Battlepanda: Milking the system


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Milking the system

It always seems faintly absurd to me that innoculous household staples like milk and sugar have big lobbying groups zealously defending their interests. Big Milk. Big Sugar. Big Asparagus. OK, I made the last one up. But hey, who knows.
A maverick dairyman named Hein Hettinga started bottling his own milk and selling it for as much as 20 cents a gallon less than the competition, exercising his right to work outside the rigid system that has controlled U.S. milk production for almost 70 years. Soon the effects were rippling through the state, helping to hold down retail prices at supermarkets and warehouse stores.

That was when a coalition of giant milk companies and dairies, along with their congressional allies, decided to crush Hettinga's initiative. For three years, the milk lobby spent millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions and made deals with lawmakers, including incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

Last March, Congress passed a law reshaping the Western milk market and essentially ending Hettinga's experiment -- all without a single congressional hearing.

Hettinga, who ran a big business and was no political innocent, fought back with his own lobbyists and alliances with lawmakers. But he found he was no match for the dairy lobby.

"I had an awakening," the 64-year-old Dutch-born dairyman said. "It's not totally free enterprise in the United States."

How do we get outraged about 20 cents in a jug of milk? This is a serious question. Dairy firms are getting unjustified breaks at the expense of everybody else through currying favors with legislators. The facts of the case are as plain as can be and I don't think Big Milk is even bothering to come up with some sort of justification for their actions. They don't really have to because people don't really care enough about 20 cents in a jug of milk to get excercised about it.

By the way, this whole article is worth reading. It seems to be a part of a big WaPo series on farm subsidies, which I'll be checking out more of. I'm glad this issue is getting more attention. Farm subsidies, like all forms of corporate welfare, is a disgrace upon our democracy.