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Archive for August 16th, 2019

Why It’s Immigrants Who Pack Your Meat

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Eric Schlosser writes in the Atlantic:

The immigration raid last week at seven poultry plants in rural Mississippi was a perfect symbol of the Trump administration’s racism, lies, hypocrisy, and contempt for the poor. It was also a case study in how an industry with a long history of defying the law has managed to shift the blame and punishment onto workers.

Planned for more than a year, the raid involved at least 600 agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, helicopters, and a staging area at a local National Guard base. The agents carried handguns, wore black body armor, and led 680 immigrant workers—almost all Latino, many of them women—to waiting buses with their hands zip-tied behind their backs. One worker, an American citizen, was shot with a Taser for resisting arrest. Children gathered outside the poultry plants crying as their parents were taken away and sent to private prisons; other kids sat in classrooms and at day-care centers, unaware that their families were being torn apart. It was the first week of school.

“The timing was unfortunate,” Kevin McAleenan, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security, later acknowledged. Twenty-two people had been killed a few days earlier in El Paso, Texas, where a gunman had targeted Mexican customers at a Walmart out of a desire to halt “the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” President Donald Trump expressed no regret and applauded the Mississippi raid, arguing that it would deter undocumented immigrants from taking American jobs. “I just hope to keep it up,” he said.

Despite the fact that the poultry workers were merely arrested, not yet found guilty, Mike Morgan, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, dismissed concerns about an 11-year-old girl photographed sobbing outside one of the plants. “I understand the girl’s upset, and I get that, but her father committed a crime,” Morgan told CNN. He also denied that “raids” had occurred, calling them “targeted law-enforcement operations.” His comments reinforced the big lie at the heart of Trump’s presidency: that undocumented immigrants are threatening and scary parasites who can be kept away with a wall. “The Mexican government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States,” Trump said while running for office. “They are in many cases criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”

As The Washington Post and others have noted, immigrants to the United States are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. Far from being a drain on the American economy, immigrants have become an essential component of it. According to a recent study by the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University, “The industrial produce and animal production and processing systems in the U.S. would collapse without the immigrant and migratory workforce.” The handful of multinational companies that dominate our food system are hardly being forced to employ immigrant workers. These firms have for many years embraced the opportunity to exploit them for profit.

More than a century ago, when Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, the workers in American meatpacking plants were recent immigrants, largely from eastern Europe. Sinclair eloquently depicted the routine mistreatment of these poor workers. They were employed for long hours at low wages, exposed to dangerous working conditions, sexually abused, injured on the job, and fired after getting hurt. In the novel, the slaughterhouses of Chicago serve as a metaphor for the ruthless greed of America in the age of the robber barons, of a society ruled by the law of the jungle. During the following decades, the lives of meatpacking workers greatly improved, thanks to the growing strength of labor unions. And by the early 1970s, a job at a meatpacking plant offered stable employment, high wages, good benefits, and the promise of a middle-class life.

When I visited meatpacking communities in Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, and Washington State almost 20 years ago, those gains had been lost. As I described in my book Fast Food Nation, published in 2001, the largest companies in the beef industry had recruited immigrants in Mexico, brought them to the meatpacking communities of the American West and Midwest, and used them during the Ronald Reagan era to break unions. Wages were soon cut by as much as 50 percent. Line speeds were increased, government oversight was reduced, and injured workers were once again forced to remain on the job or get fired. In The Chain, published in 2014, Ted Genoways wrote about similar changes in the pork industry. And in 2016’s Scratching Out a Living, Angela Stuesse wrote about the transformation of the poultry industry in the rural South, with a prescient focus on the abuse of Latino workers in Mississippi.

All three books reached the same conclusion: What Trump has described as an immigrant “invasion” was actually a corporate recruitment drive for poor, vulnerable, undocumented, often desperate workers.

One of the poultry plants that Stuesse explored, in the small town of Morton, Mississippi, was raided last week. B. C. Rogers, the company that owned the plant in 1994, launched a hiring drive that year called “The Hispanic Project.” Its goal was to replace African American workers, who were seeking a union, with immigrant workers who’d be more pliant. It placed ads in Miami newspapers, arranged transportation for immigrants, and charged them for housing in dilapidated trailers. Within four years, it had brought roughly 5,000 mainly Latino workers to Morton and another meatpacking town in Mississippi, enlarging their population by more than 50 percent. The poultry industry expanded throughout the rural South during the 1990s, drawn by the warm climate and the absence of labor unions. Tens of thousands of immigrant workers soon arrived to cut meat. Charlotte S. Alexander, an associate professor at the Georgia State College of Law put it succinctly: “In the poultry industry, location is a labor practice.”

The immigrant workers arrested in Mississippi the other day were earning about $12.50 an hour. Adjusted for inflation, during the late 1970s, the wages of meatpacking workers in Iowa and Colorado were about $50 an hour.

If you believe the numbers compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the injury rate among meatpacking workers has greatly declined in recent years. I don’t believe them. During the George W. Bush administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) decided that cumulative trauma injuries no longer had to be recorded separately by meatpacking firms. As a result, from 2001 to 2003, the total number of injuries miraculously dropped by one-third. A few years ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office admitted that meat and poultry workers “may underreport injuries and illnesses because they fear losing their jobs, and employers may underreport because of concerns about potential costs.” One study suggested that two-thirds of the injuries in American meatpacking plants are never officially recorded.

Even if you accept the accuracy of the official statistics, meatpacking remains an unusually dangerous and unpleasant occupation, with an injury rate much higher than that of other manufacturing jobs. Poultry workers stand close to one another with sharp knives, repeating the same motion again and again more than 15,000 times in a single shift, slicing birds as they pass on conveyor belts every two seconds. A 2013 investigation by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that 42 percent of the workers at a poultry plant in South Carolina were suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome. The work is bloody, difficult, and full of potential harms. Lacerations are commonplace, and the high prevalence of fecal bacteria in poultry plants increases the risk that wounds will become infected. A study of poultry workers in Maryland and Virginia found that they were 32 times more likely than other residents of the area to be carriers of antibiotic-resistant E. coli. Poultry workers suffer from respiratory ailments, chemical burns, fractures, concussions, eye damage, sprains, strains, concussions, and exposure to toxic fumes. Reporting on the industry for The New Yorker, Michael Grabell counted more than 750 amputations from 2010 to 2017.

Last year, two employees of Peco Foods, which operates one of the plants raided in Mississippi, survived amputations during separate accidents at the same facility in Arkansas—and yet OSHA never visited the plant to look for safety problems after the accidents. Deborah Berkowitz, a former OSHA official who now handles worker-safety issues for the National Employment Law Project, told me that the Trump administration’s close ties to the meatpacking industry are making the work even more dangerous. OSHA’s enforcement activity has declined since Trump took office, and the agency now has the fewest inspectors since it was created in 1971.

The emotional toll of working in a poultry plant can be worse than some of the physical ailments. Koch Foods, the current owner of the plant in Morton, settled a case in 2018 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Although the company admitted neither guilt nor wrongdoing, it paid $3.75 million to workers at the Morton plant who claimed to have been sexually harassed and punished for refusing to comply. The case brings to mind passages from The Jungle, with female employees allegedly grabbed and groped by supervisors, offered money for sex, promised better jobs in return for bribes, and demoted to humiliating jobs as retribution. Owned by Joseph Grendys, a Chicago multibillionaire, Koch Foods was also cited by the Department of Agriculture for . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 August 2019 at 4:56 pm

Fighting entropy: Knife-sharpening division

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Just finished sharpening all the knives I use most often. They seem sharper, but I’ll know for sure the next time I chop up some vegetables. Sharpening is not often required if you have a good steel to straighten the edge after use. I have this one by Victorinox, and I like it a lot. I much prefer a smooth steel to a ridged one, and I want nothing to do with the diamond steels that actually remove metal and screw up your carefully honed edge.

I brought a couple of the knives to a 15º bevel, which is pretty fine but makes cutting vegetables a delight. One was at 16º (the original bevel) and one was at 12º (! – the original bevel: this knife).

Written by LeisureGuy

16 August 2019 at 3:45 pm

Posted in Daily life

“Dirtbag,” “Savages,” “Subhuman”: A Border Agent’s Hateful Career and the Crime That Finally Ended It

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A.C. Thompson reports in ProPublica:

It was late November 2017, and Matthew Bowen, a veteran Border Patrol agent, was seething. A fellow Border Patrol agent in Texas had just been found dead in the field, and Bowen was certain someone who’d been crossing the border illegally was responsible for murdering him.

“Snuffed out by some dirtbag,” Bowen, stationed in Nogales, Arizona, said in a text later obtained by federal authorities.

Bowen, if lacking in evidence, wasn’t alone in his anger and suspicion. President Donald Trump, nearing the end of his first year in office and already frustrated in his bid to construct a wall on the southern border, had promised to “seek out and bring to justice those responsible” for the Texas agent’s death. Brandon Judd, the head of the union that represents Border Patrol agents, declared to Fox News and other media outlets that the Texas agent had been “ambushed.”

Bowen’s work record suggested his distaste for the mix of migrants and drug traffickers crossing the border illegally could be dangerous. He’d been the subject of multiple internal investigations over excessive force during his 10-year career, court records show. In one, he’d been accused of giving a handcuffed suspect what agents called a “rough ride,” slamming the brakes on his all-terrain vehicle in a way that flung the suspect into the ground.

Bowen, though, had stayed on the job. And with the news of the Texas agent’s death, his disgust for illegal border-crossers seemed only to have deepened.

“Mindless murdering savages,” he texted to another agent that November.

Two weeks later, Bowen climbed behind the wheel of a Border Patrol pickup truck and used it to strike a Guatemalan migrant in a dusty parking lot in southern Arizona. Bowen eventually was arrested by federal authorities in May 2018 and charged with using his Ford F-150 pickup, a 4,000-pound vehicle, to menace the man as he tried to flee Bowen and other agents on foot. The truck, according to an affidavit filed by prosecutors in court, hit the man twice and came within inches of running him over. Prosecutors accused Bowen of using “deadly force against a person who was running away from him and posed no threat.”

On Monday, after months of legal wrangling and on the eve of trial, Bowen pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor civil rights charge, an offense that carries a potential term of up to a year in jail. In his plea deal, Bowen admitted to hitting the man with his truck and promised to resign from the Border Patrol. Sentencing has been set for October.

Bowen’s arrest and a variety of his ugly texts concerning migrants and others crossing the border illegally have been widely reported in recent months. But court documents and interviews suggest that his checkered career speaks to a much broader problem in the Border Patrol: its inability or unwillingness to identify and discipline problem agents.

The case against Bowen comes amid increasing scrutiny of an agency that critics and insiders say is permeated by a culture of contempt for migrants. This year, ProPublica exposed the existence of a secret Facebook group in which agents engaged in cruel and dehumanizing discussions about people coming into the U.S. unlawfully. ProPublica has also detailed the failures by the agency to fully reform what critics inside and outside the Border Patrol have deemed a failed system of discipline for troubled agents.

Bowen’s attack on the Guatemalan migrant was at least the sixth time he had been accused of using excessive force during his decade with the agency.

None of the previous episodes resulted in any discipline beyond an “oral admonishment.” Unlike many police departments, the Border Patrol has no early intervention program for troubled agents, measures that would have triggered additional training or a deeper inquiry into Bowen’s behavior and mindset even if his conduct did not warrant formal discipline. At least two supervisors with direct knowledge of Bowen’s work history said they regarded him as a danger but were resigned to the fact that the agency was unlikely to ever punish or even fire him.

“Other law enforcement agencies would’ve weeded him out,” said one of those who supervised Bowen. “Other law enforcement agencies have much higher standards than we do.”

Bowen’s attorney, Sean Chapman, had sought to keep his record of complaints from being introduced at trial. The lawyer had also asked a judge to bar all or most of his text messages from being made known to any eventual jury. Faced with having to explain the texts, Chapman had said in court filings that the conversations were not unusual, but instead “commonplace” in the part of Arizona where Bowen worked. The texts, the lawyer argued in one filing last spring, are “part of the agency’s culture.”

If true, it’s a remarkable claim, for the messages Bowen traded over the years with colleagues are openly hateful. In one, he said the men, women and children attempting to cross into the U.S. were “disgusting subhuman shit unworthy of being kindling in a fire.” In another, he joked about how tasty Guatemalan migrants can be if they are properly “fried” through the use of Tasers. In yet another, Bowen trained his anger on his own agency, calling it a “fucking failed agency” where he and other agents “are treated like shit, prosecuted for doing what it takes to arrest these savages, and not given appropriate resources to fully do our job.”

In texts Bowen sent after he assaulted the migrant, he referred to the victim as a “guat” and dismissed the incident as all but a nonevent, suggesting the only reason it had resulted in any action was because it was caught on a camera belonging to the patrol’s parent organization, Customs and Border Protection.

With Bowen still awaiting sentencing, Chapman declined to speak in detail about the case or his client. However, the attorney insisted that the offensive messages “were in reference to specific events where Border Patrol agents were assaulted or killed. The texts therefore were not intended to be a general comment about illegal immigrants — only about individuals that attacked or injured agents.”

Officials with the Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection would not respond to questions about Bowen’s case and what it might say about wider problems with the patrol.

In November 2017, enraged about the death of the agent in Texas, Bowen lamented that the border-crossers he suspected of killing the agent might spend years eluding the authorities.

“It will probably take them eight years to find the fucking beaners responsible,” he wrote in a text.

Months later, the FBI completed an exhaustive investigation into the Texas agent’s death. There was no evidence he’d been murdered. The local Texas sheriff said it appeared the agent, 36-year-old Rogelio Martinez, had fallen into a deep concrete culvert and suffered fatal head trauma.

“To date none of the more than 650 interviews completed, locations searched, or evidence collected and analyzed have produced evidence that would support the existence of a scuffle, altercation, or attack,” the bureau’s El Paso office said in a statement.

By then, Bowen had already committed the crime for which he’d pay with his career.

“I’ve Seen Egregious Incidents Get Swept Under the Rug”

Bowen — 6-foot-2, 185 pounds — joined the Border Patrol in 2008 just as it was undergoing the most substantial transformation in its history. With Congress boosting the Border Patrol’s funding, the agency underwent a massive hiring push, a surge that roughly doubled the number of agents in the span of just six years. Former officials now say the speed of the Border Patrol’s expansion made it likely there would be bad hires, perhaps a significant number of them.

Bowen, who had lived in South Carolina before joining the agency, was assigned to the Border Patrol station in Nogales, an outpost in the hill country of southern Arizona, where scrubby mesquite and paloverde trees stud the rugged landscape. The station, a fortresslike compound, stands about 2 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, which is marked here by a rusty, 20-foot-tall steel fence encrusted with coils of razor wire. On one side of the barrier is the small town of Nogales, Arizona. On the other is the larger city of Nogales, in the state of Sonora, a major Mexican manufacturing hub that is home to more than 200,000 people. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 August 2019 at 10:26 am

Obesity: Overview of an epidemic

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Nia Mitchell, MD, Vicki Catenacci, MD, Holly R. Wyatt, MD, and James O. Hill, PhD published a very interesting study. It’s chart-heavy, so click the link. Here’s the abstract:

Despite growing recognition of the problem, the obesity epidemic continues in the U.S., and obesity rates are increasing around the world. The latest estimates are that approximately 34% of adults and 15–20% of children and adolescents in the U.S. are obese. Obesity affects every segment of the U.S. population. Obesity increases the risk of many chronic diseases in children and adults. The epidemic of obesity arose gradually over time, apparently from a small, consistent degree of positive energy balance. Substantial public health efforts are being directed toward addressing obesity, but there is not yet clear evidence of success. Because of the complexity of obesity, it is likely to be one of the most difficult public health issues our society has faced.

The obesity epidemic in the U.S. continues. In the last few years, obesity rates have not increased significantly in some U.S. subpopulations, but it is too soon to tell whether this means that the epidemic has reached maximum levels in these populations. There is clear evidence that obesity rates are increasing in much of the rest of the world. A large amount of research is now directed toward better understanding and treating obesity, and substantial public health efforts are directed toward reducing obesity rates. To date, however, there is little evidence of success in reversing the epidemic in the U.S.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 August 2019 at 9:37 am

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

‘We are dropping like flies.’ Ex-fighter pilots push for earlier cancer screenings

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Tara Copp reports for McClatchy:

Former Air Force and Navy fighter pilots are calling on the military to begin cancer screenings for aviators as young as 30 because of an increase in deaths from the disease that they suspect may be tied to radiation emitted in the cockpit.

“We are dropping like flies in our 50s from aggressive cancers,” said retired Air Force Col. Eric Nelson, a former F-15E Strike Eagle weapons officer. He cited prostate and esophageal cancers, lymphoma, and glioblastomas that have struck fellow pilots he knew, commanded or flew with.

Nelson’s prostate cancer was first detected at age 48, just three months after he retired from the Air Force. In his career he has more than 2,600 flying hours, including commanding the 455th Air Expeditionary Group in Bagram, Afghanistan, and as commander of six squadrons of F-15E fighter jets at the 4th Operations Group at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina.

Last month McClatchy reported on a new Air Force study that reviewed the risk for prostate cancers among its fighter pilots and new Veterans Health Administration data showing that the rate of reported cases of prostate cancers per year among veterans using the VA health care system across all services has risen almost 16 percent since fiscal year 2000.

The Air Force study also looked at cockpit exposure, finding that “pilots have greater environmental exposure to ultraviolet and ionizing radiation … (fighter pilots) have unique intra-cockpit exposures to non-ionizing radiation.”

Retired Navy Cmdr. Mike Crosby served as a radar intercept officer in F-14 fighter jets from 1984 to 1997, accumulating over 2,000 flight hours. He started Veterans Prostate Cancer Awareness Inc. in 2016 after his own prostate cancer diagnosis at age 55.

“I think there’s been a lot of avoidance in addressing this issue,” he said. Crosby and other pilots who contacted McClatchy said they suspect the cancers in their community may be linked to prolonged exposure in the cockpit to radiation from the radar systems on their advanced jets, or other sources such as from cockpit oxygen generation systems.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that exposure to some types of radiation can cause cancer, however to date there has been no link established between the specific radiation emitted from radars on these advanced jets and the illnesses pilots are now seeing.

Navy and Air Force pilots told McClatchy about their battles with cancer, their frustrations about what they saw as the limitations of the Air Force study, and about former pilots who have died from cancer.

“When you’re 30 years old you need to start screening for prostate cancer, even if it comes out of your own pocket,” Nelson said. “You need to see a urologist once a year. Not your primary care physician, not your flight doc. Pay the money and stick around for your great-grandkids.”

If the military would begin screening for cancer earlier, “that would save lives,” Nelson said. The military’s health care system, TRICARE, currently covers prostate cancer screenings at age 50 for service members with no family history of the disease, and as young as age 40 if there is a family history of the disease in two or more family members. The pilots who spoke with McClatchy said they did not have a family history of prostate cancer when they were diagnosed.

Retired Navy Cmdr. Thomas Hill was a career F-4 and F-14 pilot and squadron commanding officer with more than 3,600 flight hours and more than 960 aircraft carrier landings. Hill was 52 when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. In December 2011, at age 60, he learned he also had esophageal cancer.

Hill has spent the last two years tracking premature deaths or cancers among former commanding officers of F-14 squadrons. So far he’s found more than a dozen who have either been diagnosed or have died from the disease.

“God, they’re all my friends,” he said.

What has frustrated some pilots is that the government has looked into the connection between military service and cancer rates for years, but with mixed results.

For example, a 2009 peer-reviewed study published by the American Association for Cancer Research looked at cancer rates among service members from 1990 to 2004 and reported in 2009 that “prostate cancer rates in the military were twice those in the general population, and breast cancer rates were 20% to 40% higher.”

However, a 2011 study published in the peer-reviewed journal “Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine” found no significant difference in prostate cancer rates between pilots and non-pilots in the military. It’s the same conclusion that the Air Force study found.

“The Air Force did not ask the right question,” Hill said of the study, which like the 2011 aviation journal review compared cancer rates between pilots and non-pilots but largely did not look at what happened to the pilots’ health after their military careers. The Air Force said its study was limited by lack of access to pilots’ health records after they separated from the military.

“If they are really going to protect the people who have gone out and served, they need to look at the guys’ health 20 years after they have finished their military careers,” Hill said. His own informal review of fellow pilots showed a similar pattern: cancers usually surfaced about 15 to 20 years after pilots left the military, which would not have been captured by the Air Force review.

Derek Kaufman, a spokesman for Air Force Materiel Command, said further studies are under consideration. “We have presented potential options for a follow-up study to the Air Force Medical Readiness Agency,” Kaufman said. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 August 2019 at 9:29 am

Posted in Daily life, Health, Military

Chiseled Face’s Sherlock and another fine lather

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I’m starting to think that a key factor in creating an exceptional lather is using a good synthetic brush. Since synthetic brushes tend to harbor a lot of water, it’s important to give them a couple of good shakes before loading the brush, otherwise excess water will flood the puck and hinder loading. But if you do eliminate excess water, modern synthetic brushes produce an excellent lather.

The other key factor is, of course, the soap, and Chiseled Face makes a good soap, though today’s Sherlock has no hempseed oil. Sherlock now has these ingredients:

Stearic Acid, Aloe Vera Juice, Beef Tallow, Coconut Oil, Castor Oil, Glycerin, Fragrance, Mango Butter, Avocado Oil, Silk Powder

Perhaps the giving up of hempseed oil is like the eponymous character’s giving up of cocaine. The fragrance of this soap is extremely nice: “a warm tobacco based scent blended with toasted caramel, black pepper, moist dirt, and finished with a touch of leather, moss, mandarin, honey and rose.”

The razor today is the wonderful Baili BR171, which did a really outstanding job: extremely comfortable, extremely efficient, and very nice to hold. I do like that handle. It’s just $6 and it feels and performs way about its price class. This would be a good razor to have on hand to give to a buddy who’s expressed an interest in enjoying (instead of enduring) his morning shave.

A good splash of Sherlock, and we are facing the weekend, dead ahead.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 August 2019 at 8:25 am

Posted in Shaving

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