Farmer Dubya Do-Wrong

This just in – George W. Bush has actually taken a position on an issue: the farm crisis. Farmer George, standing among some hay bales, announced in Iowa that the answer to low grain prices and the plummeting income of American farmers is: “Exports!”

Farmers across the country let out a big, collective groan. They know from nearly thirty years of bad experience that an export-based ag policy is a disaster for farmers. This failed policy goes back to Nixon’s infamous ag secretary Earl Butz, who told farmers to expand grain production for sale on the world market. Fine, except every country – from Brazil to Bangladesh – was producing grain for export, so there quickly was a glut, depressing prices and bankrupting tens of thousands of good American farmers.

The ones who benefited were Cargill, ADM, and a handful of other giant middlemen who control the world grain market. A glut of grain meant they could buy it dirt cheap from farmers, yet sell it at ever-higher prices to cereal companies, and others – producing fat profits for middlemen who just happen to be major campaign contributors. The federal government also subsidizes grain exports, doing so in the name of helping farmers. But Cargill, ADM, and the rest are the exporters, not farmers, so the subsidies go to executives in suits, not farmers in overalls.

To compound the stupidity of his export proposal, George W. also said he would push to get China into the World Trade Organization, as though this would help farmers. Being in the W.T.O. would allow China to overturn our farming laws – everything from a school district that puts a priority on buying food from local farmers to national laws that restrict the amount of pesticide residues on imported food.

Maybe this is why his handlers don’t want George issuing proposals – as the saying goes, if you don’t think too good, don’t think too much.

CLINTON GETS ONE RIGHT

Let’s hear it for the Clinton Administration! I don’t get many chances to praise this bunch, since they’ve wasted their tenure working for the Wall Street elites and against the workaday folks of America – but Lo and Behold, they’re actually taking a stand that could do something about the corporate abuse of workers, our environment, consumers, and anyone else who gets in the way of corporate greed.

The Clintonites are proposing what columnists Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman call “A Law & Order Regulation for Corporations.” Actually, the regulation has long been on the books – but it’s been routinely ignored. This regulation says that any corporation contracting with a federal procurement office must have a “satisfactory record of integrity and business ethics.”

It’s not widely publicized, but huge corporations keep routinely violating our nation’s laws – including killing workers, defrauding consumers, recklessly polluting our air and water, and otherwise committing crimes that would put you and me in jail, even put us on death row. Yet, corporations have been allowed to walk, simply paying a meaningless fine. They even get rewarded with billions of dollars’ worth of government contracts.

So, the Clinton proposal is to “clarify” that integrity-and-ethics regulation by saying that chronic corporate violators of our laws cannot get government contracts. Now this would be a real deterrent to corporate crime – if the recidivist reprobates of the business world could not get any of the $200 billion a year the feds spend on contracts, not only might they shape up, but the thousands of honest businesses in our country would get the advantage they deserve.

The regulation is far from a done deal since the corporate criminals, supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are raising hell about it – and the Clinton bunch is notorious for caving in to corporate pressure. But at least they’ve put the issue on the table. Good for them!

FOWL FACTORIES

What’s the most dangerous animal in the U.S. (besides human beings, I mean)? The rattlesnake? Grizzly bear? Wolves?

None of the above. The chicken is the most dangerous animal to us humans. It’s been widely reported that this humble bird is now subjected to such an inhumane, industrialized processing system that it now commonly comes to your table contaminated with such bacterial killers as salmonella and E-coli. But, less reported is the fact that 40,000 workers will be seriously injured this year as they grapple with the eight billion chickens that zip along the conveyor belts of America’s processing plants.

Investigative journalist Christopher Cook reports in Harper’s Magazine that in these fowl factories, chickens are not the only victims. Workers called “catchers” go into holding pens that are suffocatingly hot – each catcher uses his or her hands to grab some 8,000 frightened, pecking, clawing birds a day, with many of the catch cutting and urinating on the workers. Another group called “evisc” workers manually eviscerate the chickens, twisting and pulling the innards from up to 100 chickens per minute – a job that costs many their fingernails, which are destroyed by the bacteria in chicken carcasses. Workers called “deboners” stand shoulder to shoulder, slicing and hacking with knives and scissors all day – and slashing themselves as their blades slip off the slimy carcasses or as they slip on floors slick with chicken gore.

Cook reports that these workers typically are paid only $6.50 an hour, and have sixteen times the national average of trauma injuries. It’s hard to get workers to do these awful jobs, so processors like Tyson and Kentucky Fried are pressuring Congress to create a “guest worker” program so impoverished immigrants can be brought in to do their dirty work.

Hey Congress: clean up this mess – don’t cover it up.

Jim Hightower’s radio talk show broadcasts daily from Austin on over 100 stations nationwide. His book, There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos is in paperback. Find him at www.jimhightower.com, or e-mail: [email protected]

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Published at 12:00 am CST
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