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An Alternative National Anthem
By Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) & Sharon Robinson
© 1988 CBS Records, Inc.

   Everybody knows the dice are loaded.
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed.
   Everybody knows the war is over.
Everybody knows the good guys lost.
   Everybody knows the fight was fixed.
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich.
   That's how it goes.
Everybody knows.

   Everybody knows that the boat is leaking.
Everybody knows that the captain lied.
   Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died.
   Everybody talking to their pockets.
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
   And a long stem rose.
Everybody knows.

   Everybody knows that you love me, baby.
Everybody knows you really do.
   Everybody knows that you've been faithful,
Give or take a time or two.
   Everybody knows you've been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
   Without your clothes.
Everybody knows.

   Everybody knows that it's now or never.
Everybody knows that it's me or you.
   And everybody knows that you live forever
When you've done a line or two.
   Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old Black Joe's still pickin' cotton
   For your ribbons and bows
And everybody knows.

   Everybody knows that the plague is coming.
Everybody knows that it's moving fast.
   Everybody knows that the naked man & woman —
Just a shining artifact of the past.
   Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there's gonna be a meter on your bed
   That will disclose
What everybody knows.

   And everybody knows that you're in trouble.
Everybody knows what you've been through
   From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
To the beach at Malibu.
   Everybody knows it's coming apart.
Take one last look at this Sacred Heart
   Before it blows.
And everybody knows.

Everybody knows. Everybody knows.
   That's how it goes. Everybody knows.


I hope you understand I just had to go back to the island.
Leon Russell, 1942-2016

"The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you'll never have." Kierkegaard

Last of the Sparks-Reno royals
Barbwire by Andrew Quarantino Barbáno / Expanded from Wednesday 7-7-2021 Sparks Tribune / Updated 7-9-2021 GMT / Expansions in blue

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The Dean's List

   The Dean of Reno Bloggers could very well be Andrew Barbano, self-described "fighter of public demons," who started putting his "Barbwire" columns online in 1996 and now runs 10 sites.

RENO NEWS & REVIEW, 11-9-2006

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What surprised me most about last week's unflinching remembrance of the late Sparks casino mogul John Ascuaga was that I have yet to receive a single critical comment.

Several obviously viewed only the first line or two on a smartphone screen. Now that emojis are ubiquitous, can it be long before we retrogress 5,000 years to ancient Egypt and start communicating in pictures?

GREEN NEW DEAL FROM THE ORIGINAL NEW DEAL. President Franklin Roosevelt created a lot of public service jobs to keep America's economy from total implosion during the Great Depression. That included things like building Reno's treasured Virginia Lake.

Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration (WPA) also planted lots of trees. A good canopy can decrease summer heat in a town by as much as 10 degrees. The more buildings, asphalt and concrete, the more our average temperature rises. It's called the heat island effect.

Which brings me to this item generated by last week's Barbwire from a former John Ascuaga's Nugget busboy.

"My only complaint about the Nugget was that in 1959 when I moved to Sparks, my mom (a waitress at the Nugget) used to walk down and have lunch in the shade of the beautiful large-tree greenbelt that lined 'B' Street. Then the Nugget cut down the trees to make more room for asphalt and cars."

The tree removal continued to cause ill will decades into the future. "B" Street got re-named and re-ruined as Victorian Tenement Heat Island Square. Or somesuch.

BUY EVERYONE A DRINK. Some 19,000 miles of U.S. pipelines transport oil, gas and water. (Check out the Union Pacific tank farm behind the Nugget or the Honey Lake, California, water line to the north valleys.) They snake via already-approved rights-of-way.

The freeways of Los Angeles were built on the rights-of-way of the LA cable car system which was destroyed by major auto companies to maximize car sales. In recent years, there has been talk about restoring mass transit in gridlocked LaLaLand.

We don't have a water problem in this country, just a distribution problem. Somebody please tell El Presidente Smiley Face to include development of east-to-west water pipelines in his infrastructure deal.

And create emojis so that he can sell it with pictures to the anti-vaxxers and moonhowlers.

MEA CULPA. I also wrote that not long after the Ascuaga family sold the Nugget hotel-casino in 2013, Michonne Ascuaga resigned from the powerful state board to which she had been appointed. The Nugget got busted for not following federal anti-money laundering rules in the casino cage on her watch. She quickly resigned from the Nevada Gaming Commission, not the Gaming Control Board.

HOT AUGUST STRIKE 2.0. The Regional Transportation Commission's mass transit system contract with Teamsters Union Local 533 expired at midnight, June 30. Once again, local governments have pulled a Pontius Pilate and washed their collective hands, asserting that it's not their department, just a beef between their hired gun and the Teamsters.

RTC was built for non-accountability to the public for the past 40 years. There have been several near-strikes and a full blown one 19 years ago. Political blame shifting has underscored the entire tense relationship.

SEE, HEAR & SPEAK NO EVIL DEPT. The current unaccountable politicians who seem content to provoke a strike are Sparks Mayor Ed Lawson (R), Washoe County Commissioners Vaughn Hartung (R) and Bob Lucey (R); Reno City Councilmembers Oscar Delgado (D) and Neoma Jardon,(R), board chair. Mr. Delgado and his wife both tested positive for COVID-19 in December. He is currently CEO of the Community Health Alliance of Washoe County. Regional Transportation Commission board e-mail <>

Like today, the 2002 fiasco only happened because the contractor wanted it to. Today's for-profit hired gun is European-based Keolis Transit.

Strikebreakers are already in town, putting buses under possibly illegal surveillance. I will be even more outraged if I find out they are being paid with federal COVID-19 relief money. Ditto their $1,000-a-day union busting consultants.

The union wants a decent contract and safe working conditions for a change — not another lesson in the Union Busting 101 handbook which Keolis is following to the letter.

I've been down this road before. These tactics are typical of a contractor looking to bust out the mighty Teamsters in a minor market in order to give itself a calling card to generate business in other cities and countries. It's cheap to test-market your strategy in a small town, an old story.

Keolis has now accused the union of "dilatory behavior," which Keolis has been guilty of for years. Psychologists, especially those that dwell on the likes of Czar Donaldov, call the malady projection. (Remember how Trump called the Bidens a crime family?)

The crime here is the superspreader bus system as the COVID-19 Delta variant descends.

Our bus system transports upwards of 20,000 passengers a day and Keolis has refused to enforce masking or other safety requirements for more than a year. The workers are tired of living in fear, having seen dozens of their peers taken seriously ill, some in ICU. If drivers try to enforce mask mandates, they risk firing.

I am most tired of so many people who should know better calling this a "post-COVID world." That's true only of the 600,000-plus dead with more joining the club every day. A local woman in her 40's just became Washoe County's first fatality from the new more contagious and deadly Delta variant.

Monitor for smoking guns, pictures and other breaking news.

Take care of each other and be careful out there.

¡Sí se puede!

Be well. Raise hell. Esté bien. Haga infierno. (Pardon my Spanglish.)

John Ascuaga: Frycook who ruled the roost
Barbwire by Andrew Quarantino Barbáno / Expanded from Wednesday 6-30-2021 Sparks Tribune
Updated 7-2-2021 GMT / Expansions in blue

John Ascuaga died this week at 96. His passing was met with the usual fawning remembrances, all of which he deserved. But newspapers are the first draft of history and this hometown paper will do its job. Herewith, a classic obit in the old style, one for the history books. John was a hardassed businessman and I think he'd expect no less. Neither will I when I punch my ticket to what poet e.e. cummings called "a helluva good universe next door."

I met John Ascuaga a few times over my 50 years in these parts. He was quite personable and called me by name long before the Tribune went daily in 1988.

Good politicians remember people's names.

Like me, he started out as a frycook. I wonder if he still had his tools in his kitchen when he died. Old cooks are that way.

He built a neighborhood downtown casino into a behemoth. In retrospect, maybe he shouldn't have gone so far. It was only after he built his first tower in 1982 that he began to have cash flow problems paying the mortgage.

Reno's Cal-Neva did it the smart way for decades, sponging off traffic created by Bill Harrah across the street without having to build a hotel.

John was a union buster and Sparks City Hall has long reflected his attitude, rather surprising for the "Rail City" built by unionized railroads starting in 1904.

Like his Reno soul brother Don Carano at the Silver Legacy/Eldorado/Circus, John had no choice other than building his major projects with skilled union labor. Big jobs need quality work delivered on time and on budget. I still have Don Dondero's photos of me and future Assemblymember Skip Daly, D-Sparks, in the air during construction of the second Nugget Tower in 1996.

John ran a union hotel until the early 1970s. Indeed, the 1927 Reno Chamber of Commerce's official book commemorating the 1927 Transcontinental Highway Exposition in Idlewild Park stated "all trades in Reno are on a union basis," touting the abundance of qualified union labor in Washoe County.

That event brought Idlewild's venerable California Building and created the original Reno Arch which still stands on Lake Street.

There was no Interstate-80 back then. U.S. 40 West ended west of town and snaked along Reno's 4th Street and Sparks' "B" Street, continuing out east.

When I drove my tricked-out Buick Riviera into town in January, 1971, the first thing I saw coming into Sparks from Vegas on I-80 East was John Ascuaga's Nugget, which I drove right through.

When I told gambling execs in Gomorrah South that Ascuaga had a freeway built around his casino, they were duly impressed.

By the 1970s, Sparks was again a company town. Bill Harrah's Auto Collection was here, as was Southern Pacific Railroad. But John ruled.

He got city hall to deed the sidewalks in front of the Nugget to him, something the late Sheldon Adelson copied at the anti-union Las Vegas Venetian. (Thanks to former Sparks Tribune reporter Steve Timko for digging that up.)

When the American Public Transit Association convention was picketed by wheelchair-bound demonstrators in 1989, the Nugget forced the wheelchairs off the sidewalks and into the streets with traffic. I blasted the Nugget for its obtuseness on my radio show all over the west coast.

Working through a front group called Citizens for Private Enterprise, John took control of the Sparks City Council back from Mustang Ranch brothel owner Joe Conforte in 1975.

Nugget employees, still in their black-and-whites, were seen placing flyers endorsing the Nugget/CPE slate on windshields in both the Nugget and other Sparks parking lots.

For the next eight years until the voters cleaned house again, the council deliberated mostly in secret with little debate or discussion in public meetings.

They built the four-foot "Berlin Wall" down the middle of "B" Street, renamed it Victorian Blvd. and even planned to have cops costumed as British Bobbies walking the downtown beat. (Blimey.) The unlamented slanted brick planter did a hellluiva job making sure pedestrians couldn't cross the street without walking a block or two to find a gap.

I wonder if John would have liked turning Victorian Square into the Tokyo-style rabbit warren apartments of today. (Built by under-skilled non-union labor with city hall's blessings, natch.)

Sparks would have been better off with some adult supervision from the Nugget executive suite.

Alas and alack, the man who had a solid gold rooster mounted in his casino as a tourist attraction was all too human.

He met his opposite number and they went to war.

Cigar-smoking, mustachioed, red-headed ruddy Irishman Al Bramlett was John-sized, about 5-foot-4.

They have been compared to two banty roosters getting into the ring.

When the Culinary Union's contract was up for renewal in the early 1970s, Bramlett told Ascuaga "you're gonna do this, dammit."

Ascuaga said "the hell I am!"

John formed a consortium of hotels and restaurants from Washoe to Carson to South Tahoe. All colluded and refused to sign new union contracts.

Rather than pay his workers well, John paid lawyers. The legal battle continued from 1974 to 1992. The union finally won a hollow victory. With the exception of the Nugget and one or two others, all the employers had gone out of business over the intervening years. The local union by then was a shadow of its former self outside of Las Vegas and remains so. The Nugget stands non-union to this very day.

ERRATA: Another notorious union buster, Ferenc Szony (Sparks Plantation/Rail City Casino, Flamingo and Reno Hiltons, Sands Regency), told the Reno Gazette-Journal that he "believed Ascuaga was one of the key people who put Sparks in Reno-Sparks."

Not quite. John Ascuaga's Nugget advertised itself in California as located in "East Reno" well into the 1980s. Rail City fathers chafed but shut up.

SHORT-TERM THINKING. Not long after my old friend Bob McGowan became Washoe County Assessor, local casinos, starting with the Nugget, began applying for and winning major property tax cuts. They argued that their value should be based on their cash flow, not actual property values.

Combined with all the corporate welfare our state and local governments like to pass out like cookies, that policy continues to cripple local parks, schools, roads, police and fire protection budgets.

When I first met Bob in 1971, he was staff photographer at the Nugget. I hope Bob was waiting with a drink and a joke when John joined him this week.

Ironically, based on the cash flow value system, when the Ascuaga family sold the Nugget in 2013, the sale price was purportedly a paltry $27.5 million. Probably based on cash flow, not the value of the property and towers.

THE DIVINE RIGHT OF KINGS. As with Don Carano, John left his store with his idiot kids. Not long after selling, Michonne Ascuaga resigned from the Nevada Gaming Commission after the Nugget got busted for not following federal anti-money laundering rules in the casino cage on her watch.

Carano's idiot kids did one better, taking the company into bankruptcy, stiffing a lotta folks Trump-style, then wheeling and dealing their way into taking over Caesars, the biggest gambling outfit in the world. Who says dumb jocks can't play this business game?

They are also trying to bust out the Culinary Union at Reno's Circus Circus. And unlike their old man, they don't do union construction.

Requiescas in pace, John. You made this a much more interesting place on your journey thru.

FEEDBACK/BLOWBACK: "My only complaint about the Nugget was that in 1959 when I moved to Sparks, my Mom (who was a waitress at the Nugget) used to walk down and have lunch in the shade of the beautiful large tree green belt that lined B Street. Then the Nugget cut down the trees to make more room for asphalt and cars. Maybe that was before Ascuaga's time, but I hated to see B Street ruined." — Tod [Editor's note: John worked there in the 1950s and acquired the club from Dick Graves in 1960. The tree removal continued to cause ill will decades into the future. Trees, bad. Ugly 30-foot fiberglas gold miner statue, good.)

HOT AUGUST STRIKE? The Regional Transportation Commission's mass transit system contract with Teamsters Union Local 533 expires at midnight, June 30. Monitor for breaking news.

Take care of each other and be careful out there.

¡Sí se puede!

Be well. Raise hell. Esté bien. Haga infierno. (Pardon my Spanglish.)
être bien, élever l'enfer (And my French.)
Stammi bene. Scatenare l'inferno. (And Italian.)

Andrew Barbano is a 52-year Nevadan and editor of,, BallotBoxing.US,, , and among others. He is a longtime member of the Reno-Sparks NAACP. As always, his comments are entirely his own. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Sparks Tribune since 1988. E-mail <>


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$75 dead or alive: Still crazy after all these years
A mass murderer becomes famous on TV a century later

How come nobody noticed 'til now?
Barbwire by Andrew Barbáno
/ Expanded from the 2-21-2018 Sparks Tribune

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory owners Max Blank and Isaac Harris. Is not Mr. Harris eerily familiar to television junkies?

From the Emmy-winning opening slate of the blockbuster "Cheers" television series. Combined with its "Frasier" spinoff, it lasted 20 years.
The "shirtwaist kings" immigrated from Russia and made a fortune manufacturing "Gibson Girl"-style blouses. (Photo, "The American Experience"/PBS)
The Emmy-winning opening slate of the "Cheers" television series before the "slate" of creators is superimposed. Looks like Mr. Harris' dead ringer (at left) is having a bloody good time.

"Who ya gonna believe, me or your own eyes?" Chico Marx disguised as Groucho Marx in "Duck Soup" (1933)
Back to the story of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist holocaust

Triangle tragedy recalled as requiem
"The Fire in My Mouth," a new oratorio by Pulitzer honoree Julia Wolfe, premiered with the New York Philharmonic Jan. 24

By Michael Cooper / The New York Times 1-23-2019

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Copyright © 1982-2021 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 52-year Nevadan, editor of and; and former chair of the City of Reno's Citizens Cable Compliance Committee. He is the executive producer of Nevada's annual César Chávez Day celebration and a longtime member of the Reno-Sparks NAACP. As always, his opinions are strictly his own. E-mail

Barbwire by Barbano moved to Nevada's Daily Sparks Tribune on Aug. 12, 1988, and has originated in them parts ever since.
Whom to blame: How a hall-of-famer's hunch birthed the Barbwire in August of 1987
Tempus fugit.

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