Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness From a Public Interest Perspective
VOTING FOR RALPH NADER,
INSURING A POPULIST ALLIANCE,
REBIRTHING ECONOMIC & POLITICAL DEMOCRACY,
SAVING FAMILY FARM AGRICULTURE
Twenty years ago Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States by virtue of asking the nation's voters a simple, but wrong-headed question: How much better off are YOU that you were four years ago?
The Democratic Party, already on the road to eventually becoming a blank check for corporate America, culminating in the 1992 election of Bill Clinton and Al Gore, stood by mute, failing to point out to the public the anti-democratic nature of Reagan's question.
The proper question then, as it remains today, is not "how much better off are YOU than your were four years ago?" but rather how much better off are WE than we were four years (or eight) years ago?
As the reader begins to ponder that question let it be said that at the outset of this commentary that among the perks of being an editor and publisher of one's own newsletter, beholden not to corporate and institutional interests, but supported by its readers, there is not only the freedom to publish the news and facts which will assist readers in answering such questions, but the opportunity to offer occasional relevant commentary.
So without fanfare and getting as quickly as possible to the point of this commentary, in 110 days, on November 7, U.S. voters will have the opportunity of just not determining how much better off "WE the people" are today, but who will lead us as a nation into the dawn of the 21st century.
For family farm agriculture, for labor, for consumers, for environmentalists, for senior citizens, for the young there is only ONE presidential candidate with the vision, the courage and the dedication to economic and political democracy qualified to offer such leadership and that person is Ralph Nader.
Initially it should be stated , in keeping with the Nader campaign of honest and full disclosure, Ralph Nader has been a valued colleague and friend of mine for nearly 30 years. His Center for the Study of Responsive Law in Washington, D.C. not only has in the past supported and sponsored the work of the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project, but its Essential Books published my tome The Corporate Reapers: The Book of Agribusiness in 1992. Currently, with his indulgence and patience, I am working to complete a book on the over commercialization of professional sports.
Throughout the past 35 years Ralph Nader has spoken truth to power on a variety of issues that both directly and indirectly affect family farm agriculture. From his earliest days as a public interest advocate Nader's Raiders questioned the safety of farm vehicles, those questions soon led to the formation of the Agribusiness Accountability Project under the direction of Jim Hightower, a project I was proud to work with four years in Washington, D.C.
Other agricultural related, specifically family farm issues that Nader has shown concern for over the years has included food safety standards, the misuse and overuse of chemical poisons, usury interest rates charged by an ever-increasing consolidated banking industry, excessive and unnecessary subsidies to giant agribusiness corporations, and opposition to the exploitative policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Even before he came into the public eye Nader, while still in Harvard Law School, spent a large amount of his time turning the student newspaper, the Harvard Law School Record, into a muckraking journal --- tackling the exploitation of migrant workers and the myth of black inferiority.
Through it all, however, Nader has kept his focus on one overriding issue and that issue is the very same one that is destroying family farm agriculture in the U.S. --- corporate power!
"I think the theme that unites both conservative and liberal voters is that they are losing control rapidly over everything that matters to them," Nader stresses. "That's what we appeal to --- the recovery of control so that we have a government of, by and for the people instead a government of Exxon, by General Motors and for the Duponts."
America has been taken over by corporations that are concerned only with the bottom line, he adds.
"Our democracy is being hijacked by giant corporations that are controlling everything from government to the media, the workplace, even exploiting childhood with commercial entertainment. We're going to show that there are a lot of solutions in this country that are not being applied to serious problems. And that can occur if we have stronger democracy and a new progressive political movement.
"We are starting a broad-based, progressive political movement to end once and for all the limited choice Americans have between Tweedle Dum Republican and Tweedle Dee Democrat, both in hock to big corporate interests and money,'" he explains.
"ONLY DEMOCRACY CAN SAVE THE FAMILY FARM"
A. Whitney Griswold, a political scientist and former president of Yale University, in a 1948 book, Farming and Democracy, properly warned,
"We can expect no democratic miracles from agriculture or any other particular part of our economy. We can expect them only from democracy itself . . . The only sure source of democracy in any of these is a national well-spring that feeds all of them, not just a source among farmers, or, as we should say, among some farmers. The lesson is plain in history. Family farming cannot save democracy. Only democracy can save the family farm."
Griswold also expressed the belief that the family farm's strongest claim on
democracy, "the one by which it will either stand or fall as democratic
political theory," is that for all its "corruption" by industry, business, and
government, it is still "the outstanding form of individual economic
He goes on to note,
"A family farm of the type and dimensions stipulated by our theory --- one `on which the operator, with the help of his family and perhaps a moderate amount of outside labor, can make a satisfactory living and maintain the farm's productivity and assets' --- affords scope for a citizen to live and work more or less on his own terms, to develop the initiative and resourcefulness, the sense of responsibility and the self-respect that have always and everywhere been considered among the greatest assets of democracy."
And, in concluding this thought, Griswold poses the quintessential question:
"If we still count them as such, not symbolically, but concretely and instrumentally, like our physical resources and our geographical position, we will support family farming as we will all socially constructive individual enterprise. The question is, do we really believe in free enterprise in these vital terms?"
LOOKING AT THE RECORD
It is the constant threat to democracy that has motivated much of Ralph Nader's efforts over the years to achieve social and economic justice for not only family farmers but all citizens alike. In 2000 the unifying theme of his candidacy is what he calls the "democracy gap." He defines that as a government so dedicated to serving the needs of large corporate political donors and well-financed special-interest groups that average citizens can't get their grievances heard.
"If you ask yourself, `Why isn't this done, why isn't that done,' it does come back to that," Nader recently stressed in a Wall Street Journal interview. "Voters often are nullified by money, corruption and politics. Taxpayers have virtually no say in how their money is spent."
The Clinton administration and the Democratic Leadership Council, he rightfully points out, have sold out to the corporations and defied their true base, the working folks, by their steady advocacy of globalization, NAFTA and the WTO and the trade deal with China. "Don't let anyone ever use that phrase `free trade,'" Nader warns, "It's corporate managed trade."
In agriculture when one looks at the record of the past eight years the truth of Nader's charges become abundantly clear.
Thanks to my colleague farm columnist Alan Guebert we learn that with the years 1990 to 1992 indexed to 100, all prices received by farmers in 1993 equaled 101; in 1999 the index was 95. Likewise, prices paid by farmers for inputs and services in 1993 was 103; in 1999 it was 115. In short, farmers now receive less for their production and pay more to produce it than from 1990 to 1993.
And in some instances, Guebert reports, farmers are paying a lot more. Again, with 1990 to 1992 prices equal to 100 and 1993's indexed numbers in parentheses, the 1999 price paid by farmers for seed was 121 (105), ag chemicals 122 (107), farm machinery 134 (106) and taxes per acre 120 (107). In fact, the ratio of prices received to prices paid by farmers was 98 in 1993. By 1999, the ratio was 82. That means farmers today are 16% farther behind than in 1993 and 18% under where they were in 1990-92.
With the candle burning at both ends, little wonder net farm income has dropped from $44.5 billion in 1993 to a projected $39.7 billion in 2000. (If deflated, the drop is even more severe.) And despite today's historically cheap prices and endless talk of exports, the U.S. ag trade surplus has sagged from $18.1 billion in 1993 to a projected $11.5 billion in 2000.
If government payments are calculated as a percentage of net farm income, Guebert concludes, payments comprised 30% of net farm income in 1993 --- the year of the giant Midwestern flood. In 1994, a more normal year, the figure dropped to 16%. In 1999, however, that figure ballooned to 47%. If this year's proposed bailout occurs (a slam-dunk) farmers will receive a projected 49% of their 2000 net income from direct government payments.
Perhaps no one fact is more devastating than, based on USDA's own figures, throughout the 1990's the average per year farm operator household earnings from farming activities as a percentage of the average operator household income was 11.8%, meaning that the vast majority of America's 1.9 million farmers, if dependent solely on farm income, would be living well below the poverty level.
What has been the Republican \Democratic Party duopoly policy that has occasioned such ruin among the nation's family farmers --- the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act --- enacted and passed by a Republicat Congress and signed by a Democratic president.
As Nebraska Farmers Union president John Hansen has charged "the 1996 Farm Bill represents the most radical change in the direction and implementation of domestic farm program policy since the original federal farm program authority was passed by Congress in 1933. The proponents of the radical changes brought by the 1996 Farm Bill promised already hard-pressed American farmers and ranchers big results.
"Yet, thanks to the 1996 Farm Bill, rural America is facing the worst farm crisis in modern history. If America's treasured system of family farmer and rancher owned and operated food and fiber production is to survive, we must end the hostile corporate takeover of our national farm and food policy and develop a fair, balanced, economically and environmentally sustainable approach," Hansen adds.
"Who is impacted by our national food and fiber policy? Is it just farmers, ranchers and our rural communities? No, it is everyone in America who cares about our precious soil and water, our future, the quality of the food they eat, and the diversity and quality of our American society.
"As rural America faces the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression," Hansen warns, "voters must realize that the economic destruction of family farm agriculture and rural communities is the direct result of a disastrous national farm policy created by our own public officials. The 1996 Farm Bill must be repealed, and replaced by a national farm policy that supports family farm food producers and rural communities."
BREAKING UP "A PLUTOCRACY
THAT REIGNS OVER OUR DEMOCRACY"
In his recent presidential candidate acceptance speech at the National Green Party convention in Denver, Colorado, Nader called for such new policies to revive a disappearing rural America. His call not only echoed his frequent appeals for economic justice on behalf of family farmers, but his deep awareness of agrarian populism and the valued role it has played throughout our nation's history in instigating genuine economic and political democracy.
The immediate lessons that can be learned from agrarian populism have been astutely summed up by Nader.
"There is nothing to compare to the farmers'drive in Texas during the late 1880's which signed up 250,000 farmers and led to the early stage of the thirty-year progressive revolt --- still the country's most fundamental political and economic reform movement since the Constitution was ratified. (emphasis added) And these farmers did it largely on foot and with pamphlets.
"How, without today's communications and transportation facilities, did the farmers manage to cover so much ground, create so many lasting institutions, and elect so many state legislators, governors, members of Congress, and almost the president of the United States? Because they owned what they controlled --- the land. And they controlled what they owned --- the land. And they aggregated their vote around specific agendas designed to limit the power of the railroads, banks and absentee `Eastern financial moguls.'"
Now, Nader points out, "the two-party system is crumbling. They are hollowed out and don't have much basic grass-roots support. They're basically two parties with a lot of money fighting against each other with 30-second electric combat ads on television. The only way we are going to regain control of our political institution is to help build a progressive political movement that will break up the concentration of wealth and power -- a plutocracy that reigns over our democracy."
Even though the agrarian populism of the late 19th century posed a number of specific economic solutions to the nation's series of farm crisis, it is important to remember that for farmers the popular monetary issues of the day, e.g. the use of silver and\or gold were only ephemeral issues.
Reflecting on the populism's analysis of the nation's emerging financial elite, historian Lawrence Goodwyn has pointed out that it is difficult to find a political doctrine narrower and more self-serving than the American banking hierarchy's fixation on "sound money."
" . . . the artificially contracted currency of the gold standard had three undeniable and linked products: it curtailed the nation's economic growth; it helped measurably to concentrate the capital assets of the nation in the pockets of the nation's bankers, and it helped measurably to consign generation after generation of non-banking Americans to lives of hardship and dependence.
"Beyond this, the triumph of the political and cultural values embedded in the gold standard provided the economic foundation for the hierarchical corporate state of twentieth century America."
The focus of Farm Alliance members, as declared in their Omaha Platform of 1890, was a rebellion against the American political system. In order to restructure the nation's financial and economic system, the Alliance rejected both parties, which they accused of being in "harmony with monopoly."
Various noteworthy principles emerged out of the "agrarian revolt" of the 1880's. William Lamb, the leader of the Alliance radicals and perhaps populism's most articulate theoretician, spoke to one of those major principles in a historic 1886 open letter to the Rural Citizen.
Lamb believed society was dominated by manufacturers and their agents. The traditional image of the farmer as the "hardy yeoman" of the Jeffersonian era was quite out of place in the growing American corporate state at the turn of the century. Lamb believed the farmer of the new industrial age was a "worker," the "labor question" was the central issue, and that the organized farmers of the Alliance should join with the organized workers of the Knights of Labor.
As business centralized, Lamb contended, farmers who continued to strive for friendship and parity with the commercial world simply failed to comprehend "what is going on against us." Members of the Alliance had to outgrow such naivete:
"We think all members should show the world which side they are on . . .. and we are looking forward for men that will advocate our interests, those who are working against us are no good for us . . . we know of a certainty that manufacturers have organized against us, and that is to say if we don't do as they say, we can’t get their goods . . .Then for it to be said that we are unwise to let them alone, we can't hold our pens still until we have exposed the matter and let it be known what it is we are working for."
Now a century later by looking to the past we can see that the agrarian populists through a series of statements and platforms sought to offer society a means by which it could reassert the Jeffersonian principle that without economic democracy you cannot have political democracy.
Such a principle is at the root of the Ralph Nader campaign for President.
UNLESS ALL PEOPLE ARE FREE
NO ONE IS FREE
Instead of xenophobic, racist scapegoating and the sidestepping of economic facts, the nation's angry, often “middle class,” must recognize that it is big, impersonal corporations and their minions who have taken over the daily control of our work, our play, our housing, our health, our food supply, our financial institutions, our public lands, our media, our political process and our government.
As Populist historian Norman Pollack stresses, citizens must now, as they did in the 19th century Populist movement, challenge the strident materialism of our day and "work to achieve a democratized industrial system of humane working conditions and production of human needs."
The 19th-century populists sought to build a society, in sum, where individuals fulfill themselves "not at the expense of others but as social beings, and in so doing attain a higher form of individuality."
Thus, a society we should be striving for in the 21st century is one to be judged not at its apex, but at its base; that the quality of life of the masses should be the index by which we measure social improvement.
Like our agrarian Populist predecessors, 21st-century populism must undertake to remain a radical social force within political systems that provide little opportunity for the expression of radicalism.
We cannot wed ourselves to a modern politically expedient populism characterized by racist and xenophobic attitudes. The 21st-century populists'critique of existing arrangements must go beyond economic conditions to embrace individuals' plight. They must address the dehumanization and loss of autonomy in a society that rapidly reduces the individual to being dependent on someone else's decision, laws, machinery and land.
Integral to this 21st-century approach is the conviction that individuals can consciously make their future. There is nothing inevitable about misery or squalor, or the concentration of wealth, or the legitimation of corporate power; nothing is sacred about the status quo, or about the institutions that safeguard that status quo.
The 19th-century Populist movement's recognition, for example, of the plight of family farmers and labor and the efforts made on their behalf were premised on the idea that unless society was attuned to their needs it ceased to be democratic. Unless all people are free no one is free.
"WHEN IT COMES TO CORPORATE GREED
THE SYNONYM IS INFINITY"
It has often been said that economic depressions are farm led and farm fed and certainly the decades-old farm depression that has already taken and continues to take an exacting toll on rural America should be a fair warning to those candidates who are prone to boasting about how healthy our nation's economy is at the present time.
Take for example:
* Farm gate prices of the big five commodities: corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton, and rice have collapsed to near record or record all time inflation-adjusted lows. The average national market price comparison between 1996 and 1999 of major farm program crops tells a tragic story. The average national market price of corn has fallen 30%, soybeans 35%, wheat 41%, cotton 35%, and rice 40%.
* USDA reported the total net outlay of farm programs in 1996 at $4.646 billion. The 1999 net farm program outlay was $19.223 billion, with 2000 outlays projected to be $26.961 billion. That puts farm program costs at four to five times the 1996 level.
* Corn, wheat, soybeans and rice exports are halfway between 1995 and 1996 levels while cotton exports are down when measured in volume. When compared to 1996 export values, 1999 agricultural exports are down $10.8 billion, or 18% down.
* The value of agricultural imports, that directly compete with U.S.
in our own market, during the same 1996 to 1999 fiscal years jumped up $4
billion, or up 15.6%. The overall balance of agricultural trade dropped by
$15.7 billion, a staggering 57% drop.
Some of the interesting facts that Ralph Nader repeatedly calls to his audiences attention also cuts through such myths of economic prosperity and should provide additional serious thought to the nation's voters. Among the figures that he cities are:
* The top one percent of the richest Americans have wealth equal to the combined wealth of 95%of other Americans: "It used to be said a rising economic tide lifts all boats. Now a rising economic tide lifts all yachts."
* Twenty percent of American children live in poverty; in the Netherlands that figure is three percent.
* The minimum wage today is lower, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than in 1979.
* Today's worker works 160 hours longer per year than 25 years ago.
* Bill Gates' wealth equals the combined wealth of the poorest 120
Americans, or 45% of our population. "This is a failure of the political system to defend the people."
* Less than one in ten workers belongs to a trade union in the private sector.
* Two million Americans are in prisons, 500,000 more than in communist China, which has a 1.3 billion population.
* Forty-seven million people work for less than $10 an hour --- this in a decade of sustained economic growth. "With a wage like that, people can't be considered employed despite the fact that they have jobs."
* When it comes to corporate greed, the synonym is infinity. They want it all," Nader observes.
UNITED WE STAND, DIVIDED WE FALL
In a recent campaign swing around Nader's native New England, the 66-year old candidate repeated message was "we're counting on each other, and I don't want to do it without you because it doesn't work"
Indeed, based on his record, his commitment to economic and political democracy while fighting corporate power, issues that go to the core of the current problems faced by family farm agriculture and rural America, the nation's farmers can not afford to let Nader stand alone in his campaign for the presidency.
Recently AgriNews' Managing Editor Mychal Wilmes, penned in his column "Farmers, unite -- You have nothing to lose": "How long can this morally and economically bankrupt system continue? It will go on until taxpayers have had their fill or until farmers decide they've had their fill.
"They could unite and demand economic justice --- not through government largess but through the power of unity. The old saw that farmers are just too independent to agree on much of anything important is probably true. But, farmers' cherished independence is costing them their independence," he adds.
"Instead of being dependent on each other --- and willing to unite to voluntarily control production and demand a fair return on production and labor --- producers face the option of growing more dependent on input suppliers and grain buyers," Wilmes suggests.
"Most, no doubt, would feel more comfortable relying on their neighbors than the enlightened corporate self-interest. The choice is becoming more clear." One option, he suggests, "is greater cooperation among more farmers. A new cooperative structure --- minus any and all government intervention -- would require farmers to voluntarily agree to limit production and sell grain, livestock and milk at a profit. The new cooperative could ensure that enough foodstuff would be available for charitable purposes, but the rest sold in a market devoid of the `what will you give me for it' mentality that's caused so much damage through the decades."
“The damage done ,” he concludes, “can be reversed. It won't be easy. But, it would go far in restoring economic vitality to our farms, rural communities and the institutions we cherish. It's becoming more apparent by the day that the best approach to solving the decline in agriculture, the exodus of full-time farmers and the depopulating of rural America is a self-help approach."
Ralph Nader has frequently called for local, state and federal government assistance in promoting such self-help programs to assist family farm agriculture in building a sound alternative economic base through community supported agriculture programs, organic farming practices, the raising of industrial hemp, and the use of solar energy and other appropriate technologies and sustainable agricultural practices in addition to opposing the planting of inadequately tested genetically engineered crops.
DRAWING A LINE IN THE DIRT
Aside from our mutual dedication to "working" as public interest advocates this editor and Ralph Nader also share a mutual passion for the game of baseball, even though as a Baltimore Oriole fan I am willing to overlook the fact that he is a New York Yankee fan, this being his one major character flaw.
It has often been said the hallowed game of baseball is a metaphor for life and I would quite agree. Each spring gives us hope, the summer requires that we dedicate ourselves to playing the game well, and the autumn rewards us for such efforts, while in the winter we attempt to stay warm and prepare for the coming seasons.
One of my favorite stories from the past also provides us with a lesson we must be willing to learn and employ this fall. Joe "Ducky" Medwick was a fiery outfielder for the famous St. Louis Cardinal's "Gas House Gang." One day a batter hit for a single and decided to try and stretch it into a double. Despite a perfect peg by Medwick to the second baseman who tagged the incoming sliding runner the umpire called the runner safe. Medwick was furious! As the umpire returned to take his position behind home plate, he stopped for a moment at the pitcher's mound and without turning around drew a line in the dirt with the toe of his shoe. Upon reaching home plate he turned around and there was Medwick, standing toe-to-toe with the line in the dirt yelling at the umpire in protest, knowing that if he stepped over that line he was out of the game.
That is what we voters must do this November. We must draw the line in the dirt, the line representing not the degree by which we measure the lesser of the two evils, because the lesser of two evils is still nevertheless evil, but a line that symbolizes what we expect from a national leader. Ifour candidate does not meet that expectation then we need to cast our vote for the person who does represent our hope for a better future.
And to those who simply opt out of the system, saying that they care not to
vote, Nader advises: "To those who say, `I'm not turned on to
politics,' I say, `then
politics will turn on you."
Recently in a campaign appearance in Saginaw, Michigan by Al Gore a woman in the audience sternly admonished the vice president: "It has felt to me like the Clinton-Gore administration gave an awful lot of ground back to the right and I would like to know why I should vote for you and not Ralph Nader. And don't tell me, `Because I'll split the vote. That's not an answer."
Indeed that is not an answer and voters should not be intimidated by thinking that voting for Nader is "taking away" votes from Gore, indeed the opposite might be a more accurate assessment. As for Gore, Nader recently noted in a speech at the University of Nevada, Reno: "Al Gore has broken more of his written promises than any politician in modern history. He wrote a book in 1992 --- Earth in the Balance --- that he completely turned his back on."
"There isn't 17 cents worth of difference between Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush," Nader told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Bush and Gore are competing for the presidency to see who will take the marching orders from their corporate paymasters."
Also, in a recent feature article on Nader in the Wall Street Journal the paper noted that "the significance of Mr. Nader lies not in his vote-gathering potential, but rather in his message. The Nader gospel provides one more signal to the two main parties that political reform has turned into the message that now unites the politically disaffected of all stripes.
"Far more than any particular grievance, the discontented today are animated by the notion that campaign donations have fixed the system to the disadvantage of the average Joe, ensuring that the little guy's concerns aren't even addressed."
UNDERTAKING BASIC POLITICAL REFORM
So, pitted against the two major parties and their seemingly bottomless reservoirs of corporate money what can "WE the people" do about getting Ralph Nader elected?
FIRST, if you have not already done so, register to vote in the November 7 presidential election.
SECOND, talk to your family, relatives, neighbors and the folks at the
coffee shop each morning about the Nader candidacy. Learn more about Ralph
Nader, his policies and how you can help his campaign by contacting
The fact that agrarian populism achieved a high measure of political success for nearly a decade in the late 1800's explains why in the century since corporate America has reacted so stridently and swiftly to any renewed moves by the nation's farmers to assert that same degree of economic and political power they began to so forcefully apply at the end of the 19th century.
Built on the principle that "people need to see themselves experimenting in democratic forms" an "Alliance lecturing system" evolved. Farmers came together through hundreds of sub-alliances to learn not only the real causes of their economic plight, but also how they could gain strength through "cooperation and organization." Suballiances became classrooms with farmers addressing their condition and the task of explaining themselves and that condition to others.
The Alliance sought not only to reinforce members' commitment to their cause, but marched through towns and cities to exhibit their defiance of those local merchants whom they had come to view as simply extensions of the economic forces subjugating them. Over 1000 newspapers were published under the aegis of the National Reform Press Association. With news and opinions from the surrounding rural communities and with "ready print" inserts to bring news and commentary from their national office, these papers became the very center of populist revolt.
"In its underlying emotional impulses," historian Lawrence Goodwyn tells us, "populism was a revolt against the narrowing limits of political debate within capitalism as much as it was a protest against specific economic injustices. The abundant evidence that `great aggregations of capital' could cloak self-interested policies in high moral purposes --- and have such interpretations disseminated widely and persuasively through the nation's press --- outraged and frightened the agrarian reformers, convincing them of the need for a new political party free of corporate control."
Subsequently, where the suballiances were strong, where there was genuine "cooperation and organization" with a strong populist press reflecting those ideals, the populist movement sustained hardy roots which soon flowered into the People's Party.
Such strength and "cooperation and organization" can also make a difference in Year 2000.
THIRD, On June 19, Ralph Nader Nader and celebrity plaintiffs including Susan Sarandon and Phil Donahue, filed a suit in Boston's Federal District Court complaining that corporate sponsorship is turning this year's presidential debates into beer commercials. The suit charges that such corporate financing of the debates amounts to an illegal corporate campaign contribution. Nader and the plaintiffs are asking the court to strike down the Federal Election Commission regulations that allow corporations --- like Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Budweiser and a sponsor of this fall's debates --- to contribute millions of dollars to the staging of the debates.
"It's turning our presidential debates into a beer commercial," Nader told the New York Times. "And these companies are really sponsoring an exclusive to our campaign commercial for Bush and Gore."
Currently; the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) says that candidates must receive 15% support in national opinion polls in order to participate in debates. Yet, a candidate must only receive five percent support in national opinion polls to receive federal funding for their campaigns.
It is more interesting for voters and viewers to watch debates that include third party candidates. The 1992 debates, which included the third party candidate Ross Perot, were watched by an average of more than 90 million viewers. In contrast, the 1996 debates, which included just the two major party candidates, were watched by an average of less than 42 million viewers.
It is time to uphold our democratic principles and give the American public what it deserves: exposure to a broad array of candidates and ideas. Let voters make a more knowledgeable, thoughtful and informed choice this November by including third party candidates who receive five percent support in national opinion polls participate in the debates.
Citizens are being urged to write Paul Kirk and Frank Fahrenkopf, co-chairmen of the Commission on Presidential Debates, and ask them to change their rules and allow presidential candidates with five percent support in national polls to participate in the debates.
Mail should be sent to:
Frank J. Fahrenkopf and Paul G. Kirk
Commission on Presidential Debates
1200 New Hampshire, NW Box 445
Washington, DC 20036
FOURTH. Come November 7 cast your vote for Ralph Nader.
SEEING "THE FUTURE AS A FRONTIER
RATHER THAN AS A MANDATORY SENTENCE"
Prior to the convening of the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual convention in Houston, Texas this past spring a number of family farm representatives including disaffected AFBF member Fred Stokes, a cattle producer and a 28-year member from Mississippi held a press workshop to voice their disapproval of the organization that touts itself as "the voice of American agriculture."
Stokes in pointing to the decline of small farms and the rising dominance of sprawling agribusinesses as having forced him to join ranks with people whom he has traditionally opposed, namely environmentalist and labor union activists, spelled out a challenge that could well apply to many in agriculture today who have expressed doubts about Ralph Nader and the policies which he has championed for so many years.
"What I am going to do from here on out --- much to the chagrin of a lot of people, including my wife --- is to dog this thing," Stokes said."I am going to associate with some people who I have been conditioned not to like over the years --- the tree-huggers and the labor union people. But we share some things in common, and these are important things. So we are not going to quibble on other matters."
Meanwhile, our friend and populist political pundit Jim Hightower reminds us that "Ralph's `deep democracy campaign,' as he calls it, serves as a rallying cry to get all of us running. He asks, `Why are campaigns just for candidates?' The campaign itself has to belong to you and me --- we have to do the heavy lifting along with him, using his candidacy as leverage for building a new, national, populist party with an organized grassroots base.
"His commitment is to the long haul of party building. Hence, his campaign appearances are with local activists, highlighting the work of those who are already engaged in challenging corporate power where they live; money he raises locally stays with the local campaign; not a dime of the $5 million he's raising nationally is going for pollsters, consultants, or media hype --- rather, it's going into grassroots organizing; as he runs, he's supporting Greens and other progressives who're running or state and local offices; in addition to fund-raisers, he's holding time-raisers, asking people to contribute a specific amount of volunteer time, which translates into millions of dollars worth of work that GoreBush have to spend their corporate loot to get; and the lists of supporters and donors generated by all of these efforts are provided to local campaigns for future organizing," Hightower adds.
Recently colleague Sam Smith wrote a poignant essay --- "How Nader Won" --- in his Progressive Review newsletter. He recounted that in a dream he had " . . .as the campaign went on, America slowly began rediscovering itself, feeling better about itself, and being less angry with others. It was no longer obsessed with hidden dangers but began thinking about long-concealed possibilities. It could even think of the future and smile.
"The voters didn't agree with Nader on many things but he was the one in the race who had kept the country's faith throughout his life and even, when in the wrong, hadn't used lies to get there. To more and more, Nader was only a first step but an absolutely necessary one.
"And so on election day America gave itself another chance, using nothing more revolutionary or sophisticated than a change of heart, and a trust in instinct over propaganda, self-interest over spin, decency over power, and a vision that now saw the future as a frontier rather than as a mandatory sentence . . . "
If family farm agriculture is to survive as a viable, vital, social and financially secure component of our economy; if rural America is once again to become a livable and sustainable community, if our environment is to be safe and clean for our children and future generations, if our food is to be healthy and safe rather than simply being engineered, convenient and fast then we have no other choice for president in the Year 2000 than Ralph Nader.
Reader reactionto this Commentary is invited and welcomed.
CORPORATE AGRIBUSINESS RESEARCH PROJECT
WEBSITE SEARCH ENGINE NOW AVAILABLE
The Corporate Agribusiness Research Project (CARP) web site now contains a streamlined search engine which will not only allow viewers to now find needed information by simply using key words, but they will be able to also access Issues #1 through #77 of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER.
The CARP web site, which is now posted on the World Wide Web, features: THE AGBIZ TILLER, THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER and "Between the Furrows."
THE AGBIZ TILLER, the progeny of the one-time printed newsletter, now becomes an on-line news feature of the Project. Its initial essay concerns one Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic Party candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in New York State.
In "HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON'S $99,537 MIRACLE: IT'S THE PITS!!!" now available through THE AGBIZ TILLER you'll learn some of the messy details behind her cattle futures "miracle." You will also find in this section the archives for past editions of the THE AGBIZ TILLER.
In "Between the Furrows" there is a wide range of pages designed to inform and educate readers on the inner workings of corporate agribusiness. In addition to CARP's "Mission Statement," "Overview" and the Project director's "Publication Background," the viewer will find a helpful "Fact Sheet" on agriculture and corporate agribusiness; a "Fact Miners" page which is an effort to assist the reader in the necessary art of researching corporations; a page of "Quoteable Quotes" periaing to agribusiness and corporate power; a "Links" page which allow the reader to survey various useful public interest, government and corporate web sites; a "Feedback" page for reader input, and a page where readers can order directly the editor's The Corporate Reapers: The Book of Agribusiness.
The CARP web site was design and produced by ElectricArrow of Seattle, Washington. http://www.electricarrow.com
Simply by clicking on either of the addresses below all the aforementioned features and information are yours to enjoy, study, absorb and sow.