Small Press with Big Ideas
By Ralph Nader
In the Public Interest
Among the vast daily news sources bidding for our readership, I find four little-heralded publications representing major causes worthy of attention.
Spotlighting the dwindling survival of the family farm and ranch is the monthly OCM News published by the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM). OCM is opposed to the concentration of power in a few megacorporate hands such as the four giant meatpackers and the giant seed company, Monsanto. The effect on farmers is to increase their costs of supplies and decrease their right, under neglected federal law, to receive competitive bids for their product, such as beef.
OCM executive director, Fred Stokes, in a recent editorial on the “changing structure of American agriculture,” quotes Bill Bishop, an editorial writer, as saying that companies like Cargill and Smithfield “don’t own farms, they’ll own the farmers.”
In another recent issue, Randy Stevenson, OCM’s president decries “the merger of government and business” to serve the politically very influential corporate agribusiness giants. In the December 2010 issue Mr. Stevens calls for any evidence as to the existence of significant competition in the cattle market. He wants to know if there are “specific instances when they have observed two different packers making differing bids on the same lot of cattle.” He was speaking of the rarity of more than one giant packer competing against another “through negotiated purchases”.
For more information about the unenforced Packers and Stockyards Act—which was passed ninety years ago to assure competitive markets see www.competitivemarkets.com.
The American Conservative (amconmag.com), published monthly, contains more than a few articles that reflect a return to historic conservative principles, so long debauched by corporatists and neocons masquerading as conservatives.
In a cover story in its April, 2011 issues, titled “Poisoned Generation: For Iraq’s Children the War is Not Over,” author Kelley B. Vlahos describes the large increase in infant mortality and birth defects from the massive contamination of air, water, soil and food from Bush’s invasion. His depiction of hospital records from Fallujah warrant an independent study by the World Health Organization (WHO). He writes that “looking at the photographs of babies barely recognizable as human, of toddlers frighteningly tiny, limp from their own deformities, the toll of war and the conditions it creates is evident.”
Other articles in the April issue included “Beyond Free Trade,” covering the “heterodox economists challenging globalism,” and commentaries praising Governor Jerry Brown and decorated Marine General Smedley Butler who became an anti-war, anti-multinational corporation advocate before World War II, writing the popular book “War is a Racket,” that ended with the declaration “To Hell With War!”
For the politically jaded, try PEEReview, a sprightly quarterly newsletter published by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. This group started in the early Nineties by professional foresters in the U.S. Forest Service to defend their expert judgment against such corporate power moves as mindless clearcutting by large timber companies cutting the public’s trees for a pittance. Membership since has come from other employees at federal agencies who work on natural resources and environmental health issues.
PEER is remarkably effective in its litigation, lobbying and exposés. Its specificity is remarkable, as are its sources from Washington down to the state and local level, to stop the rollback of clean water and air protections and the protection of one third of America that comprise “the public lands.” All this is being supported by civil servants who want to take their conscience to work (see www.peer.org).
Speaking of civil servants, those much stereotyped and maligned Americans, you may wish to get on the free mailing list for a fascinating monthly publication by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is called Research Activities assembled by the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality. (Send an email to HRQPubs@ahrq.hhs.gov for either an online copy or, thank goodness, a print copy every three months).
This newsletter has an academic name, but its writing is engrossing, covering as it does improvements or declines in health care quality and the nagging health disparities based on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and other factors it deems unacceptable.
Keeping its quality of reporting high, whether under the Bush or Obama Administrations, Research Activities testifies to the important of a prudent degree of political independence for the nation’s civil service.
Its April 2011 issue reports that “few disparities in quality of care are getting smaller, and almost no disparities in access to care are getting smaller.” One hopeful improvement: “the proportion of heart attack patients who underwent procedures to unblock heart arteries within 90 minutes improved from 42 percent in 2005 to 81 percent in 2008.”
Information increases the mind’s range to fulfill the citizenry’s potential for connecting reality with higher and nobler expectations.