Mad as hell? Aim your fire a little higher

Expanded from the 7-13-2003 Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune
and the 7-17-2003 Comstock Chronicle

       "We meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political and material ruin....Corruption dominates the ballot box, the [state] legislatures and the Congress and touches even the bench.....The newspapers are largely subsidized or muzzled, public opinion silenced....The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few."

The above is a pretty accurate statement of current follytix, isn't it? It comes from the platform of the Populist Party issued on July 4, 1892.

I found it courtesy of a reader who sent me a link to a Fourth of July 2003 speech by Bill Moyers in which the PBS program host expands on how the Populist revolt against the excesses of the Gilded Age have great application today.

Moyers' speech is filled with optimism and gives hope that the individual still matters in this society besotted by conspicuous consumption.

If we hope to rebound from the historically predictable cyclical exploitation by the ultra-rich, we must aim higher. The neo-robber barons who control the national agenda realize that as long as the masses are fighting with each other, they can figuratively (e.g., Enron) and literally (e.g., Iraq) get away with murder.

In this year's disgusting state budgetary debacle, very little has been said about the root causes of Nevada's impending fiscal collapse, especially President Bush's refusal to assist the states in their time of need. (Two states being handsomely assisted are Israel and Iraq, both of which I recommend for immediate admission to the union.)

Our current troubles began with the historically predictable cycle to the political right of the mid-1970s. The poster children of the trend were California tax protestors Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann. The Jarvis-Gann Initiative gave huge property tax breaks to the Golden State's existing landowners. It accelerated the decline (begun under Gov. Ronald Reagan, 1967-75) of what was once the greatest educational institution in the history of world, the California state college and university system.

The last gasp of protest against the widely and wildly disparate taxation imposed by Jarvis-Gann was lost a couple of years ago. A southern California homeowner sued because she thought it unfair that her property tax was many times higher than her next-door neighbor's. The plaintiff had recently bought her house, whereas the neighbor had owned hers since before Jarvis-Gann. The difference was annual property tax of a couple hundred dollars for the one vs. thousands for the newcomer.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided overwhelmingly in favor of Jarvis-Gann, finding that states can make tax laws any way they damn well please. This should give pause to those who think the Nevada Supreme Court's decision last week represents the final word in the current tax debate.

The Silver State Supremes voided the state constitutional requirement of a two-thirds supermajority for imposition of any new tax or fee. How that can stand in the face of the California decision may present an interesting post-script to this year's legislative meltdown.

Reagan's ascension to the presidency accelerated the trend born in California. Like Dubya today, Ronald the Vague cut taxes for the rich and ballooned the federal deficit. The Reaganauts also launched a more corrosive and long term corollary cutely labeled "The New Federalism," a policy of sending programs down to the state level, then slowly cutting their federal funding.

Over the past quarter-century, this debilitating policy has turned the states into political war zones and fiscal disaster areas. Until recently, Sparks was arguably the most financially sound municipality in Nevada. Alas, the New Federalist cancer has trickled down to the streets of the Rail City. Because the system is so well-rigged by developers, residents of Spanish Springs live without adequate fire protection and the city is in no financial position to do much about it.

State and local governments now operate in chronic fiscal chaos. One of the few shining lights is Maine, which just imposed universal health care, a distinction formerly the exclusive bragging right of Hawaii.

The anger against all the new taxation being proposed is misdirected. I don't fault Gov. Dudley Do-Right, although he remains a shill for the gambling industry which elected him. Gov. Guinn has consistently advocated balancing the budget of the state of Nevada on the backs of everyone save the gambling-industrial complex.

Even the green felt plantation overlords who contribute to presidential campaigns should no longer be so obtuse as to fail to recognize who's causing the pressure to pick their corporate pockets. (Of course, all of them are in the tax bracket receiving the hugest transfer of wealth in the history of the nation, so perhaps their silence is well advised.)

Will there be a populist backlash in light of President Bush's $200 million campaign budget? The American voter is very susceptible to propaganda from the bully pulpit of the White House, no matter if it's the truth or a documented pack of lies. To paraphrase legendary Boston Mayor James Curley, a couple of hundred million can go a long way toward making just about anybody a respectable citizen.

No third party has gotten much traction in this country since slavery spawned the GOP before the Civil War. The reason is that one or the other of the two major parties eventually steals the ideas brought forth by the rebels. That's what happened to the Populists. Their modern day successors, the Libertarians and the Greens, have yet to catch fire.

We all have a personal decision to make, whether to stay engaged or drop out in disgust. Whichever you choose, first focus your fire at the top rather than sniping at your flaming liberal or contumliously conservative neighbor. We really are all in this together.

Be well. Raise hell. | U-News | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
Guinn Watch | Deciding Factors

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Copyright © 1982-2003 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 34-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.


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