The year of revolution begins today, with you


Today's column wraps 1998, a kidney stone of a year. Fortunately, high-tech medicine is available. Like the human body, the body politic's kidney stones can be cured with ultrasound — that noise, that scream, that rage, that rebel yell which boils up from your guts.

You know well that roar you must expectorate when you have no other choices. Either emote or explode.

The signs are all about you that the revolution's here. Aggrieved citizens organizations are forming or expanding, creating pockets of resistance all over the High Desert Outback of the American Dream.

To me, the strategy seems simple. Progressive organizations, representing a broad cross-section of those who make Nevada work, will do the most dangerous thing they can: move together toward a common goal.

If their concerns once again get shunted aside at the stunted, 120-day legislative session which begins Feb. 1, they must prepare to take their issues to the ballot box in November, 2000.

Our Year 2000 bugs will not go away. Nevada is a plantation, a company town infested with corruption which diverts public money to the already wealthy.

Y2K is the time to end corporate welfare as we know it. The initiative process is not easy here. Corporate power has successfully won increasingly tough restrictions over the past 40 years in order to bar any but the wealthy from  getting an issue on the ballot.

That was then, this is now. The Internet makes communication cheap and quick. If information is power, then the web constitutes a dangerous reversion of power to the people.

City Life, the Las Vegas alternative weekly newspaper, just published its list of "10 people and organizations that would make Las Vegas a better place if they would just go away...Sure, it sounds harsh. But this valley — incapable of dealing with growth, unwilling to question the casino juggernaut, brutally oblivious to the downtrodden and desperate, obsessed with video poker at the expense of art and culture — needs some drastic action to get on the right track. Take these people out of the equation and we stand a chance."

Leading the list was the most powerful man in Nevada, someone whose ego is matched only by his bankroll, the Mogul of Mirage, the Fakir of Fellagio, Steve Wynn.

"To the truly disingenuous who point out that Wynn is simply doing what every other big industry does in a company town: Get real. Any time any interest tries to exert near-total dominance over the political process, it's wrong. This is, after all, still a democracy," City Life wrote.

Some might not agree. Do we truly retain democracy when consent of the governed gets manufactured by the well-monied? The Democrat and Republican nominees for governor this year were both personally pronounced acceptable by Mr. Wynn.

In a previous edition, City Life named 10 heroes. State. Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, was the only elected official to make the list. He was honored for waging "lonely battles to level (the) playing field."

Wherever you go in Nevada, Joe Neal is all around you. He saved lives and property damage at the Reno Flamingo Hilton just a few weeks ago. A nasty fire broke out and was quickly extinguished by fire sprinklers which would not have been ready had the gambling industry had its way.

Even with almost 100 people dead at the 1980 Las Vegas MGM Grand fire, the gambling-industrial complex fought Neal's 1981 sprinkler law. Protecting their customers' and workers' lives would just cost them too much profit, they said. Casinos have always considered their clientele and the employees who service it as disposable and replaceable. They can always get more of both.

Fortunately, Joe Neal won and his sprinklers snuffed the Flamingo fire before it could injure or kill anyone.

Sen. Neal's success or failure during the 1999 legislative session will set the pattern for the Y2K populist revolution. He has four pieces of legislation in the hopper. One would diminish casino dominance of politics by placing Nevada corporations under the same restrictions they gladly accept in their profitable New Jersey operations.

Neal also wants two tax loopholes eliminated, one which benefits Wynn's school-robbing art collection, another which allows casinos to print money. The outrageous lucky bucks tax break allows them to deduct from their state taxes the full face value of casino gambling coupons and comp chips.

Neal's fourth strike is the toughest. He wants to raise taxes on the 31 most obscenely profitable major clubs by two percent.

Gamblers, meanwhile, are hatching new corporate welfare plans. The Nevada Resort Association will allow room taxes to be raised as long as they pay for new casino welfare programs like a downtown Reno convention center.

You and I have been subjected to eight decades of tax-deductible corporate propaganda campaigns focused on making us hate government. The corporately wealthy have very successfully convinced federal, state and local entities to foist most of the tax burden onto the little guy. No wonder we harbor this vague, unfocused anger. Federal, state and local taxes eat up about 35 percent of  working class America's total income.

I will do all I can to explain the causes and re-direct that anger in a positive direction. Simply by eliminating the many corporate welfare programs this state allows, we will have plenty of tax money to take care of our needs. If gambling will not peacefully allow spreading the wealth through re-allocation, then it should face Sen. Neal's direct hits.

For the seventh consecutive year, the U.S. has not made the top 10 nations in terms of hourly compensation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this country made the top five just seven times in the past 23 years.

In 1998, we ranked eleventh in total compensation (wages, benefits, social insurance, holidays and vacations). The top 10 are Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Finland, the Netherlands and depression-plagued Japan.

Worse, the land of the free and home of the brave now stands as number one among the 17 major industrialized nations for the percentage of its population living in poverty.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winners Donald Barlett and James Steele have done an excellent job of documenting how the corporately wealthy have bought government influence to rig the game. (Read their bestselling paperback trilogy, "America: What went wrong?"; "America: Who really pays the taxes?"; "America: Who stole the dream?")

Barlett and Steele concisely trace the history, diagnose the problem and identify cures. I have tried to do the same on the state and local levels. (See the Barbwire Archive.)

We cannot hope to immediately turn around decades of national decay. You and I can, however, begin to assert control right here, right now.

Either the overlords release their stranglehold by summer, or we take back state government on the lucky seventh of November Y2K.

Power to the people.

Roar that rebel yell.

Keep hope alive.

Be well. Raise hell.


© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a Reno-based syndicated columnist, a 30-year Nevadan, editor of U-News and was campaign manager for Democratic candidate for Governor, State Senator Joe Neal.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988 and parts of this column were originally published 12/27/98.

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