A watered down education for Mother Nevada's kids

This is an edition of the University Scandals 96-97 series, selected installments of which were submitted for Pulitzer Prize consideration. Click here to access the archive.

A year or two back, the Rev. Billy Graham was asked what problem he would solve if he had his pick. "Racism," the old preacher replied without a moment's hesitation. If this country could ever overcome that, it will have gone a long way toward resolving its many problems, Graham said.

I disagree. I think our cruelties come from a conceit even older than mindless focus on minor physical differences. Even racism can be traced to vicious, capricious avarice. Hoary old greed. You've got what I want and I'm going to get it to prove I'm better than you. If I get it, I deserved it, which proves my born superiority to my lessers. Bow down and worship me. But watch the paint on the car.

I don't know of a serious human problem lacking an element of "me first" greed at its core. Which brings me back to this Sagebrush and Silver State.

Greed represents not only Nevada's principal problem, but also her one major asset. No matter how long we've tried, we survive only as Scarlet Mother Nevada's panderers and exploiters. For more than a century, we've gouged minerals from her bountiful belly and squeezed water from her sore-abused breasts. We've taken so much from the old girl that the milk of human kindness has to be imported from Wisconsin.

As with any mother, she can only be pushed and pimped so far. She'll always try to take care of us, but every so often she needs to unwind. Go off on a bender. Replenish herself with a little R&R. Every time she does, we spoiled brats hate it. It's a bother when mom goes on a toot. We get reminded what it would be like if we had to fend for ourselves and produce something real instead of the swindles and cons we've loved for so long.

What? You think we do honest work? Our principal industries are rape and pillage. Everyone who lives here takes a piece of the action. Our largest employer is the low-tax, government subsidized, gambling-industrial complex. Our number two employer is government, the better to help us look out for number one. Mining plays number three banana, a creme pie for foreign pirates. We allow them to pervert our land by extracting her wealth, mostly for the benefit of Saudi sheiks. And we charge almost nothing for the privilege. Mining moves the billions overseas and doesn't even kiss us afterward.

We leave Mom no modicum of pride as we sell off the irreplaceable family jewels. Our beloved Hollywood makes hit movies about high-priced hookers. But nobody exalts the two-bit whore. That's our Mother, Nevada, under that street light over there. We'll let you roll her for a quarter if you pay us a percentage. Insufferable children, us.

Every few decades, Mom goes off on a bender to replenish herself We get pissed off, even though she's left food in the fridge and money in the bank. Over New Year's, the old girl went out looking for a little action and happened to hit the jackpot over Hawaii. A high roller hopped the jetstream from the South Pacific to the Sierra and bought her some serious drinks.

The old lady was due. Her breasts had been running damn near dry thanks to us little suckers. Every once in awhile, dear old Mom is going to score big. It doesn't happen often. When it does, we have no excuses. She's nagged and warned us to be careful many times: 1950, 1955, 1986. We just won't listen.

We build in the flatlands, refuse to pay for flood control projects, and even when we decide to ante up, somebody screws up and lets disaster in. Go look at the formerly-new Washoe County Courthouse as a perfect example of how intelligent we are. The smart architect says it wasn't his fault. Of course not. It's never anybody's fault here in the Outback of the American Dream.

Another smart architect designed the Wingfield Park amphitheatre. Floodproof, we were told. The modular brick walls could be unscrewed and quickly removed by a skyhook before the river could get near floodstage. Somebody forgot to go hooking when Mom left the streetlight unattended and went partying over New Year's. Like the courthouse, the amphitheatre did not prove amphibious.

The whole Reno Riverwalk is a testament to misplaced priorities. Post-flood, nothing has changed. With devastation still dripping from the land, our governor authorized a $350,000 advertising budget as emergency corporate welfare for the gambling-industrial complex. The Reno Hilton made $20,000,000 last year. The smaller but better-managed Eldorado made $48,000,000. With the ruined hives of the worker bees not yet dry, the guv blows 350 grand on out-of-state media to convince people Mom's still available under the streetlight

Speaking of sandbagging, let's not forget the good students of Hug High. In order to contribute to the greater glory of Bill Clinton, they are raising $150,000 to travel to DC for our quadrenniel exercise of self-congratulation. They know not what awaits them. As an old trumpet player, I do: your lips will freeze to your mouthpieces.

Maintaining its long tradition of leadership in the setting of priorities, the Reno City Council immediately followed the governor's lead and offered the Hug High Band $15,000 for carrying a banner reading "Reno is High and Dry." All that insipidly soggy thinking reminds me of a barb hurled at a long-forgotten member of the British House of Commons. That distinguished gentleman was once described as having the mind of a meandering iceberg: "10 percent up in the air, 90 percent underwater, and 100 percent lost at sea." In that context, high and dry looks attractive.

Just the pittances above total more than half a million dollars which could be better spent helping some of the ruined and dispossessed little people put their lives back together. 'Twon't happen. Those without flood insurance are screwed. And the band played on.

FROM WATERWORLD TO THE IVORY TOWER: The self-important, morally obtuse gooses inhabiting our little freshwater pond of a college have done it again. First came UNR president Joe Crowley's baldfaced lies in the Reno Gazette-Journal. Contrary to the facts recently published in the legislative audit, Crowley asserted that his campus remains a singular vestal virgin in the financial cathouse the University and Community College System has become. Just four days later came another defensive move by chancellor Richard Jarvis.

Jarvis' contribution to the Kazoo-Journal editorial page hammered on one oft-repeated point: blame Bank of America. Nothing like a non-answer to criticism.

Focusing on the now legendary $7.3 million "bank reconciliation error" provides an easy, if smelly, red herring for the U's rulers. Obviously anxious to keep the university account, the bank has even fallen into the now-familiar pattern of signing off on ghost written letters to blast media critics, namely, me.

The president of the bank sent a letter to this paper, which we printed. What he didn't say is much more interesting than what he did. Because the university's bank accounts were curiously not reconciled for a couple of years, they were wide open to fraud. Nevada is infested with professional thieves. Using perfectly forged checks printed by personal computers, they prey on institutions and casinos. One Las Vegas hotel got hit for half a million dollars. If the U never reconciled its multi-million dollar accounts, they could never catch such forgery. If you don't protest a bad check within 30 days, you eat it.

To its credit, Bank of America, recognizing the university's vulnerability, recommended subcontracting the U's checking to a North Carolina bank which offers transaction tracking. Now, within three days of any check being written, an electronic message is sent to North Carolina with the check number and amount. A forged check thus has very little possibility of slipping through because the tracking computer has complete information as to which checks are outstanding and for what amounts.

Alas, some $7.3 million misplaced for a couple of years really amounts to pocket change to our university's mismanagers. Still, Crowley, Jarvis and their ilk refuse to accept the harsher criticisms published in the legislative audit. (Call 702-687-6815 for your own copy).

All's well in dreamland if you listen to them. Just don't send any of your money up there. They're already pillaging your pocketbook as a taxpayer. They don't deserve a second shot.

BEST OF THE BEST: Assemblyman Bob Price (D-North Las Vegas), Nevada's greatest champion of worker rights, just underwent major foot surgery at Rose deLima Hospital in Henderson. The 22-year lawmaker and 42-year member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers will again chair the assembly taxation committee when the legislature goes into session next week. This time, his chair will have wheels for awhile. He should be back home from the hospital by the time you read this. Send regards to P.O. Box 3759, North Las Vegas, NV 89030.

Nevada voters need not worry. On foot or on wheels, Mr. Price can kick political footballs through the goalposts better than anyone I know. I thus sent him a football to aid in his recovery.

When it comes to his public duties, Bob Price has never needed reminding to...

Be well. Raise hell.

© Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano is a Reno-based syndicated columnist and 28-year Nevadan.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988. This column originally published 1/12/97.
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