Bill Moyers and Chris Hedges: How Whole Regions of America Have Been Destroyed in the Name of Quarterly Profits
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BILL MOYERS One of the most forlorn portraits is in your description of Immokalee, Florida. You describe Immokalee as a town filled with desperately poor single men.
CHRIS HEDGES: Most of them have come across the border illegally. Come up from Central America and Mexico, especially after the passage of NAFTA. Because this destroyed subsistence farms in Mexico, the big agro businesses were able to flood the Mexican market with cheap corn. Estimates run as high as three million farmers were bankrupt, and where did they go? They crossed the border into the United States and in desperate search for work. They were lured into the produce fields. And they send what money they can, usually about $100 a month home to support their wives and children.
BILL MOYERS: And they make $11,000, $12,000--
CHRIS HEDGES: At best.
CHRIS HEDGES: It's brutal work, physically.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah.
CHRIS HEDGES: But they're also exposed to all sorts of chemicals and pesticides. And it's very hard to show the effects because as these workers age, you know, they're bent over eight, ten hours a day. So they have tremendous back problems. And by the time they're in their thirties, the crew leaders, they'll actually line up in these big parking lots at about 4:00 in the morning, the busses will come.
They just won't pick the older men. And so they become destitute. And they go back home physically broken. And it's hard to tell, you know, how poisoned they've become, because they're hard to trace. But clearly that is a big issue. They talk about rashes, respiratory, you know, not being able to breathe, coughing, it's really, you know, a frightening window into the primacy of profit over human dignity and human life.
BILL MOYERS: Fit this all together for me. What does the suffering of the Native American on the Pine Ridge Reservation have to do with the unemployed coal miner in West Virginia have to do with the inner-city African American in Camden have to do with the single man working for minimum wage or less in Immokalee, Florida? What ties that all together?
CHRIS HEDGES: Greed. It's greed over human life. And it's the willingness on the part of people who seek personal enrichment to destroy other human beings. That's a common thread. We, in that biblical term, we forgot our neighbor. And because we forgot our neighbor in Pine Ridge, because we forgot our neighbor in Camden, in Southern West Virginia, in the produce fields, these forces have now turned on us. They went first, and we're next. And that's--
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean we're next?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, the--
BILL MOYERS: We being—
CHRIS HEDGES: Two-thirds of this country. We are rapidly replicating that totalitarian vision of George Orwell in “1984.” We have an inner sanctum, inner party of 2 percent or 3 percent, an outer party of corporate managers, of 12 percent, and the rest of us are proles. I mean--
BILL MOYERS: Proles being?
CHRIS HEDGES: Being an underclass that is hanging on by their fingertips. And this is already very far advanced. I mean, numbers, I mean, 47 million Americans depending on food stamps, six million exclusively on food stamps, one million people a year going filing for personal bankruptcy because they can't pay their medical bills, six million people pushed out of their houses.
Long-term unemployment or underemployment-- you know, probably being 17 to 20 percent. This is an estimate by “The L.A. Times” rather than the official nine percent. I mean, the average worker at Wal-Mart works 28 hours a week, but their wages put them below the poverty line. Which is why when you work at Wal-Mart, they'll give you applications for food stamps, so we can help as a government subsidize the family fortune of the Walton family.