Theaters of war: Sparks, Reno & the IRS


Just what we need: more freakin' movie theaters. Some developers want to build a 450,000 square-foot project on the Pyramid Lake Highway north of Sparks. It will include retail, commercial and office space plus - aaargh! - movie theaters. "Apparently there's a new federal law that says you've got to have movie theaters every four or five miles," Sparks planning director Shaun Carey last week told his commission in jest (I hope).

I'm all in favor. The more the merrier. Sparks and Reno are apparently the most cinema-crazy communities in the United States. Silver screens will soon stand within walking distance of any dwelling in this part of the Silver State. Casino owners must be quaking in their boots at such competition.

One good thing may come out of all this: six of seven Reno city councilcritters might get recalled. I see a bad moon on the rise on the banks of the Truckee River. Former Reno Gazette-Journal reporter Don Vetter and longtime radio personality Bruce Van Dyke (KTHX 100.1-fm) have formed a citizens organization to oppose the proposed downtown Reno film palace in the flood plain. Vetter says his volunteers already number more than 200. They plan a Tuesday, Sept. 30, candlelight march beginning at 6:30 p.m. at Brick Park on the riverfront, then proceeding to Reno City Hall.

Don't underestimate the energy behind this. It's a very simple issue for people to understand: refreshing riverfront open space vs. millions in corporate welfare. A frustrated public united behind a clear concept becomes awesome to behold. Had they not backed down in 1992, most of the Reno council would have been ousted over the widening of Plumas Street. The proposed flood plain flicks could easily result in a recall with Judy Pruett Herman the sole exception. She, alone, voted against the current cockamamy cinema concept. The better part of 100 movie screens are now in the planning or construction stages in this small county.

I see a larger benefit to a spirited campaign and recall. This citizens organization can go on to greater things, like Union Pacific's attempt to convince us to go tax ourselves to pay for their 2.1-mile railroad trench through downtown Reno. While a much more complex issue, it's also far more dangerous than unneeded movie theaters on the riverfront. One nuclear-laden train accident and you won't have a Reno or Sparks to kick around anymore.

DEFENDING THE IRS: You stand in undisclosed danger after last week's congressional pillory of the Infernal RaffleYou Service. IRS horror stories are pretty easy to find. Pick any three guys off the street. When politicians want to grease the skids for legislation, they find a tearful blonde, a weak old man and large-eyed children for TV.

As I've written so damned many times before, remember the warning in "America: Who Really Pays the Taxes?" by two-time Pulitzer winners Donald Barlett and James Steele. Whenever congress starts beating the drum called "tax reform," what usually gets beaten is our wallets. More money is today possessed by fewer Americans than at any time this century, a worse concentration of wealth than the robber baron era of the 1890s—all because of officials bought by the corporately fat.

Corporate front think tanks have been working the media for weeks, singing the siren song of the flat tax and postcard 1040 returns. The true purpose got lost in the cacophony: another tax cut for the rich, who will end up paying an even lower percentage of their incomes—if anything at all—while we little guys get screwed once again. It will be sold as a "modified flat tax," but the flattening will occur with our wallets as road kill.

The targets of wealthy white America have become quite clear: whatever pockets of money remain with us underlings. The strategy: gift-wrap the greed in pious phrases, such as fighting injustice by the IRS.

The agenda: (1) Privatize—for profit—Social Security, in order to keep up the artificial inflation of stock prices on Wall Street, a house of cards which must fall. (2) Privatize—for profit—Medicare, Medicaid and any other health care plus welfare. A couple of years ago, George Carlin said the only reason we haven't solved homelessness is because some son of a bitch hasn't figured out a way to steal a couple million in the process. Well, the cold war is over and the military industrial complex needs new places to pillage. Lockeed-Martin, among other defense contractors, has expanded into the welfare management business.

(3) Privatize—for profit—hospitals established with public money. A few days ago, the California Nurses Association filed suit to stop the University of California Board of Regents from privatizing some of their hospitals. That's what happened in 1985 with Reno's Washoe Medical Center. Northern Nevada's largest hospital, worth between $60 million and $120 million at the time, was given away for about $3 million by corrupt public officials.

There's a nasty rumor around town that the notorious and corrupt Columbia/HCA chain is shopping around to buy one of the three major Reno-Sparks hospitals. They already own the infamous Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, target of a wide range of state and federal investigations for everything from Medicare billing abuse to letting emergency patients die on the lawn. (See the September 26 Los Angeles Times.) Columbia/HCA already owns two minor facilities in Reno-Sparks.

(4) Limit people's access to the courts, especially against insurance companies. Cloak the campaign as a crusade to save the public from greedy lawyers. Avoid mentioning messy details, like the little-known federal law preventing people damaged by HMOs from suing for malpractice. A recent network TV news program recently told the tale of a man whose wife died of leukemia because their HMO delayed her treatment for two months. Under federal law, the insurer is immune from lawsuit.

(5) As with Social Security, grab private pensions by any means possible, even risk a strike. UPS attempted such a pension skim, causing a costly walkout by its Teamsters Union workers. Thank heavens the workers won. Here's why.

The classic corporate retirement fund scam requires the company to first take control, then dream up creative ways to give the workers the minimum legally allowed, and often far less. Every penny over the mininum required for the lowest possible payout goes directly to corporate profit.

Back when pension funds were first regulated decades ago (under the same law which prevents lawsuits against HMO's), management and labor dealt perhaps a little more honestly with each other. Contract language was left unintentionally a bit vague on the subject of "overfunding." The term probably didn't exist. Nobody thought of skimming. If the pension fund brought in extra money through good investing, the excess was divided up among the retirees. After all, it was their money, right?

Then came the Reagan '80s. Millions of people saw their retirements go up in smoke when ripoff artists took control of companies then proceeded to fold pension funds, give workers small lump sum payouts, then take billions to the corporate bottom line. Some just closed the fund along with the company and left the workers with nothing.

(6) Subsidize with cheap public funds the humongous profits of private banks. The S&L scandal was used as a way to scare the Federal Reserve into a huge taxpayer subsidy of the banking system. For years now, banks have gotten money from the Fed at ridiculously low rates, then turned around and loaned our own money to us at tremendous markups.

The banking industry crows about record profits year after year, even as they screw consumers for higher and higher fees. These hogs at the public trough should be taken over by the government as a cost saving opportunity. We're propping them up anyway, so we might as well pick our point of loss and exercise our ownership interest. Better to do it now than wait till they turn into casinos like the S&L's. Then the taxpayers will face another bailout that will make the $500 billion S&L deal look reasonable.

Place the recent IRS-bashing into the above perspective, and you develop a not-so-pretty alternative picture of what our congress continues to do on behalf of corporate America.

They'll abolish the IRS, alright. Might as well eliminate the middle man and let corporations bill us directly. Look at all the corporate welfare now spread around the Truckee Meadows in the name of downtown redevelopment and sports facilities.

We're well on our way toward becoming a slave-wage, third-world country, albeit with freeways and indoor plumbing.

Be well. Raise hell.


© Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano, a Reno-based syndicated columnist and 29-year Nevadan, is editor of U-News.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988 and parts of this column were originally published 9/28/97.

Reprints of the UNR financial scandal newsbreaks remain available for the cost of copying at
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