Open Letter From the Future: Marty McFly’s Favorite Things About the Newt Gingrich Presidency

Courtesy of Gage Skidmore’s photostream on Flickr.com. Unlike Back to the Future, the Gingrich Presidency can’t be a trilogy.Hey everybody, Marty McFly here on my way back to 1985from the future. I just thought I’d stop by to auction off a few pairs of Nike Mags and let you guys know what a treat you’re in for over the next 8 years. Mr. President Gingrich was awesome. Sorry, will be awesome. Here are my ten favorite things about the Gingrich Presidency:

He abolished the legal profession. The justice system works so much more efficiently in the future. Although I suppose this might not be your favorite thing.

He saved the institution of marriage. By protecting marriage from homosexual subterfuge and leading with his own shining example, Gingrich caused marriage rates to soar, divorce rates to plummet, and the nuclear family to be the unit of American prosperity once more.

He balanced the budget. Gingrich showed that it was not the Internet boom or President Clinton, but his own influence in the House of Representatives that balanced the budget in the late 1990s. Here he did it by cutting taxes on high earners and increasing military spending.

He prevented Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. As soon as Gingrich was elected, the people of Iran all pooped in their pants and then staged a protest in Tehran, persuading the country to abandon its weapons program.

He colonized the moon. I don’t even know what to say about this one. 13,000 Americans live in the new state of Armstrong on the Moon. Take that JFK.

He eliminated poverty. There are no more poor people in the United States, and Gingrich didn’t have to kill them all to do it. He patiently explained that in order to receive goods or services, you must trade “money” for them, and you can earn “money” by working at a job. Once the poor people realized this, they all went out and got jobs and the economy was fixed.

He fixed health care. Without ObamaCare strangling health insurance companies and preventing providers from offering the care patients need, coverage went up, costs went down, and everyone was happy with our health insurance system, just like it was before 2009.

He ended immigration. Turns out all he had to do was issue an executive order. Poof. The lack of immigration ended unemployment, since the immigrants were no longer stealing all those enticing migrant farmer jobs from honest Americans. Silicon Valley also loved this turn of events, because the lack of immigrants freed up the software companies to hire all the eminently qualified Americans.

The open Presidency. A year into his second term, Gingrich announced that he was dabbling as Supreme Leader of China on the side. He said they were an up-and-coming country, and he really thought we’d understand, and this doesn’t mean he loves us any less, and there really isn’t any reason he can’t do both. The whole situation has worked out great for everyone.

Hoverboards. Obviously. 

Grade Delay Frustrates Students, Job Opportunities

Students line up outside the registrars office Jan. 26 to get printed copies of their mid-year grades.Blame it on the ‘Net.

A website outage at the end of finals week caused the delay in fall semester grades, according to the Office of the Registrar. Originally, first-semester grades were to be released on Thursday, Jan. 19; however, the internet outage extended the deadline for take-home exams by four days. The deadline for professors to submit grades was also moved from Jan. 13 to Jan. 17, with a standing three-day grace period before penalties were instituted.  When all the rescheduling was done, the revised date for posting fall semester grades was set for Jan. 24.

It’s unclear, however, if all staff were made aware of the revised date.  A posting on Symplicity referenced the Jan. 19 date for grades, and students reported that the Office of Career Services and the Registrar’s office told them to expect grades on that date.  By the time the Registrar sent an email Jan.17 with the revised timeline, students who had relayed the previous date to employers scrambled to backtrack.

Georgetown’s grade deadline is typical compared to other Top 14 law schools – with varying grade release schedules from Jan. 11 through Jan. 27.  While OCS maintains that employers do not emphasize first semester grades for 1Ls, some say the delay in grades has already cost them potential job opportunities.

“Luckily, I was able to find employment over the summer, but two firms back home in Phoenix told me the reason I didn’t make it farther in the application process was because of the delay in grades,” said William Moran II, a 1L student in section 3.

The delay in fall semester grades also meant that upperclassmen did not receive grades in time for the add/drop deadline.  The JD Program considered extending the add/drop deadline at first, but ultimately decided that unless the start of classes could be pushed back as well, the extension would be disruptive to faculty schedules.

“Faculty wanted to have classes settled. Some professors have mandatory attendance policies and other requirements, but we have been working with students on a case by case basis,” said Denise Sangster, an official from the Registrars.

The office expects that barring any unforeseen circumstances 2Ls and 3Ls will receive fall semester grades before the add/drop deadline next school year.

1Ls were served an extra dose of frustration when their fall semester grades were posted, without mid-year scores for their year-long courses. According to the Registrar’s Office, letters detailing mid-year scores were prepped and dropped off in the mailroom on Friday, Jan. 20 and expected to be in students’ mailboxes by Tuesday – the same day final grades were posted for semester-long classes.

When letters still had not arrived by Thursday, Jan. 26, students lined up outside the registrars to get printed copies of their scores.

The registrars attributed the delay to a staff shortage in the mail room, and an error in postage appears to have postponed delivery even more.  As of Sunday, Jan. 29, some students still had not received some of their mid-year scores.  The administration says this year’s postal service troubles highlight the need to look for other options in providing mid-year scores, including sending them out electronically.

“We understand that we have to do better and next year we will,” said Julie O’Sullivan, Associate Dean of the J.D. Program.

And students anxiously await what solutions the administration has to offer, while adding a few of their own.

“Move up the fall semester week, put the right postage on the mail, and have the administration call alumni base to make a difference,” said Moran.  “If I went to a state school, I wouldn’t have a better education, but I would have had a better job and saved some money.  That isn’t how it should be and the law school can still change that.”

Do you have a question, comment or suggestion? Contact the registrar’s office at lawreg@law.georgetown.edu.

Controversial Grading Policy Rescinded

The proposed changes to grading policy could result in failing grades.

On Jan. 17, the Registrar, Denise Sangster, sent an email to the Law Center student body that announced an “[i]mportant change to the Law Center’s grading policy.” There had been a system of tiered grade sanctions applied to take-home exams that were turned in late, culminating in a D for take home exams submitted more than sixty minutes late, or a failing grade if the take home exam was never submitted. There had also been a policy whereby a student who did not show up for an in-class exam, download a take home exam, or turn in a final paper would receive an automatic W (withdrawal) instead of a failing grade. Under the new policies, the sanction for turning in a take home exam more than two hours late and failure to take a final exam or turn in a final paper was to be a failing grade.

Subsequently, the changes announced on Jan. 17 were suspended. Students were notified that the new policies were not in effect by a Jan. 25 email from the Registrar.

According to the Jan. 17 email and confirmation by members of the Academic Standards Committee, that student-faculty committee approved the new policies. The committee approved the new policies on Nov. 17, 2011 after a reviewing a memorandum to the committee from Assistant Dean for J.D. Academic Services Sally McCarthy and Director of the J.D. Academic Program Margaret Gerety. The policy changes had not, however, received the approval of the entire faculty.

The submission to the faculty, however, presumably because of an administrative mistake, did not happen before implementation of the new policies. When the submission did happen, professors raised objections to the change, necessitating that the policy change be debated by the entire faculty. Since the policy had already been implemented, the Registrar had to rescind that implementation.

The memorandum from McCarthy and Gerety justifies the change in policy from giving Ws to giving Fs for exams not taken or papers not turned in by reference to a meeting with a student who timely submitted a paper that did not meet the course requirements, for which he was given an F. The student complained that someone who had not handed in anything would have received a W that would not have had the same adverse effect on his or her GPA as an F. Gerety reiterated this reason for the policy change in more general terms when she was interviewed by the Law Weekly, along with O’Sullivan and McCarthy.

O’Sullivan observed that the sanctions policy for late take home exams had been in place for 12 years after a faculty vote approving it. An Oct. 24, 2000, memorandum adopted by resolution by the SBA, however, indicates that the SBA opposed the policy on several grounds. First, the policy appeared to be crafted to alleviate inconvenience to faculty with no mention of students’ concerns. Students on the committee that drafted the late take-home sanctions told the SBA that all of their proposals had been voted down by faculty members. Second, the SBA opposed the ambiguity of the exceptions to “strict liability” under the policy—“documented medical or other emergencies.”

Professor Gary Peller told the Law Weekly, “Many faculty think that the sanctions are too harsh and severe and should be rethought.” Peller opposed the late take-home sanctions policy generally in an email to a group of Student Bar Association representatives on Jan. 29.

One of Peller’s concerns is that, when sanctions are applied to students’ final grades, professors are usually not told about it. Peller says that this awarding of grades by administrators instead of professors violates ethical guidelines of the American Association of University professors and can leave him with inaccurate information about students’ performances in his class when he reviews their final grades in preparation to give references.

Peller also argues that grades are understood to reflect “academic performance as assessed by the listed professor” and that using them to punish “non-intentional neglect … without any notice to those reviewing the transcript that the grades do not necessarily represent academic performance” is misrepresentation. Furthermore, he notes that sanctions are disproportionate to any unfair benefit a student who submitted an exam late may have gained when the same sanction is applied for the same number of minutes in the case of a three-hour exam as in the case of a 72-hour exam.

One student, who did not wish to be identified, gave the Law Weekly the instruction page from his take-home exam, which said that it was a 24-hour exam that would be available at 1:30 p.m. on one day and due by 1:30 p.m. the next day. To be safe, he logged into the Exam Management System before 1:30 on the due date, and it indicated that the exam was already late. The student hurriedly submitted his exam and was subsequently notified that he would receive a grade reduction for a 12-minute lateness. It turned out that he had downloaded the exam, and the Registrar’s Office had made it available, before 1:30.

The student in question appealed the sanction and received a response indicating merely that the exam instructions were correct, even though the instructions were at least ambiguous. He was told that he could appeal the decision but given no notice of the rules that governed decisions on appeal and thus little prospect of mounting a potentially successful defense. The case was subsequently taken up by the course professor and is not yet resolved. While this case would have been treated the same way under the old and new (suspended) late take-home policies, it illustrates how sanctions are applied.

02/03/2012 – This article was edited to make clear the distinction between the policies governing late take home exams and exams never begun or papers never submitted.

Reporting for this article contributed by Adaku Onyeka, 1L.

Top Thirteen Things To Do After You Get Your First Semester 1L Grades

  1. Sit in your shower. Cry.
  2. Work out aggression at the gym. Realize that running on the treadmill is a metaphor for your lack of progress in law school.
  3. Determine who was in the top 10% of your class. Plan elaborate sabotage.
  4. Decide to never have fun again. Move into the library.
  5. Decide to ignore grades from now on, and focus only on partying. “Networking” will save you.
  6. Berate your professors under the guise of going over your exams.
  7. Check your horoscope. Re-interpret anything it says to reflect however you feel about your grades.
  8. Call your parents. Inform them that grades won’t come out till June. June 2015.
  9. Consider alternate career choices. The market for taxidermists and circus unicyclists is recession-proof. Especially when you can do both at once.
  10. Complain to all your non-law school friends.
  11. Complain to all your law school friends.
  12. Write a moderately humorous hilarious [ed.] piece for the Law Weekly.
  13. Be really proud that your hard work paid off, and go into second semester with a positive attitude, certain in your own ability and the bright future ahead of you.

Oh wait, if that last one applies to you, then you are the 25%.
Also, I hate you.

Primary economic obstacle is adjustment to progress

Most economic policy discourse, at least in the U.S., seems to be predicated on the assumption that the status quo represents a negative deviation from normal―from the broad sweep of inevitable progress―and that policymakers can or should be trying to return things to “normal.” Most of what Paul Krugman writes on the pages of the New York Times is to this effect. President Obama has recently declared that the economic “recovery” should be based on manufacturing. It might be difficult to make such a recovery happen, since U.S. manufacturing output has never been much higher than it is today.

Photocourtesy of the United States Department of the Treasury via Wikimedia Commons. Lawrence Summers, former Secretary of the Treasury and professor of economics at Harvard University.

On the other side of the popular economic policy debate, Newt Gingrich’s website sets forth his plan for “[c]reating jobs and getting the economy back to 4% unemployment,” which consists of everything that the Republican Party’s diverse constituencies want to hear. Some of Gingrich’s proposed solutions would likely decrease the unemployment rate; others would likely increase it.

Mitt Romney’s campaign website features a document entitled “Believe in America,” which, much like the works of Karl Marx, is unusually cogent in its empirical observations, even hinting at realistic explanations, but draws conclusions and develops prescriptions that seem to be normatively driven. Romney, like Gingrich, seems to believe that traditional Republican Party ideology will return the unemployment rate to something around 5%.

I was delighted when I saw the January 9th post on the Reuters blog of Lawrence Summers, former Secretary of the Treasury and an economics professor at Harvard. Summers does what very few other public figures are willing to do in acknowledging that the major change in the economy―the reason why so many people are unemployed―is not that some greedy bankers let overzealous consumers borrow too much for a while, using collateralized debt securities to pass risk off onto the market underpriced. The change is a significant structural adjustment in the economy caused by technological progress that has made production and even the provision of many services much more efficient than they used to be.

Summers compares the present situation to the mechanization of agriculture, which released most of the labor from that field of endeavor to participate in manufacturing instead. Many industries now require far fewer people to produce the same quantities of goods and services. One of the results of that is that the fruits of increased productivity accrue disproportionately to those few people who are either in the right place at the right time or  embrace new technologies as innovators. Whereas, most of the time since World War II, there has been enough incidental need for people to build things and sell things that most people in developed countries, especially in the U.S., could expect to be offered jobs that paid them enough to live well, now, it is less clear why managers of all sorts of enterprises would hire people without unusual contributions to make.

Instead of causing this fundamental change, the recent financial crisis merely accelerated it. When demand did decrease significantly because of a lack of access to finance capital while banks and investors figured out what risks existed and how to avoid them, businesses laid people off as they always do in recessions. As the recession ended, managers, on a case-by-case basis, saw the structural change in their industries―the efficiency of investing in new machines, software, and processes instead of new workers ―and they responded by ramping up production in the ways that made sense for them, hiring many fewer new people than was necessary to consume the victims of the layoffs and the new entrants to the global workforce.

Real output of goods and services is meaningfully higher in the U.S. and the world than it has ever been before. Nonetheless, the long-term unemployed and most of the young people entering the labor market are finding few opportunities―especially to achieve the standard of living that their parents enjoyed. Summers points out that wages have skyrocketed relative to prices of most consumer goods; however, the somewhat diminished standard of living for the less lucky or innovative arises from disproportionately higher prices for healthcare, housing, energy, and education.

Summers uses his observation of structural change to rebut the essential argument of the Occupy movement that capitalism is the problem and that of the Tea Party that government is the problem. He differentiates between those sectors in which prices have increased and those in which prices have decreased and advocates for a continued course of capitalism for most of the economy and observes that the sectors with increasing prices are among those least controlled by market forces.

As for a solution to the adjustment costs embodied by relatively high unemployment and people going bankrupt when they get sick, Summers does not offer one. He seems to think that adjusting (i.e., the movement of labor into sectors where there is more use for it), will take time, and he acknowledges both the need to control government spending and the need for social welfare programs to address unemployment and the costs of healthcare, housing, energy, and education.

I think that even Larry Summers, who has a reputation for being blunt despite the political consequences, is a bit constrained by political correctness in his conclusions. There is a bit more to say.

First, the growth of and increase in prices in the market for healthcare services has been a remarkable trend in recent years. Much of this change has been attributable to increasing quality and availability of healthcare.  Much more can be done to improve people’s health than could 20 years ago, and innovation in medical technologies is expensive. The price for additional and more effective services is worth paying, and spending more of their incomes, directly or indirectly, on healthcare is something to which people must become accustomed.

Since an illness can now cost significantly more than a house burning down, our society clearly needs adequate and efficient mechanisms for insuring against health risk. Unfortunately, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act did not provide the answer. While the individual mandate, liberty-reducing or not, is a good idea, the employer health insurance mandate is economically devastating, as compared to a world without a law requiring that employers provide their full-time employees with comprehensive health insurance.

Either a single-payer, socialist system or a market system in which most individuals, subject a minimum standard of an individual mandate, negotiated their own insurance contracts, would be more efficient. Employer mandates, which have long been in effect in many states (1) discourage full-time employment, the type of employment that enables people to support families comfortably, (2) increase the effective minimum wage that employers have to pay, preventing all sorts of jobs that would be better than nothing for the unskilled from being created, (3) systematically compel people to over-insure relative to their own risk tolerances and to fund totally wasteful insurance market activity, and (4) prevent viable markets for the insurance products that would be efficient for many people to choose from developing at all.

Another problem with healthcare markets is regulatory capture and market power. Health insurance companies and, in many ways, healthcare providers are legally or effectively immunized from the antitrust laws. This country pays much super-normal profit to government-enforced physician cartels, and even some nonprofit hospitals generate such cash flow that they literally do not know what to do with all of the money. The minimum viable scale of hospitals is such that many communities can only support one, and nonprofit monopolists are generally inefficient.

The cost of education is also an interesting problem. Technological progress would be expected to spur increases in the quantity and quality of educational services consumed as it does healthcare services.

Photocourtesy of Ildar Sagdejev via Wikimedia Commons. Strayer University is a network of buildings into which people throw money hoping to improve their prospects of employment.There is also, unfortunately, an education bubble. The truth is that in a world without many production or service jobs that merely require warm bodies, there will be ever less demand for unskilled labor, and there will always be people who do not acquire skills readily. The recent huge increase in consumption of higher education, largely by people who will never earn degrees, represents, in part, a search for something to do by people who are not academically inclined but want jobs that pay as well as their parents’. The necessary shift in the content of education – away from general education and toward technical skills – in the lower tiers of academia may be near. The popular press has identified a higher education bubble, and hopefully, people will get the message and stop studying “economics” at Strayer University.

A related problem is that, in forming education policy directed toward ensuring that everyone graduates from high school, our society has lost sight of the fact that some percentage of the population is not capable of meaningful education beyond the secondary level. The answer to this problem is not enrolling people in community college courses that they will never pass. Governments need to do away with minimum wages (employer health insurance mandates most of all) that have any teeth and need to facilitate otherwise the employment of the permanently unskilled in jobs in which they can make contributions, however low their money values to the rest of society, supplementing such policies with appropriate social welfare programs.

Two more factors are driving the rate of “education inflation.” One is the increasing cost of employee health insurance in the labor-intensive industry. The other is the same as another of the problems in healthcare – for-profit tendencies in nonprofit institutions with substantial market power, in the case of education, due to the signaling benefits that institutional reputations confer on graduates.

For example, would the quality of education at the Law Center be much lower if all classes were taught by adjunct professors and not by full-time professors whose compensation packages remove some of them from the 99%? This is no criticism of the abilities of full-time article-publishing professors, but my experiences with adjunct law professors indicate a negative answer to the question and suggest that the structure of the contemporary university faculty results from a for-profit-like institutional imperative.

Energy and housing cost increases are attributable to population growth. Housing costs are attributable to urbanization, energy costs, costs of other limited resources, and of course, healthcare costs. People will adjust. The combined analytical power of Larry Summers and me, however formidable, is insufficient to solve all of the world’s problems.

Matthew Tilghman, 2L, can be contacted by email at matthew.tilghman@gulawweekly.org.

Concert Review: Jeff Mangum at the Lincoln Theatre

Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons. Jeff Mangum (right) is on tour for the first time since 1998.by Charlie Pfeifer, 1L

Few experiences are so indescribably wonderful as seeing the favorite artist in your iTunes library who was “retired,” in concert. In 1998 after writing his indie-rock opus “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” Jeff Mangum was a peerless songwriter, poet, and generation-defining voice. The Georgian singer and guitarist was the big fish at the mid to late nineties Elephant Six collective, a group of musicians situated outside of the college town Athens, Georgia.

Mangum was already the dominant force within Elephant Six when his band, Neutral Milk Hotel released their second LP. Their first effort, “On Avery Island”, had come out to positive if muted reviews in 1996; they seemed content to reside in semi-obscurity of the nineties college rock scene. The band started touring after the release of “Aeroplane” but to Mangum’s astonishment, the crowds obsessively sung the songs, rife with nostalgia and wit, back at him. The reclusive front man toured for several months before withdrawing from a public that had begun to adore him. He disbanded Neutral Milk Hotel and spent the next decade dodging a listenership that, as the years passed, grew larger and larger until it became almost cultish.

From 1998 to 2010, Mangum would perform six songs, in total, onstage.

In December, in the middle of cramming for exams, I purchased a ticket to U Street’s historic Lincoln Theatre on Ticketmaster 90 seconds after the sale opened. A friend of mine in Hotung attempted to buy the ticket a minute later but the show was sold out.

In the years since “Aeroplane” was first released, it had become canonical. It is available in most Brooklyn basement apartments and music blogger’s recently played on Spotify.

The private Mangum had initially been appalled with the outpouring of support for his songs, often drowned out in the small venues the band played after the album’s release. Now, twelve years after “Aeroplane” came out, Mangum is playing to sold out theatres across the country. The person sitting next to me in the balcony was (appropriately) a middle aged lawyer at a small antitrust boutique. The crowd was a diverse mixture of flannel, aging hipsters, college newspaper writers, and skinny jean wearing teenagers.

From the first rapturous moment of “Two Headed Boy (Part 2),” Mangum’s acoustic lament narrated from the perspective of a conjoined twin briefly alluded to in H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Doctor Moreau,” he controlled the crowd. A decade later, the shy singer urges his audience to sing along, “like I know you all do at home,” he chuckled.

Mangum worked through most of both his albums onstage alone with his guitar, briefly joined by violins and an accordion to help recreate some of “Aeroplane’s” Eastern European pop influence. Think of Beirut’s horns and countless indie rock singers’ raspy croons in the last ten years, a tribute to Mangum’s definitive style, and you can begin to imagine his stage presence.

Ironically, the hushed crowd seemed as if they were afraid to sing now, straining to hear the lone guitarist before them, glad that after a decade away, Mangum returned to the spotlight. 

Aphorisms-oscopes

Aquarius – If your metro fare card demagnetizes this week due to nothing more than the invisible energetic field emanating from your left butt cheek, it has nothing to do with your sign. It is merely a statistical probability.  Don’t forget your SmartTrip card next time.

Do you have hopes and dreams? This guy beat you to the punch. Photo courtesy of the Higgs Boson’s photostream on Flickr.com. Pisces – They say it was written in the stars that, one day, some random Pisces would rise from obscurity to become one of our nine robed demigods and would rule the nation with an iron fist for decades. That Pisces is … Antonin Scalia.
Aries – Playing video games in class is incredibly annoying to anyone sitting by you whose opinion matters (me). Stop it! Stick to throwing your very expensive education away on laptop entertainment that doesn’t flash colors in my peripheral vision. Try a crossword, or consider paying attention. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Taurus – When you point the finger of blame at another, three fingers are pointing back at you. Your thumb’s probably pointing kind of forward and up, but who knows what that means? Unless you’re pointing at a giant.

Gemini – This week you will lie to someone and think they bought it. They didn’t. You need to work on your skills if you really want to grow up to be a lawyer.

Cancer – Useful advice: An apple a day keeps the doctor away. A penny saved is a penny earned.  If you don’t have anything nice to say, write a movie review for the Law Weekly. Email Kevin Scura at Kevin.Scura@gulawweekly.org.

Leo – No one got the joke I wrote for you. Now you get no future.

Virgo – Virgos are known for their  grounded personalities. They’re also known for a stubborn resistance to change. Eat at the Subway Café for two meals a day for the rest of the semester, or take the plunge and leave campus. It’s your choice.

Libra – Cheaters never prosper. Unless you’re the one writing the horoscopes. Then you always get what you want. The power could be yours! Email Christine.Sigurdson@gulawweekly.org.  All signs may apply.

Scorpio – Your bark may be worse than your sting, sky scorpion, but it’s no excuse for being so cranky. It takes more muscles to frown than smile, the sun will come out tomorrow, etc., etc. Stuff it inside your exoskeleton and go on about your day.

Sagittarius – Don’t let others’ jealousy keep you from being your best. They could have been born in late Nov. or early Dec. if they had just thought things through first, so I don’t know why they’re complaining now.

Capricorn – This week you will write a brilliant story and for the Law Weekly. You will repeat the process twice, and get your name on the masthead as a staff writer, easy peasy. Bask in your accomplishments and newfound notoriety and then update your resume!

“Ag Gag” bills threaten consumer safety

Image courtesy of ABC News. Friedrich argues that “Ag Gag” bills will prevent consumers from learning about animal rights abuses by meat companies, such as in this Butterball turkey facility, above.by Bruce Friedrich, 1E

Almost everyone opposes cruelty to animals. In fact, 97 percent of Americans (according to Gallup) say that animals should be protected from harm.  Additionally, a poll by Ohio State researchers found that 92 percent of respondents want farm animals to be treated well. It’s hard to imagine any topic with more bipartisan support than the humane treatment of animals.

But if you’ve been paying attention, you know that the will of the American people on humane treatment is not in alignment with reality.  The organization Mercy for Animals worked with Brian Ross’ investigative team at ABC News to expose a large egg operation that supplied McDonald’s and other big corporations. MFA’s investigators documented decomposing hen carcasses in cages with live hens and workers gratuitously abusing animals, as well as the standard abuses of modern poultry farming such as burning off beaks without pain relief and cramming 5 hens into tiny wire cages .

This was just one more in a long line of investigations by animal protection organizations; every year, we see 3 to 4 of these investigations, and sadly, every investigation finds new and horrific abuses—abuses that shock the conscience of many people.

Responsible industries would meet this stream of horrid undercover investigations with a serious commitment to change their behavior.  They would promulgate strong regulations to protect animals and implement “no tolerance” policies for (at least) the sadistic abuse.

And reponsible industries would, as Dr. Temple Grandin has suggested, put video cameras onto their factory farms and into their slaughterhouses to monitor animal treatment. They would also hire independent inspectors to review the video and make sure that there was no gratuitous abuse. 
Sadly, the industry does not believe that the customer is always right. Instead, the industry’s guiding philosophy appears to be, “what the public doesn’t know won’t hurt us.” In response to investigations that document abuse, the industry is not trying to end abuses; instead, it’s trying to stop the investigations by proposing laws that would make it illegal to investigate factory farms and slaughterhouses.

You read that right: Last year, meat and egg factory farms pushed these “whistleblower suppression” (a.k.a.: “Ag Gag”) bills that criminalize taking photos of factory farms without owner permission in four states (Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, and New York) and it looks like they’ll be reconsidered in all four of these states, and introduced in others.

Another high-profile investigation also makes clear why these bills are counter-productive to the good of the American people―in 2008, the Humane Society of the United States investigated a dairy cow slaughter plant that had passed all of its USDA inspections and in fact had won USDA’s “supplier of the year” award. Their investigation uncovered horrid cruelty to animals and unsafe meat that led to the recall of 143 million pounds of potentially dangerous meat, much of which was destined for our nation’s schools. If California had one of these whistleblower suppression bills, HSUS’s investigators could have been prosecuted. Of course the much more likely scenario is that the investigation would not have happened, and children would have eaten those potentially lethal burgers.

At Farm Sanctuary, we provide sanctuary for farm animals who have escaped the factory farming system, and we know these animals as individuals. For the same reason we would never eat cats and dogs, we also would never eat chickens, pigs, or any animals—they are individuals. However, we also fight for an end to the worst abuses, and that’s where whistleblower protection and the need to legitimately criticize the worst abuses in animal agriculture come in. If a company is so afraid of being “exposed” that it feels the need to criminalize taking pictures of its work, perhaps it’s time to make changes so that it is engaged in work about which it can be proud.

There is a coalition of groups opposing these bills—from the Government Accountability Project and Center for Science in the Public Interest to the Humane Society of the United States, ASPCA, and my organization, Farm Sanctuary.

These whistleblower suppression laws would, if enacted, literally make it a crime to save human beings from dying from contaminated meat.  They would also criminalize video investigations that led to employer indictments for violations of worker safety, civil rights, and sexual harassment laws as well as other potentially illegal activity. These are the sorts of investigations that companies and the government should be doing, but if they won’t, the last thing we want to do is criminalize nonprofits for doing them.

Bruce Friedrich, a 1E, is senior director for strategic initiatives at Farm Sanctuary. He has been a progressive activist for more than 20 years.

 

What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?

Photo Courtesy of Julio Enriquez’s photostream on Flickr.com. The Vaccines will cure your rock and roll disease.The Ramones are great in theory, but I never actually want to listen to their music. I love the spirit of their conscious decision to limit their songs to three chords, and the breakneck speed at which they play music. But when you’re actually sitting on the metro with headphones in your ears, a little variety is nice. A common criticism of modern guitar-based music is that “all the songs sound the same.” With The Ramones, all the songs are the same.

I love The Vaccines’s album, What Did You Expect From the Vaccines? It blends the spirit of The Ramones with some honest songwriting. While most of the album is decidedly uptempo (eight of twelve songs clock in under three minutes, fou of them under 2:30), the best song is the 3:50 ballad “Wetsuit.” Either abstract or nonsensical (it’s like most Shins songs; is James Mercer a genius or just consistently lucky? I’m really not sure), “Wetsuit” is a strange but excellent song, highlighted by a fantastic, understated vocal performance from frontman Justin Young. The fact that the band can do so much with so simple a song (it’s just single strum guitar chords and a quarter note tonic bass line) is a true testament to their genius and their potential.

In contrast, the next-best song is Norgaard; 1:38 about an attractive seventeen-year-old girl. As wrong as it is, I can never muster enough righteous rage about immoral rock songs. Somehow, conduct that would be genuinely creepy in almost any setting seems like harmless fun when it’s set to music. If you actually did the things suggested in “Every Breath You Take,” you’d be arrested. If you sing it to your girlfriend, it’s suddenly romantic (well, maybe not. It’s probably still creepy. Bad example).

The rest of the album nicely straddles the middle ground between the two standouts. It’s a fantastic sign for their future that they are capable of greatness at both ends of their spectrum, and of real quality in the middle. “If You Wanna” and “Wolf-Pack” are prime examples of their uptempo style songs, while “All In White” gets the runner up trophy in the album’s best-ballad contest.

Tina Talks: Advice for Law Students

Dear Tina,

I got mistaken for a different Asian person AGAIN yesterday.  Why does this keep happening to me?  Why can’t so many non-Asian people tell Asian people apart?  WHY?!?

Sincerely,

Asian and Irritated

Dear Irritated,

Good question.  You may be my first reader to officially stump me with their problem.

I have no cause or solution to offer up.  My only advice is an insult to your injury, a great big squeeze of lemon juice and a dash of salt on your wound: since your fellow human beings can’t be bothered, it’s obviously on you to differentiate yourself as a distinct individual.  Perhaps wear a multi-colored clown wig.  Then you can be “that wacky Asian person in a wig,” and you only have to worry about being mistaken for other clowns (a much smaller demographic).

These aren’t the Asian people you’re looking for. Photo from kennymatic’s photostream on flickPerhaps you can escalate your role into that of saboteur.  Those who cannot tell Asian people apart are statistically more likely to assume you have “Asian” skills they don’t, and will believe you’re from any country that you say that you are.  Learn how to say, “I am an ignorant a-hole,” and then offer to teach them Korean.  Tell them you’re a ninja, teach them nun chucks, and then watch them pick a fight and lose.  It’s not your job to educate the person that’s adding that extra dose of crappiness to your day.

If I were going to be more insensitive than I surely am already being, I would say you might have to accept that this is just another way that people will generally continue to suck and disappoint you.  While disappointment in mankind is a sentiment that knows no racial bounds, it’s an indisputable fact that I benefit from being white all the time, making the aforementioned comment an extra-ridiculous thing for me to say, and therefore I didn’t say it.

I did, however, consult my very own personal Asian advisor, who had this to say:

  1. If you make a fool of yourself, those who can’t tell Asian people apart won’t remember it was you.
  2. You can choose your community in some ways — you can choose to be around people who won’t do this.  You can choose to move to a place where there are lots of Asians/other people of color and where people can tell Asians apart.
  3. To cheer you up: Yo, Is This Racist?

 

Let me know if we just made things better or worse (or meh?!?),

Tina

P.S. Do you think you can give better advice than I do every week? I’d like to see you try. Email me @ Christine.Sigurdson@gulawweekly.org for a guest spot on Tina Talks.