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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Cong. Byron Dorgan/Gov’t Waste Report

Cong. Byron Dorgan (Dem., North Dakota) must wonder about the upside down society these days. While Congress is grunting and groaning to pass a $2.2, billion bill to stimulate economic activities in 50 inner cities or arguing over a $300 million bill to raise the underfunded but very successful Head Start program for pre-kindergarten children, a team of lobbyists for past merged corporations were on their way to getting a $3 to $4 billion tax refund for intangible assets (such as good will) in past mergers and leveraged buyouts. Dorgan stopped them in a fiercely contested vote inside the House Ways and Means Committee. That alone saves the government more than the amount needed for the above-mentioned cities and young children legislation.

But Dorgan could not stop this tax loophole from passing the Ways and Means Committee for future easy tax treatment of intangibles in future mergers and leveraged buyouts. These corporate mergers usually produce no new wealth and no new jobs other than for rich investment bankers, their corporate lawyers and the top executives. This bonanza is on its way to the House floor for a vote.

Two weeks ago, Dorgan put out a report on reducing Government waste — 28 specific recommendations to save taxpayers $60 to $85 billion if implemented. It was almost totally ignored. The media was more interested in Quayle and Murphy Brown.

Imagine a country where such a report became a hot best seller. Imagine people rushing to newsstands and bookstores to get copies and discussing the contents with their friends and neighbors. Imagine sales of this book overtaking sales of’the latest Garfield The Cat book.

No such luck. This country is full of concise, important books about the nation’s problems and how to diminish them to bring about a happier, more just society. New, well thought out proposals for improvement that have actually worked in one or more areas of the U.S. are described. Radio, which is 95% music and ads, won’t touch them, apart from a few radio talk shows. Television abounding with sports, movie and other entertainment, sees such material as dull. They are viewed as having too little sensuality in the form of sex, violence or addiction.

When people are quick to point out situations they are worried about but have little interest in mobilizing to do something about them, the combination of powerlessness and apathy presents itself. Taken to a larger scale, such a society has frozen itself in gridlock and discouragement.

Enter the mass entertainment industry to occupy more and more of our time. It becomes the massive enlargement of the Roman circus: a twenty, thirty, forty hour a week novacaine shot from having to face up to our community challenges and civic responsibilities. As for the children, the entertainment and addiction industries spend far more time occupying their attentions than do their parents. After a number of years, the culture becomes corporate and shapes the conventional way that many people use their discretionary time.

We need to expand our citizen time, for without daily citizenship, there will be no daily democracy. If you want to obtain a free copy of Dorgan’s report, write to Cong. Byron Dorgan, 718 O’Neill Building, Washington, D.C., 20515. Reading it is good citizen time.