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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

On Thanksgiving, Celebrate Agriculture — Not Agribusiness

In December 1972, I was part of a nationwide campaign that came tantalizingly close to getting the U.S. Senate to reject Earl Butz, then-President Richard Nixon's choice for secretary of agriculture.

A coalition of grassroots farmers, consumers and scrappy public interest organizations (such as the Agribusiness Accountability Project that Susan DeMarco and I then headed) teamed up with some gutsy, unabashedly progressive senators to undertake the almost-impossible challenge of defeating the Cabinet nominee of a president who'd just been elected in a landslide.

The 51-44 Senate vote was so close because we were able to expose Butz as ... well, as butt-ugly — a shameless flack for big food corporations that gouge farmers and consumers alike. We brought the abusive power of corporate agribusiness into the public consciousness for the first time, but we had won only a moral victory, since there he was, ensconced in the seat of power. It horrified us that Nixon had been able to squeeze Butz into that seat, yet it turned out to be a blessing.

An arrogant, brusque, narrow-minded and dogmatic agricultural economist, Butz had risen to prominence in the small — but politically powerful — world of agriculture by devoting himself to the corporate takeover of the global food economy. He was dean of agriculture at Purdue University but also a paid board member of Ralston Purina and other agribusiness giants. In these roles, he openly promoted the preeminence of middleman food manufacturers over family farmers, whom he disdained.

"Agriculture is no longer a way of life," he infamously barked at them. "It's a business." He callously instructed farmers to "get big or get out" — and he then proceeded to shove tens of thousands of them out by promoting an export-based, conglomerated, industrialized, globalized, heavily subsidized, corporate-run food economy. "Adapt," he warned farmers, "or die." The ruination of farms and rural communities, Butz added, "releases people to do something useful in our society."

The whirling horror of Butz, however, spun off a blessing, which is that innovative, freethinking, populist-minded and rebellious small farmers and food artisans practically threw up at the resulting Twinkieization of America's food. They were sickened that nature's own rich contribution to human culture was being turned into just another plasticized product of corporate profiteers. "The central problem with modern industrial agriculture ... (is) not just that it produces unhealthy food, mishandles waste, and overuses antibiotics in ways that harm us all. More fundamentally, it has no soul," said Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist and former farm boy from Yamhill, Oregon. Rather than accept that, they threw themselves into creating and sustaining a viable, democratic alternative. The "good food" rebellion has since sprouted, spread and blossomed from coast to coast.

This transformative grassroots movement rebuts old Earl's insistence that agriculture is nothing but a business. It most certainly is a business, but it's a good business — literally producing goodness — because it's "a way of life" for enterprising, very hardworking people who practice the art and science of cooperating with Mother Nature, rather than always trying to overwhelm her. These farmers don't want to be massive or make a killing; they want to farm and make delicious, healthy food products that help enrich the whole community.

This spirit was summed up in one simple word by a sustainable farmer in Ohio, who was asked what he'd be if he wasn't a farmer. He replied, "Disappointed." To farmers like these, food embodies our full "culture" — a word that is, after all, sculpted right into "agriculture" and is essential to its organic meaning.

Although agriculture has forestalled the total takeover of our food by crass agribusiness, the corporate powers and their political hirelings continue to press for the elimination of the food rebels and, ultimately, to impose the Butzian vision of complete corporatization. This is one of the most important populist struggles occurring in our society. It's literally a fight for control of our dinner, and it certainly deserves a major focus as you sit down to your Thanksgiving dinner this year.

To find small-scale farmers, artisans, farmers markets and other resources in your area for everything from organic tomatoes to pastured turkey, visit the LocalHarvest website.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Republicans Sabotage Democracy To Preserve Their Power

Little-known fact: In more and more races, the GOP doesn't have broad enough appeal to fairly produce an election majority, so it has resorted to rigging the system so a minority prevails. As far-right tactician Paul Weyrich once bluntly put it: "I don't want everybody to vote. ... Our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down." Thus, the right's electioneering strategy is to shrink turnout by blocking its opponents' core supporters — particularly African Americans, Latinx people, Native Americans, union members and young people — from even entering polling places. This scheme is more than voter suppression; it's straight-out election sabotage.

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Some people who get elected to Congress grow in office; others just bloat. Rep. Michael McCaul is a bloater.

A self-absorbed, right-wing Trumpeteer, this Texas lawmaker is about the richest guy in the U.S. House, wallowing in some estimated $113 million in personal wealth. McCaul made his money the old-fashioned way: He married it. His wife inherited a fortune, so — with no need to work for a living — McCaul decided to become a congressman, winning a grotesquely gerrymandered GOP district in 2004.

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Something Is Very Rotten At Big Meat, Inc.

Upton Sinclair's landmark 1905 book, "The Jungle," exposed the food contamination and worker exploitation hidden in the fetid stockyards and meatpacking plants of Chicago and other major American cities. The muckraking journalist dubbed the nasty and brutish meat factories "a monster ... the Great Butcher ... the spirit of capitalism made flesh."

The nauseating details of worker and consumer abuses that Sinclair exposed were so horrific that the ensuing public revulsion and outrage were transformative. Congress quickly passed a food purity law (the 1906 Federal Meat Inspection Act), and union organizing drives sparked nationwide contract bargaining that eventually gave long-oppressed meatpacking workers the clout to improve factory conditions and pay. Indeed, by 1970, the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and the United Packinghouse Union had won enforceable safety rules and solid middle-class wages — about $25 an hour in today's dollars. Now the median wage for hourly workers in meatpacking plants is down to about half that — $13.23 per hour — some 30 percent less than production workers in other manufacturing jobs.

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We’re All In This Together (Unless You’re A Corporate CEO)

Wow, how about that Dow?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, I mean, Wall Street's up-to-the-minute report on whether corporate stock prices are going up, down or sideways. It's the one economic indicator that our nation's media and political establishment watch religiously, claiming it tells them how our national economy is performing.

Recently, the stock market has been zooming up, up and away. So, like ancient priests watching burbling, hissing volcanos to determine if the gods are pleased or angry, the believers in the infallibility of the Dow are hailing today's economy as boom times! No need for another big round of pandemic relief payments or any other urgent actions by government, exclaim the Trumpeteers, because — Boom, Boom, Boom, look at that Dow! — shareholder wealth is pouring down on us like manna from heaven.

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Why Don’t The Republicans Have A 2020 Platform?

Wow, what a surprise! Have you seen the Republican Party's official platform?

Perhaps, like me, you would have expected it to be a mishmash of Trumpian miasma, laissezfairyland corporate economics, QAnon lunacy, police state authoritarianism and all the other wackiness that today's GOP has been embracing. But, no. Astonishingly, this 18-page policy statement flat-out rejects the elitism, knownothingism and nutballism coming out of the White House and the mouths of nearly every Republican Congress critter.

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Trump’s Bass-Ackward Government Is Rule By Corporate Lobbyists

Gosh, President Donald Trump has really been busy lately: busy assailing Sen. Kamala Harris as "nasty;" busy choosing a new pandemic adviser, whose only qualification is that he praises Trump on Fox News; and busy dissing and dismantling our post offices.

But, instead of all this Trumpian political stuff, shouldn't a president be, you know, running the government? Nah ... that bores him. Besides, that's why he packed his Cabinet with all those corporate lobbyists and ideologues who've spent their lives trying to rig our government to serve the moneyed elites. Now, empowered by Trump, these special interests are our government, literally setting and running America's economic, environmental, labor, health, education, financial and other public policies. And what a job they're doing — on us!

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Trump Is Willing To Destroy A Prized National Asset To Maintain His Power

Every now and then, an enormously beneficial soul comes along — someone whose work is so productive, honest and inspirational that he or she ought not be allowed to die. That's how I felt last month when I heard that John Lewis had slipped away from us.

Since the late 1980s, it had been my good fortune to have known, admired and learned from this civil rights icon and U.S. representative from Georgia. Throughout his exemplary life of progressive activism, Lewis hurled his heart, soul, and head (literally!) into fighting the Powers That Be to gain and protect the voting rights of all Americans. As a young movement leader in 1965, he was with Martin Luther King Jr. among the marchers on the front line in Selma, Alabama, who had their heads busted by state troopers for daring to insist that African Americans be allowed to vote.

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Fly The Flag! True Patriotism In A Time Of Chaos

I'm flying a flag these days. The Stars and Stripes, Old Glory, America's flag, OUR flag! I've strapped it to my 2011 made-in the-USA Ford Fiesta, and I'm zipping around town as proudly as anyone else in the red, white and blue Bubbaland of South Austin, like some modern-day Patrick Henry on wheels. As with so many others, I'm flying our flag out of an assertive, perhaps defiant pride. For I am proud, damned proud, to be an American citizen. And in this time of true woe and deep national divide, I'll be damned to hell before I meekly sit by and allow this symbol of our nation's founding ideals ... liberty and justice for all ... to be captured and defiled by reactionary autocrats, theocrats, xenophobic haters, warmongers, America Firsters, corporatists, militarists, fearmongers, political weasels and other rank opportunists.

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Crime Is Going Up — Not In The Streets But In Corporate Suites

There's a crime wave underway in America, but the Powers That Be are getting sore necks from looking the other way. I'm talking about corporate crime. When it comes to robbing us blind, the Armani-clad criminals in corporate boardrooms have it all over the hoods on the street. The FBI reckons that property crime cost U.S. taxpayers $16 billion in 2018. Securities traders alone cream four times that amount from their clients in fraudulent deals every year. And as far as white-collar crime goes, securities fraud is small potatoes. From oil spills to price fixing to peddling defective or dangerous products, corporations are responsible for the costliest and deadliest crimes in this country.

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Corporate Lobbyists Run Amok In Trump’s White House

The Donald is in a funk. He's been outsmarted by an inert virus. His poll numbers are tanking, and even his demagogic pep rallies are falling flat.

So, who to turn to for political comfort? Why, of course, Trump's true loyalists: his diehard cadre of Washington's corporate lobbyists. I don't merely mean those elites of K-Street and Wall Street who dominate his Cabinet, constituting the official Trump government of, by, and for corporate greed. He also has a "kitchen cabinet." Operating out of public view, it's an unofficial collection of highly paid influence peddlers who're still practicing the dark art of bending government power to the wishes of selfish corporate interests. Each of them is paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by brand-name clients — from Amazon to Walgreens — to get favors from Trump. In turn, these little-known lobbyists have now adopted The Donald as their chief client, funneling millions of special-interest dollars into his reelection campaign with the understanding that he'll keep channeling tax breaks, regulatory exemptions and public dollars to the corporate donors. It's the Washington money-go-round, merrily corrupting our government.

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Lone Star State’s ‘Goober’ Governor Botches Pandemic Response

Harking back to the embarrassing days of Gov. Rick "Oops" Perry, my state of Texas is once again saddled with a Republican gubernatorial goober. Greg Abbott is this guy's name, and he's another incompetent right-wing ideologue whose botched handling of our state's COVID-19 crisis makes President Donald Trump look like a master administrator of public health.

Unfortunately for you non-Texans, Gov. Abbott's extreme gooberness is now surging across our borders to afflict people in your state. Before we go there, though, ponder his slapstick performance here, where he's been swatting futilely at the fast-moving coronavirus.

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The Plutocrats’ Knees Are On Your Neck, Too

Viewing the video of George Floyd's gruesome murder, one word in particular from him stuck in my head, one painful human utterance that conveys the horror of it all. "Mama," Floyd cried out in desperation and disbelief as his life was cruelly and senselessly suffocated in yet another brutal white-on-black slaying by so-called officers of the law.

This can't be America. Can it?

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Exploiting The Pandemic, Betsy DeVos Epitomizes Kakistocracy

Charles Dickens, writing about the inequality and social turmoil leading to the French Revolution, noted, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

So it is today, with the horrific COVID-19 killer both ravaging the globe and intensifying the inequality that was already rending social unity. Consider the experiences of one especially hard-hit group in our country: Native Americans. The Navajo Nation alone has become one of the worst of America's COVID hotspots, with a higher death rate than all but four states. Yet, in an example of the worst of times, Trump & Co. delayed disbursement of $8 billion in coronavirus relief funds that Congress had set aside for tribal governments. The disease raged through Indian Country for six crucial weeks while Trump officials sat on the money. People died.

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How Republicans Helped A Corporate Crony Rip Off PPP Millions

Monty Bennett was just another faceless right-wing millionaire on the long list of high-dollar donors to Donald Trump — until he suddenly surfaced in April as the nation's biggest bagger of government cash in the emergency Paycheck Protection Program.

The PPP is the $660 billion rescue package for America's thousands of small businesses, helping them keep people employed during today's shutdown of the U.S. economy due to the coronavirus pandemic. Bennett was among the first in line for payroll relief, applying for $126 million and immediately getting about 55 percent of that. But wait. There's nothing mom-and-popish about Monty's business. Operating through a maze of tightly interwoven financial trusts and corporate subsidiaries, he runs a sprawling Dallas-based conglomerate named Ashford Inc. that owns and operates 130 hotels and luxury resorts across the country including the Marriott Beverly Hills and the Ritz-Carlton in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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We’re (Almost) All In This Together

In this horrible time of economic collapse, it is truly touching to see so many corporate chieftains reaching out in solidarity to the hard-hit working class.

We know they're doing this, because they keep telling us they are — practically every brand-name giant has been spending millions of dollars on PR campaigns in recent weeks asserting that they're standing with us, declaring over and over, "We're all in this together."

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Pandemic Profiteers Overrun The Capitol

Wartime profiteering is an especially vile form of corporate greed, yet it has been as common in our country as war itself.

Indeed, during the American Revolution, assorted corrupt merchants and traders lined their pockets by controlling the supply and jacking up the prices of various goods they sold to the Continental Army and the general public. Often, though, feisty colonials struck back at the gougers. In 1777, for example, when a Boston merchant was found to be hoarding imports of coffee and sugar to create an artificial shortage so he could charge the area’s families exorbitant prices, a band of enraged Beantown women took matters into their own hands. They beat up the guy and confiscated his stock!

We could use a roving gang of indignant citizens today to confront the shameful greed of such corporate scammers as Boeing, American Airlines and Marriott, as well as such billionaire hucksters as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. They are among a new breed of pandemic profiteers that have rushed to Washington, shoving aside millions of workers, small businesses, poor people, students, nonprofits, farmers, cities and all other devastated victims of the COVID-19 crisis, demanding that corporations be first in line for a massive government rescue.

Take Boeing. Please! Already disgraced as a death-plane producer, its lobbyists brazenly swarmed into the White House and Congress, pleading for $60 billion from taxpayers to protect its profits. Rather than booting Boeing and other uber-rich panhandlers out the public door, President Donald Trump and GOP Congress critters obsequiously soothed the fevered brows of these champions of socialist capitalism with a half-trillion-dollar handout of the people’s money.

Which corporations would be favored? No telling. How much would each get? We’ll tell you later, maybe. What’s the criteria? Don’t ask. What about the workers and suppliers? Let them apply for food stamps. Aren’t you cutting food stamps? Shhhhh.

Luckily, enough Democrats had enough moral fortitude to block some of the grossest giveaways in the Republicans’ $500 billion corporate boondoggle, but the greedy, profiteering giants should not be given a single dime until the real and urgent needs of the people are met. Profiteers should be last in line … or turned over to descendants of those Boston women from 1777.

Meanwhile, glorious news about the coronavirus crisis itself! The renowned professor of pandemicology, Dr. Donald Trump, has found a magical medical antidote for the disease that had eluded lesser scientists: The Peter Cottontail Solution.

While sitting in the Rose Garden for a virtual Fox News town hall, the resident White House pandemicologist said that it suddenly dawned on him that, hippity-hoppity, Easter’s on its way! So, he went on to declare that he was ready to lift all those pesky health restrictions and “have the country opened up” by Easter, just two and a half weeks away.

Would our public health crisis be over then? Dr. Trump said he didn’t worry about such factual details. He explained to the Fox audience, “I just thought it was a beautiful time,” noting that all of the nation’s churches could fill up on that Sunday, bringing people together in celebration of his reawakening of the moribund economy.

But wouldn’t such a holy mass gathering actually reinvigorate the diabolical COVID-19 pathogen, spreading its destruction further, deeper and longer? Sure, said the good doctor. “You are going to lose a number of people,” he said. But Wall Street and Corporate America are crippled by employees’ staying home, so “We have to get back to work.” This rallying cry for workers to pump up the sagging stock market by promptly returning to their offices and factories amounts to a crass “Die for the Dow” ethic espoused by Wall Street barons and billionaires.

Of course, for the cold inhumanity of such a dreadful policy idea to be made clear, it needs to be officially embraced as “Texas Stupid.” Sure enough, one of my state’s right-wing politicos, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, lunged into the national spotlight of Fox News Tuesday night to one-up Trump. He blathered that returning America to full economic throttle pronto is worth sacrificing the lives of “those of us who are 70-plus” years old. “Let’s be smart about it,” Lt. Dan added, thus demonstrating to millions that he and this idea are even dumber than a dust bunny.

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.