LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
Clean up the Mississippi
Folks, it's time to move beyond the last election and look towards the future!
I have something along those lines:
From Science, the AAAS weekly, Oct 18, 1996, page 331 (Science Scope):
Gulf 'Dead Zone' Worries Agencies
... what may be one of the country's biggest ecological problems -- a vast
area of oxygen-depleted, nearly lifeless bottom waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
... The problem, called hypoxia ... occurs when nutrients from sewage and
fertilizer runoff in rivers stimulates algal blooms. The algae then sink
and decompose, draining oxygen from bottom waters. [during the floods of
'93, the dead zone] doubled to 18,000 square kilometers. One result may
be "significant effects" on Gulf fisheries ... Researchers have
traced the nutirant source to fertilizer runoff from Midwest states.
The news clip goes on to state that the EPA and NOAA are actively monitoring
the Gulf dead zone, and it includes a map of the zone, which runs along
the larger part of the Louisana coast, from the mouth of the Mississippi
250 miles west to Lake Charles, and about 50 miles wide for a good part
of its length.
The finger of blame appears to point to Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Nebraska,
and Indiana, and the problem we face is how to make something good come
The worst case scenario I can imagine is that various knee jerk anti-environmentalists
will react with denial when this story starts to get more widespread press
coverage, pushing Republican controlledstates like Iowa into a stonewall
position not terribly different from the tobacco industry's position with
regard to health risks of tobacco.
Such stonewall tactics can delay any productive reaction to the story almost
indefinitely, allowing the damage to be compounded without limit before
anything gets done about it.
We faced a very similar situation a few decades back, when Lake Erie was
seriously threatened by phosphate discharges, mostly of urban origin.
Back then, we as a nation were willing to put up with Federal regulation,
forcing the abandonment of phosphate detergents in the Great Lakes basin
in order to stop the eutrophication (oxygen depletion) of Lake Erie.
Today, thanks to prompt Federal and Canadian action, Lake Erie has almost
completely recovered from that particular human attack, making it a remarkable
example of environmental success!
Unfortunately, today, I would expect a very different reaction to attempts
to solve the problem by that kind of regulatory approach. So, what to do?
Lou Licht's young company, Ecolotree, may have its hands on part of the
solution: He is selling sterile hybrid poplar trees and a planting technique
that allows a 30 foot wide buffer of trees to extract something over 90
percent of the nitrates from field runoff that flows through the buffer
into a stream, and he proposes that planting such buffers on about 6 percent
of the state's most productive farmland would solve the nitrate runoff problem
while producing an attractive alternative crop -- a variety of poplar that
can harvested on a 7-year cycle and can be used for structural timber, pulpwood
I am sure that there are other alternative crops that can be planted in
buffer strips to extract nitrates and convert them to something useful.
The point is, let's make sure someone does the research we need in the next
5 years or so to find a mix of potentially profitable ways to remove the
nitrates so we don't just end up imposing the kind of regulations that turn
yet more people into converts to Rush Limbaugh's know-nothing, do-nothing
approach to environmental problems. We need a lot more than just one poplar
plantation in Amana (the basis of Lou Licht's work) to do this!
(No Street Address available)
Iowa City, Iowa
Private meter readers
I would like to ask other readers of The Progressive Populist if they have
any knowledge of a company named TruChek. They are a contract utility meter
reading firm. I don't know their history but I know they have arrived in
Durham, N.C., to read our gas meters and we believe it is only a matter
of time until they make a pitch for city utilities threatening our city
If anyone knows of this company, has had experience fighting them or is
aware of any struggles around contracting these services I would appreciate
3014 Buckingham Rd.
Durham NC 27707
Campaign reform --
a modest proposal
After contemplating the $800 million spent on the presidential campaign
and the proportionate amounts spent on every campaign down to county commissioner,
it occurred to me that perhaps the voters would be better served if the
money were used to try and influence them more directly. I'm talking open
For example, Bill Clinton could have spent his money sending as many as
four big macs to every family in America. Locally, here on Whidbey Island,
the golfer-fisherman Dave Anderson might have sent each of us a golf ball
wrapped in a slab of smoked salmon. The banker Barney Beeksma could have
sent each of us a small check from his bank. The beautician Mary Margaret
Haugen could have sent a bottle of shampoo to each family in her district,
and the septic installer, Mike Shelton, could have sent out rolls of unbleached,
biodegradable toilet tissue to voters.
In any case, you get my idea. No longer would we get the visual pollution
of thousands of yard signs or the dubious informative pamplets sent out
by the candidates. Instead, each voter could look forward to Christmas in
November as the candidates vied with each other in the race to send the
bigger, the more useful or the more entertaining gift to constituents.
3830 S. 530 E.
Greenbank, WA 98253
Ballots remain closed
Your September 1996 Progressive Populist says on page two (editorial "Don't
hope; organize") that if Ralph Nader gets 5% of the vote for president,
the Green Party will enjoy automatic ballot status in the next election.
This is not true. Each state has its own laws on how many votes a party
must poll, to be on the ballot in the next election. They range from less
than one-half of 1% in Michigan, to 20% in Alabama. The median vote test
of the 50 states is 3%. ... In Iowa, the vote test is 2% for president or
There are even a few states with no vote test. In Florida, it doesn't matter
how many votes a third party polls; it can't be on the ballot in the next
election unless 5% of all the registered voters in the state join the party
(as indicated on voter registation forms). This is a terrible law that no
third party has ever complied with. No third party in any state has managed
to persuade 5% of the voters to register as members of it, since the 1910s
[Also] in your September 1996 issue, letter-writer Otto Mullinax says "I
would like proportional representation instead of the two-party system but
not at the expense of a Republican House of Representatives".
Ironically, at the November 5, 1996 election, Democratic candidates for
the U.S. House of Representatives received more popular votes than Republican
candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives! Yet we still would up
with a Republican majority in the House. If we had proportional representation,
there would be more Democrats in the House today instead of Republicans.
Richard Winger, Editor
Ballot Access News
PO Box 470296
San Francisco, CA 94147
An abusive marriage indeed
When trouble first started brewing in the hen house (the growers first started
figuring out they were being used without much compensation), the poultry
companies started playing with words as a psychological method of dealing
with the developing adversarial confrontations. The Tysons, ConAgras, Hudsons,
OK Foods, Pilgrims, etc. said to consider our business with them as a marriage.
I guess we were supposed to believe we shared a business bed and must accept
anything they bothered to dish out. When one grower stated, if he was married,
he wanted a divorce, the "interpretation" was promptly changed.
They said we really had only a relationship -- a business relationship.
Then it was partners -- business partners. Growers asked, if in fact they
were partners, would it be possible to get their 50%? We have also been
told we are independent contractors when in reality we are the most dependent
people there are. The contract poultry farmer is told what, where, when
and how high. But, by far, the most accurate thing we have been called by
our company bosses is a franchisee. Now doesn't that sound nice? It does,
until you discover what franchising really is and the unfairness inherent
in this business setup.
"Franchising is the new American dream. If you've been downsized or
shoved aside, or if you"re just tired of making money for someone else,
you can take your nest egg and buy your own golden arch," says Michael
Betzold, in the National News Reporter, 11/20/96. Except in our case it
was a golden chicken ranch. We took our life savings, our retirement nest
egg, if you will, borrowed the remainder of the money and pursued the American
dream. It was even more alluring to us because Bill, my husband, had become
partially disabled. His hands had worn out from so many years in the sheet
metal trade. Two carpal tunnel operations had left him without a job. We
were led to believe the chicken barns were automated and you could take
care of them with about an hour per house per day. We believed good money
and the 'Green Acres' farm life was ahead.
The companies promised that hard work and attention to little details --
any farmer's wife could handle it -- would bring ample rewards. But as the
expenses rose and the pay remained the same or sometimes even dropped and
as inflation took its tole on our leftover net return, we became entangled
in the web of THE FRANCHISED CHICKEN TRAP. Like many other Americans who
bought into the franchise dream, we had spent our life saving to purchase
a minimum wage job that buried us under a mountain of debt.
According to Betzold, "Investors take the risks while franchisors reap
voyalties, commonly eight percent, on gross revenues." Sure sounds
like the chicken business. Many investors, whether in chicken farming or
chicken selling (such as McDonalds) have found they haven't bought freedom.
They have really chased an elusive dream. Belzold correctly surmises, "In
many cases profit margins are so slim that franchisees work other jobs just
to meet their store's royalty payments." Unhuh.
"But franchisors insist that most store owners turn good profits and
only a few disgruntled investors are complaining." Unhuh #2. "A
true picture is impossible to obtain, since franchisors have no reporting
requirements on any aspect of their operations. Those who have studied franchising
say abuses are the result of an industry unencumbered by modern labor laws."
Boy, does this Betzold have their number!
In the National News article Betzold quotes Dean Sagar, a congressional
aide to U.S. Rep. John LaFalce (D-NY), who worked on a six-year investigation
into franchising. "Franchising is a way for business to turn back the
clock. As a franchisor, you provide nothing -- no benefits, no protections
-- but you control franchisees more than any employee could ever have been
controlled. Franchisees are today's equivalent of indentured servants. The
only difference is that we're very sophisticated today; the trapping of
people is all done financially."
"Too many franchisees sign away their rights in one-sided contracts
that leave them at the mercy of large corporations," is another Betzold
quote. Sound familiar? "Franchisors can get rich by 'churning' businesses--signing
up new franchisees, undercutting them with new locations, closing down operators
who get in financial trouble, then bringing in a new victim." Unlike
Betzold, I call it recruiting new meat when the chicken companies over build
in some areas to oversupply the market and thus create false competition
which allows them to pay their growers less. Overbuilt complexes allow them
to bring about longer layouts which helps to avoid excess disease challenges
in the barns but it sure hurts the farmers bottom line. The companies also
use this tactic of over expansion as leverage to make contract growers "update"
their barns with "new technological" equipment changes that will
provide higher profits for the companies at a direct cost to the grower.
A contract grower that is kept in debt is not as likely to express his disgruntlement.
Often he is given the choise to either update or take a permanent hike.
Other times he is given no choises--just take a hike. What cutting off a
grower accomplishes for the companies is a reduction of their labor force
which leaves room for more updated barns to be built. It also makes the
neighbors of the cut off grower think twice before they give them any back
"It's the big guy plucking the little guy," said David Duree,
a St. Louis attorney, who represents franchisees. "The little guy has
no rights under a franchise agreement and few rights under the law. It's
not a fair method of doing business."
"Once you get into a franchise, it's very, very difficult and expensive
to get out," said Samuel Crawford, an official with the American Franchisee
Assocation and advocacy group founded in 1993.
Betzold also tells us in his article, that the Federal Trade Commission
(FTC) requires franchisors to provide disclosure documents to the franchisee--a
blizzard of paperwork which Sagar says is legally meaningless and "a
form of indemnity for the franchisor." Franchisees typically believe
the disclosure documents protect them. But a 1993 government report found
that the FTC took legal action in only 2% of franchise complaints.
Betzold notes that franchisees are often treated like political orphans.
According to Dean Sagar, Democrats tend to view entrepreneurs as in the
business class and not part of their traditionallabor-force constituency.
Republicans, who often speak in defense of small business owners, are quick
to abandon their interests if they clash with big business. "This is
the new labor. They're not organized or classified and they're completely
unprotected. It's a work force that's not defined and not represented, confronting
some of the largest corporate conglomerates."
Just like the contract poultry growers who have organized these franchisees
often face reprisals from companies trying to stop them from organizing.
Betzold's article states that franchisors threaten inspections and audits.
Yet another--unhuh. The contract growers call it harassment and intimidation.
The franchisors are so hostile that chairman Crawford of the American Franchisee
Assocation estimates about 1,000 of his group's 7,500 members are anonymous.
The Betzold article says that the American Association of Franchisees and
Dealers, has set up standards for the franchising industry. Additionally,
AAFD chapters are trying to bargain contracts collectively. The correlations
between what has happened to franchisees and contract farmers is very revealing.
Through education, many organizations, the National Contract Poultry Growers
Association included, are trying to supply educational material to potential
agricultural franchisees, but the bright light of opportunity seems to blind
these budding entrepreneurs. The lure of the American dream of independence
or the illusion of good wholesome country living is just too compelling.
It's very difficult to get the perspective new contract industrialists to
believe that these well known successful companies would knowingly lure
them into a business deal which has the potential of financial slavery.
They yearn for their dream. They see folks who have prospered in these businesses.
What they don't see is at what cost, nor do they see those who have failed.
These first-time investors often do not research nor analyze enough. They
have no idea that many fail through no fault of their own. After entering
the franchising business many will look back and ask, "How did I get
The farmer can withstand the challenges of unpredictable weather, he can
stand the ups and downs of a fickle but fair marketplace, but the one thing
neither he nor the small businessman can withstand is the calculated corruption
of these gargantuan multinational corporations. When the multinationals
have been exposed as the scheming greedy giants that they are, it's going
to be interesting to see how long Americans will put up with allowing them
to financially rape unsuspecting citizens.
Oklahoma Contract Poultry
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