Sunday, December 10, 2006

Yuma, Arizona: "In Mexico they would have just shot me."

"I still think this is a great country. In Mexico, they would have just shot me."
Hein Hettinga, Yuma, Arizona
Mr. Hettinga is a Dutch immigrant to the United States. He started out working on a dairy farm in Southern California. He discovered that he could buy cows with injured hooves from the dairy, nurse them back to health, then sell them and make more money than he earned milking cows at the dairy.

In just a few years, he owned several small dairies himself. He also discovered that he could legally operate outside the incredibly complex system of federal milk price controls imposed on dairy farmers and the dairy industry since 1937. He was able to sell his milk, most especially to Costco, for $0.20 per gallon less than everybody else. And he made a lot of money. With $0.20 per gallon lower prices. Only in America.

Not for long in America. The big dairy interests, most especially Dean Foods, Shamrock Foods, and the Dairy Farmers of America, didn't like this. They didn't like this at all. So, the usual round of buying off politicians began. An unlikely (on the surface) consortium (mafia might be a better word) of Senators John Kyl (R), Arizona and Harry Reid (D), Nevada, along with the big dairy interests and their hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions (and threats), soon crushed Mr. Hettinga and turned his $0.20 per gallon cheaper milk into cottage cheese, figuratively speaking. I don't know that Mr. Hettinga even makes cottage cheese, but if he did I would buy it from him - at any price.

Using clever parliamentary procedures in the Senate to avoid any open debate (ie: publicity), the two senators managed to outlaw Mr. Hettinga's circumvention of the arcane and long ago obsolete milk price control system. Ditto in the House, where the bought-off mafia, er, consortium, consisted of Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte (R-Va.), Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) and John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). Mr. Hettinga now has to pay some $400,000 per month into the price control system, money that goes directly into the pockets of his giant competitors.

And just how did Mr. Hettinga manage to sell his milk, and make a lot of money, at $0.20 per gallon less than all of his giant and oh-so-efficient competitors? Did he engineer theretofore unheard of innovations in milk production, udderly turning an industry on its head ala Henry Ford? Did he brainstorm, experiment and develop some never-before-dreamed-of innovation(s) in cow feeding, care and teat manipulation, ala Thomas Edison? No and no.
"Milk suppliers in southern California were gouging the public on price (20 cents a gallon higher than N. California) for years and were unresponsive to our call for lower prices. It was a brazen case of price gouging and profiteering by the strongest, largest market suppliers simply because they could."
Joel Benoliel, Costco Wholesale Corp.'s senior vice president, in a letter to Harry Reid, which he promptly archived in File 13.
In other words, Mr. Hettinga charged $0.20 per gallon less simply because he could. And he made a lot of money.

Now, Mr. Hettinga was wise to the way the game is played. He began contributing to various Senate and House campaign coffers as well as hiring his own lobbyist. But his paltry $3000 and $5000 contributions here and there paled beside the millions of dollars in contributions and lobbying expenses layed out by his giant rivals.

Adios to $0.20 per gallon cheaper milk.

Mr. Hettinga is now in the federal courts, arguing against the constitutionality of laws and regulations written by rival interests and imposed by bought-off Congressmen that are specifically aimed a penalizing one individual. Good luck with that.

Congress and big dairy interests to the American milk consumer:
Suck This!

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