Don't let the great unwashed go near the water


Expanded from the 9-24-2000 Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

Don't let the great unwashed near the water

The past week provided a bumper crop of examples of how power has been taken from the people for the benefit of the rich and famous.

Here's a checklist, followed by some suggestions for fighting back.

My Tribune colleague in columny and UNR journalism professor Jake Highton is quite correct in stating that Las Vegas CityLife is the best newspaper in Nevada. Editor Hugh Jackson's Sept. 21 piece on Green Party presidential nominee Ralph Nader is required reading.

Like his positions on labor, Nader's stand on nuclear waste is both powerful and refreshing. More basically, he advocates power for the people.

"The public owns things, Nader reminded the crowd (during his Sept. 15 speech at UNLV) — things like public land, the broadcast airwaves and, yes, union and public pension plans. We own them, but we don't control them because we've relinquished control to corporations," Jackson writes. (Earlier this year, he published a sparkling exposé which disclosed that Nevada's huge Public Employees Retirement System pension fund is heavily invested in nuclear utilities, the source of the nuke waste slated for transport through and burial within Nevada.)

"How come we don't control what we own?" Nader asked.

"If we move from ownership to control — which is a pretty conservative doctrine, right? — if we control what we own, we will have enormously more power to elevate the sovereignty of the people of this country instead of the sovereignty of corporations."

If anyone disagrees with that statement, I'd like to hear from them.

When he spoke at UNR earlier this year, Nader had harsh words for the National Judicial College, located right here in River City. He called it a place funded by corporations which teaches judges how to rule in favor of companies over the complaints of aggrieved citizens.

Nevada's the right place for it. We love empowering corporations. The gambling industry creates low wage jobs, skims our tax money as corporate welfare, then facilitates tax increases on us to cover the costs its poorly paid workforce imposes on society.

Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, is circulating an initiative petition to raise gaming's taxes for the first time in 13 years in order to mitigate some of the damage. The gambling-industrial complex responded by funding an opponent against him.

Neal was re-elected outright on Sept. 5. A recount affirmed the result. Last Friday, two separate individuals asked the Nevada Supreme Court to overturn Neal's victory and place him and his gambling industry opponent on the November ballot.

One action was brought by Joel Hansen, an LV lawyer and member of the Sparks version of the Addams Family. Hansen chairs the Nevada political party made famous by Jim Crow southern governor George Wallace. The boys in the hoods never go away.

A similar brief was filed by heavyweight Reno lawyer Keith Lee on behalf of Rev. Chester Richardson, a former Reno gadfly who made the news accused of spousal abuse several times when he lived here. Richardson is now a Las Vegas Republican state assembly candidate.

How the Nevada Supreme Court will act in a case involving the gambling industry's worst political enemy is anybody's guess.

In situations where little people need access to the courts, their options are becoming increasingly limited. George W. Bush's actions in Texas are perhaps the best example of corporations winning laws making sure damaged plaintiffs never come before a jury. (See the Feb. 2000 issue of Harper's magazine.)

Just two months before a jury handed down a judgment of $145 billion against big tobacco in a class action suit, the State of Florida reduced its appeal bond requirements from 100 percent of damages to a cap of $100 million.

I've written for years about how every time the gambling industry loses in court, it undoes the damage at the legislature.

So just what do we do about killer corporations? Now that we've had more than 100 people, and probably many more, die at the hands of Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone, what's a proper punishment?

As I suggested in this column last Feb. 6, how about the death penalty? The only way to make rogue corporations accountable would be to see that investors lose their entire investment upon conviction.

Last February, it got laughs. With many facing a freezing winter unable to afford to heat their homes, fewer will be chuckling. (I once again recommend that anyone interested in the truth behind high oil prices should go to my long-published Oilogopoly Series at the Barbwire archive.)

So what can we do besides the death penalty? How do we rebut corporations and their tax deductible ability to pay for billions in free speech? The City of Reno controls millions of your money and uses much of it to buy Reno Gazette-Journal full-page color ads prepared by its huge PR department. Another example of loss of control of your own property.

The answer lies in more free speech.

Fight back. Express yourself by dis-electing the three council incumbents.

Fight back. Write the Federal Communications Commission in support of low power community fm radio.

Locally, you might want to attend this Tuesday's meeting of the High Sierra Community Radio Committee at the offices of Sierra Nevada Community Access Television (SNCAT), 4024 Kietzke Lane in Reno. It starts at 5:00 p.m. A studio has been built, so let's get the show on the road.

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Copyright © 2000, 2005 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413, editor of and manager of Sen. Neal's website. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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