Editorial roundup – September 21

Misplaced trust in Blue Bell’s product

The Dallas Morning News (TNS)

Blue Bell Creameries has marketed its products for decades by invoking romantic country scenes of cows being led by hand to the milking stool. But the reality is far less idyllic. Lax procedures forced plant shutdowns and a massive product recall earlier this year after at least 13 people were sickened and three people died.

A Houston Chronicle report detailed the extent to which Blue Bell workers complained repeatedly about hazardous production practices, and how managers disregarded their concerns. The Chronicle interviewed 14 employees at Blue Bell’s flagship Brenham, Texas, plant.

The laxity and indifference these workers described makes us question why Texans are so quick to herald Blue Bell’s return. Though Blue Bell still isn’t available in Dallas, stores farther south couldn’t restock fast enough to keep up with demand when the brand returned. As if the longing for old-timey flavor and mythical country freshness outweighs the wrongs that forced Blue Bell to close plants in Texas, Alabama and Oklahoma.

Workers described production schedules that were so geared to profit margins, managers didn’t leave time for machinery shutdowns so that proper cleaning could occur. In February, potentially deadly listeria pathogens were detected in a machine in Brenham and were flagged by both health officials and company testers. Yet the company didn’t change its practices for weeks — and then only after ill consumers were hospitalized in Kansas.

One worker described a cleaning process that required spraying production equipment with scalding-hot water to ensure that surfaces were cleaned of butterfat remnants, which can retain pathogens. The hot water would run out routinely, meaning surfaces remained potentially toxic. The equipment was put back into production anyway. Workers said they had complained about this problem for a decade or more, to no avail.

Condensation would drip from pipes and dirty air vents, they said, making its way into food products. An employee described efforts by the company not to correct the problem but just to hide it whenever health inspectors arrived for visits.

Company statements appear designed to divert attention from past mistakes and instead focus on production-process upgrades and training enhancements to ensure future safety. An independent microbiology expert is now being retained “for ongoing evaluation of our procedures and facilities.”

Thank goodness for that. But customers should be asking: Blue Bell, what took you so long? Establishment of an anonymous hotline would go far to ensure that problems employees see on the production line are fixed quickly and thoroughly.

Loyalty to a time-honored brand has an endearing quality. But blind loyalty can be a dangerous thing. Blue Bell still has work ahead to earn back the trust it so badly squandered.

A popular pope collides with capitalism

Newsday (TNS)

Pope Francis called unbridled capitalism “the dung of the devil” in July. Now he’ll have to watch where he steps, or rather where he rides, because that devil dung is going to be everywhere.

Scalpers are asking as much as $200 each for the free tickets to see the pope in his popemobile motorcade through Central Park. New York City and the archdiocese distributed 40,000 tickets that will allow each recipient and a guest to see Francis on Sept. 25. But the tickets quickly popped up on Internet sites for as much as $200 apiece.

And these won’t be the hottest tickets for the papal tour. A pair for the Mass on Sept. 27 that Francis will celebrate at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia is offered online for $5,000. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the ones sent out by parishes for the Sept. 25 Mass at Madison Square Garden also surface for resale at ungodly prices.

Politicians and church officials are complaining that something ought to be done, but scalping laws don’t apply. It hardly appears to be an occasion for a new law or cop crackdown.

The situation is doubly ironic. It illustrates a weakness of capitalism: Greed can overpower piety and charity. But it also illustrates a strength: These tickets, whether in the hands of those who bought them or those who would not sell them, will be used by people who cared enough about seeing Francis to sacrifice for it. And perhaps sellers will use the money they get for food, rent or charity.

So scalpers will try to profit off the pope’s visit, but lots of people will profit off the pope’s visit, hawking T-shirts and renting hotel rooms and serving meals. Francis would understand that … and perhaps he won’t be angered by the scalping.

He’s a very forgiving man.

US must step up and accept more Syrian refugees

The Kansas City Star (TNS)

Like much of what guides U.S. policy in these times, the debate over accepting more refugees is guided by dollars and a corrosive dose of xenophobia.

Anyone who has caught a glimpse of the news understands the need. More than 4 million Syrians have fled that ruined nation. Most of them are packed into camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Others, along with thousands of Iraqi citizens and migrants from other nations, are boarding unstable rafts, crawling under razor-wire fences and breaking through barricades to get to Europe.

The worldwide apparatus for helping refugees is overwhelmed, and European nations are working feverishly to bring some kind of order to a nearly impossible situation.

America’s inadequate response so far has been to take in 1,500 displaced Syrians as part of the 70,000 refugees it plans to accept this year from around the world. As the crisis escalates, the nation needs to do much more.

President Barack Obama’s administration has asked Congress to include funding for an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees in next year’s budget. That’s a small drop in a bucket of need. But even that modest request set off yelps from some Republicans about the dangers of admitting possible Islamic terrorists.

People who sound that alarm either willfully or unintentionally misunderstand the process. Every refugee who enters the U.S. undergoes a rigorous security screening process. Nearly all have spent years in camps. Those selected are generally highly motivated or extremely vulnerable — widows with children, for example.

The U.S. should respond to the crisis by at least doubling this year’s quota of 70,000 refugees. There is precedent for such a leap: The nation dramatically increased its numbers to respond to the fall of Saigon, famine in Ethiopia and upheaval in Cuba.

The reasons to do so are compelling:

— Many displaced Syrians are educated and can quickly contribute to the U.S. economy.

— More resettlements would get people out of refugee camps and help preserve stability for crucial U.S. allies such as Turkey.

— In the eyes of the world, the U.S. holds a large share of responsibility for creating the Syrian refugee crisis. To sit back while other nations shoulder the burden generates more anti-American sentiment that we can’t afford.

The reason not to do our share is based on fear and stinginess, poor grounds on which to respond to an international crisis.