Archive - Editorial
August 23rd, 2006
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.
In the Republican primary race for Vermontâ€™s lone U.S. Congressional seat, state Sen. Mark Shepard, R-Bennington, is happy to be tilting against windmills as the underdog candidate and the anti-establishment candidate.
â€œBeing the non-establishment candidate is not a bad place to be,â€? Shepard said in a Monday interview with the Addison Independent. â€œEstablishment candidates donâ€™t stir the pot and they donâ€™t ruffle feathers. Iâ€™m not doing this to be part of a club.â€?
That style of populist bravado potentially has appeal in a region enamored with the independent ethos that has long characterized the Green Mountain State. And Shepardâ€™s background fits his rhetoric. Heâ€™s a fifth or sixth generation Vermonter, born and raised on a small dairy farm, learned his hard-work ethic from his growing up a farmerâ€™s son, and his moral values were home grown as well. He graduated from Hartford High School in 1978 with little interest in a college education, but having learned how to wire a house with his dad at a young age, he had an affinity for electrical sciences and got his journeyman electricianâ€™s license in 1982. He stumbled into higher electronics, then took an interest in computers and ended up graduating from the University of Florida in 1986 with a electrical engineering degree and received a Master of Engineering degree following work at MIT and RPI. (See story, Page 1A.) In short, Shepard has a populist pedigree, but has leveraged his natural talent and home education into a lucrative electrical engineering business, which he formed several years ago and runs as an independent business. Heâ€™s married with four kids.
In his radio address to the nation this past Saturday, Vermont Sen. Peter Welch laid out the Democrats response in this election year on the war in Iraq: In short, President Bush, his administration and this Republican Congress have been irresponsible and accountability can only be restored by electing a Democratic House and/or Senate in November.
Unless we have a change in power in Congress in 2006, Welch said at the Addison Independent offices last Friday afternoon, none of the big questions facing the nation really matter because the Republican-led Congress has not exercised its role to oversee the executive branch and has instead rubber-stamped most of what the White House has dished out â€” including cover-ups and gross mismanagement of the war effort.
Welch, who was chosen to deliver the response to the presidentâ€™s weekly radio address, couldnâ€™t be more on target.
Of all the regrettable outcomes in the election of 2004, the fact that Congress has become ever more protective of the bumbling moves of the Bush administration will turn out to be one of the gravest errors in the Bush era. With deliberate intent, Congress â€” rather than pursuing the facts important to the formulation of policy â€” continues to allow the administration to classify documents and to deny worthy investigations that might contradict this administrationâ€™s claims, assumptions and purported facts. Without good information, however, the nation continues a downward slide with serious consequences.
In the statewide political battle surrounding a tax hike on gasoline, the Republicans picked the easier side in the debate â€” affordability â€” while the House Democrats have to defend a more complex position: that the tax is a better mechanism to raise needed revenue for a host of reasons, none of which can be boiled down into a politically palatable sound bite.
But take a moment to inspect the issue. The first question is: Is the additional revenue the proposed gas tax would raise really needed?
The Vermont House approved a bill that would raise gasoline taxes by 4 cents per gallon (to 24 cents) and by 6 cents per gallon on diesel fuel (to 32 cents per gallon). The increased taxes would generate $26 million that would be used to leverage more than $100 million in federal highway funds â€” a bump in transportation funding approved by the U.S. Congress and Bush in this era of burgeoning deficits. (If you donâ€™t raise the needed state match, you lose out on the federal dole.)
The story of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLayâ€™s fall from power to disgraced politician who had to pull out of his own House race for fear of embarrassment is a simple story of greed and power. Whatâ€™s amazing is that DeLay was able to hide his lust and his scheming, underhanded immoral ways under the guise of promoting â€œmoral values.â€? Christians conservatives, in particular, who bought into DeLayâ€™s temple of misbegotten rhetoric need to carefully review how they were misled, lied to and taken advantage of, if they are to avoid future deceptions by politicians who have no qualms about lying to their constituents.
Gov. James Douglas created a stir late last week by suggesting he would veto the state budget if the Legislature does not include his college scholarship proposal. The governor says the 15 year, $175 million program is â€œvital to the stateâ€™s economic future.â€? Whereâ€™s the proof to back up such a claim? There isnâ€™t any.
Rather, the governor has a hunch that his program might keep a few Vermont high school graduates from moving out of state to attend college and, perhaps, they would then settle down and raise a family in Vermont. The program would pay up to 1,000 students a maximum of $5,000 a year to attend college in Vermont. What the state gets for its money is a three-year obligation from the student to work in the state after they graduate.