"S" is for subsidy

In the midst of cost-cutting, giveaways to huge landowners and corporations continue.

by Robert Nanninga
What do Ronald McDonald, Mr. Peanut and the Pillsbury Doughboy have in common? They are all welfare babies addicted to the crack of government subsidies. Harsh words, I know, but someone has to say them. For years, average Americans have been calling for the end of the welfare state; if the truth be known, this is a welfare nation and the only thing that is free is the ride being given to the corporate elite.
As things now stand, welfare for the poor, such as Medicaid and Food Stamps, represent only 13 percent of total budget spending. A considerably larger amount is funneled to the wealthiest Americans. Next time you hear Newt Gingrich state that the federal government can't afford to pick up the check for the school lunch program, please keep in mind that the United States Department of Agriculture spends $110 million a year to advertise American products overseas. And I'm not talking about Amish Quilts or Native American Jewelry; try $465,000 for McDonald's Chicken McNuggets, $2.9 million for Pillsbury muffins and $1.2 million for American Legend fur coats. Obviously, marketing is a costly business, but should our tax dollars pay for it?
There are more sweetheart deals. Last year, the Federal "Highway" Trust fund spent $140 million building logging roads in the national forests. These roads are used solely by the timber industry, which removes millions of dollars worth of trees, and are only useful until the trees are gone. And who do you think is expected to shoulder the cost of the erosion control? Have you ever noticed that when the topic of protecting old growth forests come up, lobbyists for Weyerhaeuser and Georgia Pacific start wringing their hands over the loss of jobs in the Pacific Northwest. If these corporations really cared about providing work for Americans, would they be bypassing local mills to ship raw timber to Japan? American jobs and American forests hemorrhage, and the American taxpayer is left holding the bill.
The logging interests are not alone. Mineral extraction is an industry that has been on the public dole for more than a hundred years. The subsidy comes in the form of allowing these corporations to pull our natural resources from the ground while continuing to pay 1872 rates for the privilege.
Grazing on public lands continues apace. That golden cow has yet to be touched because wealthy landowners keep western politicians on tight reins. If the rancher barons were required to pay full market value for grazing fees on public lands, I'm sure a lot less steak would find its way onto the dinner plate, and we would have a lot more money to protect and enhance public lands.
Try this subsidy on for size. Ranchers want to graze their cattle in the Eastern Mojave Desert, which makes little sense in the first place. However, there is a problem: Big Horn Sheep. It seems this desert species carry a virus that is fatal to domestic cattle. To keep the free-loading cows healthy, the ranchers convinced Uncle Sam to build fences across public lands at the public's expense. The problem with this is the lack of range allowed to the Big Horn Sheep. This lack of mobility means these free-ranging animals have less room to find water sources in the desert. Once again, Uncle Sam reaches deep into our pockets to fund the building and maintaining of artificial watering holes - projects that would be unnecessary if the fences and cattle weren't there.
No matter what the industry, you can bet your hard-earned tax dollar that they have their collective hand in your pocket. We subsidize these corporate entities, whether it is in the form of tax breaks, price supports or trade protection. This is just how they benefit going in; after the products are produced, we are required to pay a sales tax on top of the purchase price. They get us coming and going. Government assistance bolsters corporate and private sugar plantations, the tobacco industry, and other entities that spend big bucks on PACs and lobbyists to ensure reduced risk financed by American taxpayers.
The western agriculture lobby used all sorts of tactics to convince congress to spend billions of dollars to irrigate the deserts of the American southwest. Not only are we still paying for the dams, channels and canals that allow agribusiness to be in business, the government allows these farming interests to purchase this water at 10 percent of the market value.
These are just a few of the special interests who are now fighting against environmental governance. Calling themselves the "Wise Use movement," they won't be happy until every inch of open space is turning a government subsidized profit. They claim that by allowing corporations and landowners to police themselves they will save money, and in the process create more jobs. Yeah, right. The congressional puppets have been dancing to the tune of big business for decades now. Yet unlike Pinnochio, the only thing that continues to grow is the deficit.
I encourage everyone to write their elected officials and demand that they end wasteful corporate subsidies. Let them know that you support environmental protection and want them provide leadership on these issues. Also let them know that your tax dollar pays their salary and pension.
If working class Americans were to stop paying taxes as a form of protest, the whole corrupt system would come crashing down around their heads. Those in Washington who put on a show, pontificating about debt reduction while lining the pockets of the wealthiest Americans, are playing us for fools. I think it is time we refused to subsidize air pollution, deforestation and the lifestyles of the rich, as corporate clowns like Ronald McDonald laugh all the way to the bank.

Robert Nanninga is an independent video producer, actor, vegan and active member of the Green and environmental community.