The Progressive Populist

A Monthly Journal of the American Way

February 1996 -- Volume 2, Number 2



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The Struggle Within

Whitewater or Tidal Wave?

JIM HIGHTOWER: Americans are Isolated; Genetically Engineered Tomatoes No Boon; Crazy Uncle Newt; Credit Hole: Stop Digging; Prison Labor's 'Made in the USA'; 'Little Stevie' Forbes' Flat Tax.



COVER STORY: Chicken Fat Goes to Processors While Growers Go Bankrupt, By Carol Countryman.

FEATURE: The High Cost of Cheap Food, by A.V. Krebs

RURAL ROUTES by Art Cullen: Will Rural America Be Left Off The Party Line? There's No Answer; Two Old-Line Packs Bow, Where is UFCW?

TALES FROM EAST TEXAS by Carol Countryman: Gag Me ... Please.

FEATURE: Labor War Zone Quiet, Not Lost, by Bill Knight.

FEATURE: 'New Mainstream' Pushes for Nader Campaign, by Peggy Roberson.


FEATURE: Creating a New Mainstream: Third Parties '96 and the unrepresented majority, by Walt Contreras Sheasby.


FEATURE: Corporations: A Real-Life Frankenstein, by Jerry Brown.

PROFILE: An American's Story: Cecile Richards Driving the Texas Freedom Network, by Michael Burton.

FEATURE: How Now Toxic Cow: You Might Want to Know What's in that Hamburger, by Curt Guyette.

IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST by Ralph Nader: NAFTA's Promises vs. Cold Reality.


FEATURE: Congressional Turnover Creates Opportunities, by Jim Cullen.

WHO ARE THOSE GUYS? David McIntosh, the Apple of Newt's Eye, by Dan Diercks.

JAMES McCARTY YEAGER: Customs Beastly, Manners None.

CHARLES LEVENDOSKY: Congress Awards Midas Pensions.

JESSE JACKSON: Whose Union? Whose General?

MEDIA BEAT by Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon: Parry Pulling No Punches.


FREELANCE: First Vote Disappoints.

FEATURE: Hysteria and the Erosion of Civil Discourse, by Jon Entine.

HAL CROWTHER: Rabble with a Cause.


PETER MONTAGUE: Paper Mill Waste and Declining Sperm Counts.

RICHARD ROTHSTEIN: Chanda Means Choices.


FREELANCE: Bishops Attack 'Catholic Alliance'; Flat Tax: Few Specifics; Bank Fees Drive Customers to Credit Unions.

MOLLY IVINS: Barbara Jordan, a Great Spirit, is Gone; Hey, There's Gold in that that Telecom Bill!


EUGENE McCARTHY: Overwork and Unemployment (from Samuel Gompers through Lane Kirkland).


EULOGY: Remembering 'Smiling Ralph' Yarborough; Martha Ragland, Tennesse Pioneer, Dies at 89.


First Vote Disappoints

Civil rights, consumer, labor and elderly groups were surprised in December when U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s first official vote was to override President Clinton's veto of legislation that would limit the liability of accountants and corporations in securities fraud cases. The legislation (H.R. 1058) became law last month over Clinton's veto.

Corporate Crime Reporter, a public interest newsletter, quoted Robert Creamer, director of Illinois Public Action, the largest public interest group in the state, saying Jackson's vote was "a mistake." He added, "We had not communicated with Jesse Jr. concerning this matter." Instead, the newsletter, citing a source close to the override battle, reported two House colleagues, former Black Panther Bobby Rush (D-Illinois) and Edolphus Towns (D-New York) advised Jackson not "to offend big business on your first vote."

The National Rainbow Coalition had called on members of Congress to defeat the legislation. Before his election to Congress, Jackson Jr. was the Rainbow Coalition's field director, and Jesse Jackson Sr., Congressman Jackson's father, had urged various members of Congress to defeat the legislation.

"Access to justice is a seamless web," Jackson Sr. wrote to members of Congress about similar legislation in 1994. "If lawyers, accountants, corporations, banks and insurance companies can hold themselves immune to suits by victims of fraud, their next step will be to gain immunity to lawsuits by victims of redlining and discrimination."

Creamer said that Congressman Jackson's first vote "means we are going to have to do some serious work to make sure he understands firsthand the importance of the civil justice system to the average citizen," the newsletter reported.


Bishops Attack 'Catholic Alliance'

Protestant televangelist Pat Robertson would like to extend his influence among conservative Catholics, but his newly organized Catholic Alliance has come under fire from Roman Catholic clergy and bishops, who say the movement is misleading their parishioners about the church's stands on social issues.

Bishops and priests say the Catholic Alliance, which was created as an arm of the predominantly Protestant Christian Coalition last fall, is in doctrinal conflict with Catholic church leaders on a range of issues, from the death penalty to welfare reform to gun control, and are warning Catholics to be wary of the organization.

The latest criticisms came in December, when the Most Rev. Thomas J. O'Brien, bishop of the 326,000-member Diocese of Phoenix, blasted the Catholic Alliance agenda as "carefully crafted to support directions in Congress that the Catholic bishops and Catholic Charities USA have opposed."

Catholic bishops frequently are a target of scorn by liberals for their unstinting opposition to abortion and conservative stances on other social issues. But unlike some church leaders, at least the Catholics tend to be consistent in their respect for the life of the born, as well as the unborn.

Flat tax: few specifics

The National Commission on Economic Growth and Tax Reform, appointed by the Republican Congress and led by Reagan-era Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp, pumped life into the idea of a flat tax with its endorsement of the concept. But the commission report was vague about the tax rate, whether it would apply to unearned income or whether a new tax code should include deductions for gifts to charity and home mortgage interest.

According to some reports Kemp said he envisioned the tax rate being somewhere around 19 percent. (Current rates run from 15 percent to just under 40 percent.) He was to testify on the commission's findings at a Jan. 31 Senate Finance Committee hearing.

Some Republican presidential candidates who a week before had ridiculed Steve Forbes, the multimillionaire publishing executive who has made the flat tax the defining element of his Republican presidential campaign, began to sidle up to the idea. Sen. Phil Gramm, who a week earlier had derided Forbes' plan as a "budget buster," trotted out his own flat tax rate. Majority Leader Bob Dole suggested Forbes' proposal was a naive notion of an untested politician, but he later acknowledged that it may drive the election.

Forbes has been vague about his flat tax proposal, but he has referred to a 17-percent flat tax advocated by House Minority Leader Dick Armey. Critics believe that while wealthy and low-income families would get tax breaks under such a plan (and Forbes' taxes could be cut by up to two-thirds), taxes would increase on the middle class.

Largely overlooked in the hoopla is a greatly simplified progressive tax plan proposed by House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. His plan would tax 75 percent of families at 10 percent, after standard deductions and exemptions. But marginal rates would increase to 34 percent for incomes over $264,450 under the Missouri Democrat's plan.

Gephardt notes that Citizens for Tax Justice found that a family of four earning $45,000 now pays approximately $3,800 in taxes. Under Armey's plan, that family's taxes would more than double, to $8,000. It would pay $3,230, or $570 less than the current levy, under Gephardt's plan.

A family of four would pay no more than 10 percent up to about $60,000 in income, and an individual would pay no more than ten percent up to about $32,000, he explained. His plan would keep the home-mortgage interest deduction. And Gephardt would require a national referendum before Congress could raise tax rates again. "That way, people will know that in exchange for losing all those loopholes and shelters, they're really going to be able to count on lower rates," he explained.

"Finally, my plan would tax all income--earned or unearned--exactly the same, so that investors and speculators wouldn't get the huge, deficit-busting windfall the Republicans want to give them. That's why my plan would not increase the deficit by one red cent."

Bank fees drive customers to credit unions

Bank fees rose at four times the rate of inflation between 1990 and 1993, according to a study by the Consumer Federation of America and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which suggested that consumers consider switching to credit unions as an alternative to banks.

The average cost of interest-bearing bank checking accounts jumped 22 percent from 1990 to 1993, to $197 a year, the study found. During the same period, the cost of a regular bank checking account rose 18.5 percent to $184 a year. Consumers with savings account balances of $200 lose an average $23 a year because the fees to maintain that amount offset the interest earned, the survey says.

The CU Executive's 1992 fee survey found 58 percent of credit unions offer free checking, compared with only 18.9 percent of banks. On average, credit unions allow members 35 checks before fees kick in, compared with 14 free checks for banks. Some credit unions have no limits.

Credit unions require an average minimum balance of $136.67 for free checking, compared with banks $494 average. And only 17 percent of credit unions reported that they expect to raise or initiate fees on checking/share draft programs this year.


Remembering 'Smiling Ralph' Yarborough

Ralph Webster Yarborough, who bucked a conservative tide in the 1950s to win election--and twice won re-election--to the U.S. Senate as a progressive populist, died on Jan. 27. He was 92.

Yarborough, whose motto was "Let's put the jam on the lower shelf, so the little people can reach it," sponsored many of the landmark bills of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society program. He also encouraged a generation of progressive Democrats in Texas at a time when ballot-crossing conservatives shut them out of party functions.

"He represented the heart of the populist movement, the notion that it's ordinary workaday people who matter in our lives and matter in our society, that those are the people we should be investing in--not the elites, but the many. That's what Yarborough's career in politics, in government and in his personal life was all about," said Jim Hightower, former Texas agriculture commissioner who was an aide to Yarborough from 1967-69.

Yarborough ran two Quixotic races in the early 1950s against conservative Democrat Allan Shivers, who led most of the state's Democratic officials in cross-filing as Republicans to highlight their disputes with the national Democratic leadership.

When Shivers stepped down in 1956, the conservatives put up Price Daniel, a U.S. senator, who beat Yarborough by only 3,171 votes out of nearly 1.4 million cast. Yarborough believed the election had been stolen from him. But in the special election for the vacant Senate seat, Yarborough won in a field of 22 candidates with 38 percent of the vote.

Once in Washington Yarborough defied segregationist Southern Democrats. He was one of only five Southern senators who voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1957, but he was elected to a full term in 1958. After election to his second full term in 1964 he proceeded to sponsor or help pass such landmark bills as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Cold War GI Bill of 1966, the National Cancer Act of 1970 and so many bills giving aid to public schools and universities that his Senate colleagues called him "Mr. Education."

He was a major sponsor of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Community Mental Health Center Act, the Bilingual Education Act and he helped develop Medicare and Medicaid. He co-wrote the Endangered Species Act of 1969.

He also was responsible for the appointment of William Wayne Justice to the federal bench in East Texas. Justice, once considered the most hated man in Texas, presided over the desegregation of Texas public schools, secured the right to education of the children of undocumented aliens and forced reforms of the Texas Department of Corrections.

Arnold Garcia Jr., editorial page editor of the Austin American-Statesman, got his college education by virtue of the updated GI Bill, so the talk about Yarborough being a champion of "the little guy" was more than an abstraction for him.

"The starched white shirt crowd didn't much care for him. The unstarched blue collars loved him," Garcia wrote. "... If the workplace for someone in Tulia, Texas, or Winona, Minn., is just a bit safer today, it's because of Yarborough and people like him. If some veteran is holding down a good job because the GI Bill helped with college, he can say, 'Thanks Senator.' I know I did."

(If you have Internet access, check out a Yarborough tribute site at Yarborough/yarbhome.html/) Martha Ragland, Tennessee pioneer, dies at 89

Tennessee progressives mourned the death of civil-rights leader Martha Ragland, who died Jan. 18 at 89.

"She was Tennessee's first modern-day feminist, and she made things a lot easier for the rest of us," Carole Bucy, who worked with Ragland on the League of Women Voters, told The Nashville Tennessean. Ragland trekked the state with Margaret Sanger to promote birth control. In the early 1940s she helped revive the state League of Women Voters. In 1948 Ragland organized the successful Senate campaign of Estes Kefauver. she also helped Al Gore Sr. win a seat in the Senate. She continued in several other efforts to promote women's organization.

"The progressives have lost their voice here in Tennessee," reader Bob Allen wrote to us.
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