Friday, March 13, 2009

Knee-Capping The Peasants - Three Examples

I have written on several occasions that we are all increasingly dependent on the global system known as the “official” economy, and that this official system is now breaking. I have also repeatedly mentioned that the masters of this present global system are waging an active war against anyone who tries to create a safety net of alternative systems. One of their means is the use of governments to pass laws that make various acts of self-sufficiency illegal, or that impose a penalty on people who use alternatives to the official system. Here are three beautifully evil examples:

Oregon State House Bill 3008. Are you an Oregonian who recently chose to save money by bicycle commuting instead of driving? Four members of the Oregon legislature want to take that money away from you. They are Republican Representative Wayne Krieger, Republican Representative Sal Esquivel, Republican Representative Bill Garrard and Democratic Representative Michael Scaufler. They have introduced House Bill 3008 (http://www.leg.state.or.us/cgi-bin/searchMeas.pl), a measure that, if passed, would require all bicycles ridden in Oregon to be registered by their owners via a $54 biannual fee. Failure to register would result in a traffic fine of up to $90. This is the same amount charged for registering cars!

Ostensibly, the bill is designed to raise funds for improvement and expansion of bikeways and bike paths, but in actuality, the bill may be yet another attempt to discourage people from using bikes as transport, and to force them back into cars. One of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Wayne Krieger, had opposed the Oregon Vulnerable Roadway Users bill in 2007. He has also stated his belief that bikes don't belong on the road. (Source: http://bikeportland.org/2009/03/06/mandatory-bike-registration-bill-introduced-in-salem/) The other thing is that only two thirds of the registration funds collected would go toward bikeway/bike path projects. The remaining third would be kept by the registering agency (who could be a private contractor hired by the State).

Is this the way to protect the budgets of struggling families, or to combat global warming? Is this how to address impending energy shortages? And what about the many, many homeless people one sees on bikes nowadays, people for whom a bicycle is a vital piece of equipment? Is the state going to try to shake them down, or will they try to confiscate their bikes? House Bill 3008 is just plain stupid.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. This is the law which is causing consternation among thrift shop owners, small home-based makers of childrens clothes and toys, and sellers of children's books. This law, sponsored by Democratic Congressman Bobby Rush and signed into law by Republican President George W. Bush, requires that any toys, apparel or other “children's products” (products made for children 12 years old or younger) must be subjected to third-party testing for lead and phthalates before being sold. Enforcement of this law was intended to apply even to items made before the law was passed. Moreover, the law was intended for any product consisting of a completed assembly of various parts – even if those parts did not contain lead or phthalates themselves.

These requirements mean the effectual destruction of thrift shops and garage sales, as well as other sellers of used children's books, toys and clothing. Moreover, they mean testing for things that clearly could not possibly contain lead, such as rag dolls made from cloth, cotton stuffing and thread. And the third-party testing requirements threaten the very existence of small-scale, home or cottage-based industries and sellers, since they can't afford the third-party testing fees. (See http://www.roanoke.com/news/roanoke/wb/197224, http://www.amadirectlink.com/news/story.asp?id=629, http://www.middletownjournal.com/hp/content/oh/story/news/local/2009/02/18/hjn021809leadlibraries.html, http://www.ldnews.com/ci_11810629?source=most_viewed, and http://www.khnl.com/Global/story.asp?S=9799062&nav=menu55_2)

But the requirements of this law are good for Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, and the really big children's product manufacturers, who are the only ones with enough cash flow to afford compliance with this law – yet whose products, made outside the United States in countries with lax regulations, were responsible for causing the very problems that this law is supposed to fix. Were you trying to become self-sufficient by starting a home-based children's craft business? Has this law just wiped you out? You could always try to get a job at Wal-Mart or McDonald's. How effective are laws to protect chickens when they are written by foxes? Look, there goes a ten-year-old right now, chewing on his bicycle chain! Was that kid's bicycle subjected to third-party testing before it was sold??!

Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009. This bill, also known as House Resolution 875, was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Democratic Representative Rosa DeLauro and 39 co-sponsors, all Democrats. This bill has many bloggers upset because of the perceived threat the bill poses to our ability to be self-sufficient in providing our own food without having to rely on the present global system of industrial food production. The fuss over the bill made me curious, so I downloaded a copy of it (you can get yours here: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h111-875) and read the whole thing this afternoon.

This bill is our government's response to recent food safety scandals such as melamine residues in baby formula and pet food shipped to the U.S., as well as outbreaks of samonella in peanut butter, eggs, meat, poultry, pet food and vegetables. The introductory paragraphs of the bill make it clear that the bill's purpose goes beyond merely protecting consumer health: “Congress finds that the safety of the food supply of the United States is vital to...public confidence in the food supply and to the success of the food sector of the Nation's economy...” and “...loss of public confidence in food safety [is] damaging to consumers and the food industry, and place[s] a burden on interstate commerce and international trade...” (emphasis added). In other words, one of the primary purposes of this bill is to repair the damage to the global food industry due to loss of consumer confidence on account of recent food safety scandals.

The bill proposes to set up a far-reaching bureaucracy responsible for enforcing uniform standards for all “food establishments,” as defined by the bill. “Food establishments” are defined as facilities that slaughter animals, that process raw seafood or other raw animal products, that process cooked, pasteurized, or otherwise ready-to-eat animal products or that processes raw, ready-to-eat fresh produce, or any establishment that process all other categories of food products not described in the aforementioned definitions. The bill also has requirements for “food production facilities,” defined as farms, ranches, orchards, vineyards, or feedlots.

For “food establishments,” the bill sets up requirements for mandatory inspections, quality control processes, testing and documentation of records. It also requires all “food establishments” to register with the Federal government. For “food production facilities” such as farms, the bill requires the operators to follow the National Animal Identification System, as well as “minimum standards” related to “growing, harvesting, sorting, and storage operations” for “fertilizer use, nutrients, hygiene, packaging, temperature controls, animal encroachment and water...”

The concern over the safety of our nation's food supply is commendable. Some of the provisions of this bill seem to address that concern in a reasonable manner, including testing requirements for food imported to the United States. However, as I read this bill, I got the impression that too many of its provisions are poorly defined, and could lead to draconian, hugely invasive government interference in small, family-owned farms, driving them out of business. The requirement to follow the National Animal Identification System is a sure-fire small farm killer, written expressly to drive small meat farmers out of business due to the huge cost of compliance. This bill seems to be yet another attempt at knee-capping the peasants.

One thing about the peasants: Since I am a peasant who wants to escape from reliance on our breaking system, I care a great deal about the attempts by the corporate masters of our present system to force me into continued dependence on their system. In fact, I get mad. There seems to be a shortage of anger about these things nowadays. When that anger is expressed, it's usually in the form of calls to “write your congressman!” Should chickens appeal to foxes for protection? But if chickens figure out a way to make predatory behavior hard on foxes, they're apt to get more satisfying results. Write your congressman if you like, but don't stop there.

Therefore I'll just inform you that H.R. 875 sponsor Representative DeLauro is married to Stanley Greenberg, principal of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a political campaign company (http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Greenberg_Quinlan_Rosner). Among his company's recent clients is Monsanto, a large-scale manufacturer of pesticides and other farm “inputs,” as well as genetically-modified seeds. As a huge agribusiness player, Monsanto is a company that would have a great deal to gain from driving small farms out of business, and has actively campaigned against organic agriculture. (Source: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Monsanto)

Monsanto also makes products such as Roundup Herbicides and Fielder's Choice Seeds, and is a partner with the Scotts Miracle-Gro company in distributing lawn care products. You can find their products in any Home Depot or Lowe's or Tru-Value hardware store. Or then again, maybe you can't. At least I can't anymore. My anger toward Scotts and Monsanto has induced a selective blindness in my eyes – I can't see their products anymore, no matter what store I visit. Oh, well. I guess I can't buy what I can't see. As I find out more about other corporate sponsors of this sort of foolishness, I may stop seeing their products also.

Oh, and if you want to find out more about the National Animal Identification System, read this: http://www.dcexaminer.com/opinion/columns/TimothyCarney/Livestock-tracing-bill-could-be-end-of-family-farms-ranches--41197442.html. I guess I won't ever again be eating at McDonald's either.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

While I have my own issues with Scotts Miracle Gro, I am curious about your anger towards the company. I don't think of it with anywhere near the contempt and suspicion I reserve for Monsanto. I'm wondering what you know specifically that I may not Thanks.

TH in SoC said...

Thanks for your readership. I don't know anything specific about Scotts Miracle Gro, except that they are partnering with Monsanto in selling Monsanto products. I also know that Scotts products are widely sold in hardware/home improvement stores, whereas many of Monsanto's products are sold strictly to farmers and agribusiness. Scotts is thus a more accessible target for a boycott for most of us. By leaning on Scotts, we might get them to lean on Monsanto a little bit.

Stormchild said...

Oh, memories, memories! You've brought back recollections of my [never] carefree grad school days... back in the late '70s and early '80s.

When I lived almost entirely on my microscopic stipend, plus whatever I could scratch up doing 'permitted' odd jobs for the university.

And every year, my monthly income went up a munificent $25.00... and every year, my bank's minimum deposit requirement to avoid service fees went up by exactly $25.00... so that it was always pegged at about $50.00 more than I could afford to leave in my account.

Memories, memories. I remember also that I knew full well this was neither accident nor coincidence, and it stimulated my vocabulary every payday.

On a slightly related note, are you aware how many food banks and charity clinics are ONLY open from 9 to 5 [or worse hours, like 10 to 4 M-W-F]? To serve people who are given neither time off nor sick leave and must often work two jobs six days per week?

For these places, it's not about actually doing anything... it's about looking like they do something. Not quite knee-capping, more like 'let them eat papier-maché cake stage props'.

Anonymous said...

HR 3008 -- a step in the right direction. I have no problems with bicycles using the roadway which tax dollars built for automobiles -- what I have a problem with is bicycles NOT sharing the RESPONSIBILITIES and COSTS of using the road.

ROAD TEST - REGISTER - INSURE

every conveyance which uses the main roadways, including children riding bicycles in neighborhoods.

As usual, if people have to pay for insurance, most will become more safe to avoid incidents which would raise their rates.

If bicycles are inspected for safety equipment, and bicycle "drivers" are road-tested for rules and regulations, the roads WILL be safer. As it is now, some people who ride bicycles have never received licenses to operate motor vehicles and are therefore ignorant of the most obvious road laws, such as, stopping at stop signs.

Tax dollars and individual homeowners and businesses are paying for alterations to the roads and intersections to accomodate bicyclists -- shouldn't bicyclists contribute to the costs?

... and I still don't "get" why being poor and/or homeless is rewarded to the degree that it is in our society.

Should people who can't afford insurance or who can't afford to maintain the most basic safety standards [brakes, tires, etc.]for their vehicles be allowed to drive vehicles on the roadway? Do YOU want to be involved in an accident with an uninsured driver or an uninsured bicyclist? Who pays?

There is a discrimination against motor vehicle owners/drivers happening here. If bicyclists want to shake their fists in the air and stage "critical mass" disruptions demanding to use the road, then I'm demanding that they share in the costs and responsibilities.

HR 3008 is a start to making us all more equal in regards to using the public roads.

TH in SoC said...

Anonymous (No. 2), thanks for your readership. However, I think you miss a few things. First, global oil production has already peaked; therefore, the use of automobiles as transportation is going to become increasingly difficult for everyone. Secondly, cars produce greenhouse gases which contribute to destructive climate change. It is therefore in the interests of us all to reduce automobile use. But penalizing people who use alternatives to cars keeps people dependent on cars and hinders a societal move in a better direction away from cars. Your suggestions sound like a strategy to destroy every alternative to car-based transit.

As far as requiring children who ride bikes to be insured, how old are you? I don't mean to sound harsh, but your requirement sounds outlandish. If you grew up during the time I did, kids were allowed to play without being encased in body armor. They took risks, they fell down, but most survived. Requiring insurance for bike-riding kids is a form of overprotection.

As far as "rewarding" the poor and homeless, I can assure you that American society does no such thing. Most of the social safety nets which existed for the poor and homeless have been eliminated from the time of Reagan onward, because of people who thought that such safety nets constitute a "reward" for being poor. This is a peculiarly American idea, and springs from the notion that people who are poor or homeless must have brought this condition on themselves - thus they deserve what they're getting.

The antidote to such wrong thinking is coming down upon many formerly well-off people who find that their jobs are evaporating and their standard of living is being cut down. Many, many of us are about to get a chance to walk in a poor man's shoes. That will change your perspective, believe me!

Lastly, how much wear and tear does a 150-220 pound man on a 30 pound bike cause to a roadway, as opposed to a 4,000 pound SUV?

SoapBoxTech said...

I`m with you TH. Part of personal responsibility is looking out for other knuckleheads who AREN`T being responsible and avoid hazardous interaction with these types. I would also agree that it is ludicrous to demand registration of bicycles. I could drown in a tablespoon of water if I was stupid enough, or incapacitated...perhaps tablespoons should require registration as well. This is as ridiculous an argument as suggesting that the poverty-stricken had to have brought this state on themselves and therefore must face the consequences by themselves.

I too am greatly concerned about the growing restriction on civil liberties and am trying to spread awareness and the importance of responsible freedom.

Peace and comfort to you, and to all.