Smithereens 2
The Politics of 'Giving Back'; Virtual Primaries Draw a Wide Range of Political Favorites; Tax Relief for the Poor, Unemployed and Laid-off; Bush Lies about Economic 'Growth' and Destroys Contrary Evidence; Why Howard's Not the Dean of Peace Candidates ..
August 1, 2003

"You cannot win a war any more than you can win an earthquake."
Rep. Barbara Lee

The Politics of "Giving Back"
The June 25 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle contained two stories in different sections of the paper that should have been run side-by-side. The entertainment section featured a profile of a local rap-artist named Kevin Epps while a news section article carried a report on expiring actor and aspiring politician Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Chronicle reported how Epps' film Straight Outta Hunters Point had gone on to earn critical acclaim and a fair amount of cash. "He used to hustle crack, but filmmaking got him a ticket out of the urban ghetto," the Chronicle reported. These days, Epps is investing his money to produce a Hip Hop Film Festival. But his real mission, the paper reported, "is to raise money for the Hunters Point Community Youth Park."

Epps had poured tens of thousands of dollars into the run-down resource, restoring it for the use of hundreds of delighted children. When asked why he had done this, Epps offered a simple and familiar response. Because he had been blessed by financial success in his life, Epps explained, "I wanted to give something back to my community."

The second rags-to-riches story involved a poor Austrian boy who came to America and built himself into a box-office superstar. While touring to promote his latest Terminator sequel, a reporter asked Arnold Schwarzenegger why he wanted to become Governor of the state of California. Schwarzenegger echoed Epps' explanation. He had acquired wealth and now he wanted to "give something back."

But note the difference. While Kevin Epps was giving money back to his neighborhood, Arnold's version of "giving back" meant running for California's top elective office so he could govern the state.

Since time immemorial wealthy and powerful people have explained their desire to run for public office by intoning the phrase "I just want to give something back." In many cases, however, they wind up all but "buying" these elections with large portions of their personal fortunes.

It takes a unique gift of ego to equate running a state with an act of personal charity.

The rich have a long tradition of gracing their gilded resumes with bouts of "public service." But these wealthy stewards are rarely found volunteering at the local food bank or spending hours comforting the terminally ill in the local hospice. For the rich and powerful, public service usually means running for politically powerful posts mayor, senator, governor or president.

If Arnold was true to his expressed motivation of wanting to "give something back," he should take his cue from Kevin Epps. Arnold could continue to perform charitable work on behalf of after-school programs for young people. He could create a foundation to help the nation's youth reverse America's rising tide of obesity and diabetes. And if he is determined to run for governor, Schwarzenegger is ideally suited to run on a unique budget-cutting campaign promise: "If elected, I will serve without pay."

Finally, if Schwarzenegger and other rich soaks are really sincere about wanting to "give back" to the country that made them successful and wealthy, there is a far simpler way to do it. It's known as paying taxes.

Virtual Primaries Draw a Wide Range of Political Favorites (the irreverent website of the "aggressive progressives) decided that relying on back-room-deals and political conventions to select a presidential candidate is just sooooo 20th century. argue that "we the people" should be making this decision ourselves, independently, at the grassroots level.

With the Internet at their disposal, the dem.comers got the 2004 presidential ball rolling with an on-line peoples' poll. Anybody can nominate a candidate. Anybody can be a candidate. Everybody can vote for a candidate -- or several candidates.

At the end of November 2002, there were 37 nominees ranging from Warren Beatty and Susan Sarandon to Ann Richards and Al Gore. Every week, the nominee with the least number of votes is scratched off the ballot.

In the early running, Al Gore held the lead with nearly 20 percent of the votes, followed by Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Kerry. The second tier of vote-getters included Jimmy Carter, Sen. Robert Byrd, Sen. John Edwards, Rep. Dennis Kuchinich, Ralph Nader and a string of media celebrities including Molly Ivins, Michael Moore, Greg Palast, and Jim Hightower.

California Governor Gray Davis, currently the target of a millionaire Republican's recall campaign, only garnered a slim three-fifths of one percent of the November on-line poll. This put Mr. Davis third from the bottom, barely beating out Barbra Streisand and Rev. Al Sharpton. Martin Sheen (the "West Wing's" fictional President Joshua Bartlett) out-polled Gov. Davis nearly four-to-one. Needless to say, Davis was recalled from the'spresidential horserace months ago.

For the latest results (and to cast your ballot) tune in to

Tax Relief for the Poor, Unemployed and Laid-off
On January 2, George W. Bush declared: "I understand the politics of economic stimulus that some would like to turn this into class warfare. That's not how I think. I think about the overall economy and how best to help those folks who are looking for work."

Bush plans to cut the tax on the unearned income from stock dividends apparently in the believe that giving the rich more money means they will invest their riches in creating more jobs.

The GOP's wealth-friendly tax plan saved GWB $44,000 in taxes. Dick Cheney got a $327,000 tax break. How did Bush and Cheney invest these savings? How many jobs did their investments create?

If enriching the rich (Reagan's discredited "Trickle-Down Theory") doesn't work, maybe it's time to concentrate on helping the poor directly.

Why should people living below the poverty line be required to pay any taxes? Why should people who have lost their jobs and who have been unable to find new work be required to pay taxes?

Dear Congress: How about proposing legislation to exempt all poor, unemployed and laid-off citizens from paying taxes? Instead of paying taxes, unemployed people who qualify would be given checks worth the total of all of their withheld pay. They will spend this money on rents, food and clothing thereby stimulating the economy from below and having a direct impact on kick-starting the economy at the community level.

Bush Lies about Economic "Growth" and Destroys Contrary Evidence
In his holiday radio address, GWB assured listeners that "The US economy is growing again. The economy is strong." Meanwhile, the Labor Department's monthly listing of mass layoffs by corporate America was telling a far different story.

Shortly before Bush delivered his up-beat speech, the mass-layoff report was quietly discontinued by the government. A one-sentence announcement noting its demise was hidden in a press release released on Christmas Eve. The last report (for November) recorded 2,150 mass layoffs totaling 240,028 workers. Most of the layoffs (62,764) hit California.

When the media discovered the ruse, the White House claimed that it suddenly had run out of funds to publish the monthly reports a poor excuse given that the Labor Department budget was increased from $39.2 billion to $44.4 billion in 2002.

Sharon Brown, who compiled the reports for the Bureau of Labor Statistics called the monthly report "a high-quality program, producing timely information on important developments in the labor market."

San Francisco Chronicle Business Reporter David Lazarus recalled that, in 1992, the "first President Bush canceled the Mass-Layoff Statistics program amid election-year charges that he had bungled handling of the economy." The program wasn't revived until the Clinton Administration came to Washington.

Howard's Not the Dean of Peace Candidates
In June, Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean topped the charts in's historic "electronic primary," scoring 42% of the 300,000 ballots cast. Ohio Congressmember Dennis Kucinich in second place with 24% and Sen. John Kerry trailing with 10% of the vote.

Dean portrays himself as a fiscal conservative who believes in balancing the budget but he has refused to make any moves to balance the budget by cutting back the growing costs of the Pentagon. The Pentagon spends billions on Cold-War era weapons, invests billions in futuristic boondoggles like Star Wars II, and recently could not account for a trillion dollars in "lost" funds.

Dennis Kucinich is the only announced candidate who has promised to chop the Pentagon's budget. Kucinich would cut $15 billion from the Pentagon and use it to fund universal healthcare, education, environmental clean-up, job creation and urban revitalization. []

On June 22, Dean stated: "I don't agree with Dennis about cutting the Pentagon budget when we're in the middle of a difficulty with terror attacks." []

Dean has a wonderful line about his campaign representing "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" but, by allowing himself to be muzzled by the "terrorist threat," he becomes just as ineffectual as the rest of the lamentably centrist Dems.

An Editorial-page Essay or a Slab of Spam?
Forbes Magazine liked to call itself "the Capitalists' Tool" but the Wall Street Journal could lay claim to being Capitalism's screwdriver. The June 23 issue contained an "op-ed" essay by Microsoft chair Bill Gates. Entitled "Why I Hate Spam," the rant got off to a great start with Gates' lead sentence: "Like almost everyone who uses e-mail, I receive a ton of spam every day. Much of it offers to help me get out of debt or get rich quick. It would be funny if it weren't so irritating."

It doesn't take Gate more than two paragraphs to turn the op-ed into a free advertisement for Microsoft. "This month," Gates states "Microsoft filed 15 lawsuits in the US and UK against companies and individuals alleged to have sent billions of spam messages."

By paragraph four, Gates was boasting about the ability of Microsoft's servers to "block a billion [spam] messages a day." This is followed by a blatant plug for "a forthcoming version of our Outlook e-mail software to block spam more effectively" and (Gates can't help but mention) "a new version of our Exchange e-mail server will include advanced anti-spam features."

The irony is that readers who thought they were about to read an essay about a major modern irritation instead get sucker-punched with a sales pitch in other words, Gates succeeded in spamming his readers. Perhaps the WSJ should consider installing spam-blocking filters on its editorial pages.

Oil Company Honored: Was the Vote Rigged?
Shame on the World Affairs Council. This venerable and respected San Francisco institution recently hosted a gala event at the Hilton Hotel to honor the ChevronTexaco oil company for its "contributions to international understanding in the Bay Area." Protesters gathered outside the hotel on June 24 to call attention to ChevronTexaco's 20 years of toxic pollution in the jungles of Ecuador, the environmental devastation in Nigeria, its war-profiteering in Iraq and health and safety violations of facilities in poor neighborhoods near San Francisco. "Despite its warm and fuzzy facáde," Project Underground grumbled [], "this mega-company rides a wave of violence, corruption, and cronyism to get its way everywhere from Ecuador to Iraq, Nigeria and the US."

It may have been coincidental, but as Project Underground noted, ChevronTexaco's contribution to the World Affairs Council's 2002 Annual Dinner was $10,000." For more information on the company's record, click on

The US Economy Is Feeling 'Bushed'
My colleague Rachelle Marshall has put it succinctly:

"In his less than three years in office, President Bush has plunged the country into two wars and a recession, turned a federal budget surplus into a $400 billion deficit and presided over an economy that lost 3 million jobs. Bush's fat-cat supporters refer to his 'compassionate conservatism' and his 'moral compass,' but, in fact, his compassion is reserved for the rich and his moral compass allows him to claim that Iraq posed an immediate threat to our security, that $1.75 trillion in tax cuts for the rich will benefit all Americans and that he intends to 'leave no child behind' while reducing funds for school lunches, reading programs and health care for poor children. Even the liberation of the Iraqi people that he promised has turned into a protracted nightmare."

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