How Did I Miss That? Dangerous Turkeys, Dangerous Banks


The U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains a “turkey hotline” during the holidays to help out inexperienced chefs who might otherwise, for example, burn their houses down with turkey fryers. So far this year, the odd-question prize may go to the couple who called to ask whether it was safe to eat a wild turkey that apparently drowned in their backyard swimming pool. Or the woman who neglected to buy a cooking bag and so baked her turkey in a dry cleaning bag. After she found the bag had disintegrated and the turkey had a strange chemical smell, she called to ask if it was safe to eat. “Your tax dollars,” my cousin Ray Sixkiller chuckled, “saving lives.” Follow them on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety.

Speaking of tax dollars, Congress managed to pass a spending bill to keep the government lights on, at the price of reopening the U.S. treasury to less than 20 investment banks that will now be able to profit from repeal of the Dodd-Frank ban on high stakes gambling in government insured organizations. The provision was literally written by lobbyists for Citigroup and slipped into the bill on the last night before it was published.

Enough voters objected that J.P. Morgan’s CEO was reduced to personally calling House members in a last minute troll for votes. On the Senate side, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) called out Citigroup by name and lamented that the break up of the “too big to fail” investment banks was cut out of Dodd-Frank.

Talking Points Memo reported that the Republicans who loved bailing out investment banks claimed to wipe a bailout out of Obamacare, a provision that enabled insurance companies that underestimated the risk in taking on their share of the uninsured to be compensated from a fund contributed to by insurance companies that overestimated risk. This “risk corridor” provision was meant to keep health insurance costs down. Cousin Ray was angry with his fellow Republicans. He wanted to know why “bailouts wrong to help people get insured but right to protect investment banks?”

The New York Times reported that a Korean Airlines flight outbound from Kennedy Airport for Incheon, South Korea returned to the gate to expel the head steward when one of the stewards under his supervision served macadamia nuts in a bag rather than on a plate. The offended passenger was Cho Hyun-ah, head of KA in flight services, Vice President of the company, and daughter of the owner, Cho Yang-ho. After his daughter pitched a fit that delayed an international flight for 11 minutes and provoked a torrent of ridicule, Mr. Cho apologized on live TV in South Korea and removed his daughter from all corporate offices, admitting, “I failed to raise her properly.” Cousin Ray agreed. “Who does she think she is, an American investment banker?”

Korean Air is noted for their food, and they managed to get into a fuss over macadamia nuts when most U.S. airlines have either quit serving peanuts or started charging for them. “Could be worse,” Cousin Ray laughed. “Could have been snakes.”

Maybe the investment banks will now learn to self-regulate, but efforts in that direction have not been promising. The New York Times published an op-ed by Ted Genoways claiming that a Department of Agriculture pilot program to let meat packers inspect themselves has been a spectacular failure. Genoways reported on one Hormel plant that, when it started inspecting itself, speeded up the line from about 7,000 hogs per shift to as high as 11,000. He claimed that the self-reporting system approved “as much as two tons a day of pork contaminated by fecal matter, urine, bile, hair, intestinal contents or diseased tissue.”

It may or may not have been luck of the draw, but in the digital edition of the Times, Genoway’s op-ed appears just above a cooking video on how to prepare Porchetta Pork Roast. Cousin Ray’s sarcastic comment was “Yum!”

In other criminal news, Reuters reported that a man in Milwaukee, stopped for suspicion of drunken driving, told a sheriff’s deputy he had merely been eating beer-battered fish. The deputy found the story fishy and took him in for his 10th DUI arrest. “After nine trial runs,” Cousin Ray laughed, “you’d think he would come up with a better story.”

While the deputy was entitled to laugh off the beer battered fish defense, the accused still gets a chance to prove it in court. Or, more properly, to make the government prove he was drunk, and the government has to share any evidence tending to prove he was not drunk.

Last year, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sounded the alarm about an “epidemic” of prosecutors failing to disclose facts that might help the defense and wrote, directly to the point, “only judges can put a stop to it.”

Last week, the New York Observer reported on another judge who is so fed up he speaks of the “now ironically named Department of Justice.” Judge Kevin Duffy, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney himself, teed off on AUSA Stanley Okula after finding, on the record, that Okula had lied to him.

Belaboring what should be obvious, Judge Duffy said, “It is to the benefit of the people of the United States to have justice done—not just another scalp on the wall.” Judge Duffy proceeded to order that Okula only come back to court “with supervision.” Cousin Ray wondered, “Why doesn’t this judge say what he really means?”

In other due process news, six people held at Guantánamo Bay—four Syrians, a Palestinian, and a Tunisian—cleared for release since 2009, have been given asylum in Uruguay. The Guardian report credited Uruguayan President José Mujica with finally giving the six somewhere to go.

One of the Syrians, 43-year-old Abu Wa’el Dhiab, was reportedly “in extremely frail condition” as a result of the force-feeding that kept him alive during a seven year hunger strike protesting his detention for nothing. President Mujica was himself held under harsh conditions for 13 years because of his association with the Tupamaros guerilla movement against Uruguay’s military dictatorship.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Meet the Press defended this system where a fourth of the detainees came up innocent.

The name of the Nigerian terrorist organization, Boko Haram, has been imprecisely translated “Western education is sinful,” according to the Christian Science Monitor. Quoting scholars of the Hausa language, the Monitor shows that “boko” refers to British attempts to colonize African minds, shorthand for fraud imposed on the Hausa by colonists. Islam holds that which is halal is permitted while haram is forbidden.

Western media making mistakes in a phrase derived from Hausa and Arabic is understandable; the latest turn in Nigerian terrorism less so. The Daily Beast reported that Boko Haram has begun to rely on female suicide bombers. The first female bomber was in June, but there have been more than a dozen since. Girls aged 13 and 10 have been wearing explosives. Female bombers are efficient because the hijab covers the explosives completely and male police will not search women.

HuffPost reported a survey from 2013 that claimed most people keep a cell phone within five feet most of the time. No surprise there. However, the survey also showed that 20 percent of young adults attend to their cell phones during sex. “I always thought,” Cousin Ray admitted, “the only way to remove your DNA from the gene pool was to die.

The Washington Post reported the climate summit in Lima was a smashing success because it ended with an agreement to agree at the next summit in Paris, in contrast to the Copenhagen summit in 2009 that ended in an agreement to disagree. Cousin Ray could see why the diplomats were happy to iron out specifics later. “Would you rather be stuck in Lima or Paris?”

As another Indian high school dropout, I never watched the mailbox for letters from colleges, but an aspect of that vigil that never before occurred to me came up on Motherlode, The New York Times parenting blog, when a parent pointed out that colleges “are chasing the lowest admissions rates, which is the holy grail that they seek to help them them climb up the exclusivity ladder. The more students a college can persuade to apply, the more they can turn down, making their ‘admit rate’ look … spectacularly exclusive.”

She went on to point out acceptance rates at schools considered “exclusive” such as Stanford (5.07 percent) and Harvard (5.8 percent) and that, last year, private colleges spent $2,433 a student on recruiting, a sum that would pay tuition at some public colleges, which spent a mere $457 per student. So I’m forced to admit there is one advantage to graduating high school I never knew. You apparently get some really entertaining junk mail.

Applying can be complicated, so be entertained but not snookered. Consider applications that work for multiple colleges as a back up while you move straight toward your dream school.