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Welfare Bargains

book cover

The U.S.
is giving
big breaks

Take the Rich Off Welfare
By Mark Zepezauer and Arthur Naiman
1996; Odonian Press Paperback; Tucson, AZ; 191pp.

Reviewed by Michael Mechanic

IF YOU WERE CYNICAL about the American system before, this exhaustively researched exposé of government waste and military-industrial fraud is going to make you downright disgusted. Structured less in a novelistic form and more as a handy guidebook of what is wrong with America's system of commerce and electoral politics, Santa Cruz Comic News co-founder Mark Zepezauer and Arthur Naiman have painted a bleak picture, although they offer a glimmer of hope in the chapter, "What you can do about this."

Take the Rich Off Welfare is, regrettably, nonfictional, but some of the stories it tells would be unbelievable were they not well documented.

Of course, we've all heard about the Pentagon overpaying contractors. Zepezauer and Naiman culled the best morsels from a book called The Pentagon Catalog, which offers, as a promotional gift, a $2,043 nut absolutely free (that's what McDonnell Douglas charged the Navy for a nut worth a few cents). The authors cite, among other things, an $898 bolt from Grumman Aerospace, a $437 tape measure from Gould Simulation Systems, a $660 ashtray from Grumman, a $670 armrest pad from Burns Aerostat, a $640 toilet seat from Lockheed and from Boeing, a plastic cap that goes on the end of a stool leg--a bargain at $1,118.

Perhaps even more disturbing was an admission by the General Accounting Office that 80 percent of the Navy's purchase orders are inaccurate, and that, according to testimony in a U.S. Senate hearing, $13 billion given to weapons contractors between 1985 and 1995 was simply "lost," and another $15 billion remains unaccounted for because of "financial mismanagement troubles."

The book also points out how extraordinarily expensive military programs that everybody knows are useless are approved by Congress because they bring (useless) jobs to the district of powerful legislators, who fight to keep them.

In Take the Rich..., Zepezaur and Naiman define what they call "Wealthfare"--welfare for the rich, and scrutinize America's regressive system of taxes, tax breaks and abhorrent corporate subsidies. The authors point out the flaws and iniquities in Social Security taxes, income taxes, capital gains taxes, accelerated deprecations and other codes. "Between 1971 and 1991," they point out, "families making the median income saw their combined Social Security and income taxes go up 329 percent, while the combined tax bill of families making more than $1 million a year dropped 34 percent."

From pharmaceutical scams to mining loopholes, pension fraud to transportation subsidies, S&L bailouts to government handouts of the airwaves to the broadcast media, Zepezaur and Naiman confront the unconscionable activities of corporations and the feds.

While their book is a great source of facts, the authors tend to intersperse their smoking guns with flippant commentary, which weakens the impact and may alienate skeptical readers.

The book does more than simply preach, however. It gets the converted steamed and then provides information on how to get involved in activist groups and alternative media that are pushing for real reforms.

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From the November 21-27, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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