Jim Hightower

Hastert Blasts Off

Anyone who says it’s lonely at the top has never been Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Ask Dennis Hastert. He’s the low-key Illinois Republican who sort of bumbled into the Speaker’s job after Newt Gingrich tumbled out of it and Bob Livingston stumbled while trying to grab it. Hastert’s only been in the top spot a short while, but he’s not the least bit lonely, because he finds himself surrounded by bunches of helpful friends.

Haley Barbour, for example, is so friendly that he invited the new Speaker to dinner to introduce him to several people eager to be his pals. Barbour was once the Republican Party chairman, but now he’s a big time Washington lobbyist, and the people he brought to dinner were lobbyists, too – representing such outfits as Bell Atlantic, Microsoft, and GTE Corporation. To make their new buddy feel welcome at the dinner, the lobbyists pitched in $100,000 for his political action committee. What a nice icebreaker, huh?

Shortly after this dinner, the lobbying firm of Fierce and Isakowitz held a breakfast for Speaker Hastert, inviting a hundred people to donate $2,000 each to Hastert’s PAC. You do the math. Fierce and Isakowitz just happen to represent HMOs that are trying to kill the Patients’ Bill of Rights, but I’m sure that had absolutely nothing to do with this friendly breakfast.

Meanwhile, Clark & Weinstock – yet another brunch of lobbyists who need the Speaker to support their legislative agenda – set up a breakfast for Dennis. And, lo and behold, this breakfast bunch also brought $2,000 each to donate to his PAC. One of his aides said Dennis “likes to do breakfast.” I’ll bet. According to the National Journal, lobbyists are hosting at least ten fundraisers for Hastert in the first few months of his Speakership. As one put it, these little lobbyist gatherings are “a nice way to help the new Speaker get off the ground.”

Right. And he’ll never get back to earth again.

BOMBARDED BEEF

Everything from tomatoes to beef now comes to us with wimpy flavor, high prices, and deadly diseases. Is there anything left that the profiteers can do to torture our dinner? Yes, they could zap it with radioactive Cobalt-60 X-rays – and that’s exactly what they intend to do if we don’t stand up and say, “Enough already!”

Sara Lee, Cargill, IBP, and other huge corporations that now control the beef industry, have long been lobbying both Congress and federal regulators to let them “irradiate” America’s red meat supply. And now the spineless Clinton administration is caving in, proposing a new rule authorizing the widespread use of radiation to treat food, especially ground beef.

These big companies note that their factory methods of fattening, slaughtering, and processing beef are so disease-ridden that thousands of us consumers die from e. coli, listeria, and other deadly, burger-borne bacteria every year. Rather than adopting clean methods that would prevent such gross contamination, however, the industry wants to add yet another factory step: bombarding the contaminated product with radiation from electron-beam linear accelerators.

Is this safe? No one really knows, since long-term human tests have not been done – you’re the guinea pig. Will meat be cheaper? No, prices will rise – the X-ray equipment costs $10 million per factory. Will it kill the pathogens? Some of them, but bacteria quickly adapt, and not only will the stronger bugs survive, they’ll mutate into X-ray resistant superbugs. Plus, irradiated meat will smell and taste … well, irradiated.

To fight this, contact Food & Water at (802) 563-3300.

TOXIC PRODUCE

A frozen dinner came with the following “serving suggestion”: Defrost.

Good idea! But what’s a mother to do with fruits and vegetables contaminated with pesticide residues? Oh, you say, that’s not possible because our government sets standards to protect our children from these poisons.

Before you swallow that, check out the March issue of Consumer Reports. It analyzes the pesticides on and in 27,000 samples of produce taken right out of supermarket bins, and it finds that a startling number of them contain unacceptable levels of some highly toxic chemicals. Children are especially endangered. Seven items stood out as being hundreds of times more toxic than the rest: apples, grapes, green beans, peaches, pears, spinach, and winter squash. Yes, these are foods we all consider to be good for you … but not when they are laced with a medicine cabinet of pesticides.

Methyl parathion is the most prevalent poison that Consumer Reports found. It’s an organophosphate insecticide that attacks the neurological system of insects – but also of humans. Two out of five peaches tested contained unacceptable levels of this killer.

Then there’s Dieldrin, a cancer-causing pesticide removed from the market twenty-five years ago. But these toxics don’t just disappear from the soil. Even today, three-fourths of the winter squash tested by Consumer Reports contained Dieldrin. Well, you might think, I’ll just wash it off. Think again – like many pesticides, Dieldrin is absorbed into the pulp of the produce, so it’s impossible to wash off.

Instead of poisoning these healthy foods, safe and economical alternatives are readily available. Let’s encourage their use. Government policy should shift from protecting chemical manufacturers to helping farmers shift to sustainable methods of production.

Meanwhile, to get fruits and veggies that are good and truly good for you, look for certified organic produce.

Jim Hightower’s radio talk show broadcasts daily from Austin. His book, There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos is now in paperback. Find him at www.jim hightower.com, or e-mail: [email protected] tower.com.

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Published at 12:00 am CST
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