The Austin Chronicle

The Hightower Report

By Jim Hightower, March 20, 2009, News

Corporate Control of Independent Scientific Research

Little rebellions can achieve big results, especially those coming from unlikely places.

And, surely, one of the least likely sources of rebels would be corn-insect researchers at land-grant universities. These crop-science specialists usually stay focused on things like root worms, not grassroots uprisings. But 26 of them from various schools recently risked their own careers by daring to stand up to such powerhouse genetic seed manipulators as DuPont and Monsanto.

The researchers submitted a statement to the Environmental Protection Agency charging that biotechnology giants are preventing them from fully studying and reporting on the effectiveness and environmental impact of the industry's genetically altered seeds. On many crucial questions about the safety of these lab-created crops, wrote the scientists, "No truly independent research can be legally conducted."

Why? Because the corporations' lobbyists and lawyers have rigged the rules so no studies can be done on their altered seeds without their permission, and even then no findings can be published without their okay. In short, those who profit from the spread of these unproven and dangerous seeds have a choke hold on all research to evaluate their impact on our health and environment. The profiteers even have the potential, as one of the rebellious scientists put it, "to launder the data" that the EPA relies on to authorize the use of the seeds.

Since these same corporations are now the major funders of university research on biotech crops, it is no small thing for scientists to speak out. As one bluntly says, "People are afraid of being blacklisted."

It's time for Congress to break this corporate choke hold and free our public researchers to protect our health and environment. For information, visit

Death, Taxes ... AND Debt Collectors

These are hard times for debt collectors. After all, who can pay their bills these days? Not Wall Street or Detroit, not millions of homeowners, not the rising number of jobless folks – not even several states and cities.

But, wait – here are some lively prospects for debt collectors: the dead. Yes, there's a boom in dunning the deceased!

We're not talking about collecting from big-time debtors who still owe several hundred thousand dollars on their yachts. No, these are workaday people who died while still owing maybe a couple hundred bucks on their bank credit cards, health insurance, or utility payments. It's not possible, of course, to squeeze money out of a corpse, so the target becomes the bereaved next of kin. "Hello, I'm very sorry for your loss, but there's this $211.36 balance on your mother's Visa, and we wondered who will be covering this."

By the way, there is no legal requirement whatsoever that the debt of those who've passed on must be paid by relatives out of their own pockets. Thus, what the industry calls "deceased collections" requires a delicate dance to cajole money out of the family without actually demanding it. The industry actually rationalizes its work as a service to those who have departed. As one insider asserts: "We want the dead to rest easy, knowing their obligations are taken care of." How benevolent.

The actual work is done by a corps of specially trained agents working from cubicles in companies that specialize in this rather macabre fishing for cash. The job is so distasteful that about half of those hired quit within three months. Those who stick it out get such on-the-job stress relievers as yoga sessions, foosball games, free snacks, and neck massages.

They tell us there are only two things we can't escape: death and taxes. But it appears that one more thing we can't escape is debt collectors.

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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