Some Things Have Changed,
And Some Have Stayed the Same
Alienated Politics in a time of Ignorance

Jay Michaelson


It's hard to know where to begin, so let's begin with the pork. Not rage at the recent election, nor the duplicity which brought it to pass. But pork. Because it explains everything that American voters apparently just don't get.

This is a story about the 1985 Pork Act, which requires pig farmers to give 40 cents out of every $100 in sales to support a national pork marketing program - the gig that brought us "Pork: The Other White Meat." $50 million a year, in total. Sounds reasonable enough - but then you might wonder, if the campaign is so obviously in the interest of America's pork farmers, why couldn't the National Pork Producers Council (which runs the thing) do it the old-fashioned way: by raising money? Why'd they have to use the coercive power of the state to fund their PR strategy?

And so it unfolds. Turns out, this campaign primarily benefits the largest, most industrialized pork farmers. In 1985, according to the New York Times, 52 million pigs were raised on more than 388,000 farms in America. In 2001, it was 60 million pigs on only 82,000 farms. In other words, the pork industry, like the rest of American farming, has consolidated and shifted from a Jeffersonian system of small, independent farms to a Hamiltonian one of massive corporations owning most of the industry. And guess what - pork isn't the "other white meat." It's only white when it's factory farmed, in conditions so unspeakably inhumane that even to describe them gets one labeled as an 'animal rights activist.' When pigs are raised on pasture, their meat is red.

So the very slogan chosen by the NPPC is tied to a particularly awful method of raising pigs, used by large corporations at the expense of small formers, and the meat that it causes consumers to expect is artificially pale and sickly.

As you might imagine, the indie pig farmers made a stink: why were they being forced to fund an ad campaign, geared toward their competitors' products, and which should have been paid by the big corporations? So the Agriculture Department held a referendum two years ago - they polled every pig farmer to see if they still wanted to fund the campaign. They said no, voting to do away with the thing by a 53/47 margin - even though the NPPC spent four million dollars to defeat the referendum. (Where'd they get that money? I wonder.) The little guys won.

Or did they? Remember, two years ago was Clinton-time. When the Bush Administration took over, the new Secretary of Agriculture, Ann Veneman, threw out the results! On a technicality! (She said the pre-referendum petitioning had been flawed.) The corporations were saved by the Bush. Yet again. Yet again.

The little guys fought back. They filed a lawsuit (remember how the Republicans have tried to take away the rights of citizens to challenge administrative acts, and now with their new congress they will succeed) led by a consortium known as the Campaign for Family Farms (CFF), made up of folks like the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and the Land Stewardship Project ( -- their purpose is to "foster an ethic of stewardship for farmland, and promote sustainable agriculture and sustainable communities."). The CFF alleged that being forced to pay for speech that they disagreed with - indeed, that directly harmed their own interests - was unconstitutional.

And guess what - they won! Last month, while Republicans were making wartalk in order to distract Americans from their destitute economy, a Federal District Court judge found the publicly-coerced private marketing campaign to be unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Richard A. Enslen said ""the government has been made tyrannical by forcing men and women to pay for messages they detest. Such a system is at the bottom unconstitutional and rotten."

I wonder how many judges like Judge Enslen are going to be appointed by the Bush Administration and confirmed by the new Senate. Sounds like Judge Enslen is a 'judicial activist.' And not the good (pro-corporate) kind either.

So now Sec. Veneman is contemplating appeal. Veneman, who got her job based on her internationalist track record, opening markets for American products; products often subsidized so heavily that farmers in African and South American countries simply cannot compete with the artificially low prices of American produce; fruits and vegetables that, because of taxpayer subsidy to enormous megacorporations, are so low in price that it's cheaper to cart them all the way from Iowa rather than buy them from your next-door neighbor in Niger.

So we'll see what happens. The NPPC's corporate toady is fighting both a clear judicial ruling and a clear referendum. Bush and the Republicans are on the side of the big corporations, and they now control all three branches of the government.

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December 2002

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