January 2, 2007

don't hide - the snake can see you

Brice Marden, Return I, 1964-65

* 100 Years later, the food industry is still a Jungle. excerpt:

"Nothing in 'The Jungle' sticks with the reader quite like what went into the sausages. There was the rotting ham that could no longer be sold as ham. There were the rat droppings, rat poison and whole poisoned rats. Most chilling, there were the unnamed things 'in comparison with which a poisoned rat was a tidbit.'

"Upton Sinclair wrote “The Jungle' as a labor exposé. He hoped that the book, which was billed as 'the ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ of wage slavery,' would lead to improvements for the people to whom he dedicated it, 'the workingmen of America.' But readers of 'The Jungle' were less appalled by Sinclair’s accounts of horrific working conditions than by what they learned about their food. 'I aimed at the public’s heart,' he famously declared, 'and by accident I hit it in the stomach.'

"'The Jungle,' and the campaign that Sinclair waged after its publication, led directly to passage of a landmark federal food safety law, which took effect 100 years ago this week. Sinclair awakened a nation not just to the dangers in the food supply, but to the central role government has to play in keeping it safe. But as the poisonings of spinach eaters and Taco Bell customers recently made clear, the battle is far from over — and in recent years, we have been moving in the wrong direction.

"When 'The Jungle'” was published, the public reaction was instantaneous. Outraged readers deluged President Theodore Roosevelt with letters. Roosevelt was ambivalent, but he invited Sinclair to the White House for lunch, and promised to send his labor commissioner and assistant Treasury secretary to Chicago to investigate.
"As a result of Sinclair’s crusade, Congress passed the Food and Drug Act, which had been effectively blocked by industry. At the start of 1907, it became a federal crime to sell adulterated food or drugs, and the new law set up a system of federal inspections. Food had to be labeled, and it was illegal to misstate the contents. Future laws would expand on this newly declared government responsibility to ensure the safety of the nation’s food supply.

"In recent years, the momentum has shifted. Since the Reagan era, conservatives have tried to turn 'government regulation' into an epithet. Books like 'The Death of Common Sense,' a 1990’s best-seller, have twisted the facts to argue that laws like a New York ordinance requiring restaurants to clean dishes in a way that kills salmonella are somehow an infringement on liberty.
"But this is an unusually promising moment for food safety. Wide media attention was given to last fall’s spinach contamination, which killed three and injured more than 200 in 26 states, and to the Taco Bell food poisonings, which made dozens of people ill. And Democrats have recaptured Congress, which should hold hearings to get to the bottom of those recent food disasters and to explore what the next ones are likely to be. It should push for larger budgets for food inspections and, as one Democratic-sponsored bill calls for, create a single federal agency with responsibility for food safety.

"The powerful meat and produce industries can be counted on to call on their allies in Congress and the White House for help in resisting. That would come as no surprise to Sinclair, who was already complaining loudly in 1906 that Armour & Co. had contributed $50,000 to the Republican Party, and that the meatpackers had hired a prominent government official 'as confidential adviser as to federal inspection problems.'

"The answer, Sinclair believed, was always the same: providing the American people with the gritty truth that they needed to protect themselves. 'The source and fountain-head of genuine reform in this matter,' Sinclair insisted, 'is an enlightened public opinion.'"

* 10 Most Outrageous Civil Liberties violations of 2006. excerpt:

"6. The State-Secrets Doctrine
The Bush administration's insane argument in court is that judges should dismiss entire lawsuits over many of the outrages detailed on this very list. Why? Because the outrageously illegal things are themselves matters of top-secret national security. The administration has raised this claim in relation to its adventures in secret wiretapping and its fun with extraordinary rendition. A government privilege once used to sidestep civil claims has mushroomed into sweeping immunity for the administration's sometimes criminal behavior.
"4. Extraordinary Rendition
So, when does it start to become ordinary rendition? This government program has us FedEx-ing unindicted terror suspects abroad for interrogation/torture. Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen, was shipped off to Afghanistan for such treatment and then released without charges, based on some government confusion about his name. Heh heh. Canadian citizen Maher Arar claims he was tortured in Syria for a year, released without charges, and cleared by a Canadian commission. Attempts to vindicate the rights of such men? You'd need to circle back to the state-secrets doctrine, above.
"2. The Military Commissions Act of 2006
This was the so-called compromise legislation that gave President Bush even more power than he initially had to detain and try so-called enemy combatants. He was generously handed the authority to define for himself the parameters of interrogation and torture and the responsibility to report upon it, since he'd been so good at that. What we allegedly did to Jose Padilla was once a dirty national secret. The MCA made it the law.

"1. Hubris
Whenever the courts push back against the administration's unsupportable constitutional ideas—ideas about 'inherent powers' and a 'unitary executive' or the silliness of the Geneva Conventions or the limitless sweep of presidential powers during wartime—the Bush response is to repeat the same chorus louder: Every detainee is the worst of the worst; every action taken is legal, necessary, and secret. No mistakes, no apologies. No nuance, no regrets. This legal and intellectual intractability can create the illusion that we are standing on the same constitutional ground we stood upon in 2001, even as that ground is sliding away under our feet."

* "Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth." -- Muhammad Ali


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