Creating news

The national media received what it had requested, and now it wants to blame the Iowa Democratic Party for not having the media’s information quick enough.  For years, national and local media have yearned for raw numbers from the Iowa Democratic Caucuses.  There was a reason why previous caucuses did not release raw numbers.  They actually have no relevance.  This year, a delay in providing information became news itself rather than the news the media is seeking.

Before you criticize the Iowa Caucuses, you should know a little about them.  That’s most of the problem; representatives of media know little about them.  You can read the manual, you can sit through one and experience it, but unless you are a precinct captain for a campaign, a caucus chair or secretary, or party leaders coordinating 1600 events, you can’t imagine the heavy task at hand. 

The New York Times, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, CNN, the Des Moines Register, and every news outlet around the world cannot talk or write about the Iowa Caucuses without using the word “vote”.  Let’s make it clear that not one Democratic presidential candidate left Iowa with as much as one vote.  Iowa’s Democrats don’t vote in caucuses except to elect a caucus chairperson, secretary, precinct committee people, and a slate of delegates.  Oh, yes, and there is a vote taken to adopt planks that will eventually become the party platform, the original purpose of neighborhood caucuses.  Iowa Republicans do vote.  However, as Kevin Cooney mentions in his Des Moines Register op-ed of February 4th, it doesn’t mean very much because the real election comes later in the caucus, after most people have left, and it’s an election for delegates.

Democratic caucuses are mini-conventions.  Delegates are selected to advance to the next convention level, and delegates are chosen by those individuals who share the same slant on policies as the person they want to represent them.  Many delegates are chosen based upon the volunteer work they have donated to a particular candidate.  A candidate’s precinct captain is most likely to become at least one of the delegates to move on to the next convention, whether it’s county, district, or state, and the captain is known to most of those in the preference group.  A caucus-goer “aligns” with a candidate.  Those aligning with a particular candidate vote for the delegate to represent them at the next level in the process – not the candidate.

Another way to look at a caucus is to compare it to a ballot petition.  You may sign a petition for a candidate to get on the ballot, but your signature is not a vote.  Likewise, if a candidate’s group must contain 20 people to be viable, and the group can come with only 5 eligible participants, it’s like not having enough signatures on a petition to get on a ballot. 

Caucuses differ from primaries in several ways, but a caucus is actually more democratic.  Listening to news media, you would think that it’s the other way around.  However, there is no disenfranchisement in a Democratic caucus because there is no vote (except as mentioned above).  Primaries, on the other hand, give citizens the opportunity to vote for a presidential candidate, but not the people in their neighborhood who are going to be leaders in their local politics.  As former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neal loved to state: “All politics is local.”  But not in primary states where you have no real discussion about who will represent you in party affairs that have meaning for your county, city, and state.  You can’t connect the candidate with the delegate.

On the day after the Iowa Caucuses, Meet the Press Moderator Chuck Todd said that there are too many numbers to digest.  That is part of the media’s problem.  It wants results, numerous results, and it wants them now.  Wouldn’t you rather settle for accurate results instead of quick inaccurate results?  Isn’t that what the media wanted in 2016?  And in 2012?  And in 2008? And in . . . .  It wanted the numbers of the first alignment, the second alignment, and the final delegate count.  Now that it has those numbers, it’s complaining about those numbers.

What goes around comes around.  Keep the caucuses.  Whether Iowa precincts select particular delegates to its county, district, and state conventions, who just happen to be supporting a particular candidate, should be irrelevant.  It’s politics at the grassroots level – not the level desired by the media.  At least the Democratic neighbors will know that they have a long-term voice, not just a fleeting vote.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Creating news

Bringin’ home the bacon

When I wrote about the possible dangers of having 40% fewer meat inspectors in pork slaughterhouses, I didn’t mean to cause such alarm among readers.  Just be sure to say grace before meals and everything should be okay.

As I mentioned, I still like my occasional bacon and baby back barbequed ribs. 

One of my best memories is going out to the garden when I was young and picking some fresh tomatoes for a homemade BLT.  When I worked at Farmland Foods, the company would have an employee sale every so often.  Each time, I purchased a case (24) of 1-pound packages.  I froze most of them, but gave a few packages to my mom and in-laws.  We never ran out of bacon.

This past week I noticed that Target has Oscar Mayer Bacon on sale for “2 for $11”.  Yikes!  On sale?  Oh, for crying out loud!  Who would want bacon that much?  I had to research to see if this is some sort of joke.  It’s not.

A lot of what I have been reading lately points to higher bacon prices.  It will undoubtedly affect ham prices, as well. 

Before the Trump Administration increased tariffs on the Chinese, China had bought about 60% of variety meats processed by American pork plants.  Variety meats include pigs’ feet, pork hocks, pig ears, etc.  The demand for variety meats kept the value of other pork products at a reasonable price.  Because of the recent trade war between China and the U.S., Chinese consumers were less likely to buy those variety meats.  From my experience in the meat industry, that means that a lot of cold storage plants in the U.S. are storing tons of variety meats that cannot be sold as easily in American markets.  In order to offset the disparity in products sold and unsold, the value of bacon and ham are going to rise.

Prior to the recent trade agreement, China’s purchases of American livestock products amounted to over $100 billion a year.  Slapping a 25% tariff on those goods was a blow to this country’s pork producers.  At some point, if other countries like Mexico, the second leading importer of U.S. pork products, do not increase their importation of pork products, pork producers are going to have to cut back on production.  That could make the prices of bacon and ham in the U.S. rise even higher.    

Bacon’s popularity has skyrocketed in the past few decades.  Fast-food restaurants have discovered that bacon, cheese, and a hamburger naturally complement each other.  Des Moines has a Bacon Festival that started in a bar with a few regular customers and morphed into a massive event needing a convention center, all in a decade.  Like many instances, once a person or thing becomes popular or rare, the costs go up.

In 1943, a pound of bacon cost forty-three cents a pound.  Twelve years later, in 1955, bacon was priced at 54¢ per pound.  It didn’t go over a dollar a pound until 1973 when the average price hit $1.16 per pound, thirty-two cents a pound higher than the previous year’s average of 84¢ a pound.  1980’s cost of bacon was a steady $1.48.  Bacon hit two dollars in 1986 when the average price per pound was $2.12. 

Somewhere between 1973 and 1986 bacon picked up a bad reputation and its value dropped.  A study in the late 70s or early 80s determined that eating bacon caused cancer.  I have a vivid memory of Dean Bowden, a product manager at Farmland Foods in Denison, coming into our work area, waving his hands, and yelling for us not to believe things we read in newspapers.  “In order for you to get cancer from eating bacon you would have to eat 90,000 lbs. a day” to match the ratio of nitrates that those scientists gave to lab rats. 

I got to experience the process of making bacon first hand.  I was laid off during my first year working in the pork plant.  Within a week (I didn’t even get a chance to draw one unemployment insurance check) I was called back to work the second shift.  The plant superintendent told me that he was going to make a pickle maker out of me.  I thought of Vlasic, Gedney, and other brands of pickles, but didn’t know Farmland made them. 

Pickle is actually the brine that goes into bacon, ham, and other smoked meats.  I was brought into a room with huge vats filled with water, and salt and sugar bags neatly stacked on pallets.  I was taught in a matter of minutes how to prepare brine for hams and bacon.  The pickle I made was to be used that night by the second shift of employees pumping the brine into the pork bellies for bacon, and hams for smoking.

A huge vat was filled with water.  A bag or so of salt was added; a portion of a bag of sugar, a small dose of sodium tripolyphosphate to help the meat retain moisture, and two little bottles of a white substance with labels indicating that each was approximately 10-20 grams – not even one ounce.  One of those bottles contained sodium nitrite, a preservative (anti-oxidant) and the supposed cause of cancer.  The other bottle contained sodium nitrate, also an anti-oxidant that helps cured meats retain their color.  Sodium nitrate is naturally produced in photosynthesis; sodium nitrite is synthetically made. 

The weight of the nitrites used in the process of bacon making are minuscule to the rest of the ingredients, and that includes the weight of the raw material – pork bellies.  I had read a summary of one of the reports warning against nitrites in meat.  Dean Bowden was right.  The dose of nitrites given the rats was extremely out of proportion to the ratio of nitrite in pickle.

The bacon cancer scare must have occurred again in 1988 and 1989 when a pound of bacon dropped back down below $2.00 per pound.  It lasted only two years.

The 1990s saw bacon prices hold steady between two and three dollars a pound.  Then came the 2000s.  $3.46 in 2000; $3.60 in 2001; $4.13 in 2004; and $5.14 in 2011.  Wait a minute.  I was buying bacon in 2011 and I can’t believe I bought it for that price. Well, I didn’t. 

Getting older means that you don’t eat the same things you ate as a teenager.  I didn’t eat much bacon since I no longer worked in the packinghouse and didn’t participate in employee sales.  I ate bacon, but the bulk of that was in a restaurant, eating it as a guest at someone else’s table, or finding it inexpensive at a huge meat sale.  Mostly, I avoided it.  I didn’t eat breakfast.  I wasn’t eating many BLTs in the summertime, either.  A few years ago, I picked up the yen for savory smoked bacon again.  Cancer be damned. 

Mature reasoning has led me to make sensible purchases.  I now buy bacon by the slice.  It’s cheaper, it’s easier to store, you don’t need the whole damned pound, anyway.  Besides, you’ll find that slab bacon seems to be meatier.

I know I’m not going to pay $5.50 a pound for Oscar Mayer bacon.  I need only 4 slices at a time.  The counter person always asks me what recipe I have where it calls for only 4 slices of bacon.  There’s no particular recipe, you see, 4 slices fit neatly in the pan. 

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Bringin’ home the bacon

Back to the Jungle II

In the last issue of the Prairie Progressive, Back to the jungle (Fall – 2019 p.4), and in a previous Fawkes-Lee & Ryan post, Back to the Jungle, I wrote about the effect of increased line speeds on slaughterhouse workers. This is the sequel. Briefly, prior to October, 2019, a pork slaughterhouse employee had a little over 18 hogs per minute pass by.  There was a federal rule that prevented packinghouses from running a line faster than 1106 hogs per hour.  That’s about one hog ever 3.2 minutes.  If you don’t think that’s very much, try doing the same task every 3.5 minutes for an hour.  You’ll get the picture.

Now, because of a federal regulation change, The New Swine Inspection System (NSIS), the sky’s the limit.  Hogs can go past an employee at the rate of . . . well, pigs are now going so fast it appears as though they are flying.  Moreover, you can’t just squeeze another employee into that line; they’re pretty much too close to each other as it is – and they work with knives – sharp knives.

But let’s look into the consumption end of the controversial rule.  You may not eat pork liver, lung, heart, and other internal organs and parts, but a visual inspection by a trained and qualified meat inspector can lead to a decision that something might be wrong with the carcass (ham, bacon, pork chop) by closely examining the offal.  When an internal organ shows a defect, foreign material, or an abnormality, the corresponding carcass is likely to have a related problem. 

The new federal rule removes up to 40% of meat inspectors at a slaughterhouse.  Those are good union jobs where meat inspectors check every single liver, heart, stomach, and carcass, ensuring that the pork we eat is safe and clean.  The government, with a nod from the packers, believes that employees of the company can do those jobs while meat inspectors focus on sanitary conditions.  Does it seem as though having a loyal employee doing the work rather than an independent government employee result in any sort of a conflict of interest?  That work includes looking for signs of enteric pathogens, defined as “gram-negative bacteria, such as Escherichia coli (better known as E-coli), Salmonella, and Campylobacter jejuni,” the latter found more often in poultry. 

There are three major companies in the United States that slaughter and process 57% of the nation’s hogs (compared to 32% in 1985).  You’ve heard of Big Oil and Big Pharma; now there is Big Pork.

Smithfield Foods, which owns the Farmland Foods label as well as John Morrell, is owned by WH Group out of Hong Kong and slaughters 30 million hogs per year; JBS USA (formerly Swift) is a wholly owned subsidiary of JBS, a Brazilian company that also owns Pilgrim’s Pride chicken; and the third Big Pork is Tyson Foods, an American company known mostly for chicken, but slaughters hogs at their IBP locations.

All three of these companies are vertical integration food companies, meaning they own the operation from piglet to sow, and in some cases, own the entire farm, the packing and processing facilities, as well as the trucking and marketing companies to transport and sell their products.  Often, these Big Pork companies contract with farmers to produce pigs, selling the pigs solely to the packer.  Those farrowing houses you smell in the countryside are most likely owned by the multinational companies who employ their own personnel to manage them, and pay the farmer who owns the land rent each year or month for use of the land containing the hog raising facilities and waste lagoons.  A farmer may also benefit from the manure produced by these operations.

JBS, with a plant in Worthington, MN, has been the recipient of $62 million in bailout money intended to supplement farmers hurt by the trade war.  JBS owners Joesley and Wesley Batista, Brazilian owners of JBS, have admitted “to bribing hundreds of top officials in [Brazil] and have spent time in jail over the corruption scandal.”

National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) President David Herring, a pork producer from Lillington, N.C. said: “We applaud the USDA for introducing a new inspection system that incentivizes investment in new technologies while ensuring a safe supply of wholesome American pork,”

Safe?  Not for slaughterhouse workers.  Not for the child who eats a hot dog that was tainted with meat that got past the company employee.  Not for the employee assigned to recognize an enteric pathogen and who stops the line to ensure that “gram-negative bacteria, such as E-coli and Salmonella” do not get into the food supply.  Too many stops and that employee’s job will be like skating on thin ice.

I am going to continue to eat what little pork I have in the past.  I like my bacon and my barbequed back ribs.  I also like to support those union families who rely upon those packinghouse jobs.  However, the next time you sit down to enjoy your favorite breakfast meat (sausage, ham, bacon), or dine on an Iowa Chop, or build a large lunch meat sandwich, or go after the year’s best pork tenderloin sandwich in Iowa, be sure to say grace.  It may be your last prayer.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Back to the Jungle II

Wayne Ford invites you



Friday, January 10, 2020

In 2008 Iowa became the first state in America to pass the Minority Impact Statement Legislation.  The internationally known Sentencing Project based in Washington, DC had concluded in their research that Iowa had the highest percentage of black males incarcerated.  As an Iowa Legislator, I chose to visit the Sentencing Project to learn more about their research and what I, as legislator could do about it.

In 2008 I authored the legislation that made Iowa the first state in the nation to implement this historic legislation.  Since 2008, Connecticut, Oregon and in 2019 New Jersey implemented similar legislation.  Last legislative session, seven states-Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, and Vermont have introduced legislation to require racial impact statements.  Just recently Oklahoma filed to implement the minority impact statement.

On Friday, January 17, 2020 at the Iowa State Capitol (old Supreme Courtroom) The Brown and Black Forums of America will be hosting a Minority Impact Statement Legislation 101 Roundtable from 2-4PM.  This will kick off the Brown and Black Forums of America’s Democratic Presidential Forum week of activities. On January 20, 2020 the Brown and Black Forums of America will be hosting a Democratic Presidential Forum at the Iowa Events Center.  The event is a partnership between Vice TV and Cashmere Agency.

Former and current Iowa State Legislators, community leaders, lobbyists, local/ state officials, and Universities  officials will discuss the legislation history, implementation, research, impact and how other states are initiating similar legislation.

The roundtable will be facilitated by Wayne Ford who is a former Iowa State Legislator, Co-Chair of the Brown and Black Forums of America and founder of the Wayne Ford Equity Impact Institute.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Wayne Ford invites you

Living by the river

Yes, it’s January.  Nonetheless, it’s a good time to get out and walk, especially if you live by the river, like we do. 

Yesterday, January 6th, we saw 15 eagles on a two-mile stretch of the Des Moines River.

Beginning at the Euclid Avenue bridge east of River Place, and going south along the Trestle to Trestle Trail, we saw only two eagles.  However, once we walked over the Inter-Urban Trail Trestle, less than a quarter of a mile down river, we began to see an eagle almost every 300 feet.  We did not see the same eagle twice.

We met a man on the trail coming from down river and were excited to tell him that we had seen eight eagles at that time.  He mentioned that on the day before [Monday] there were approximately 20 eagles behind a shed on 6th Avenue above the river bridge.  Not too long after we stopped to chat with him, we saw our remaining seven eagles.

On Monday, Stephanie walked the 3-mile round trip from River Place, 2309 Euclid Ave., under the General Marcellus Crocker Memorial Bridge on the west side of the river, south along the Trestle to Trestle Trail, across the Inter-Urban Trail Bridge, around the bend and south again on the Neal Smith Trail until it connects with an unnamed trail heading north toward McRae Park.  At that point, Stephanie saw 5 eagles – 3 adults and 2 juveniles – sitting in a tree (photo above) along the west side of a man-made pond adjacent to the location where Riverside Park once sat, and is again being turned into an amusement park.  On Tuesday, we saw two, but there were several across the river from us on the south shore.

I wish the photos were better.  The pictures were taken by an iPhone and an Android.  Obviously, the best way to see these majestic birds is to follow our footsteps.  Noon is the best time of day, and the weather should be great for the rest of the week for viewing. 

You can actually get right underneath them.  However, that’s not a great location.  If you’ve ever seen eagle whitewash, you would understand.  You will notice some on the trail if you go.  For those of you who live too far from Des Moines or the Des Moines River, trust us, this is an amazing sight to see.

Posted in General | Comments Off on Living by the river

Challenging times

“What’s your address?” 

“You can’t ask me that,” I said.  “That’s a test, or at the least, it’s a challenge.”

The election official was taken aback and became defensive.  We engaged in a small discussion.  I could see that I rattled her cage and she was going to show me who was boss.  She had my identification; what more did she need?  Holding my driver’s license, she asked me to verify my name.  I hesitated, but in the end, I acquiesced.  I voted and left.

Later, I sent an email to Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald and told him I felt uncomfortable about the process of giving everyone a little test to see if they knew their name and address.  He got right back to me by phone, immediately. 

The Auditor told me that I was correct.  The mishap occurred within the manual that was supplied by the Iowa Secretary of State, Paul Pate.  He also assured me that it would be corrected by the next election, the Iowa Primary in June, 2020.

I brought this up at a neighborhood holiday social this month and received a defensive remark by a person who worked the polls on the special mayoral election.  He justified his position by using the example of college students who move frequently and don’t have a current address on their driver’s license.  So, I asked him: “Did you question everyone’s knowledge of where they lived?”  “No,” he said.  “So, what made you ask some but not all?”  I don’t think I received an answer.

Immediately, I was jokingly criticized for harassing volunteers.  First of all, these poll workers are not volunteers; they are paid for their work at the polls.  Second, poll workers represent the government, and the only way to get the attention of an elected official (the Secretary of State) on a constitutional matter is to begin at the bottom.

I asked my neighbor if he was instructed to test some people because the manual suggested it.  “Yes,” he replied.  I knew because Auditor Fitzgerald told me so the night of the election when he called me.  Evidently, the manual is provided by the Secretary of State, and the County Auditor did not have time to correct the misstep in the manual before all poll workers were trained. 

Iowa Code section 49.78 begins with a statement that says: “To ensure the integrity of, and to instill public confidence in, all elections in this state the general assembly finds that the verification of a voter’s identity is necessary before a voter is permitted to receive and cast a ballot.”  The subsequent subsection spells out how that verification process is to occur.

  2.  a.  Before a precinct election official furnishes a ballot to a voter under section 49.77, the voter shall establish the voter’s identity by presenting the official with one of the following forms of identification for verification:

  (1)  An Iowa driver’s license issued pursuant to section 321.189.

  (2)  An Iowa nonoperator’s identification card issued pursuant to section 321.190.

  (3)  A United States passport.

  (4)  A United States military or veterans identification card.

  (5)  A current, valid tribal identification card or other tribal enrollment document issued by a federally recognized Indian tribe or nation, which includes a photograph, signature, and valid expiration date.

  b.  Upon being presented with a form of identification under this section, the precinct election official shall examine the identification. The precinct election official shall use the information on the identification card, including the signature, to determine whether the person offering to vote appears to be the person depicted on the identification card. The voter’s signature shall generally be presumed to be valid. If the identification provided does not appear to be the person offering to vote under section 49.77, the precinct election official shall challenge the person offering to vote in the same manner provided for other challenges by sections 49.79 and 49.80.

According to the law (above), the only method of identifying oneself is “by presenting the official with one of the following forms of identification for verification,” and the precinct election official may question the voter only “if the identification provided does not appear to be the person offering to vote.”  The rules established by the Secretary of State go one step further. 

21.3(6) Determination of identity and residency.  Proof of identity and residence of persons offering to vote is presumed valid unless the precinct election official determines the proof offered does not match the voter. In determining whether a person offering to vote is eligible under Iowa Code section 48A.7A and Iowa Code chapter49, precinct election officials shall consider all of the information presented by the person offering to vote prior to determining that the person is not eligible. The following are factors that shall be considered by precinct election officials in making the determination:

a. Changes to the voter’s physical appearance or signature,

b. Time elapsed since the proof was generated, subject to the Iowa Code sections that govern the validity and expiration time lines of the proof,

c. Other documentation allowable under Iowa Code chapter 48A to prove the facts in question.

Back to the beginning.  Why was I asked to verbally verify my address?  Did some physical appearance of me standing before her not match the photo or information provided on my driver’s license?  Maybe I gained 10 pounds.  Is it the haircut?  It can’t be the signature since I have yet to sign anything.

If it’s none of the above, it must be a challenge.  What else could it be?  And why would I be challenged?  A challenged voter must fill out a provisional ballot.

The County Auditor told me that some people purposefully submit a provisional ballot when they vote.  It does nothing more than to make more work for the auditor and staff.  I didn’t want to do that.  However, the process I experienced was identical to what occurs if you are challenged as a voter.

My experience was degrading and unnecessary.  It was designed to intimidate, humiliate, and discourage those who may be voting for the first time, or like me, for the umpteenth time.  My vote “is presumed valid”.  The burden is not on me, but on the government.

Voting is a fundamental right.  It requires the strictest scrutiny by a court of equity.  Questioning the validity of some, but not all, becomes a constitutional issue.  It’s profiling.  It’s uncalled for and it is not the law.

I may have been criticized by my neighbors, but we can’t let one constitutional right become watered-down because there might be a good reason behind it.  The best reason behind questioning some government practices is the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of Iowa.  “Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain.”  I’m doing my best to make sure a bad instruction in a manual becomes the focus of conversation in order to correct the possible constitutional violation.

Chicago’s late Mayor Daley and his “Democratic Machine” are no longer something that can happen today.  Voter fraud is rare, and is usually mistaken for voter misunderstanding.  You can’t just go out to the cemetery to register voters.  They must have a Social Security Number.  They must have a legitimate address.  All the information available to auditors and the Secretary of State, the state’s election commissioner, are basically fool-proof. 

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments