Week in Review 11/4/10

the kids aren't alright in New York and Iowa

by by Ashton Strait & George A. Warner

A Rejected Letter to the Editors of the New York Law Journal

In my distinguished career as a Personal Injury Attorney, I often deal with the damage caused by reckless minors behind the wheel. Therefore, I was pleased to read your report on the recent ruling of Justice Paul Wooten of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan, allowing Juliet Breitman to be sued for negligence in mowing down frail, 87-year-old Claire Menagh.

Though Miss Breitman may be only four years old, she must still be held accountable for her actions. After all, what excuse can she have? That she lost control of her bike? Unlikely, given that she was on training wheels. No, the fact of the matter is that she was racing her friend Jacob Kohn, a fellow four-year-old. And, in their craving for a thrill, they neglected to notice the innocent victim in their path.

Unfortunately, Ms. Menagh died three months after the incident (supposedly of unrelated causes, but I’m sure the stress of the incident took its toll), so she can’t relay the horrifying story to us herself. Thankfully, Ms. Menagh’s estate is suing the children and their mothers, and I applaud their efforts to keep the streets safe from these young hooligans.

Justice Wooten’s choice to base his decisions off court decisions from 1928 stating that infants under the age of four cannot be held accountable for negligence, (assuming children over that age can), is also admirable. After all, in the nine months since Miss Breitman passed the age of impunity she has surely developed a tremendous capacity for culpability. And when Ms. Menagh’s estate sues Miss Breitman and, presumably, wins, might I suggest to the presiding judge the following punishments for Miss Breitman: that she be given a probationary period of several years in which she is not allowed to operate a wheeled vehicle, after which time, assuming she has been on good behavior, she may graduate to a vehicle with training wheels until such a time as her parole officer sees fit; that she be given a time-out in federal prison; that she be entered into a rehabilitation center where she can learn to control her dangerous impulses until she reaches adulthood; etc.

However, if the presiding justice cannot find a suitable punishment for the defendant, I say make the bitch pay. She’s sure to have a piggy bank somewhere.

Lex Malus, Esq.


No Fresh Bounty in Iowa

Yes, losing the House of Representatives was bad. Having Republicans replace Democrats in at least ten gubernatorial elections so far? Also bad. However, the biggest hurt for foodies on Tuesday night might have been the defeat of Francis Thicke, the Democratic candidate for Secretary of Agriculture in Iowa. The dairy farmer of 27 years was beat out by Bill Northey (R), an incumbent funded heavily by the Agricultural Axis of Evil (Monsanto, Syngenta and Dupont), and a man known outside Iowa for his unwillingness to inspect an Iowan farm suspected of producing salmonella-infested chicken feed, even as half a billion eggs were recalled this summer.

Thicke hoped to bring the concerns of the sustainable agricultural movement directly to America’s agricultural epicenter. Often touted as the “food capital of the World,” Iowa receives more federal farm subsidies than any state excluding Texas, grows a fifth of the country’s corn, and produces nearly a third of the nation’s hogs. Northey said that Iowa does “a great job of producing food not only for Iowans, but for folks all over the world.” But, as Thicke pointed out during his campaign, for all the food it produces, Iowa does a bad job feeding itself. Ninety percent of the food eaten in Iowa is imported from outside the state’s borders.

Step one of Thicke’s program: make Iowa not just the food capital of the world, but the “food capital of Iowa,” as he described in an interview with Grist.

Another step, he said, was to allow more local control over the location of and improve the regulation of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), the giant feed lots oft maligned by foodies and neighbors alike. Thicke planned to set air quality standards so the family of four down the road would not have a side of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide with their morning coffee. When Iowa Public Radio asked Northey about CAFOs, he remained mute on the subject, although he encouraged listeners to “engage in the political process to set up those rules” close as it gets to a politician saying ‘vote for the other guy.’

Of course, the race was as much about symbolism as anything else. For Thicke, it was about having a Secretary of Agriculture who provides a vision for the future, not who just acts as an industry spokesman. For coastal foodies looking ahead towards the 2012 Farm Bill, Thicke’s campaign was meant to make a statement. But instead of proving that sustainable agriculture folks can have sway in farm country politics, and not just Greenmarket policy, the campaign results have only reinforced the status quo. The endorsements of Michael Pollan, Bill McKibben, and Wendell Berry may mean enough to win an election in California, but they were not enough to crack the political war-machine known alternatively as Agribusiness. If Thicke’s loss means anything, it’s that the sustainable food movement, Whole Foods, farmer’s markets, and all, is still not part of the electoral equation in the America that actually grows most of the nation’s food.