Michigan labor protest

UPDATE: No, they’re macing them first. So much for that First Amendment thingie!

Sounds like cops are about to start arresting people. Hey, why not? They were exempted from the new labor laws!

Yay, Costco!

I hate to sound like a commercial, but this is useful to know. If you’re like me, you probably didn’t need another reason to love Costco. But this adds a level of comfort with their food safety I would be reluctant to assume anywhere else:

Costco’s 250,000-square-foot beef plant in California’s fertile San Joaquin Valley is not your typical meat plant.

It’s relatively new and spotless. There are high-tech, hand-wash sanitation stations scattered throughout the plant connected to counters that allow plant officials to make sure each employee uses them at least four times daily.

The massive meatball cook room is built entirely of stainless steel. Even the loading docks, where trucks deliver raw beef, is sanitized regularly to prevent contamination.

Plant manager Kevin Smith was a pre-med student in college who majored in physics. And Craig Wilson, who is in charge of Costco’s food quality assurance program, has a long history of working to solve pathogen problems in meat.

“We do not have customers,” explained Doug Holbrook, Costco’s vice president for meat sales. “We have members, and we are responsible to those members, our shareholders and employees to do things differently, to take a different approach.”

The plant has a decided advantage over Big Beef’s slaughter plants because they don’t kill cattle here, so there are no manure-covered hides or intestines to contaminate raw beef products.

But just the same, Costco’s approach is different.

All meat arriving at the Tracy plant comes with a certificate from the supplier pledging that pre-shipment tests showed no E. coli contamination, something other companies are also doing now. But Costco tests it anyway, and if it tests positive, it’s shipped back to the supplier. Less than one percent is shipped back.

Then the finished products — hot dogs, hamburger patties, ground beef, Polish sausages and meatballs — are tested again before they leave the plant.

In fact, Costco officials boast that, until recently, they did more E. coli testing in the company’s lab than the USDA does nationwide at all other beef plants combined.

In discussing the federal meat inspection program, Wilson said, “food safety is an oxymoron…we (Costco) are results-driven and more nimble than the government.” He stopped short of claiming that Costco procedures are more effective than those enforced by federal meat inspectors.

Costco did have a recall over mechanically tenderized beef, which is becoming known as a dangerous practice.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

This made-for-TV special is still as delightful as when it first appeared in 1983. Starring Loretta Swit, it’s the story of what happens when a group of rowdy, white-trash kids hijack the church’s annual Christmas pageant. It’s based on the book by Barbara Robinson, and it’s still one of my favorites:

Is Wal-Mart lying?

This is quite the ethical dilemma. So many of the people who shop at Wal-Mart quite literally have no other options, so how do you effectively boycott a company for such questionable standards? Wal-Mart has driven competition out of business in so many places, there is literally no place else to shop:

A 2011 inspection conducted for a supplier to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. found serious fire-safety concerns at a clothing factory outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, that burned down last month, killing 112 people, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Yet just weeks before the fire, a majority of the factory’s assembly lines were devoted to production for Wal-Mart, according to documents found by the Journal at the wrecked factory. Sand-colored girls’ shorts bearing Wal-Mart’s Faded Glory label also were found at the charred factory by the Journal.

Wal-Mart declined to comment about fire-safety concerns at the factory, Tazreen Fashions Ltd. A Wal-Mart spokesman said Tazreen was removed from the retailer’s list of authorized factories “months ago” but declined to be more precise or say if the retailer notified its suppliers. Wal-Mart said a supplier sent garments to Tazreen without authorization and that the retailer is investigating if others did.

Uh huh. Because Wal-Mart has been such an ethical beacon, we have no reason to question their statement, right?

The factory’s owner, Delwar Hossain, couldn’t be reached for comment about the deauthorization. He has said before that audits carried out for Wal-Mart didn’t raise fire-safety issues at the factory.

The fire has focused attention on apparent lapses in efforts by Western retailers over the last several years to improve conditions for workers that make clothing in emerging-market factories.

In Bangladesh and elsewhere, Wal-Mart and other major retailers have mechanisms to audit and approve factories to ensure that their suppliers obtain clothing from manufacturers that are safe and don’t employ child labor.

But the nature of the system means warning signs often are overlooked, experts and labor groups said. The retailers’ monitoring typically is conducted by third parties and paid for by suppliers, rather than by the retailers. Wal-Mart’s Standards for Suppliers manual says suppliers are required to disclose which factories they use.

When problems are identified or a factory is removed from a supplier’s approved list, the news might not be communicated to other suppliers or to the factories themselves, according to interviews with executives in the industry.

Since we already know Wal-Mart Inc. refused to sign a pact with other major retailers to raise prices to pay for safety improvements, it seems the Wall Street Journal is not telling us the complete story. But this part also explains quite a bit:

In the past, the government had been reluctant to push for safety improvements because of the political clout of the garment industry, according to industry analysts. More than two dozen garment-factory owners are members of Bangladesh’s Parliament.


I’ve gotten so used to judges ruling on the basis of partisan politics that I’m always quite surprised when one of them rules on the unpopular merits of a controversial case:

RALEIGH, N.C. – A federal judge has ruled it is unconstitutional for North Carolina to issue pro-life license plates unless the state offers similar plates supporting abortion rights.

U.S. District Court Judge James C. Fox ruled on Friday that North Carolina cannot produce or distribute the “Choose Life” plate.
Judge Fox concluded, “The State’s offering of a Choose Life license plate in the absence of a pro-choice plate constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation had filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina in Sept. 2011 on behalf of North Carolinians seeking a specialty license plate that supports a woman’s right to reproductive freedom.

“This is a great victory for the free speech rights of all North Carolinians, regardless of their point of view on reproductive freedom,” said Chris Brook, legal director of the ACLU-NCLF.

Brook said the government cannot create an avenue to express one side of a political issue while denying an equal opportunity to citizens with an opposing view.

Judge Fox granted a preliminary injunction in Nov. 2011 that temporarily blocked production of the “Choose Life” plate; that injunction is now permanent.

This video was made in 2011. The injunction against the plates has now been made permanent.

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