Black Farmers Still Seek Justice

The scene at the Federal District Court House in Washington D.C. on March 2 was one of high expectations and emotional pleadings as black farmers, on the verge of a $400 million settlement to compensate for decades of discrimination at the hands of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pleaded for a full, fair, and complete redress of the grievances.

The farmers, some dressed in bib overalls, told how they were taunted, humiliated and denied federal loans while their white neighbors in similar circumstances were approved for loans by the mainly white councils that administer USDA programs at the county level. The stoic, devout and long-suffering black farmers cried out to "let justice roll like waters, and let freedom ring" for them. They hoped that Federal Judge Paul Friedman, as part of the Consent Decree, would answer their call for a complete redress of their long oppressive and unjust treatment by agencies of their own federal government.

But Judge Friedman was there merely to hear objections to the settlement, which would award participating farmers about $50,000 each and forgive any outstanding loans they had managed to wangle from the USDA. While that may seem a sizeable jackpot, the farmers complained it was a pittance after decades of mistreatment that had driven many into bankruptcy. The agreement also did nothing to install systemic change in the white-dominated USDA bureaucracy.

Judge Friedman told the farmers that the District Court was not capable of redressing their litany of grievances in any comprehensive manner. The President, the Congress, and ultimately the American people were the only ones that could begin to alter the attitudes and the governmental structure that is responsible for their oppression and mistreatment because of the color of their skin, the judge said.

While small farmers of all races have been run off the land over the past 20 years, crushed by a combination of bad weather, trade and agricultural policy geared toward multinational agribusinesses and a tightening of farm credit, blacks have been especially hard hit, dropping from 14% of the nation's farmers in the 1920s to less than 1% today. Only 20,000 black farmers are tilling the soil today. "Most of them will be gone by the end of the year," Tim Pigford, a plaintiff in the original class-action suit against the USDA, predicted to Jeff Stein of the online magazine Salon. "The rest will be gone soon after 2000."
-- with reports from Linn Hamilton. See Salon article at www.salonmagazine.com/news/-1999/03/08news.html

AFL-CIO plans $40m campaign on social, economic issues

The AFL-CIO will spend $40 million over the next two years to raise public awareness of such issues as Social Security funding, Medicare, and the minimum wage, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said. Union officials are hoping to register 2.8 million new voters by 2000, and put some 2,000 union members on election ballots in political races across the country. Sweeney said the AFL-CIO, a federation of 79 unions, is considering a proposal by moderate Republicans that would increase the minimum wage by $1 over three years and adjust wages automatically to changes in the cost of living. Democrats have proposed increasing the minimum hourly wage by $1 over a two-year period only.

Lawmakers would nix public schools

Two Colorado politicians who serve on education committees, U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo and state Sen. John Andrews, have signed a pledge calling for elimination of all public schools. "It is clear that reform of state schooling will not solve the educational crisis," says the pledge signed by Tancredo, R-Littleton, a member of the U.S. House Education Committee, and Andrews, R-Englewood, vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee in the state Legislature, as reported in the Denver Post on Feb. 23. "Therefore, we must end government compulsion in education funding, attendance and content. Separation of school and state is essential to restore parental responsibility and create an environment of educational freedom in which both students and teachers can flourish." The pledge was set up by a California group, the Separation of School and State Alliance, which passes out literature with the motto, "It's not the business of federal, state and local governments to be involved in Monday school any more than in Sunday school." The group said 6,000 people across America so far have signed the pledge.

Fear of Fluoride May Be Well-Founded

New research is substantiating old fears about the widespread use of fluoride in toothpaste and water supplies. Mark Hertsgaard and Phillip Frazer, writing in the online magazine Salon, note that the Food and Drug Administration in April 1997 ordered warning labels placed on toothpaste tubes containing fluoride. Nearly two-thirds of the public water supplies in the United States are fluoridated but a recent issue of the new environmental newsletter News on Earth notes that fluoride is an extremely toxic compound that originally was sold as a bug and rat poison. A growing body of scientific research suggests that long-term fluoride consumption may cause numerous health problems, ranging from cancer and impaired brain function to brittle bones and fluorosis (the white splotches on teeth that indicate weak enamel). Research is also beginning to show that the cavity-fighting power of fluoride may have been overstated. Recent studies in the Journal of Dental Research conclude that tooth decay rates in Western Europe, which is 98% unfluoridated, have declined as much as they have in the United States in recent decades. So why is the Clinton administration hoping to increase the number of Americans with fluoridated tap water from 62% today to 75% by 2000? Possibly because fluoride is a waste product of many heavy industries, which would have to pay dearly to dispose of their waste fluoride if they could not sell it to municipalities for adding to tap water. For more information see the Salon article at www.salon1999.com/news/1999/02/17news.html or contact News On Earth, (subs $15/year) c/o Public Concern Foundation, 175 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2245, New York, NY 10010 or email noe@newslet.com.

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