Nel's New Day

June 27, 2012

If You Lived in Iowa ….

Photo identification has been one of the controversial laws that Republican-controlled states have passed, resulting in numerous letters supporting this egregious attack on voters’ rights by citing that people need photo ID to purchase alcohol or get on an airplane. Never mind that buying alcohol and getting on an airplane are not constitutional rights, but voting is. Never mind that fraud has been so minimal that it gives no justification for disenfranchising 5 million voters in the United States.

Now, however, a Republican state has stepped over the edge and into a morass of slime. Imagine being required to submit a complete credit history—not just a summary—in order to have permission to vote. Iowa does. Gov. Terry Branstad has changed voting requirements for people released from prison through an executive order requiring them to submit the following:

They must complete a 31-item questionnaire that includes the address of the judge who handled the conviction.

They must pay a filing fee.

They must submit a full credit report.

Iowa’s Republican Secretary of State, Matt Schultz supports Branstad’s restrictions because they “send a message to Iowa’s voters that their voting privilege is sacred and will not be compromised.” He seems to believe that God dispenses this right, not the U.S. Constitution.

Since Branstad’s order went into effect, 8,000 Iowa felons would be eligible to vote if they navigated the requirements; fewer than a dozen have received voting rights. One of those who failed is 40-year-old Henry Straight, a truck driver, who was convicted of stealing a soda machine and fleeing while on bond when he was a teenager. He even hired a lawyer but was still unsuccessful in completing the application to the state’s satisfaction.

Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a national group that advocates for policies to make it easier for felons to vote, said that Branstad is “making your right to vote contingent on your financial abilities.”

Thirty-eight states allow most felons to automatically regain voting rights upon completion of their sentences. Felons in prison can vote in Maine and Vermont. Some of the remaining 12 states require payment of fees, application, and sometimes a waiting period. No other state requires a credit history.

Branstad might want to help Straight get his paperwork accepted; Straight said he wants to vote for Branstad.

If an executive order can require a credit history from ex-felons before they can vote, it can require a credit history from anyone.

April 7, 2012

Meat and Poultry Suspect

Ham is the traditional entre for Easter Sunday—unless you’re vegetarian. That means missing the “pink slime” that has been a part of ground beef since 2001 when they moved it from dog food to people food. Don’t remember pink slime? It’s those ammonia-treated beef scraps and connective tissue that gained fame in an expose of  school lunches.

Famous conservatives such as Govs. Sam Brownback (KS), Terry Branstad (IA), and Rick Perry (TX) have enthusiastically defended the practice of adding this processed “meat” to ground beef although I’m guessing that they don’t eat it. Beef Products Inc. closed three of its four plants last week in Kansas, Iowa, and Texas; and AFA Foods (PA) is filing for bankruptcy. Branstead is asking for a congressional investigation into how the “smear campaign” against pink slime got started. “They are people who do not like meat,” he said.

Branstad has a vested interest in Beef Products: the company’s top executives and workers have given $820,750 to congressional and presidential candidates over the past decade, with all but $28,400 going to Republicans and Branstad receiving $150,000 over the past two years. (Stephen Colbert provides an excellent—and hilarious—account of “the beefstate governors” and pink slime.)

After the USDA told schools districts that the National School Lunch Program will be allowed to opt out of pink slime this coming fall, major grocery stores announced their meat will be pink-slime free: Krogers (the largest grocer with 2,435 supermarkets), Safeway, Supervalu, Shop ‘n Save, and Costco stated that they’ve stopped pink slime; Wal-Mart, which sells more food than any other retailer, said they will give people a choice, but of course they are not legally bound to label it. In the fast-food market, Wendy’s said it never has, and McDonalds said it won’t.

Problems with beef, however, go far beyond the pink slime problem. Because of the nation’s high demand for the product at a cheap price, cattle, whose stomachs are meant to digest grass, are fed only grain which exacerbates its problem with E. coli. An unbelievable quantity of cattle manure is deposited on the land of the factory farms and sometimes seeps into the water supply, leading to E. coli in vegetables. Combine that with the massive amounts of antibiotics regularly fed healthy cattle, and the result is drug-resistant strains of salmonella and other pathogens.

The Food and Drug Administration has a chance to solve this problem. After the Natural Resources Defense Council brought a lawsuit regarding the routine feeding of antibiotics, U.S. District Court Judge Theodore Katz ruled that the FDA must determine whether this practice constitutes a threat to human health. The FDA has admitted the dangers of medicating healthy farm animals for over three decades which includes its own finding that this indiscriminate use of antibiotics can lead to the growth and spread of drug-resistant bacteria that can infect people. These infections annually kill 70,000 people in hospitals.

So you think that after Easter you’ll switch to chicken? Or turkey? Think again. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing a rule that poultry plant employees can do food inspection and replace government inspectors. HIMP, that I call “Fox in the Hen House,” would supposedly save almost $100 million over the next three years while giving $520 million to poultry companies.

Food & Water Watch looked at over 5,000 USDA documents and found extremely high rates of missing defects under the trial version of “Fox” or HIMP. Often company employees miss defects such as “feathers, lungs, oil glands, trachea, and bile still on the carcass.” The average error rate for these types of defects in chicken slaughter facilities was 64 percent and 87 percent in turkey slaughter facilities. In one turkey slaughter facility, nearly 100 percent of samples found this category of defect that had been overlooked. The Government Accountability Office has already reported that the majority of HIMP plants had higher rates of salmonella contamination and higher rates of defects.

As for saving money, one of every six Americans suffer from foodborne illnesses each year, with 128,000 cases resulting in hospitalization and 3,000 ending in death. According to Georgetown University’s Product Safety Project, those illnesses come at a cost of $152 billion a year.

The problem, however, is more than pink slime, unnecessary antibiotics, and faulty inspections. It’s about not knowing what’s happening behind the scenes, and more and more states are passing laws to make sure that no one will ever find out. Iowa and Utah have enacted new laws, nicknamed ag-gag bills, that threaten jail time for anyone working undercover to take photos or videos of food-destined animals without permission. The laws are not new—North Dakota, Montana, and Kansas have had them for years—but they are becoming more punitive, increasing from 30 days jail time to two years. Similar bills were killed in Florida, Illinois, and Indiana while others are pending in Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York and Tennessee.

There is a solution, however. The following came from one of the blog’s readers: “We have a great head of the kitchen here at my school, and we are now using locally produced meat and lettuce in our school lunch program. It’s been great for the kids and great for the producers (the lettuce farm is a smaller hydroponic operation). We have salad and vegetables on every line now. It’s amazing what we’re doing here, so it can be done with some effort, instead of the ick that many programs serve.”

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