On today's BradCast: Make no mistake. Donald Trump's Executive Order earlier in the week pretending to force meatpacking plants to stay open did no such thing, despite how it was misreported by the corporate media. But for those really interested in protecting the nation's food supply, there is an answer. [Audio link to the full show is posted below.]
Trump's order was issued as meatpackers working on lines across the country, now at least 7,000 of them, have been infected with coronavirus, with at least 25 of them now killed by it. Workers are being sacrificed as Just four Big Ag monopolies now control 85% of the nation's beef supply with just 50 plants producing 98% of it for the nation.That is down from thousands that did so all across the country until recent decades when those four mostly foreign-owned companies were allowed to buy up and dangerously consolidate the nation's food supply.
It is now costing us in a number of ways. Many of the worst COVID-19 hot spots across the country are in meatpacking plants with hundreds of infections in each and many of those are concentrated in South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa. While the CDC and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have issued guidance recommendations for how the crowded plants may be run more safely, OSHA has made those recommendations voluntary, not mandatory. Thus, the Big Ag companies are largely ignoring the CDC safety guidelines in order to keep cranking out the meat, no matter the deadly cost to the workers and their families and communities where the disease continues to spread.
In Republican-run states like SD, NE and IA, the Governors have refused to issue stay-at-home orders, despite pleas from local Mayors and health officials to do so. Worse, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has told the companies that they may regard any workers too afraid to risk their lives by showing up to work in unsafe conditions as having voluntary quit. Therefore, says Reynolds, those workers will not qualify for state unemployment benefits when the companies fire them. As all of this has played out, and plants have been forced to shut down with workers literally collapsing on the lines, the nation has begun to see shortages of beef, pork and chicken in grocery stores, leading the CEO of Tyson Foods to recently declare that the "the food supply chain is breaking." No kidding. But that is thanks, in no small part, to the consoladition of companies by Tyson and the few others!
Fifth generation Iowan J.D. SCHOLTEN, who joins us on today's show, says that it doesn't have to be this way. The Democratic candidate for the U.S. House in Iowa's 4th Congressional District blames the consolidation of the nation's food supply by a handful of companies for multiple disasters the industry is now facing. "One of the reasons we're a secure nation is because we are a food secure nation," Scholten tells me. "And we're getting dangerously close to being so concentrated that we're very vulnerable. This pandemic has put a spotlight on that. If one plant goes down for any reason, that really hurts the entire system."
Scholten is running for Congress this year again after nearly unseating 9-term Republican white nationalist Rep. Steve King in 2018, when the Democratic nominee was just over 3 points shy of winning in the deep-red district that Donald Trump won by 27 points in 2016. He argues today that the threats to our broken food supply chain --- with few farm-to-table restaurants in the entire state, despite being the very heart of Farm County --- can easily be fixed if the nation enforces long-ignored trust busting laws already on the federal books.
"We had this battle 100 years ago," he says, "and, as a result, we had the Packers and Stockers Act. That was in 1921. Next year, which I hope to be my first year in Congress, will be the 100th anniversary" of the Act which he wants to see invoked again. "I think it's a real opportunity coming out of this that farmers and workers come together. If we enforce our anti-trust laws, we can balance the playing field, allow farmers to stay on their land and make a dime, and allow workers to make an honest wage and be respected."
He also believes that the crisis has turned many of Iowa's previously-solid Republicans away from their Party. "It's really in the last couple of weeks where we've really gotten the attention of farmers who, I would say, traditionally don't give a crap about the Democratic candidate in this race. I've had a number of Republicans, whether they're farm managers or actual farmers, reach out to me and say, 'You're dead on, on this issue! Thank you for saying something, because we all know [Steve] King won't.'"
Scholten wants to restore regional systems of food production and delivery that he says "will benefit Iowa. Not only will it help our farmers, it will help our rural communities. If we create this alternative local and regional food system, for pennies on the dollar, it would create so many decent jobs in rural Iowa that have really gone to the wayside."
We discuss all of that and much more today, including why he thinks that this year he may finally be able to remove the execrable racist Steve King from office once and for all and how the Hawkeye State now plans to mail absentee ballot request forms to every registered voter for their upcoming June 2nd primary. Scholten is running unopposed in the primary, but King --- who has been removed by House Republican leadership from all of his committee assignments after racist statements that even they couldn't ignore --- is facing a challenge from four other Republicans. Scholten believes King will win the GOP nod anyway, but will be cash-starved after doing so.
Next, the continuing state-by-state and county-by-county slog to reform election procedures to ensure voters can safely vote in upcoming primaries and this November's critical general election amid a global pandemic. On that score, bad news for voters out of the GOP-controlled state legislature in Louisiana, where in-person voters across the entire state are forced to vote at the polls on unverifiable touchscreen voting systems which are now also deadly disease vectors for the coronavirus. While the state's Republican Secretary of State and Democratic Governor had struck a deal for a scheme that would allow most voters in the state to vote by absentee ballot, Republicans in the state legislature gutted most of that proposal to make voting by mail much more restrictive. How did both state chambers hold full votes on the measure? They voted by mail of course!
Much better news for voters this week in two counties in Pennsylvania where primaries will be held on June 2nd as well. Election officials in Crawford and Luzerne Counties --- which previously forced all voters to use 100% unverifiable touchscreen voting systems at the polls --- have now decided to allow in-person voters to vote on hand-marked paper ballots instead. Happily, few will even need to do so. Late last year the state, for the first time in its history, adopted a measure that allows for no-excuse absentee voting for all. Many voters will be sent an absentee ballot application for the primary in the mail, but all registered voters may request a mail ballot online at VotesPA.com by May 26. The deadline to register to vote in the Keystone State's primary is May 18.
Finally, we close today with a song and a laugh to shuffle off into the weekend. Once again, it comes from satirist Randy Rainbow, who joins the President in offering a "Spoonful of Clorox" to make the COVID infection rate go down. [PLEASE NOTE: A spoonful of Clorox will not kill the coronavirus. It will, however, kill you. So don't drink any!]
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(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)