The pig theme seemed slightly odd phrasing, we thought, prompting thoughts of "pork barrel" and images of hogs gruntin' and snufflin' at the taxpayer trough.

If you missed the pigout, not to worry. We got an invitation to support Sen. John Cornyn's political action committee at a reception Tuesday. The Texas Republican is inviting us to a "Cinco De Mayo Celebration" and fundraiser to raise money for his "Alamo PAC."

No pig references, thank goodness, but this one also seemed odd. Mexicans celebrate Cinco de Mayo to commemorate Mexico's victory over the French at Puebla in 1862. We also recall the Alamo more as the rallying cry for Texans who eventually defeated the Mexican army and gained independence, which is kinda anti-Mexican.

Anyway, it's at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, 5:30 to 7 p.m. Only $250 for an individual.


The naming controversy has resonated in the Middle East. Yakov Litzman, Israel's deputy health minister and a member of an ultra-religious party, said this week that "swine flu" should not be used to describe the illness, given Muslim and Jewish bans on eating pork products.

He said it should be called "Mexican Flu." That did not sit well with Mexico's ambassador to Israel or the Jewish state's envoy to Mexico. So they're going with swine flu.

How about R2D2?


Thought the 100 Days hoopla was finally over? Not so fast. Seems the "100 Days" checkpoint, established in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first term, is being adopted by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Foggy Bottom issued a 13-page "State Department 100 Day Report" on its Web site listing all her accomplishments.

You hadn't noticed? Well, you haven't been watching. They include : "invested in Rio Grande Flood Control System"; "Consolidated Office Supply and Furniture Vendors"; "Conducted Diplomacy through NATO"; and appointed all those special envoys who have been meeting with people. The best may be "Counteracting False Reporting on Twitter," by using Twitter to shoot down rumors that Madagascar's ousted president had taken refuge in the U.S. Embassy.

We shoulda seen this coming after an unnamed State Department official -- we have a pretty good guess who -- had been calling around to say Clinton has broken records in terms of trips taken and miles traveled in her first hundred days, besting the record set by predecessor Condoleezza Rice.

A Rice aide disputed the analysis on both counts. The Washington Post's tally, which differs from both Clinton's and Rice's, indicates Rice retains the record, with 38 days out of the country, nine trips and about 17,000 more miles traveled.

But, in the end, it doesn't matter how many miles you travel -- it's what you bring back once you get to Gaza, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan or North Korea.


Chris Paulitz, press secretary to outgoing Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), is going private after 10 years on the Hill. Today's his last day. Starting Monday, he'll be on the executive team at NAVA, which is the Association for Insured Retirement Solutions as vice president of communications and public affairs. Voinovich press secretary Garrette Silverman becomes communications director.


More familiar faces popping up at the State Department. Elizabeth Bagley, a former ambassador to Portugal and a former senior advisor, has been named to run the department's Global Partnership Initiative. Kris Balderston, who worked in the Clinton White House and then with the secretary of state for eight years in the Senate, will be working with Bagley.

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