The Hightower Report

BP's Chain Gang

With BP's well capped and CEO Tony Hayward exiled to Russia, perhaps you thought that the BP horror story was coming to a close, that surely there will be no additional revelations to enrage you. But now comes this: prison labor.

In its national public-relations blitz to buff up its image, the oil giant has loudly boasted that it has been hiring devastated, out-of-work local people to handle the cleanup. Many have been hired – but not nearly enough, according to the people themselves. The Nation magazine now reports a big reason for the shortfall. BP has been using inmates – literally a captive work force – to do much of the shoveling and scooping to remove oil from Louisiana beaches. What a deal for BP! It gets very cheap workers who are guaranteed to show up on time, do what they're told, and keep their mouths shut.

In the early days of the cleanup, crews suddenly appeared on beaches wearing scarlet pants and white T-shirts with bold red letters spelling out "Inmate Labor." Investigative reporter (and occasional Chronicle contributor) Abe Louise Young writes that the sight of prison laborers outraged the local community, so they were removed. No, not the inmates – the uniforms!

Now they wear BP shirts, jeans, and rubber boots with no prison markings, and they are moved to and from the job in unmarked white vans. How many are there? No officials with BP, the feds, or the state of Louisiana could or would tell Young. How much are the prisoners paid? A local sheriff's official told Young, "They're not getting paid; it's part of their sentence."

However, BP is getting paid for this labor – by you and me. Under a little-known tax provision passed during the Bush regime, corporations can get a "work opportunity tax credit" of $2,400 for every work release inmate they hire. To see Young's full article, go to www.thenation.com.

A Spoonful of Marketing

Okay, children, homework time.

Let's see if we can handle this little lesson in logic: 1) America has a rather huge childhood obesity problem; 2) major food corporations constantly pitch ads to children for such stuff as sugar-saturated breakfast cereals and fat-laden Happy Meals. So, how does fact No. 2 relate to fact No. 1? Yes, No. 2 is a contributing factor to No. 1! It's really not that hard to grasp, is it?

Unless you're a lobbyist for a food manufacturer. Last year, Congress directed four federal agencies to work together on new standards for ads that food giants run on cartoon shows and other TV programs for children. This intervention was necessary, because the industry's own voluntary program to push healthy choices for kids was, at best, loosey-goosey. For example, such sugar bombs as Kellogg's Froot Loops and Frosted Flakes were nutritionally A-OK by industry standards – as was a candy named Yogos, the main ingredient of which is sugar.

So, the agencies came up with nutritional requirements that were at least strict enough to prevent the marketing of candy as a healthy food. Ah, progress! But – oh, mercy – the howl of pain from industry lobbyists was piercing. One shrieked that the new proposal "would virtually end all food advertising as it's currently carried out to kids."

Uh ... no, sir, not all food advertising – just ads for stuff like ... well, Yogos.

However, the screams of the food giants – echoed by their congressional puppets – seem to have spooked the agencies. The final proposal has now been delayed, and regulators have retreated to "tweak" it. Note that the main ingredient in the word "tweak" is "weak." To help fight for strong nutritional standards that advance our children's health, contact the Center for Science in the Public Interest: www.cspinet.org.

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

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

BP's Chain Gang; and A Spoonful of Marketing, BP, prison labor, The Nation, Abe Louise Young, childhood obesity, Kellogg's

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