$240 Million judgment for disabled men exploited for decades

A look into one of the bunkhouse bedrooms

In a decision that legal experts are calling “stunning,” an Iowa jury this morning awarded $240 million to the 32 mentally disabled men who faced decades of discrimination and abuse while working for Henry’s Turkey Service in Atalissa.

When jurors announced the judgment, after less than eight hours of deliberation, Sherri Brown, the sister of one of the 32 men, broke down in tears inside the Davenport courtroom.

“I totally lost it,” she said later. “I wanted the jury to make a statement so that my brother Keith and all of those men would know that someone had heard them. And if this isn’t a statement, I don’t know what is.”

The $240 million judgment reflects $2 million in punitive damages for each of the 32 men, plus $5.5 million in compensatory damages for each of the men.

Steven Schwartz, a disability rights attorney and former Harvard professor, said today’s judgment will be heard across the nation.

“It’s stunning,” he said. “It’s amazing. I’m almost incredulous. I think this verdict sends an incredibly powerful message to jurors all over the country. And of course it sends an equally powerful message to the people who cause this sort of harm. This is also an extraordinary testament to the EEOC and its attorneys, Robert Canino in particular, that they are willing to stand up for people with mental disabilities. They represent the best our government can be.”

Schwartz, who is trying to obtain community-support services in Texas for five former bunkhouse residents, said one of the biggest challenge in discrimination cases is convincing a jury that people with disabilities have just as much value as everyone else…

Through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the 32 former employees of Henry’s had sued the company in federal court, alleging unlawful harassment and discriminatory employment conditions at the company’s labor camp in Atalissa.

Over a period of 40 years, Henry’s sent hundreds of disabled men from Texas to Iowa where they worked in a West Liberty meat-processing plant for 41 cents an hour. The men were housed in a 100-year-old Atalissa school building the company converted to a bunkhouse. The operation was shut down in February 2009, after The Des Moines Register asked state officials about conditions inside the bunkhouse and the company’s lack of a license to care for disabled adults…

“The amount of this jury award is phenomenal in assigning responsibility for all of the wrongdoing that took place, and it also sends a message that this sort of conduct deserves more than a slap on the hand,” Dr. Sue Gant said. “But how do you put a value on decades of lost opportunity? You can’t recapture those years… These men were hidden away for decades, and for others’ personal gain. These were humans who were treated like cattle — like company property, like just another source of income for the company…”

RTFA for some of the disgusting details.

If you think the worst treatment for workers you ever read of only happened decades ago, have yourself another think. Here’s a firm that specialized in providing mentally-disabled men to live and work like serfs from the Dark Ages to optimize profits. That they were human beings wasn’t even an afterthought.

Diesel, hybrid sales surpass overall US market growth rate

Hybrid sales have grown rapidly in the US during the past couple of years – well outpacing the overall automotive market – and it looks like diesel sales are beginning to follow that trajectory as well.

US hybrid light-duty vehicle registrations have jumped 34 percent from 2010 through the end of 2012 and diesel sales are up 24 percent to about 797,000 from about 641,000 two years earlier, diesel advocate Diesel Technology Forum says (citing a study conducted by R.L. Polk at the DLF’s request). The important thing to note is that, during the same period, total vehicle registrations were up less than three percent, indicating that more consumers are turning to green vehicles in order to address rising gas prices. It will likely not surprise anyone that California, Massachusetts and New York had the fastest growth rates for diesel sales.

Anyone following parallel questions about education ain’t surprised either. We can argue all day about education methodology; but, when it comes to basics of turning out graduates – the comparison to states that prefer ignorant citizens is dramatic. Educated folks making educated decisions is what it’s about.

Folks interested in quality of life generally extend that interest to their fellow human beings on the planet. It’s only the greediest of owners and power brokers who ignore life on the planet outside the boundaries of their McMansions.

Trial nears over death of Texas family’s cat – Good News UPDATE

A trial date is set for 2nd week in May in a controversial animal cruelty case involving Bastrop pastor Rick Bartlett.

Bartlett was charged with animal cruelty last year after a neighbor’s cat named Moody was found dead on the bank of the Colorado River directly underneath the Hwy 150 bridge in Bastrop…

Bartlett trapped Moody on his property on January 15, 2012. He placed Moody in a cage in the back of his pickup truck. Bartlett later admitted that he left Moody trapped in the cage for two days without any food or water.

On January 17 Bartlett drove the caged cat to the Bastrop County Animal Control office and met with Officer Susan Keys…Bartlett told Keys that he often trapped cats in his yard that he considered feral and brought them to Animal Control…But Moody wasn’t a feral cat. Officer Keys noticed Moody’s collar and name tag and she told Bartlett to return the cat to the Bell family, Moody’s owner (and Bartlett’s neighbor)…

Later that evening Keys was told about a dead cat that was found underneath the Hwy 150 bridge…It was Moody. He had fallen some 50-feet to his death.

A veterinarian later told investigators, “Moody’s injuries were caused from a compressive force caused from falling from a high level.”

When investigators caught up with Bartlett, he stated that Moody had escaped from the cage and he didn’t know what had happened to him…

Bartlett…will stand trial for animal cruelty.

Bartlett was bounced from his former gig as pastor for the Bastrop Christian Church after his arrest. He knows a good hustle when he sees one and now has set up a new church – out of his home.

None of this helps Moody or his people. Bartlett’s unwillingness to admit any responsibility, care or concern for the pet’s death is unfortunately typical of animal cruelty cases.

Texas hasn’t moved beyond the 19th Century in dealing with animal cruelty cases – and I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise, either. We ain’t much better here next door in New Mexico. It took decades to outlaw cock fighting – just a few years ago.

Meanwhile – you can sign a petition for justice for Moody over here.

UPDATE: Bartlett found guilty.

Thanks, cissyblue

New mild onions offer great taste, long shelf life, uniformity

Professor Martha Mutschler and executive chef Steve Miller

Cornell researchers have developed new mild onions that will have chefs crying – tears of joy. Twelve years in development and with a couple years of testing to go, researchers say it will be just a few years before the mild locally grown onions are available to the public.

“These onions have a longer shelf life and still produce huge flavors; I see them as being a consumer’s dream,” said Steve Miller, Cornell Dining senior executive chef, who with a Wegmans supermarket executive chef has tested about a dozen of the experimental onion hybrids.

In general, current mild onions are watery and soft due to low sugar content (called low brix), which leads to a short shelf life and makes them mushy when cooked. Longer-lasting pungent onions are higher in sugar and caramelize when cooked, but reducing their bite requires more cooking, which also softens them.

The new Cornell onions “have the initial aroma and flavor of a mild onion, but they have a lot less water,” said Mike Washburn, executive chef at Wegmans. As result, they have a longer shelf life and stay crisper and intact when cooked in soup or chili or when grilled.

Martha Mutschler, professor of plant breeding and genetics, developed the mild onion lines and used the results of the chefs’ tests to inform selection of the three new hybrids of mild onions that were in expanded trials last year.

…The doubled haploid mild onion lines are unique in that they are totally inbred: “The seeds from each double haploid plant will produce identical plants” that are extremely uniform for any traits, said Earle.

…Mutschler is coordinating three phases of the project: …to develop hybrids adapted to New York state; …working with New York onion growers to field test the experimental hybrids; …working with executive chefs for culinary tests to determine potential marketing of the new onions. These phases are interrelated as seed companies and growers need to know consumer interest in the product before they take the risk of investing in producing a new crop.

Bravo! I am forever characterized as relying on my loyalty to Mediterranean recipes which invariably “start by taking an onion…”

Poll shows majority of religious Brits support assisted suicide

A major survey of religious opinion shows that large majorities of believers are in favour of legalising assisted dying.

The poll, carried out by YouGov for the Westminster Faith Debates and involving nearly 4,500 people, reveals that only among Muslims and Baptists are there majorities against a change in the law that prohibits assisted suicide.

Majorities of Anglicans, Catholics, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Methodists and Pentecostalists are in favour of changing the law.

Christian groups reacted with dismay to the results. Austen Ivereigh, of the lobby group Catholic Voices, said: “It shows how little exposed even practising religious people are to the teachings of their church…”

A Church of England spokesman said: “This study demonstrates that complex discussions on topics such as assisted suicide and euthanasia cannot be effectively conducted through the medium of online surveys.”

Demonstrating that dumbthink about surveys isn’t limited to members of our Republican Party.

The poll shows that the proportion of believers who say they make up their minds with the help of “local or national religious leaders” is 2% among Anglicans and 9% among Catholics. Most people rely on their own judgment or on reason when making moral decisions, and among those groups there is overwhelming support for a change in the law.

Aye, there’s the rub. That part about relying on your own judgement.

American Catholics, Baptists, fundamentalist True Believers in general accept no free will, self-education or self-reliance for critical decisions. The Father or Big Brother in charge tells you to obey his rules preferably as writ in the 14th Century. Whichever rationale is offered – your role is to obey.