Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for August 25th, 2010

Karen Armstrong speaks

leave a comment »

Via Dan Colman at Open Culture:

America, as a nation, has some big fish to fry these days. But the energy is being focused right now on a symbolic question. Can the nation tolerate the building of an Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero almost a decade after the 9/11 attacks? Or, more to the point, can America uphold one of its core values – religious tolerance? The debate has smoldered on throughout the summer, and we’ve seen the hard right and left condemn the Cordoba Initiative and Islam more generally. On the right, Newt Gingrich has talked about  how we’re facing an “Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization.” And built into his thinking is the assumption that when Christians commit abhorrent crimes, it’s a perversion of the religion, not an indictment of its essence. But the same charity  doesn’t get extended to the Islamic minority faith in the country. Meanwhile, Sam Harris on the secular/atheist left gets in bed with Gingrich when he says“there is much that is objectionable—and, frankly, terrifying—about the religion of Islam and about the state of discourse among Muslims living in the West.” If it matters, the main difference between Harris and Gingrich is Harris’ consistency, which boils down to a consistent contempt for religion. (Partially Examined Life takes a much closer look at Harris’ arguments here).

All of this makes me wonder: What would someone who actually knows something about Islam say about the whole affair? So here you have it. Karen Armstrong, one of the most well known thinkers in the field of comparative religion, a former Catholic nun, and the author most recently of The Case for God, offering her thoughts on the matter above

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2010 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Tell me that this isn’t the result of religious bigotry inflamed by Fox News

leave a comment »

Zaid Jilani at ThinkProgress:

NY1 reports today of a likely hate crime in New York City, which has been the site of an ugly, emotional debate over the proposed Park 51 Islamic community center near the site of Ground Zero. The news station reports that a cab driver was attacked by a young man who appears to have assaulted him due to his Islamic faith. The man reportedly asked the driver if he was Muslim, and when he confirmed that he was, the young man attacked the driver, slashing him “in the throat, arm and lip” with a knife:

A city cab driver is in the hospital after being stabbed by a passenger who allegedly asked if he was Muslim, police tell NY1. Investigators with the New York City Police Department say it all began Monday night when a 21-year-old man hailed a cab at 24th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan.

Police say the passenger asked the driver, “Are you Muslim?” When the driver said yes the passenger pulled a knife and slashed him in the throat, arm and lip.

Both the driver and the alleged attacker are currently hospitalized in Bellevue Hospital. The first casualty of the “Ground Zero mosque.”

UPDATET: PM reports that the attacker will be charged with attempted murder and committing a hate crime.

UPDATE: The New York Times has more details on the attack:

The passenger, Michael Enright, 21, of Brewster, N.Y., hailed the cab at Second Avenue and East 24th Street around 6 p.m. Tuesday, the police said. Twenty blocks north, they said, he slashed and stabbed the 43-year-old driver in his throat, face and arm. […] After falling silent for a few minutes, the passenger began cursing and screaming, and then yelled, “Assalamu alaikum — consider this a checkpoint!” and slashed Mr. Sharif across the neck, and then on the face from his nose to his upper lip, the alliance said. […] “I feel very sad,” Mr. Sharif said in a statement released by the taxi workers’ alliance. “I have been here more than 25 years. I have been driving a taxi more than 15 years. All my four kids were born here. I never feel this hopeless and insecure before.”

UPDATE: Politico‘s Ben Smith finds that Enright is an employee "Internet media company who had recently spent time with a combat unit in Afghanistan filming military exercises until this past May." He was also a volunteer for Intersections International, an interfaith dialogue group that had recently put out a statement in support of building Park 51.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2010 at 12:35 pm

Posted in Religion

Funding of protests against the community center: some from the Feds

leave a comment »

Nick Baumann and David Corn report at Mother Jones:

President Barack Obama has declared that a group of moderate Muslims have the right to build a community center in lower Manhattan, two blocks from the site once occupied by the World Trade Center towers. Yet representatives of a wholly US government-funded outfit have joined the vociferous opposition to the Park51 or Cordoba House project that critics have dubbed the "Ground Zero Mosque." A leader of this group—which receives $4.3 million a year from the government—has even proclaimed that the community center could be a front for Islamic terrorism. That’s not all: the same agency, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCRIF), has been the subject of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint for allegedly discriminating against Muslim employees.

The commission was created by Congress in 1998 to monitor religious freedom around the world and scold countries that aren’t meeting religious freedom obligations outlined by international human rights treaties. Its sole source of funding is the US government; it is empowered to make recommendations to the president about policy decisions related to issues of religious freedom. Recently, the commission has decried Vietnam for its systemic violation of religious freedom and slammed China for its repression of Uighur Muslims. But leading conservative members of the commission have supported the opposition to the Cordoba House, essentially joining those who want to deny New York Muslims the freedom to build their religious and cultural center at this particular site.

In a recent piece for National Review Online, Nina Shea, one of USCIRF’s nine commissioners (who are selected by the president and congressional leaders), wrote that instead of "a cultural center for all New Yorkers," the "mosque" project could be "a potential tool for Islamists"—suggesting it would be a hotbed of jihadism that, among other things, spreads the literature and ideas of Islamic extremism. She compared the leaders of the Cordoba House project to convicted terrorist Omar Abdel Rahman (the "blind Sheikh") and accused Fort Hood and Christmas Day bombing coordinator Anwar al-Awlaki. (Shea’s piece, as of Monday, was no longer showing up on the NRO site.)

Shea, long an influential figure in neoconservative circles last appointed to the commission by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), is not the only commissioner of this religious freedom organization trying to block the Cordoba House project. Leonard Leo, the chairman of the commission and a top official in the conservative Federalist Society, is director of Liberty Central, a new tea party-related rightwing group organized by Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and Liberty Central has organized a petition campaign against the Cordoba House project. Moreover, Virginia Thomas is one of several conservative leaders participating in a 9/11 rally against the Cordoba House project, organized in part by anti-Islam activist/blogger Pam Geller, who runs an organization called Stop Islamization of America and who kick-started the "mosque" controversy. (Geller recently said that Obama has "sided with Islamic jihadists.") To break this down: the chairman of the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (Leonard Leo) is working closely with a conservative activist (Virginia Thomas) who is a featured speaker at an event being mounted by an outright anti-Islam group. [Regarding Thomas’ participation in this rally, see the update below.]

And as TPM reported, Richard Land, another USCIRF commissioner and the influential president of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has opposed the project, comparing it to a (non-existent) Shinto shrine near Pearl Harbor and a (never-built) convent near Auschwitz. (Land says that the USCIRF itself is prohibited from intervening in domestic matters, but the commission has officially criticized a Saudi-run high school in Alexandria, Virginia.)

The USCIRF also happens to have connections to former UN ambassador John Bolton, one of the fiercest critics of the Cordoba House project. Bolton served as a USCIRF commissioner in the early years of the George W. Bush administration, and Jackie Wolcott, the commission’s current executive director, worked under Bolton when Bolton was in charge of nuclear nonproliferation efforts within the Bush State Department. (Bolton wrote the forward to Geller’s anti-Islam book and is another scheduled speaker at her September 11 rally against the project.)

The USCIRF may have internal problems with Muslims, too. In February, the Washington Post broke the news of religious infighting at USCIRF. According to the Post, Safiya Ghori-Ahmad, a former policy analyst at the commission, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that her contract was cancelled because she was a Muslim and affiliated with the Muslim Public Affairs Counsel, an advocacy group. Another researcher at the commission, Bridget Kustin, quit in protest after Ghori-Ahmad’s contract was not renewed. In her resignation letter, Kustin wrote that she did not want to "remain part of an organization that would be willing to engage in such discrimination."

In a message on the commission’s website, Leonard Leo notes that …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2010 at 12:29 pm

Interesting: Hitting kids, a GOP value

leave a comment »

Stephanie Mencimer reports at Mother Jones:

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was first issued in 1989 as a landmark human rights document defining basic rights for children under the age of 18. It’s so uncontroversial that every member of the UN has signed it. Every member, that is, but the U.S. and Somalia, and the only reason Somalia never signed it is that it hasn’t had a functioning government capable of signing. But even that wretched country last year announced plans to ratify the treaty. So that leaves the U.S. as the only civilized country in the world that won’t ratify an international document pledging to create a legal culture that acts in the best interest of the child (rather than, say, treats them like chattel). During the 2008 campaign, President Obama observed,"It’s embarrassing to find ourselves in the company of Somalia, a lawless land." His administration has attempted to revive efforts to get the damn thing ratified after more than 20 years of political wrangling.

But it doesn’t look like the treaty is going to get anywhere on Obama’s watch, either, despite having renowned children’s rights lawyer Hillary Clinton running the State Department. Religious conservatives, especially in the homeschooling movement, are raising a stink about the treaty and trying to get Congress to pass a constitutional amendment that would make it virtually impossible for the US to ever ratify it. Their main objections? Under the treaty, "parents would no longer be able to administer reasonable spankings to their children," the government couldn’t sentence teenagers to life in prison, kids could get sex-ed and birth control if they wanted it, and–gasp!–children would be able to choose their own religion, according to a fact sheet published by, an outfit headed up by Michael Farris, the homeschooling movement’s legal mastermind. The group is dedicated to winning passage of the parental rights amendment.

On Sunday, WorldNet Daily reported on the latest fury over the UN treaty and a renewed interest among conservatives in fighting it. WND noted that 31 Republicans in the Senate have expressed opposition to ratification in a move that seems directly related to the rise of the tea party movement. Farris told WND, "The whole notion that government wants to invade our lives in every sphere has awakened the American public, and frankly has aroused a sleeping giant."

I simply don’t understand what the GOP means by "family values," but it seems to include going out with prostitutes while the wife sits at home (better, I suppose, than the wife joining in), hitting kids, having sex with your best friend’s wife and then trying to pay him off with a good job, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, and the like: a cesspool of human values.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2010 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP

It’s difficult to respect Jonah Goldberg on any day

leave a comment »

Alex Pareene in Salon:

Jonah Goldberg, whose columns are apparently published in grown-up newspapers for consumption by literate adults, uses today’s to expand on a theme that he first toyed with at The Corner last week: Liberals are the real intolerant ones because they make up "Islamophobia" and accuse Real Americans of it.

Here’s the lede:

Here’s a thought: The 70% of Americans who oppose what amounts to an Islamic Niketown two blocks from ground zero are the real victims of a climate of hate, and anti-Muslim backlash is mostly a myth.

First: "an Islamic Niketown"? What … what does that mean? Will there be shoes for sale? Are Americans objecting to the commercialization of the sacred ground near but not adjacent or particularly related to the former site of the World Trade Center, where a complex of commercial office building are currently being constructed? Couldn’t Goldberg, who is Jewish and from New York, have come up with an analogy that actually helped explain to his readers what he is talking about?

The data backing up Goldberg’s thesis? FBI hate crime statistics. That’s it. There were only 481 hate crimes against Muslims in 2001, "the year a bunch of Muslim terrorists murdered 3,000 Americans in the name of Islam on Sept. 11," Jonah helpfully reminds us. ("Now, that was a hate crime," he adds, because he is a truly execrable columnist.)

Goldberg certainly doesn’t like hate crimes, but he finds that to be an acceptable number of them. Although, the ADL presented the FBI’s numbers with the disclaimer that "anti-Islamic" bias crimes are hard to classify, because people were going around stabbing Sikhs and blowing up Hindu temples in the weeks after 9/11. One group, using contemporary media accounts, found 645 incidents of bias in the first week after 9/11.

And as Conor Friedersdorf pointed out when Goldberg first tried this line, even outside of outright crime or incidents of harassment or threats, the entire national media conversation became, at times, incredibly anti-Islamic. Goldberg claims, hopefully (but probably not) in jest, that occasionally "heated" anti-Muslim rhetoric is dwarfed by "open bigotry toward evangelical Christians" on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times. If anyone can point to anything published in the Times that is as hysterically anti-Christian as, say, any random week’s worth of Andy McCarthy’s contributions to the National Review, please let me know.

Then there is the fact that this miserable summer has, from sea to shining sea, featured  enraged white people staging marches in the street attacking all Muslims as terrorist sympathizers, for the crime of wanting to build a house of worship in their communities. And the entire conservative political elite, along with a huge portion of the supposed other wing, refuse to even bother to condemn it. (Indeed, they indulge it! The Muslims in New York are all told to be more "sensitive" to the angry white people!)

So you can maybe see why some people are concerned about an atmosphere of intolerance toward American Muslims, and the possible effects of such an atmosphere. It is about more than just FBI-identified bias crimes.

The "news peg" of that Time cover on Islamophobia that Jonah is so mad about is not some sort of lofty essay about stupid middle-American pigs being bigots; it is based on an actual poll, of the Americans themselves.Some fun findings:

Twenty-eight percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Nearly one-third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running for President — a slightly higher percentage than the 24% who mistakenly believe the current occupant of the Oval Office is himself a Muslim.

Forty-four percent of Americans have a favorable view of Muslims. Even Mormons top 50 percent.

I’m just saying that before we go around congratulating ourselves, as a nation, for not spending even more time vandalizing the property of people we suspect to be Muslim and physically attacking anyone in a turban, we should maybe ask ourselves if we are setting the bar a bit low.

But Goldberg apparently thinks that it’s bigoted against real Americans to be at all concerned about bias against American Muslims, because Goldberg, who does not give a shit about American Muslims, does not think the coordinated nationwide campaign to make people uneasy about them has led to that much violence.

This, actually, is the funniest line from Goldberg’s piece:

Meanwhile, to listen to Obama — say in his famous Cairo address — you’d think America has been at war with Islam for 30 years and only now, thanks to him, can we heal the rift. It’s an odd argument given that Americans have shed a lot of blood for Muslims over the last three decades: to end the slaughter of Muslims in the Balkans, to feed Somalis and to liberate Kuwaitis, Iraqis and Afghans.

Well, if that is how you interpreted that speech, I can understand why you’d find it "an odd arguments." Lots of arguments probably seem odd when you don’t understand rhetoric or logic. But, yes, Jonah Goldberg still thinks America is owed a great big fucking thank you from all the people we’ve been "liberating" in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Barack Obama should spend less time apologizing to people who hate us for our freedom and more time apologizing to people who hate him because they think he’s a Muslim.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2010 at 12:22 pm

Posted in Daily life

Tagged with ,

It’s difficult to respect Abe Foxman today

leave a comment »

He had his day, and is now acting against his earlier positions, which he apparently did not mean. He increasingly seems like a bigoted jerk. Justin Elliott at Salon:

Yesterday we reported on the Anti-Defamation League’s unusual lobbying effort against a trip to concentration camp sites by a group of U.S. imams and a few Obama Administration officials.

And now one of those officials, envoy to combat anti-Semitism Hannah Rosenthal, has issued a response to the ADL in a statement to Politico’s Laura Rozen.

The background is that the ADL, while acknowledging that National Director Abe Foxman lobbied against U.S. officials’ participation in the trip, claimed Monday that Foxman objected only because he thinks Rosenthal should be focusing on "government to government" work. (Though a person familiar with the trip told Salon Monday that Foxman went so far as to call a Polish rabbi during the imams’ trip earlier this month to implore the rabbi not to meet with the American group.)

In response to the ADL’s objection, Rosenthal explained: "My reason for going was simple – Anti-Semitism is growing in places for different reasons, but Holocaust denial is growing in parts of the Muslim communities and must be confronted in order to combat the anti-Semitism that accompanies it."

It’s also worth noting that the imams’ trip to Auschwitz ended with a strong joint statement denouncing anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

Here’s Rosenthal’s full statement:

My reason for going was simple – Anti-Semitism is growing in places for different reasons, but Holocaust denial is growing in parts of the Muslim communities and must be confronted in order to combat the anti-Semitism that accompanies it.

The response to my participation on the trip has been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. As I travel to countries facing increased anti-Semitism, I regularly meet with Jewish organizations, and interfaith and interethnic organizations, in addition to meeting with government leaders. I recognize that this age-old hatred will take a multi-faceted approach: calling for government leadership in condemning anti-Semitism; better education for the younger generation; interfaith understanding and advocacy; and good old-fashioned relationship building. I am trying hard to do just that.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2010 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Tagged with

Horace Silver: Señor Blues

leave a comment »

This seems a tad modern for me. I note it was recorded in 1959.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2010 at 12:13 pm

Posted in Daily life, Jazz, Video

What happens when a nation is deeply ashamed of itself

leave a comment »

Tom Lasseter in McClatchy reports on how China continues to try to keep the Cultural Revolution out of popular memory, just as they work to suppress Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and the associated massacre (3000 people, according to Soviet intelligence reports).


The schoolgirls slapped and punched their vice principal, then grabbed table legs with protruding nails and beat her unconscious. Bian Zhongyun was left slumped in a garbage cart in the Beijing high school’s courtyard. She’d urinated and defecated on herself, and died with blood and spit drooling from her mouth.

On that afternoon in August 1966, Bian became an early murder victim of the Cultural Revolution, a movement that would leave millions of Chinese dead, injured or mentally broken in the decade that followed.

Although 44 years have passed since the "Red August" that unleashed the floodgates of violence in the capital and across the nation, there’s never been a complete public accounting in China about what happened. Bian’s killers have yet to be named.

"Even after all these decades, their crimes are still being covered up," said Wang Jingyao, 89, Bian’s widower. Wang has kept the bloody, soiled clothes that Bian wore the day she was killed. He wants to know who killed his wife.

"But it’s very difficult to find out in China," he said.

Unlike South Africa or Chile, which set up truth commissions to exhume painful pasts, China remains tight-lipped. The authoritarian government in Beijing has discouraged domestic attempts at critical examination of the legacy of the Cultural Revolution.

So even as analysts across the world speak of China’s bright economic future, at home this August there remains a page missing from the country’s past.

Observers say the reason is obvious: Mao Zedong, who fanned the flames of the Cultural Revolution out of fears that the government was growing too moderate, is the historical bedrock of the Communist Party. To delve into the destruction Mao wrought could lead to a questioning of the political system itself.

Chinese official histories acknowledge that the period was bloody and chaotic, but they give little detail about what happened, especially when it comes to individual murders. State museums often don’t mention the event at all.

The Cultural Revolution formally began in the spring of 1966 with notifications at the Politburo, but the wider bloodshed began that August after Mao, dissatisfied with the government for not acting boldly enough, urged more radical action. Red Guard units attacked those with "bad class backgrounds" with impunity, universities were shut down and millions were sent to the countryside to do manual labor.

Other leaders later took the blame for the chaos, starting with the "Gang of Four," which included Mao’s wife, but veneration of the "Great Helmsman" continued after he died in 1976.

"The Cultural Revolution changed the life of our generation completely, and it wreaked havoc on China. It was a catastrophe," said Wang Duanyang, who as a teenager led a Red Guard group in Tianjin, a city southeast of Beijing. "I feel regret. … I have done a lot of things that you may think ridiculous and insane, but those things were done in a particular context."

Wang wrote a book that described the humiliation and beating of his school’s leaders and local officials that he witnessed, and in 2007 he paid to have 1,000 copies published. In the forward he apologizes "to the people who I’ve hurt." He handed out the volume to friends and acquaintances, but commercial distribution wasn’t an option.

"According to the Chinese government, any (unauthorized) book related to the Cultural Revolution is not allowed to be published," said Wang, whose own father, an author, was denounced as a "rightist" during the movement.

Why? …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2010 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

The GOP and Fox News support the cause of the terrorists

leave a comment »

Indeed, they are pretty much making the case that the terrorists have claimed: that the US is hostile to Islam—the entire religion, not simply the insane extremists. It’s like judging Christianity by looking only at the pedophile priests (who, it must be admitted, have long enjoyed the protection and backing of the Catholic church).

Steve Benen:

As conservatives become more animated in their demands that Muslim American face discrimination, it’s becoming increasingly important to appreciate the consequences of the right’s hysteria. As we talked about yesterday, it’s not just the Republican base feeling energized by the "debate."

Frank Rich had a very good column over the weekend, noting, "After 9/11, President Bush praised Islam as a religion of peace and asked for tolerance for Muslims not necessarily because he was a humanitarian or knew much about Islam but because national security demanded it. An America at war with Islam plays right into Al Qaeda’s recruitment spiel. This month’s incessant and indiscriminate orgy of Muslim-bashing is a national security disaster for that reason — Osama bin Laden’s ‘next video script has just written itself,’ as the former F.B.I. terrorist interrogator Ali Soufan put it."

NPR reported today that experts in counter-terrorism believe the controversy surrounding the Park51 proposal may play "right into the hands of radical extremists." (thanks to B.A. tip)

The supercharged debate over the proposed center has attracted the attention of a quiet, underground audience — young Muslims who drift in and out of jihadi chat rooms and frequent radical Islamic sites on the Web. It has become the No. 1 topic of discussion in recent days and proof positive, according to some of the posted messages, that America is indeed at war with Islam.

"This, unfortunately, is playing right into their hands," said Evan F. Kohlmann, who tracks these kinds of websites and chat rooms for Flashpoint Global partners, a New York-based security firm. "Extremists are encouraging all this, with glee.

"It is their sense that by doing this that Americans are going to alienate American Muslims to the point where even relatively moderate Muslims are going to be pushed into joining extremist movements like al-Qaida. They couldn’t be happier." […]

Extremists and radical clerics posted a stream of "I told you so" messages: After years of telling followers that Islam was under attack by the West, the harsh reaction to a simple community center seemed to prove it.

Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric linked to the Fort Hood shootings and the failed Christmas Day attempt, recently released an appeal to disaffected American Muslims, who may be feeling ostracized by American society. Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism research fellow at the New America Foundation, said the fear is Awlaki will gain more credibility.

"Over the past nine to 12 months, Anwar al-Awlaki has tried to promote this notion that the West, and particularly the United States, will turn on its Muslim citizens," Fishman said. "And some of the anti-Islamic tone that has been going around the country in connection with the mosque debate feeds into this notion that people like Anwar al-Awlaki can take advantage of."

Opposing efforts to improve the economy, willingly providing fodder to our enemies, demanding sweeping changes to our Constitution … I’m not sure what the United States did to offend conservative activists so much, but for all of our sake, I wish they’d reconsider.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2010 at 11:58 am

Posted in GOP, Media, Terrorism

Fact-free accusations about WikiLeaks

leave a comment »

I like Glenn Greenwald, though I recognize that some do not. Nonetheless, in this column he quite rightly rips Conn Carroll of the Heritage Foundation a new one. I think one problem is that Greenwald argues more carefully than many people read, so they simply don’t follow, but in the linked column, I think everyone can understand and agree with the case he makes.

This particular column should be read and read carefully. Please click the link and read.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2010 at 11:55 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP

Before salmonella outbreak, egg firm had long record of violations

with 3 comments

But see, the GOP doesn’t believe that the government should take any actions against businesses that violate regulations—the solution, in GOP eyes, is to do away with the regulations. Then everything would work. Alec MacGillis reports on the real world in the Washington Post:

The Iowa egg producer that federal officials say is at the center of a salmonella outbreak and recalls of more than a half-billion eggs has repeatedly paid fines and settled complaints over health and safety violations and allegations ranging from maintaining a “sexually hostile work environment” to abusing the hens that lay the eggs.

In the past 20 years, according to the public record, the DeCoster family operation, one of the 10 largest egg producers in the country, has withstood a string of reprimands, penalties and complaints about its performance in several states.

In June, for instance, the family agreed to pay a $34,675 fine stemming from allegations of animal cruelty against hens in its 5 million-bird Maine facility. An animal rights group used a hidden camera to document hens suffocating in garbage cans, twirled by their necks , kicked into manure pits to drown and hanging by their feet over conveyer belts.

Hinda Mitchell, a spokeswoman for the company, declined to answer questions about its record. She said in an e-mail, “We are focused on doing the right thing with the recall and on our continued cooperation with FDA.”

DeCoster owns Wright County Egg in Iowa, which last week recalled 380 million eggs distributed nationwide. A federal investigation into 26 outbreaks of salmonella enteritidis, the second-leading cause of food-borne illness, found that 15 of the outbreaks pointed to Wright County Egg.

The DeCoster family also has close ties to Hillandale Farms of Iowa, which on Friday recalled 170 million eggs distributed to 14 states in the Midwest and West after scientists in Minnesota linked one salmonella outbreak to Hillandale. Wright County Egg and Hillandale share suppliers of young chickens and feed, and the DeCoster family put up the money for Hillandale’s founder to purchase Ohio Fresh Eggs, the largest operation in that state.

. . .

As the family’s holdings have expanded, so has the list of allegations against it:

— In 1996, DeCoster was fined $3.6 million for health and safety violations at the family’s Turner egg farm, which then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich termed “as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop we have seen.” Regulators found that workers had been forced to handle manure and dead chickens with their bare hands and to live in filthy trailers.

— In 1999, the company paid $5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit involving unpaid overtime for 3,000 workers.

— In 2001, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that DeCoster was a “repeat violator” of state environmental laws, citing violations involving the family’s hog-farming operations. The family was forbidden to expand its hog-farming interests in the state.

— Also in 2001, DeCoster Farms of Iowa settled, for $1.5 million, a complaint brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the company had subjected 11 undocumented female workers from Mexico to a “sexually hostile work environment,” including sexual assault and rape by supervisors.

— In 2002, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the family’s Maine Contract Farming branch $345,810 for an array of violations. The same year, DeCoster Egg Farms of Maine paid $3.2 million to settle a lawsuit filed in 1998 by Mexican workers alleging discrimination in housing and working conditions.

— In 2003, Jack DeCoster paid the federal government $2.1 million as part of a plea agreement after federal agents found more than 100 undocumented workers at his Iowa egg farms. It was the largest penalty ever against an Iowa employer. Three years later, agents found 30 workers suspected of being illegal immigrants at a DeCoster farm in Iowa. And in 2007, raids at other DeCoster Iowa farms uncovered 51 more suspected undocumented workers.

— In 2006, Ohio’s Agriculture Department revoked the permits of Ohio Fresh Eggs because its new co-owners, including Hillandale founder Orland Bethel, had failed to disclose that DeCoster had put up $126 million for the purchase, far more than their $10,000, and was heavily involved in managing the company. By playing down DeCoster’s role, the owners had avoided a background check into DeCoster’s “habitual violator” status in Iowa. An appeals panel overturned the revocation, saying the disclosure was adequate.

— In 2008, OSHA cited DeCoster’s Maine Contract Farming for violations that included forcing workers to retrieve eggs the previous winter from inside a building that had collapsed under ice and snow.

Bill Marler, a Seattle lawyer who specializes in food safety cases and has already filed one suit in the current outbreak and expects to file another Monday, said the recalls would deal a huge financial blow to the company. But he noted that several companies involved in other major recalls in recent years — for peanuts, spinach and other products — have seen their sales bounce back.

“This may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but there are lots of companies with massive recalls . . . that go on their merry way,” he said.

Continue reading.

In fairness, I should point out the United Kingdom, viewed by the GOP as rotten with socialism (where even the conservative party supports the National Health Service and works to improve it), found a free-market solution to the problem.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2010 at 9:55 am

Reagan, Bush, and Rotten Eggs

leave a comment »

Excellent article (as usual) by Jonathan Cohn:

The next time you hear a conservative ranting about big government, ask him how he likes his eggs–plain or with a side of salmonella.

As you’ve probably heard by now, a massive egg recall is underway. A Midwest producer shipped tainted eggs to supermarkets across the country, causing more than 1,300 known infections–with more, possibly, to come. The company ran the kind of factory farming operation that, experts have long warned, made salmonella infection more likely. Its owner had previously paid millions in fines for violating labor and safety regulations. But nobody had inspected the plant and, as a result, nobody knew about the contamination until after people started getting sick.

Outbreaks of food-borne illness are nothing new in modern America. Last year it was tainted peanut butter. Before that it was leaf spinach, hamburger meat, and jalapeño peppers. A new set of federal egg safety rules just went into effect, while a bipartisan bill to strengthen the Food and Drug Administration has passed the House and seems headed for approval in the Senate. Experts seem confident these steps will improve safety substantially. But consumer advocates and sympathetic officials have advocated such changes for more than a decade. That egg regulation has been under discussion since 1999, when the Clinton Administration first proposed it.

Why the long delay? And are we really doing better now?

The answers are long and complicated, so, for the moment, let me focus on just one element: The new standards for egg production. Based on what several sources, including former FDA officials, tell TNR, the saga of these standards seems like a case study in how conservative politics and conservative politicians have weakened federal regulation, exposing the public to greater health risks.

This is not a story that begins with the administration of George W. Bush. It begins, instead, with the administration of Ronald Reagan. Convinced that excessive regulation was stifling American innovation and imposing unnecessary costs on the public, Reagan’s team changed the way government makes rules.

Prior to the 1980s, agencies like the FDA had authority to finalize regulations on their own. Reagan changed that, forcing agencies to submit all regulations to the Office of Management and Budget, which cast a more skeptical eye on anything that would require the government or business to spend more money. The regulatory process slowed down and, in many cases, the people in charge of it became more skittish.

Clinton didn’t share Reagan’s antipathy to regulation. Prodded by consumer advocates and more liberal Democrats, his administration announced its intention to impose new safety requirements on the egg industry. But that happened in 1999, a year before Clinton left office. When George W. Bush succeeded him, the administration’s posture reverted to its 1980s version.

Like Reagan, Bush was skeptical of government interference in the market. And, like Reagan, he appointed officials sympathetic to businesses that wanted to avoid the cost of complying with new federal rules. It was not until 2004, five years after Clinton had proposed the new egg rules, that the Bush Administration issued actual regulatory language. And by 2009, when Bush left office, the administration still had not finalized the rule.

William Hubbard, who was associate FDA commissioner from 1991 until 2005 and now advises the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, tells TNR that the delay was not accidental: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2010 at 9:44 am

Bad Obama traced through time

leave a comment »

James Downie gives a timeline of Obama’s declining support for gay marriage as his ambition increased and he started selling out to get elected:

In the gay marriage debate, President Obama says that he supports civil unions for same-sex couples. But has this always been his view? A look back at his statements on gay marriage, from his days as a state senate candidate until his time in the White House, suggests that Obama’s public stance has shifted notably:

1996: In response to a questionnaire from Outlines newspaper (now part of Windy City Times), Obama, a candidate for the Illinois state senate seat representing the wealthy Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, writes, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages." Eight years later, in a letter to Windy City Times, Obama would say that he opposed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) of 1996, calling it “an effort to demonize people for political advantage” that should be repealed.

1998: Responding to an Illinois State Legislative National Political Awareness Test: “Q: Do you believe that the Illinois government should recognize same-sex marriages? A: Undecided.”

2004: In an interview with Windy City Times, Obama mentions the religious dimension of the gay marriage debate, says he supports civil unions, and indicates that his stance is dictated in large part by political strategy:

Obama: I think that marriage, in the minds of a lot of voters, has a religious connotation. I know that’s true in the African-American community, for example. And if you asked people, ‘should gay and lesbian people have the same rights to transfer property, and visit hospitals, and et cetera,’ they would say, ‘absolutely.’ And then if you talk about, ‘should they get married?’, then suddenly…

WCT: There are more than 1,000 federal benefits that come with marriage. Looking back in the 1960s and inter-racial marriage, the polls showed people against that as well.

Obama: Since I’m a product of an interracial marriage, I’m very keenly aware of …

WCT: But you think, strategically, gay marriage isn’t going to happen so you won’t support it at this time?

Obama: What I’m saying is that strategically, I think we can get civil unions passed. I think we can get SB 101 [which would add “sexual orientation” to Illinois’s non-discrimination laws] passed. I think that to the extent that we can get the rights, I’m less concerned about the name.”

2006: In his bestseller, The Audacity of Hope, Obama, now a U.S. senator, explains his support for civil unions, again mentioning religion and noting the strategic problems that the push for gay marriage poses:

For many practicing Christians, the inability to compromise may apply to gay marriage. I find such a position troublesome, particularly in a society in which Christian men and women have been known to engage in adultery or other violations of their faith without civil penalty. I believe that American society can choose to carve out a special place for the union of a man and a woman as the unit of child rearing most common to every culture. I am not willing to have the state deny American citizens a civil union that confers equivalent rights no such basic matters as hospital visitation or health insurance coverage simply because the people they love are of the same sex—nor am I willing to accept a reading of the Bible that considers an obscure line in Romans to be more defining of Christianity than the Sermon on the Mount. …The heightened focus on marriage is a distraction from other, attainable measures to prevent discrimination and gays and lesbians. (pp. 222-3)

July 2007: At the CNN/YouTube Democratic primary debate in Charleston, South Carolina, Obama discusses interracial versus gay marriage and says that it should be up to individual religions whether they recognize civil unions as marriages:

Anderson Cooper: Senator Obama, the laws banning interracial marriage in the United States were ruled unconstitutional in 1967. What is the difference between a ban on interracial marriage and a ban on gay marriage?

Obama: Well, I think that it is important to pick up on something that was said earlier by both Dennis [Kucinich] and by Bill [Richardson], and that is that we’ve got to make sure that everybody is equal under the law. And the civil unions that I proposed would be equivalent in terms of making sure that all the rights that are conferred by the state are equal for same-sex couples as well as for heterosexual couples.

Now, with respect to marriage, it’s my belief that it’s up to the individual denominations to make a decision as to whether they want to recognize marriage or not. But in terms of, you know, the rights of people to transfer property, to have hospital visitation, all those critical civil rights that are conferred by our government, those should be equal.

August 2007: At the Human Rights Campaign/Logo gay issues debate, also during the Democratic primaries, Obama emphasizes the religious importance of the term “marriage” and explains why civil unions aren’t discriminatory:

Q: If you were back in the Illinois legislature where you served and the issue of civil marriage came before you, how would you have voted on that?

A: My view is that we should try to disentangle what has historically been the issue of the word “marriage,” which has religious connotations to some people, from the civil rights that are given to couples, in terms of hospital visitation, in terms of whether or not they can transfer property or Social Security benefits and so forth. So it depends on how the bill would’ve come up. I would’ve supported and would continue to support a civil union that provides all the benefits that are available for a legally sanctioned marriage. And it is then, as I said, up to religious denominations to make a determination as to whether they want to recognize that as marriage or not.

Q: On the grounds of civil marriage, can you see to our community where [your stance of separating gay rights from the word “marriage”] comes across as sounding like “separate but equal”?

A: Look, when my parents got married in 1961, it would have been illegal for them to be married in a number of states in the South. So obviously, this is something that I understand intimately, it’s something that I care about. But if I were advising the civil rights movement back in 1961 about its approach to civil rights, I would have probably said it’s less important that we focus on an anti-miscegenation law than we focus on a voting rights law and a non-discrimination and employment law and all the legal rights that are conferred by the state. Now, it’s not for me to suggest that you shouldn’t be troubled by these issues. But my job as president is going to be to make sure that the legal rights that have consequences on a day to day basis for loving same sex couples all across the country.

2008: In an interview with MTV, Obama says he opposes Prop 8, but also gay marriage. Civil unions, the candidate says, are sufficient: …

Continue reading. It’s easy to have contempt for this sort of devolution of a sound position. And I do have contempt for it.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2010 at 9:40 am

GOP: Insane or simply operating in bad faith?

leave a comment »

Take this RNC committeewoman as an example. I believe that she is simply staggeringly stupid, not insane, but in denying reality so clearly and obviously, I think an insanity defense could be mounted.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2010 at 9:03 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP

13.5 minutes, non-stop

with 5 comments

The first 8 minutes are not bad at all.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2010 at 8:28 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness

Replating an old razor

with 4 comments

One way to spiff up a favorite vintage razor is to have it replated. I am having several of my razors replated with rhodium and will soon have photos. In the meantime, Dave of emailed me some photos of replating work he’s done for clients. This nickel replating greatly improved the appearance of this Gillette Tech:





I will soon trot out photos of my own razors. If you have a favorite razor with some cosmetic damage, it’s certainly worth considering.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2010 at 8:06 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

I rent

leave a comment »

Scary chart from Kevin Drum (click to enlarge):

Drum’s post begins:

In what Matt Yglesias calls “the department of stuff people are wrong about,” the New York Times reports the following:

In an annual survey conducted by the economists Robert J. Shiller and Karl E. Case, hundreds of new owners in four communities — Alameda County near San Francisco, Boston, Orange County south of Los Angeles, and Milwaukee — once again said they believed prices would rise about 10 percent a year for the next decade.

With minor swings in sentiment, the latest results reflect what new buyers always seem to feel. At the boom’s peak in 2005, they said prices would go up. When the market was sliding in 2008, they still said prices would go up.

“People think it’s a law of nature,” said Mr. Shiller, who teaches at Yale.

That chart at the bottom of this post, constructed from Case-Shiller data, shows the reality: home prices have actually been pretty steady over time. In fact, if you look at a fifty-year period after World War II, home prices were absolutely steady. In 1947 the Case-Shiller index stood at 110, and in 1997, adjusted for inflation, it stood at 110 again.

So here’s the question: why do people think that home price appreciation is a law of nature, when it so clearly isn’t? Here are a few theories: . . .

Continue reading. E.D. Kain comments as well.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2010 at 7:42 am

Posted in Daily life

Mobile plants

leave a comment »

Plants are notoriously sedentary. Even those that move (the Venus fly trap, for example) move slowly and do not wander.

One exception: creeping devil, a cactus plant that crawls along the ground like a snake. At the Phoenix Botanical Garden, one of my favorite places, they keep them in a cage.

They are slower than snakes: they crawl by growing at the head and withering at the tail, crawling slowly along at an optimal rate (in a moist area) of 60 cm (2 feet) a year.

Take a look:

More info here (source of photo) and here in Wikipedia.

Baja California is home to some fascinating plants, including the boojum tree:

Click photos to enlarge.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2010 at 6:58 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Fresh Lime today

with 2 comments

Yesterday’s West Indian Extract of Limes aftershave hit the spot, so this morning I went all fresh lime. The QED Fresh Lime shaving soap, intensely lime, made an excellent lather with the Mühle travel razor, which (based on this morning’s experience) is now fully broken in and providing superb and ample lather.

Three passes with the Pils, still holding its original Swedish Gillette blade, left a smooth face ready for a splash of more lime. 🙂

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2010 at 6:30 am

Posted in Shaving

Fight Club, by Jane Austen

with 2 comments

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2010 at 1:44 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

%d bloggers like this: