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Cash for Trash

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Gubernatorial candidates spend plenty

By Bob Harris

SO THIS IS HOW BAD our electoral system has gotten: It takes a guy spending $30 million out of his own pocket to tell us that there's too much money flying around political campaigns.

The campaign finance numbers are pretty amazing these days. According to the latest figures compiled by Common Cause, the Democratic and Republican parties have already raised over $90 million in soft money for the 1998 midterm election cycle.

Soft money is the stuff given to the parties by big corporations and special-interest political action committees, and now it's pouring in fully twice as fast as it did in the last midterm election only four years ago.

So far, the Republicans have about 62 percent more money than the Democrats. Anyhow, here in California, we've got a Democratic primary for governor where the leading candidates are two career politicians, Jane Harman and Grey Davis, and a really rich guy named Al Checchi. It's the most expensive primary in history.

Naturally, Harman and Davis are upset at the prospect of a guy with no political experience, numerous possible conflicts of interest, and little history of even showing up to vote suddenly trying to buy the governor's mansion. In response, Checchi accuses his opponents of owing political favors to contributors.

For once, much of the mud slung in a political race is actually true and useful. How bizarre.

So the other day Checchi goes one step further, sounding strangely like Ralph Nader. At a campaign appearance in the L.A. suburb of Alhambra, Checchi finally says, "Don't you think it is kind of ridiculous that we would pick our leaders based on who has hung around long enough to create this Rolodex to raise money?"

Yes, Al, I do. And I also think it's equally ridiculous that the only competition our system provides is from really, really rich guys like yourself.

As it happens, Checchi goes on to propose some real honest-to-goodness reforms, although that's no real shock, since his tailspinning campaign has roughly zero credibility with working people, so he has to do something.

And I'll just count my state fortunate for having at least one candidate saying some of the right stuff, for whatever reason.

OK, SO THE INDIANS tested the Bomb last week. I'm referring, of course, to the India Indians, the ones with the Ganges and Gandhi and the Aloo Gobi. Not the American Indians. If the American Indians had the Bomb, then we'd have something serious to worry about.

If the American Indians were testing the Bomb, we'd be on our knees just praying that all that casino money hasn't been pooled together to get some payback for the blankets with the cholera. The best deal Clinton could probably cut would be to give up Cleveland. Which is fair, what with the Chief Wahoo thing and all.

But not to worry. The American Indians don't have the Bomb. They've got plenty of radiation, but they don't have the Bomb.

The India Indians have the Bomb. And that's a problem, certainly, but let's not overreact. Everybody knew they had the bomb. India got the Bomb a full decade before any of us got cable. And we know which one has done a lot more damage so far.

OK, so Pakistan is probably going to run a couple of tests in response. It pretty much has to, for the same reason pickup trucks in Texas have a gun rack: you don't get carjacked when you're obviously packing. But that doesn't mean they're planning to drive into the bad part of town.

Let's get a grip here. It's nice to daydream that the fall of the Berlin Wall was the end of the nuclear era, but that has never been anything close to the truth. Which is why the G-8 turned down Clinton's calls for sanctions against India.

(The G-8, by the way, isn't a vegetable drink. It's the leadership of the eight leading industrialized nations. Which probably still includes a lot of vegetables, especially if Yeltsin shows up.) The G-8 is comprised entirely of active nuclear powers, except for (a) Canada, which is too polite to nuke anybody anyway; (b) Japan, which already got blown up; and (c) Italy, which doesn't make any bombs.

So there's good reason why the G-8 cocktail won't swallow sanctions on India: it would be ludicrous on its face. Look around. The French tested weapons in the South Pacific just a few years ago. The Brits and Russians aren't blowing things up, but they're still doing research on how. And the United States leads the world in ongoing nuclear development, spending billions of dollars every year on computer simulation tests that are almost as good as actual kablooies.

The Lawrence Livermore labs are only a few hours' drive from where I sit here writing this. And still the newsclones nearby are furrowing their brows, pretending that India and only India is responsible for the continued existence of a nuclear threat.

Hey, the United States implicitly threatened to start a nuclear war in Iraq just three months ago, and suddenly we get all preachy when somebody else just runs a test. Doesn't anybody ever remember anything anymore? Is three months too much to expect?

Of course, if we elected our public officials for having good memories, they wouldn't have to keep telling prosecutors that they can't recall.

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From the May 28-June 3, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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