flag as religion and the Constitution as toilet paper
5-9-99 Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune
In exchange for turning
the Bill of Rights into toilet paper, we are about to get a constitutional
amendment making it a crime to burn an American flag.
Some might call it
a fair trade. Perhaps the great construct has already been squeezed
down to little more than Charmin.
Maybe the flag burning
amendment comes as no more than a four-bar requiem or dissonant epitaph
for what was once the blueprint for the shining city on the hill.
While parchment cracked
and paper crumbled, did the words erode to no more than dried stains
Ah, what dreams they
once inspired. That's the good thing about dreams. They can always visit
For anyone not familiar
with the basics, and that seems to be most folks nowadays, the Constitution
of the United States is the ultimate law of the land. The term "Bill
of Rights" is shorthand for the first 10 changes or amendments to that
The words are composed
of plain English and seem fairly clear. However, just reading the language
will not suffice if you would understand the greatest piece of writing
More than 200 years
of lawyering, judging, arguing and armed combat have made the explanation
and interpretation far weightier and more complicated than principal
author James Madison ever could have imagined.
On TV and in the movies,
we keep hearing how the Constitution is a living document. Indeed, spry
and flexible she's been.
Were she not, we'd
have had more than one civil war. The genius of the founding fathers
was that these few, plain, simple words lend themselves to interpretations
within the context of the times. Our law is a living thing and casts
off that which it cannot use. That's why our government has lasted so
Had not one U.S. Supreme
Court justice decided to change his stance and start voting to uphold
Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal reforms, the United States would have
become bloodily disunited during the Great Depression six decades ago.
Alas and alack, the
gigantic concept with the compact language now stands very close to
THE GRATEFUL DEAD. A few years ago, a foundation funded by Mickey
Hart of the Grateful Dead conducted a study of the Bill of Rights. The
results were so disturbing that they were printed on the editorial page
of the Wall Street Journal, arguably one of the most nutso, pro-corporate,
conservative opinion tracts in all the land.
According to the research,
of all the provisions of the Bill of Rights, only one stood untarnished
and uneroded by 200 years of lawyering and tinkering, judging and juking,
shucking and truckin'. Care to hazard a guess as to the only survivor?
The Bill of Rights
guarantees the basic freedoms we all take for granted: Freedom of speech,
religion, the press; free association and assembly; the right to petition
your government (something which started with Great Britain's Magna
Carta); the right to keep and bear arms (depending on how you define
"militia"); freedom from self-incrimination or unreasonable search and
seizure; the right to due process of law, reasonable bail, a speedy
public trial by jury; to confront accusers and be represented by legal
Pretty weighty stuff.
Pretty faded, too.
The only amendment
surviving into the next millenium is the third: "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."
That's it, kids. All
your other rights have hardening of the arteries, wrinkles, cracks and
So to all you fine
folks with the best of intentions who want to write our U.S. senators
to vote down the latest amendment, save your stamps. The Bill of Rights
died long ago and congress is just ordering up a fresh flag for her
SPEAKING OF FUNERALS.
Tomorrow at 3:45 p.m., the Nevada State Assembly Committee on Commerce
and Labor will hear two of the most controversial bills of the session.
Senate Bill 37 is a ripoff reminiscent of the giveaway of Washoe Medical
Center. Just as corrupt pols turned over the county hospital, their
descendants plan to turn over all the assets of the state injured workers
insurance system. A few well-connected individuals stand to get rich
The second item on
the agenda is SB 192, the bill to better regulate homeowners associations.
Attached like a suckerfish is the now-infamous permission to build a
private pier at Lake Tahoe for a notorious lawyer-lobbyist and his fat
On Wednesday afternoon,
a subcommittee of the Assembly Committee on Taxation will hold the postponed
hearing on Assembly Joint Resolution 17, an angry meat ax for cutting
I'd say show up, but
I've reached the point of "why bother?" Doesn't mean I'm not going to
Carson City this week. I love theater, but I know who pays for the tickets.
When all is said and
done, all that matters in politics is who can afford to buy the TV spots
to win next time. The rest you can use to make your tomatoes grow bigger.
Shovel it on top of those 200 year-old, handwritten legal papers.
Be well. Raise hell.
Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a 30-year Nevadan,
editor of U-News and head
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 5/9/99.