RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

In Neocon World, You're on Your Own

So many things are going wrong in Washington that you start to wonder and even make bets with each other about when the whole thing is going to collapse. It's like one of those third-grade plays where the lead forgets his line, then the table caves in, then the angel gets tangled in her ropes and can't descend, and then the whole backdrop tumbles down.

Besides the bunglement of Iraq, which is now being called an invasion and occupation even by the mainstream media, there's the inept handling of Iran's nuke-you-lure program, the fall of our SUV industry and, over all, the ignorance of how public policy and the arrogance of lawmakers affect present-day economic well-being and the future of the republic.

All this results in big bucks for the bullet industry, although it hasn't done much for the armor industry. And it's certainly drained the taxes away from any other industries that take care of Americans.

The willingness of elected officials to hop into bed with certain lobbyists, the rich ones, has made them blind to the realities of day-to-day life and the things that government should care about -- education, health, housing, food, environment. Follow the money on those basics and it's evident that our elected officials are giving away our future. There is no public policy that guarantees any government care-taking will survive this administration.

It's up to local governments to figure out how to stretch their puny tax dollars to provide education, health care, housing, food and environmental protection, but from sea to shining sea, state lawmakers are finding ways to give up their rights to do so. Under the guise of setting a level playing field for corporations that might want to come to the state, they are passing laws that set standards for environmental pollution at no stricter than the federal level, even when the feds have set no standards. And they pass laws allowing federal agencies to standardize, regulate and deliver the other basics, even when the feds do a markedly inferior job to what the state has done.

At this point, in Missouri's statehouse, lawmakers are considering and even passing laws banning the right of political entities -- counties, towns and, yes, even the state itself -- to determine what kind of agriculture (and that, dear consumer, means food) will exist in the future.

Our policymakers, a select bunch of rich guys who depend on subsidies and trading commodities, are scared silly that the end is coming. The end of subsidies, that is. The end of the import/export shell game. And so, rather than figure out how to survive by raising things that the community wants, they've turned to industry in a "bail me out and I'll pass a law to protect you" sort of way.

And the American ag industry, which is losing in the court of world opinion, is dictating which laws to push. What you, dear consumer, don't know because the media refuses to follow it is that more and more countries are rejecting American ag products. They're scared of our mad-cow cases and they don't want GMOs, also called genetically-engineered, transgenic or biotech crops, because the GMOs haven't been tested for safety. Nobody knows what will happen to kids that have been raised on biotech corn chips and soda pop because the ingredients have never been seen on the planet before. Asians, Europeans and Africans are suspicious, but American consumers don't get it. They think the USDA and FDA are taking care of us.

Wrong. The FDA issues letters of acceptance for GMOs based on the industry's statement that the crops are safe. In the few long-term tests that have been done, however, the crops have killed wildlife and even created changes in the blood and organs of the tested critters. Are the changes benign or dangerous? Don't know.

A few consumers in California have their suspicions and want to keep their counties free from GMO crops. They are working for ordinances to declare certain areas GMO-free, or even organic, since current organic standards ban GMOs. Now, fearful that counties will pass ordinances curbing GMO pollution or confined animal feeding operations, state lawmakers are pushing laws that ban such ordinances. These "no stricter than federal standards" laws will put even more power in Washington, which, as we see every day, is already dysfunctional.

But here's the problem: From sea to shining sea, America isn't one big flat place. Not yet, anyway, even though the bulldozers and mining machines are working furiously to eliminate the hills, dales and creeks and replace everything with malls, golf courses and highways. Still, our land is a diversity of ecosystems.

There are places in my neighborhood where you hit water by digging a couple of feet and other places riddled with caves and other places flat as a pancake. Plowing a field, farmers turn over ribbons of black dirt, then, just a foot over, hit yellow clay, then red. I suspect your neighborhood is the same. Coal under this place, water under this one, lead over here. The trick is how to keep the coal and lead out of the water. One policy, administered by lobbyists and lawmakers from Washington D.C., won't fit all these different places.

It's time for you to determine what's best for your neighborhood and make sure it's not derailed by Washington.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2006

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