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
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
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
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 --
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.