The flag as religion and the Constitution as toilet paper


from the 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 on kindling?

Ah, what dreams they once inspired. That's the good thing about dreams. They can always visit us again.

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 basic law.

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 ever crafted.

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 long.

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 death.

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 counsel.

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 bald spots.

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 coffin.

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 quick.

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 cat buddies.

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 property tax.

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.


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.
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Copyright © 1999, 2005 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 36-year Nevadan and editor of Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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