The Bill of Rights has become an unpaid invoice


From the 11-28-99 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune


"I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." --- James Madison

A plethora of public opinion polls have pointed out that when Americans are quizzed on whether or not they support individual provisions of the Bill of Rights, most say they'd vote against such things.

A survey by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press says that 38% of us think that a free press hurts democracy.

If you'd like a quick, cheap lesson on both sides of that question, buy the December issue of Harper's Magazine and just about any edition of the Elko Daily Free Press.

The venerable Harper's is well worth the $4.25 for its centerfold alone. "This is your Bill of Rights," followed by "This is your Bill of Rights on drugs," cure any delusions of representative democracy.

Harper's prints the original 12 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the first two of which were never ratified. Number one mandated one congressman for every 50,000 citizens. Had it passed, today we'd be paying for more than 5,800 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The second unratified amendment would have stopped members of congress from raising their own pay without an intervening election. That provision survives in many states, including Nevada. Just such a section in the Reno City Charter is now at issue in the Nevada Supreme Court and could conceivably knock Reno Mayor Jeff Griffin out of office.

Call it Charlie Mapes' revenge if it happens.

Only one of the first ten amendments stands uneroded. What became the Third Amendment alone survives. ("No Soldier shall, in time of peace, be quartered in any house, without consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.")

All the rest of those magnificent freedoms, for which most of us would not vote but nonetheless take for granted, have been chewed away by the petty, the small and the greedy.

Maybe it's just as well. Maybe we don't deserve high-minded privileges such as freedom of speech, religion, assembly and association. Based on our participation rate, maybe we no longer merit the right to vote.

Last Wednesday, 909 cars were stopped at a Reno DUI checkpoint. It had absolutely nothing to do with catching drunk drivers and, indeed, found none. Research has demonstrated that devoting all that money toward regular police work nets a lot more zonked motorists in the normal course of business.

Things like DUI checkpoints get us used to being frisked on a regular basis. A frog placed in a pot of cold water on a stove fails to notice he's slowly cooking to death and never jumps out.

One foreign observer recently said that Americans should stop pretending to espouse democracy when we really want theocracy. Perhaps rule by ayatollah is just around the corner.

If it comes, we'll deserve it. Much has been written lately about the resignation of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest Supervisor Gloria Flora, who decried the miasma of hatred against government workers in eastern Nevada.

I have seen no one point the finger at the principal purveyor of that hatred, the Elko Daily Free Press.

I wonder what might result from polling the magic question among Elko County residents: Do you think a free press hurts democracy?

Based on the national 38 percent who think so, the proposition might carry in northeastern Nevada. More than two centuries of a free press has apparently turned the Bill of Rights into an unpaid invoice. Pick up a copy of the December Harper's for evidence of the dastardly deed.

Then ask yourself what you plan to do about it.

DOTSHOTS AND POTSHOTS: Why hasn't anybody seen through Donald Trump's shuck and jive on inheritance taxes? His proposal to have rich folks 'fess up 15 percent of their wealth sounds like a progressive idea. But it means they will save inheritance taxes of 50 percent or more. The national media have got to stop taking those stupid pills.

FAT CHANCE: Anybody willing to lay money that Nevada Gov. Dudley Do-Right's government efficiency task force doesn't touch the university system? For a refresher course on the best place to find government waste in this state, go to this website's search engine on the front page or hit the Barbwire archives starting in October '96 and fast-forward for the next four months or so...continuing to this very day...

TOLJASO DEPT., PART I: A couple of years ago, I told the Sparks City Council to hit Joe Syufy for the full contractual $1 million penalty for blowing deadlines on downtown redevelopment. City hall decided to keep its collective head where the sun never shines.

TOLJASO, PART DEUX: Now, the town fathers are quibbling with Joe Stingy over a paltry $35,000 deposit. In addition to the wealthy movie theater chain, Sparks should go after the title or escrow company which blew getting the money up front. They probably carry an errors and omissions insurance policy to cover such liabilities. Title and escrow companies are in the business of guaranteeing such transactions. As manager Casey Stengel used to say about the 1962 New York Mets, "can't anybody here play this game?"

START PLAYING ARETHA FRANKLIN: The council should place language in all future corporate welfare contracts that the developer must kiss each member and the city manager afterward; refrain from smoking; promise to r-e-s-p-e-c-t them in the morning and maybe pop for a free round of golf and lunch at Wingfield Springs.

Be well. Raise hell.


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© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of U-News, where the past three years of columns may be accessed. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988 where an earlier version of this column appeared on 11/28/99.

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