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Thank You for Paying Our Taxes
The satirical theater group Billionaires for Bush launch a Capital Region chapter

Tax day is nearly upon us. As most of America scrambles for its tax forms, wades through the numbers, and trudges unhappily off to the post office, some people will be celebrating. The percent of corporations that paid no income taxes at all was more than 60 percent in the dot-com era, according to recent article on CNN Money, and total tax receipts from corporations have been falling since 2000. In 2003, according to the CNN article, corporations contributed just 7.4 percent of taxes collected. And a recent report from United for a Fair Economy, Shifty Tax Cuts, shows that the Bush tax cuts to the 1 percent most wealthy have totalled about $200 billion dollars; interestingly, this is roughly the amount that the states’ budgets are missing.

Don’t look now, but some of those very wealthy (or at least folks that look kind of like them) have decided to, er, come out of the closet about how very happy they are that the tax system is going the way it is. Yes, the Billionaires for Bush are coming to the Capital Region.

The Billionaires are a satirical theater group who have been making appearances (thank yous at Republican fundraisers, counterprotests at antiwar marches) since the 2000 presidential campaign. In their formal wear—top hats, tiaras, furs, cigarette holders—the Billionaires are easily picked out of a crowd, though sometimes their satire is convincing enough that they’ve gotten roughed up by their left-leaning brethren.

Joe Seeman, editor of the Capital Region’s local peace and justice calendar listings, said this area’s newly minted Billionaires plan to take their first stands on tax day around rush hour at the New Karner Road post office off Central Avenue and at Saratoga Springs’ Broadway post office. Seeman said the main focus would be to “thank working people for paying taxes so we don’t have to.” A secondary concern would be promoting “more blood for oil.”

Billionaires around the country will be showing up at post offices on tax day, drawn by the crowds of taxpayers that descend upon them with their last minute returns—and also by the press that tends to show up to interview those taxpayers. The national Billionaries Web site recommends such signs as “Eliminate the middle man—make out your check to us!” and “Taxes are not for everyone.”

“Please note, per the B4B organizing manual,” the local e-mail call for participation emphasized, “‘Appearances are everything. Formal dress is required.’” Seeman did say that if there are those who don’t want to get gussied up, he expected there would be opportunity for some confrontation with a “counterprotest.” Details will be hammered out tonight (Thursday) at 5 PM at the main branch of the Albany Public Library’s café.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Be
Activist lawyers in the Bush administration try to strip federal employees of antidiscrimination protections

If you’re here and you’re queer, have fear. That is the message gay federal employees got recently when the president’s appointee at the Office of Special Counsel, the mission of which is “protecting federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices,” broke with longstanding antidiscrimination policy and said gays could be fired from the 2.7-million-strong federal civilian workforce simply for their sexual orientation. After six weeks of sitting on the sidelines while members of Congress and a former special counsel protested the move, the White House finally distanced itself from its appointee, Scott J. Bloch, by condemning his decision and threatening to prosecute those responsible for any antigay firings in the government. Too little, too late, critics said.

The brouhaha began in mid-February when employees at the Treasury Department noticed that all references to discrimination based on sexual orientation had been deleted from Web pages of the Office of the Special Counsel. In a Feb. 18 Washington Post report, Bloch explained he had ordered the information pulled because he was unsure that a provision of a 1978 civil-service law prohibiting discrimination against federal workers and job seekers “on the basis of conduct which does not adversely affect the performance of the employee or applicant” protected those claiming unfair treatment for being gay, bisexual, or even heterosexual. Federal GLOBE, an umbrella organization representing gay, lesbian and bisexual groups in federal agencies, criticized Bloch’s position as “mere political pandering to the conservative right,” according to the Post.

The Post also quoted Elaine Kaplan, special counsel under President Bill Clinton, who cited precedents dating back to 1973 that proved, she contended, that Bloch was in error. These include a 1998 executive order from Clinton making it illegal to discriminate against gay employees. President George W. Bush has not rescinded that order.

Shortly afterward, Bloch started getting some irate mail from Capitol Hill. On Feb. 23, the Post reported that Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) of the Governmental Affairs Committee wrote him a letter Feb. 19, informing him his statements appeared at odds with his testimony before the committee during his confirmation process as a presidential nominee. “You had assured us you were committed to protecting federal employees against unlawful discrimination related to their sexual orientation,” they wrote. Reps. John Conyers Jr. (D-Detroit) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) of the House Judiciary Committee also wrote Bloch to say his position was “directly at odds with established practice, the plain meaning of the law, and how that law has been interpreted for decades.”

Apparently unfazed by all this, Bloch made news again on March 10 when he told Federal Times he thought federal employees could not be fired for activities such as attending a gay pride rally, but could in fact be fired for being gay. “People confuse conduct and sexual orientation as the same thing, and I don’t think they are,” Bloch said, adding that he did not believe gays, lesbians and bisexuals were a protected class under the law. Kaplan quickly denounced Bloch’s conclusion as “dead wrong.”

Tensions escalated when a group of 70 House Democrats wrote Bloch a letter March 4 disagreeing with his interpretations. Receiving no reply, the lawmakers insisted that the president take a stand. The Log Cabin Republicans, the national gay Republican organization, also called on Bush to honor his 2000 campaign promise to protect gay and lesbian federal employees from discrimination, noting that Bush’s pledge had been key to their 2000 endorsement of him.

On March 31, the White House finally reacted when spokesman Trent Duffy said Bush “believes that no federal employee should be subject to unlawful discrimination, and federal agencies will fully enforce the law against discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation,” according to The Boston Globe. Duffy also said that Bloch had acted on his own.

Commenting by e-mail, Christopher R. Barron, political director for the Log Cabin Republicans, said, “We are certainly pleased at the statements from the White House. However, we think it is unfortunate that it has even come to this. The reality is that Mr. Bloch’s actions represent a rollback of 30 years’ worth of protections for gay and lesbian employees and mark a specific breach of a campaign promise by the administration. We certainly hope that the administration will work to ensure that basic protections for gay and lesbian federal employees are not jeopardized.”

Given other recent comments on gay rights from the White House, Keith Hornbrook, executive director of the Capital District Gay and Lesbian Community Council, thought it unfair to say Bloch acted alone. “When the president of the United States . . . advocates for a policy that diminishes or creates a second class of people from its citizens, then a national cultural policy is created,” he said. “This results in a trickle-down effect when civil policy is created and interpreted. Scott Bloch’s policy was only called into question by the White House when criticized by a significant group of members of the House and his predecessor.”

—Glenn Weiser

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