The Hightower Report

Come clean, Tom; and gutting the ban on methyl bromide


Remember how Republicans howled in derision at Bill Clinton's ridiculous claim that he "did not have sexual relations with that woman"? When confronted with the legality of his actions, Clinton dodged with his now famous line, "it depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."

What a hoot, then, to hear Republican leader Tom DeLay use similar linguistic perversions to try to dodge accountability for his illegal actions. Of course, as is typical with Republican officials, DeLay's transgression does not involve sex ... but money. It's all a matter of what turns you on, I guess.

DeLay is presently under indictment in Texas for his involvement in a money-laundering scheme. Specifically, one of his political action committees collected $190,000 in corporate checks; this corporate money was then laundered through a wing of the national Republican Party, which promptly sent exactly $190,000 back to Texas for disbursement to several GOP candidates who were running for state legislature. Under Texas law, corporations cannot donate to legislative candidates, so the money had to be "washed."

But wait, DeLay's lawyers now cry, it all depends on what the word "is" is. First, they tried to claim that the state's anti-money-laundering law applied to "money" as in cash – not checks. But these sharpies missed the fact that the Legislature had amended the law some time back to make it apply explicitly to checks, so this ploy didn't wash.

OK, said Tom's legal beagles, but what about this? The checks sent to Texas were not the exact same checks received from the corporations, so ergo, ipso facto, and mumbo jumbo – no crime occurred. Gosh, now there's a twisted interpretation of money laundering that the drug cartel would love to have!

I don't care if they ran the illegal corporate checks through a Maytag, DeLay's fingerprints are still all over them.


It's time for today's riddle!

This one involves a particularly nasty pesticide called methyl bromide. How nasty is it? So nasty that, as of January 2005, its use was banned by an international treaty. And – get this – it's so nasty that even the Bushites back the ban! Yet – here comes the riddle – U.S. agribusiness giants are still pumping more than 10,000 tons of this nasty into our croplands and air each year. Can you figure it out?

Bingo, if you said "politics."

Methyl bromide is a cheap way for Big Agribusiness (especially in California) to wipe out pests and weeds on such field crops as strawberries and tomatoes. Never mind that its "cheapness" comes at a hefty price to others – this toxic gas also causes convulsions, comas, neurological damage, and other debilitating problems (including death) among farm workers who inhale it. The fumigant also disperses into the atmosphere and depletes Earth's protective ozone layer. Without that layer, we all fry.

The Bushites have played a cynical game of politics that lets them seem to support the treaty ... yet ignore it. Before signing the treaty, the U.S. stuck in a loophole that lets a country give exemptions to the ban when necessary to prevent "market disruptions." The Bushites have tossed out these exemptions like Mardi Gras candy, allowing this killer chemical to be used on everything from Christmas trees to golf course sod.

Thus, they please the chemical makers and agribusiness interests, while publicly proclaiming that it is their "fervent desire and goal" to eliminate the chemical. As a result of these exemptions, this year's tonnage of methyl bromide use in the U.S. will exceed that of two years ago – prior to the "ban."

Even when the Bushites back an international treaty ... they gut it. To help close this political loophole, call the Natural Resources Defense Council: 212/727-2700.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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Bill Clinton, Tom DeLay, money-laundering, methyl bromide, agribusiness, Bush Administration, EPA, Natural Resources Defense Council

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