Are we all really as dumb as they think we are?


Expanded from the 11-1-98 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

"If voting mattered, they wouldn't let us do it." — Travus T. Hipp

If anyone has rightly captured the public mood in this madcap election year, it's the Reno union president who sent this: "Living in a household with one registered Republican and one registered Democrat, our mail box has probably seen every bit on of political rhetoric published during the campaign," wrote Carol Walton of American Federation of Government Employees Local 2152.

"I can't help but wonder at the assumptions made by the spin masters from both parties. Why do the Republicans think, for example, that everyone who registers Republican is anti-union? Why would someone think because we bought a hunting license, we are opposed to environmental protection and favor (high level nuclear waste at) Yucca Mountain? If you believe the politicos, all Democrats favor all gun restriction bills and all Republicans are against them.

"I could go on, but you get the idea. Seems to me that these consultants and spinners have a dim view of the public's ability to think independently, and I suggest modestly that this is what's wrong with today's politics," she concluded.

Alas, as cartoonist Walt Kelly wrote in Pogo so long ago, "we have met the enemy and he is us."*

Political consultants are hired guns who do whatever works. They could not propagandize us if we did not allow it, if we did not make ourselves susceptible to it.

The dark side of this country was exposed during the Gulf War when more than 91% agreed with George Bush. Turned out that we of the 9% minority were right. The war was a scam. The Kuwaiti royal family hired the Hill & Knowlton PR firm and dragged a lie right out of WWI to make us hate Saddam badly enough to go to war.

Remember the story of the babies getting bayoneted in their incubators? Back in WWI, it was them dirty Huns who were accused of doing that.

The Gulf War showed a mean streak, a dark side of us which accounts for our current political disillusionment: A marketable majority of people will readily believe something bad they hear about someone else.<

We are a nation of childish back fence gossips with big waistlines and a proclivity toward violence.

That kind of dumbness is easy to manipulate with TV spots.

BACK TO BUSINESS. Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, is my kind of politician, a maverick and iconoclast who has often proven a visionary in retrospect. Referring to Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones, who defeated him in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Sen. Neal said "we'll get more from her than we will from Guinn."

"We" are you and me. I have been a Jan Jones critic since attending her first northern Nevada press conference. (See the Barbwire of 11-21-93.)

But us humble folk will, indeed, get a better shake from a Jones administration than that of Kenny Guinn, a man of no particular conviction unable to form complete sentences. He remains as affected as any social climber I ever met from the place of our birth, central California's San Joaquin Valley.

For instance, Guinn continues to misrepresent the name of our mutual alma mater as "Fresno State University." Ain't never been no such place. It was Fresno State College when we attended and today it's California State University at Fresno (CSUF). The fancy-schmancy title just makes it sound like part of the prestigious University of California, which it most certainly is not.

The California State College System, as it was called in the 50s and 60s, was separate from the better-known behemoth. Back when Guinn and I attended Fresno State, it was nonetheless proudly part of the greatest educational system in the history of the world. Then Ronald Reagan went to work to diminish it.

Once in office, Dr. Guinn (his doctorate is based on a 51-page diatribe on school air conditioning systems), will act much like King Reagan the Vague. He'll read a script and do what his handlers tell him.

After all his years in education, Dr. Guinn apparently does not even know that we do NOT spend "52% of Nevada's entire budget" on education, as Mr. Guinn's "Where do you stand?" campaign mailer asserts. (We actually spend around 20%.)

He'll be surrounded by a group of guys I know very well, starting with the gruesome Assemblyman Peter Ernaut, R-Reno, dirtiest campaigner of the 90s. His smear tactics got him through a hotly contested primary against better known Republicans when he was a political nobody. (See the Barbwire of 9-27-92.)

Mr. Guinn's buddies also include nuclear waste PR men Kent Oram and Ed Allison, who raised $30,000 for Guinn last year. (See "Guinn Watch".)

Then there's my old friend and former colleague, Sig Rogich. Like Oram and Guinn, Sig is a non-threatening personality who makes the rich and powerful feel comfortable. That colorlessness can take one far here on Fantasy Island. Put these guys in government at your own peril, knowing who they serve.

REID OR BLEED. The small will likewise get far better treatment from U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. His opponent, casino scion Congressman John Ensign, R-Las Vegas, is running TV trying to disclaim any coziness with his old pal, Newt. That GOP gap will disappear come Wednesday morning, I guarantee.

TRAVESTY AVOIDANCE. No matter how any race goes, the process will redeem itself if CPA Mary Sanada wins the state controller's job. She will see that we get honest accounting of state revenue for the first time so that mis-assumptions, such as Guinn's education budget, no longer get reported as fact. (See the 8-2-98 Barbwire)

Her opponent, Sen. Kathy Augustine, R-Las Vegas, is not only unqualified, but also won office in 1994 by running an anti-Semitic campaign against Democrat Sen. Lori Lipman-Brown, who later prevailed in a lawsuit.

If you're looking for a place to cast a positive vote, Mary Sanada's it.

ELITE FEAT. If Reno re-elects Mayor Jeff Griffin after today's front page revelation, we get what we deserve. The Reno Gazette-Journal on Sunday reported that a consultant has been hired to run the city's winter ice skating rink for an astounding $750 per day.

Hizzoner told reporter Robert Anglen "no offense, but that's only about $90 an hour. There are lawyers who make $300 an hour."

The consultant, George Sipel, was the boss of current Reno City Manager Charles McNeely when both worked for the City of Palo Alto, Calif. McNeely maintained plausible deniability, saying the contract decision was made by Deputy City Manager Ralph Jaeck.

Jaeck tried to put the best spin on the new chagrin, noting that Sipel's rates range from $750 to $1,000 a day and Reno got him for his lowest price. Sipel has done contract work for the City of Reno for a number of years, but no previous contract ever came before the council for approval, as all were below the $25,000 threshold. This one, which will pay Sipel up to $50,000, needed a public vote and was thus cast into the sunshine just in time for the election.

At the $750 rate, Sipel will make more per hour than Robert Hager, the new superintendent of Washoe County schools, who is being paid $500 per day until he comes on full-time in January. Dr. Marvin Moss, the popular retired superintendent who is acting as interim administrator, receives a paltry $250 per day, and he knows the territory.

Callers to the Monday Gazette-Journal sounding board expressed outrage.

"The going rate for wages in Reno is $6 an hour. How smart do you have to be to run a skating rink? No wonder this town is going nowhere," snorted a Reno resident.

"I happen to be one of the many in Reno who are making minimum wage," groused another Renoite. "But hopefully soon I'll become good friends with the mayor and be in line for a good $750 a day job."

A third caller said "How many incredible brains does it take to run an ice rink? We've got to get rid of our city council."

Griffin sloughed off criticism on a KRNV fm-101.7 talk radio appearance Monday morning. He has been so confident of victory over former Reno councilmember Judy Pruett-Herman that he has been actively endorsing other candidates.

PARTING SHOTS. Re-elect northwest Reno Assemblywoman Vivian Freeman, D, and repudiate the oafish pushiness of her opponent...Mike Powell for supreme court to best bother the money players...Jack Schroeder will make an excellent people's court judge...Vote "no" on Question 5. Putting a clock on the legislature plays right into the hands of big lobbyists who already have too much control over the process... Vote "no" on Q-6. Only the likes of big casinos will qualify for tax breaks for water conservation. Homeowners will end up subsidizing them...Vote yes on Q-9, medical marijuana, just to drive Dicks Gammick and Kirkland nuts. (Respectively, if not respectfully, they are the Washoe County D.A. and sheriff.)...Vote "no" on Q-17. Liberals and conservatives agree. It's not term limits, it's a dangerous call for a national constitutional convention...Vote "yes" for school bonds to keep kids out of overcrowded rat cages.

As the greatest talk show host in the world, Travus T. Hipp said so very long ago, "if you don't vote, don't bitch."

Be well. Raise hell.
* Purists have already written in, noting that the Pogo character never uttered those famous words. It was Porkypine what said it. Okeh, but Walt Kelly still wrote the lines for his Pogo comic strip. Which is what I have always said. Sheesh.

Humphrey Bogart never said "play it again, Sam." Did he get this kind of hassle?

Andrew Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a Reno-based syndicated columnist, a 30-year Nevadan, editor of NevadaLabor.com and was campaign manager for Democratic candidate for Governor, State Senator Joe Neal.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune since 1988.


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