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JIM HIGHTOWER Well Lobbyists If you’re not a part of the solution … chances are you re part of the Congress! 0 ne giant problem with today’s Congress is that too many members are just passing through, on their way to something bigger. No, I don’t mean higher office. I mean they are on their way to becoming corporate ‘ lobbyists. Congress has become a training ground, where one can learn how the system works, figure out where the bodies are buried, gain expertise in certain legislative areas, become buddy-buddy with key lawmakers then sell all of this to a Washington lobbying firm for five to ten times the salary you got as a Member of Congress. Take Norman Lent, the former Republican Congressman from New York. Now a partner in a pricey Washington firm, Lent told The Hill newspaper that his experience as a congressman meant he could “hit the ground running” as a lobbyist. “You understand the procedures and rules,” he pointed out, adding, “you have a personal relationship with some members which makes it easier to talk to them, easier to get access.” Lent is one of dozens of former members who are now lobbyists, riding a gravy train with biscuit wheels. One high-powered firm even has a salt-and-pepper set of former Senate Majority leaders in its stable: Republican Bob Dole and Democrat George Mitchell. If you’re a corporation, having an exmember do your lobbying not only buys you prestige, but also special access to the corridors of power, since former members are allowed to go where mere mortals cannot tread. They still can go into the cloistered cloakrooms, into the member’s gym and dining room … and even onto the floor of Congress itself. This is why lobbying firms recruit lawmakers to cross over and join them, like sports teams recruiting free-agent stars. And the beauty is that these lawmakersturned-lobbyists get all of their training at our expense another example of your tax dollars at work. CLEAN CLEANERS I apologize in advance for using technical jargon, but have you sniffed any “per chloroethylene” today? You have if you’ve had a suit, a blouse or other clothing drycleaned, because “perc,” as it’s known in the business, is the solvent used by nearly all of America’s 27,000 dry-cleaners. Unfortunately, dry cleaning itself is not clean at all, since perc is highly toxic, capable of causing central nervous system damage, reproductive disorders, miscarriages, kidney and brain damage, and several kinds of cancer. With dry cleaners pumping out 250 million pounds of this stuff a year, perc has become one of the most prevalent air contaminants in our cities. So, are being poisoned or wearing dirty clothes our only choices? No, thanks to all kinds of innovative folks who are devising non-toxic ways to keep our clothes and our air clean. Some of the most promising methods involve going “back to the future” with what’s called “wet cleaning” simply modernizing the old-fashioned processes of washing clothes. Another technique is to use liquid carbon dioxide the same benign, commonlyavailable substance used to carbonate sodas. Industry tests are showing that plain old liquid CO2 gets clothes cleaner than perc, does less damage to the fabric, dries the clothes quickly without needing highenergy heaters to do the job, can be recycled to clean load after load, and puts zero toxic contaminants in our air. Not only do these alternatives to perc make sense, but they also will make dollars and cents for the local businesses that clean our clothes. The operating costs of the liquid carbon dioxide process are less than those of conventional chemical cleaning, and the cleaners can do two to three carbon-dioxide loads in the same time it takes chemical operators to dry-clean one. This is just one more example of how concern for the environment is good business. DEMON SEEDS There it is again. That big, wet, smooching sound you hear every time big business gets together with big government. This time it’s the U.S. Department of Agriculture playing kissy-face with the giants of agribusiness, which keep finding new ways to mess with Mother Nature for their own fun and profit. In their latest scheme, government scientists and corporate profiteers have teamed up to mess up one of nature’s basics: seeds. Ever since there has been agriculture, farmers have saved their seeds from this year’s crop to replant for next year’s. Not just economic sense, this is also an ecological boon, because so many farmers saving so many seeds helps strengthen local strains and promote a broad genetic diversity in the world’s crops. Selecting, saving and exchanging seeds with neighbors is just smart agriculture. So along come the geniuses at U.S.D.A., using our tax dollars to develop a seed that will not germinate when replanted, thus putting an end to seed-saving by farmers. Who would want such non-germinating seeds? The seed corporations, of course, since it means every farmer in the world would have to come to them each year and buy new seeds. The ag department has recently issued a patent to the Delta & Pine Land Corporation the world’s largest cotton seed company to control and sell this genetically perverse crop technology. Appropriately enough, these barren seeds are known as “Terminators.” The world’s farmers and the genetic diversity of our food supply are in danger of being terminated by this twisted technology. So why did U.S.D.A. pursue it? The goal, according to an agency spokesman, is “to increase the value of proprietary seeds owned by U.S. seed companies.” Silly me, I thought U.S.D.A.’s goal was to serve the needs of consumers and farmers, not increase the profits of agribusiness corporations. Jim Hightower is a former Observer editor and Texas Agriculture Commissioner who preaches the populist gospel nationwide on his daily Hightower Radio show. MAY 22, 1998 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19