Friday, July 20 , 2018, 7:28 pm | A Few Clouds 69º


Jim Hightower: Brewer Anheuser-Busch Drunk on Greed

Booze peddlers sacrifice an Indian reservation's health and respect for profit

Big brewers like Anheuser-Busch frequently admonish us imbibers of their grain products to “drink responsibly.” Well, I say back to them: Lobby responsibly.

In particular, I point to a disgusting binge of besotted lobbying by Anheuser-Busch (now owned by the Belgian beer conglomerate InBev) and other beer barons this year in the Nebraska Legislature.

At issue was the “town” of Whiteclay, smack dab on the Nebraska-South Dakota border. I put “town” in quotes because only 10 people live there — but it is home to four beer stores. Why? Because right across the state line is the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of the Oglala Sioux tribe, which has a devastating problem of alcohol addiction among its 20,000 members, combined with intractable and dispiriting poverty.

Whiteclay exists solely so booze peddlers can profit from the Oglala tribe’s addiction miseries. They sell more than 4 million cans of beer a year to Pine Ridge residents! This includes literally making a killing by peddling high-alcohol malt liquors, such as Busch’s aptly named “Hurricane High.” So much for “Drink responsibly.”

A fourth of the children on the reservation are born with fetal alcohol birth defects. Life expectancy of tribal members is less than 50 years. And more than 90 percent of the violent crime on the reservation is attributed to drunkenness. On Pine Ridge itself, the tribe bans the sale and consumption of alcohol — the Whiteclay stores, positioned only a short walk away, are the source of the addictive drug and its consequences.

Responding to this grotesque exploitation of an epidemic illness, Republican state Sen. LeRoy Louden introduced LB 829 this year, a modest bill to designate Whiteclay as an “alcohol impact zone.” Used successfully in Tennessee, Washington state and elsewhere, these zones allow authorities to take such steps as limiting store hours and high-alcohol beers. Of course, Busch and its other beer buddies lobbied responsibly by backing the bill, right?

Ha! Like gators on a poodle, their lobbyists leaped on the Legislature, calling in chits from key lawmakers (who’d taken thousands of dollars in campaign cash from the industry) to kill the bill.

Tyson Larson, one of the senators inebriated with beer money, sputtered his opposition to LB 829 with this stunningly obtuse declaration: “We’re not here to protect people from themselves.” Surely that was beer talking.

Then there’s Russ Karpisek, chair of the Senate committee handling the bill. He tried to rationalize his opposition by pitting Pine Ridge citizens against Nebraskans whom he said were worried that if Whiteclay were restricted, the beermongers might simply move the problem 40 miles or so down the road.

Even he had to admit that this was, at best, a flimsy excuse for doing nothing. When some asked Karpisek, “Well, if you had a crack house across the street, wouldn’t you want to do something about it, even if it might pop up somewhere else the next day?” The chairman frankly conceded, “I didn’t have a good answer for that.”

But who needs logical answers when Anheuser-Busch alone has put $4,000 in your political pocket? Karpisek dutifully refused even to let the bill out of his committee for a vote.

Nebraska legislators did, however, approve one piece of liquor reform legislation before adjourning on April 18. They voted to lift the statewide prohibition against Sunday morning alcohol sales. Just what the Oglala tribe needs — a few more hours of wide-open beer sales in Whiteclay.

The tribal council, fed up with the disrespect and lack of action from legislators, despite years of appeals and protests, has filed a landmark $500 million federal lawsuit against Anheuser-Busch, three other big brewers and Whiteclay’s four beer stores.

Even a big monetary award, however, can’t scrub the shame off the corporations and pusillanimous legislators who have created and maintained this outrageous affront to human decency. There must certainly be an especially hot barstool in hell reserved for them.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >