Selling flag-wrapped canaries on a holiday weekend


from the 5-30-99 Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune

If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom;
and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.

---W. Somerset Maugham

A vile and queer melancholy lies over me like a dull sunburn from a cloudy sky.

I could better understand it if the cause were definite. This depression is like a dull stomach ache, the distant early warning of something far worse at work.

It is purely psychosomatic. My mind is making me sick with worry. I have a bad gut feeling about America.

Perhaps I am like the fabled canary in the coal mine who smells something sinister long before the rest of his fellow workers in the dusty dark. Look around you and smell for yourself.

The original star spangled banner last week began undergoing a humongously expensive restoration. Like the country she symbolizes, she can use it. She has a checkered past.

The national anthem written by Francis Scott Key as that huge flag flew over Fort McHenry was composed to the tune of "Anacreon in Heaven," a pop British drinking song.

It is perfectly consistent with the roots of this rebel land that such a ditty became our national anthem. We deride the Japanese for copying ideas and improving on them, but we have long done the same.

The United States of America could easily be re-christened the United Sales of America. We are all about marketing.

Witness the pledge of allegiance. It has violated the First Amendment since the 1950's when McCarthy era red scare foisted the insertion of the words "under God" between "one nation" and "indivisible."

The pledge originally appeared in advertising for a company which manufactured and sold -- surprise -- flags.

It has since assumed the proportions of a nationally mandated prayer. A little bit of freedom has slipped away because of it.

To accompany our national prayer, we have turned the stars and stripes into a religious icon situated on an ever more slippery slope.

I've still got my old scout manual. I have never forgotten the rules of flag etiquette I had to memorize to win promotion. I was taught that the proper way to dispose of a tattered or soiled American flag is to turn it over to the proper local governmental or military authorities who will BURN IT.

Now, a Constitutional amendment is close to passing congress which would make burning a flag a felony. So how will we dispose of soiled flags in the future? Full burial with military honors?

We are having a hard enough time doing that for deserving old soldiers. Color guards and riflepersons for military funerals are getting harder and harder to come by. War veterans have to picket to protest their ill treatment by the country they served so well.

But the congress is about to follow 49 state legislatures in making it a crime to burn our religious shroud. If the government has been burning old flags for centuries, then there's nothing wrong with burning. The problem lies with the burner whose opinion has burned somebody up and will be forced to shut up forevermore.

Next might come attempts to superimpose a religious symbol over the star field.

If you use loaded buzzwords like "traditional family values" or "personal responsibility" or "morality," you can get people to focus on emotional issues. Debates on the hotbutton issues of abortion and gun control become self-defeating. They keep us from focusing on the big picture.

To see the big picture, look at your wallet. This weekend, you are being robbed, paying much more than you should for a host of corporate products and services such as gasoline and cable television. Electricity and natural gas will join them as soon as they, too, become "deregulated."

Your jobs are being exported to deregulated fourth world countries where children labor for a dime an hour.

No wonder Bill Clinton and his corporate handlers treat Red China so kindly. Pissing them off would be bad for business. We're building McDonald's burgers and Boeing jets over there. Chinese kids pee the Pepsi we sold them at a profit.

I am the only patriotic American citizen I know who will defend the Communist Chinese against allegations that they stole U.S. nuclear weapons secrets.

Balderdash. They pilfered nothing.

They bought the material on the open market in the finest tradition of entrepreneurial capitalism and Yankee ingenuity.

The real reason official Washington is so angry with them is that a lot of U.S. corporations were planning on making big profits selling the same data to the commies. Several companies were busted for doing so several years ago. These creative spies just skated their market.

From the flag to elections to the law, America is for sale to the highest bidder.

"The chief business of America is business," Pres. Calvin Coolidge once opined.

I fear that only economic devastation can galvanize a distracted public into action. As wiseman George Carlin once said, the rich make most of the money, do none of the work. The middle class does most of the work for less and less money. The poor exist to scare the shit out of the middle class and keep them showing up for those jobs.

As long as the lower classes are fighting each other over emotional issues, the rich will prosper and throw us a few crumbs. When we tire of eating cake, the revolution begins.

That's why I am sad about America this patriotic weekend. Her lust for comfort sows the seeds of change. But that correction will come at a horrible price.

When the stock market casino crashes, you'll know that the canary has keeled over.

Keep your powder dry.

Be well. Raise hell.


Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a 30-year Nevadan, editor of U-News and head of Casinos Out of Politics (COP). In 1998 he served as gubernatorial campaign manager for State Senator Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas.
Since 1988 Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune, where an earlier version of this column appeared on 5/30/99.

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