A Chicken in Every Plot

Eternally linked: Lynndie England, chicken-stomping, human-stomping, predatory lending, Bush campaign cash, the Dobsons, and the National Day of Prayer

Pilgrim's Pride

God-fearin': Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim (left) and one of the many creatures he kills for Christ

Lynndie England's life has degenerated into little more than a double-wide soap opera. But before you wash your hands of her, feast on this link between her and last week's holier-than-thou National Day of Prayer—and to the Bush campaign chest and predatory lending. Connect the dots and you'll see there's a chicken in every plot:

Before enlisting in the Army, the Abu Ghraib poster girl worked in a chicken-processing plant an hour's drive from her Fort Ashby, West Virginia, trailer, according to USA Today.

The most popular such plant for Fort Ashby residents—it's exactly 59 minutes away, according to MapQuest—is the huge Pilgrim's Pride chicken-processing complex in Moorefield, West Virginia.

In July 2004, PETA released a video— secretly shot inside the Pilgrim's Pride plant in Moorefield—that showed murder most fowl:

    Workers were caught on video stomping on chickens, kicking them, and violently slamming them against floors and walls. Workers also ripped the animals’ beaks off, twisted their heads off, spat tobacco into their eyes and mouths, spray-painted their faces, and squeezed their bodies so hard that the birds expelled feces—all while the chickens were still alive.

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This stomach-turning stuff—and its link to England's home state—was noted at the time by several bloggers, including those on Digestible News.

Say, that "stomping" sounds familiar. I wrote about that technique last summer in "You Flinched!"—an item about testimony from an Abu Ghraib soldier.

Also last summer, Princeton ethicist Peter Singer made the connection between the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the torture of chickens at Moorefield. In a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece he co-wrote (and that was re-posted by Dangerous Citizen), Singer noted:

    The sickening images echo the snapshots and videotapes that found their way out of another inhumane facility: Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

    In both Baghdad and Moorefield, W.Va., a simple cruel dynamic was at work. When humans have unchecked power over those they see as inferior, they may abuse it. Slaughterhouse workers do not expect to be chastised for hurting animals. And the American soldiers at Abu Ghraib clearly did not expect punishment, or they would not have posed for photographs. In both instances, laws or treaties that should have protected against the abuses were unknown or ignored. That is not surprising: Where much abuse is allowed, the protections that do exist are unlikely to be taken seriously.

    The Department of Justice has considered in detail when prisoners in the war on terror may be exempt from the humane protections of the Geneva Convention. The government has long since made that leap with animals. Chickens, for example, are exempt from the U.S. Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.

Singer didn't mention Lynndie England, but I'll bet she didn't treat chickens any better than she treated Iraqis.

Pilgrim's Pride is the second largest chicken producer in the country. Here's how Reuters (through Yahoo's page on the company) puts it:

    During fiscal year ended October 2, 2004 (fiscal 2004), the company sold 5.3 billion pounds of dressed chicken and 310.2 million pounds of dressed turkey and generated net sales of $5.4 billion.

Its profit margins were gross:

    For the 26 weeks ended 4/2/05, revenues rose 13% to $2.74 billion. Net income totaled $104.9 million, up from $43.2 million. Revenues reflect an increase in chicken sales. Net income also reflects an increase in gross profit margins.

Operating out of the Pilgrim's Pride home office in Pittsburg, Texas, the company's owner, Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim (see photo), is one of the country's major individual donors to George W. Bush and the Republican Party. He was a "Minor League Pioneer" for Bush in 2000 and a "Major League Pioneer" for Bush in 2004, according to Texans for Public Justice.

Recall the company's history: In 2002, TPJ reminds us, Pilgrim's Pride recalled 27 million pounds of meat after one of its plants was thought to be the source of "a listeria outbreak that killed eight people, caused three miscarriages, and hospitalized dozens of victims." Heavily fined by environmental regulators for illegally discharging massive amounts of chicken shit and other filth, Pilgrim's Pride was at the same time "the 10th largest recipient of federal agricultural subsidies from 1995 through 2002," adds TPJ.

Bo Pilgrim wears his fundamentalist Christianity on his sleeve and on his butcher's apron. As Marv Knox of the Baptist Standard quoted him as saying in 2002:

    There's no doubt that God wanted me to exemplify being a Christian businessman. I have that feeling, and I am forever conscious of that. I'll go out and make lots of talks around the country. There's where I give Jesus credit for everything I am.

Start of digression: Knox tried to get Pilgrim to solve an age-old puzzle. Here's the exchange:

    Knox: With all your history in chickens, do you know why the chicken crossed the road?

    Pilgrim: I wish I could give you the answer. I guess everybody has a different answer, but I never really coined an answer for why the chicken crossed the road.

End of digression.

Last year, Bo Pilgrim, who controls more than 60 percent of his huge, publicly traded company, put Keith W. Hughes on its board of directors.

Hughes was the CEO of Associates First Capital, a subprime lender accused of predatory lending.

Associates First was so notorious that in 2000, the giant company's last year of independent existence, the United Methodist Church's pension fund, the Priests of Sacred Heart, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, and the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word brought a shareholders resolution to try to get the company to investigate itself for predatory lending and clean up its act. The resolution failed.

The government's case against Associates First was settled only after Citigroup swallowed Hughes's company and coughed up $215 million to the Federal Trade Commission to pay off 2 million former customers. At the time of the 2002 settlement, it was the largest in FTC history.

Last Thursday (May 5), George W. Bush hosted the annual National Day of Prayer ceremony in the East Room of the White House. The first speaker was Shirley Dobson, wife of right-wing radio evangelist James Dobson. Shirley Dobson is also chairman of the National Day of Prayer—yes, she calls herself "chairman" and "Mrs. Shirley Dobson."

After the choir stopped singing, Shirley Dobson stepped to the microphone in the White House, fawned over the Bushes for a little bit and officially launched the National Day of Prayer. (You can watch her performance, and Bush's speech, on the White House site.)

Millions of Americans, she said, "will seek the grace of God" today. She added:

    For example, Pilgrim's Pride, one of America's largest producers of chicken products, is holding prayer observances in 56 of its facilities in 17 countries.

It was the only company she mentioned. (She did say that 150,000 people were supposed to gather at Daytona Beach Speedway to try to crash the pearly gates. Yee-haw!)

With the saccharine tone and sing-song cadence of a beauty pageant contestant's spiel, she praised Pilgrim's Pride but scolded the rest of us.

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Deserving of God's wrath: Shirley Dobson and Bush at the 2001 National Day of Prayer service

That scolding stuff is a familiar rap by the right-wing Christians—it's all explained by Shirley Dobson on her "Prayerfully Yours" page of the National Day of Prayer website:

    As sinners saved by grace we must realize not only that we don't deserve God's favor, but that we do deserve His wrath! The miracle of God's grace is that He extends mercy to us in spite of our wickedness and rebellion against Him. Put another way, "mercy" is not getting what we deserve, and "grace" is getting what we don't deserve.

    We need not look very far to see that our country stands in desperate need of God's healing touch. We have killed over 40 million babies since 1973, and saturated ourselves and our children with pornography and filth. We have numbed ourselves with drugs and alcohol, and taught our kids that premarital sex is a good thing if it is simply done right. We have pursued materialism and false security, while ignoring the Architect of our souls.

    As a nation, we have rebelled against the Creator. Our culture is steeped in immorality and self-sufficiency and is growing increasingly hostile toward religious expression.

Self-sufficiency? Have we fallen that far?

I know some chickens that could use "God's healing touch." But anyway, back to the White House. To her audience in the East Room, Mrs. Shirley Dobson toned it down a little bit, saying that her dictionary defines "grace" as something that's "undeserved," and adding:

    Almighty God continues to bless America despite the fact that we corporately and individually have turned our backs on Him in many ways.

    But our Creator is patient with us, granting His favor and forbearance even though we don't deserve it.

Speak for yourself, Mrs. America.

The president, of course, is a key part of any Christian puppet show. When Bush took the microphone, he smiled at the Dobsons and said:

    I want to thank Shirley Dobson, the chairman of the National Day of Prayer. Thank you for organizing this event and thank you for your wonderful comments.

Why did the chicken cross the road? To escape from these religious nuts. The rest of us humans could also use a wing and a prayer.

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