What follows falls in the realm of the “It-can’t-possibly-be-true category,” but it is and it’s an outrageous example of how this nation’s political system has become increasingly dysfunctional. The issue is farm subsidies, and the salient fact is that the federal government spent $1.3 billion in subsidies for rice and other crops since 2000 to individuals who do no farming at all.
None. Some of the individuals collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in crop subsidies without even planting a seed. Mary Anna Hudson, an 87-year-old resident of the River Oaks neighborhood in Houston, received $191,000 over the past decade, according to research done by the Washington Post and reported in last Sunday’s edition. Houston surgeon Jimmy Frank Howell received a total of $490,709 over the same period, while 67-year-old Donald Matthews of El Campo, Texas, built his dream house in the heart of rice country on an 18-acre suburban lot and he receives $1,300 in annual “direct payments” on the 17 acres that surrounds his elaborate home. Matthews, an asphalt contractor, readily admits he’s “no farmer” and disagrees with the government’s policy, but his desire to give the money back to the government was fruitless, so he now takes the money and has created scholarships for the local school and 4-H club.
Political movements that catch the public’s imagination can spread like a prairie fire across the nation. From town to town, state to state, the movement’s idealism is spread by word of mouth — fanned by media coverage and today’s internet — and fueled by millions of people wanting to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
The political movement that most fits this description today is global warming. Al Gore’s book “An Inconvenient Truth,” and the subsequent movie have done much to popularize the issue in recent months, taking off from previous works on environmental issues, including Bill McKibben’s landmark book, “The End of Nature.”
In an attempt to harness the eagerness of people to embrace this issue and make it the number one cause on America’s agenda, a well-publicized five-day walk is scheduled for Labor Day Weekend starting in Ripton and ending in Burlington. That the walk starts in Ripton has much to do with the fact that McKibben lives there, that Robert Frost’s writing cabin is there, and that Middlebury College student Will Bates and a few others who helped organized the walk, could imagine no better place to reflect on Earth’s beauty and the reasons why it is so important to protect what is within our ability.