in boomtowns: the American plantations
knows the dice are loaded.
Everybody rolls with
their fingers crossed.
Everybody knows the
war is over.
Everybody knows the
good guys lost.
Everybody knows the
fight was fixed.
The poor get poor.
The rich get rich.
That's how it goes.
This month, for the
first time in recent memory, the Salvation Army in Las Vegas ran out
of food. "And the welfare department is taking people off the roles
as fast as they can, kicking people off food stamps," spokesman Sumner
Dodge told the Las Vegas Sun.
"Charities just can't keep up with it," he added.
Last December, the
Reno Gazette-Journal reported that the working poor now outnumber
the homeless in Nevada food lines. On July 20, 1997, the Reno paper
also reported that more than $2.1 million of federal money earmarked
to help young mothers feed their small children was returned unspent
to the federal government.
The Sparks-Reno answer
seems right out of Charles Dickens: debtor's prison. Crusading
civil rights lawyer Terri Keyser-Cooper has sued Washoe County
Sheriff Dick Kirkland for instituting a debtor's prison in our
"This is the clearest case I've ever filed in my life,"
Keyser-Cooper said. Kirkland orders fines converted to jail time for
prisoners who cannot pay.
The practice was prohibited by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971. Our
supremes followed suit 12 years later, prompt by Nevada standards.
The Lord High Sheriff has good reason to extend the sentences:
slave labor is very cost efficient. Keyser-Cooper has also sued Kirkland
over his use of inmate workers. She's filed for summary judgment on the
sheriff's liability because it is such a clear violation of the
As long as misleading news stories emanate from Nevada PR
departments, many coming here to seek a better life will never know of the
Which brings me to
a similar boomtown, the nation Bill Clinton considers worthy
of the first expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Chilé was once home
to the hemisphere's second-oldest representative democracy. It lasted
until Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger toppled it. Richard
the Rotten was pissed off that an openly socialist president got elected
on his watch.
the country, they killed Chilé's last freely-elected president. A CIA
hit squad took off from the deck of Howard Hughes' Glomar Explorer,
landed at the presidential palace and assassinated President Salvador
He was replaced by
our guy, Gen. Augusto Pinochét, who promptly established military
rule patterned after Hitler's Germany.
The bastard even hired fugitive Nazis to create an updated WWII
concentration camp for those lucky enough to escape immediate execution.
In his 1987 book, crusading
Argentine editor Jacobo Timmerman wrote that "psychiatrists discovered
a tactical decision made by the military that all women arrested for
political reasons should be raped...In the years of the military dictatorship,
not a single rapist has been brought to trial or even reprimanded."
Timmerman, himself imprisoned during the darkest days of the
Argentine generals, added that "the ideas that Fascism let loose in Latin
America in the 30's...are still going strong today in Chilé."
Pinochet placed ex-Nazis
high in his secret police, which murdered former Chiléan ambassador
Orlando Letelier and an American woman, Ronni Moffit,
in a 1976 Washington, DC, car bombing.
I first wrote of the
depredations of the Pinochét regime in my fourth column for the Tribune
on Labor Day weekend, 1988.
Washoe County Republicans
had invited Chiléan Consul General Leopoldo Porras to speak at
the Reno Elks Club. He was introduced by then-attorney general Brian
McKay, who spoke glowingly about Chilé's movement toward democracy.
When Porras got up
to paint his rosy scenario, I confronted him.
"As part of your movement toward democracy, have plans been
announced, or have any plans been made, to free your desaparecidos (the
disappeared) who have been lost in your jails? Are there any plans to offer
an accounting of your political prisoners to Amnesty International?"
Porras glared at me and snapped "we have no political prisoners. We
have large and actual terrorist groups. The people in jail are criminals.
When Amnesty International asked about protection of these people, they are
asking for protection of criminals," Porras said.
He then called the
dissidents Communists. The crowd growled in my direction. They had bought
his snake oil. Tailgunner Joe McCarthy would have been proud.
"Chilé should be forever grateful to General Pinochét for saving
their country," one local guy gushed.
Pinochét certainly didn't help our country. Immediately upon coming
to power, he flooded the world copper market, destroying Nevada's already
weakened copper and molybdenum mining industries.
Chilé's economic miracle
has been very uneven and unfair. A huge gap separates the top from the
bottom, even worse than here. In his book, Jacobo Timmerman noted
that some 60 percent of the population lived in poverty under Pinochét.
Many worked for $1 a day.
"One-fourth of the
country lives in absolute poverty and a third of the nation earns less
than $30 a week," Chiléan writer Marc Cooper reported in The
Nation last March 23 (reprinted in the July-August Utne Reader).
"Real salaries are still 18 percent lower than they were during the
Allende period," Cooper wrote.
Reminds me of home. American workers saw their inflation-adjusted
earnings go into a slide in 1973, the very year we murdered Chiléan
democracy. We finally got back to even a couple of years ago, but we'll
never recover the quarter-century of economic losses. Only the working wife
prevented the U.S. middle class from sliding further.
Cooper's article carries dark warnings for us. Pinochét privatized
Chilé's social security system in 1981.
Corporate employers, Wall Street brokers and their political stooges are licking their chops to do ditto here. Chiléan employers no
longer pay into social security. Social security investment sales people
pepper Chiléan workers worse than long distance peddlers do here.
Most workers don't make enough money to save much anyway. Everyone
puts the future on credit cards, worse than here, if that's imaginable.
"This whole (economic)
model is impossible without a dictatorship," sociologist Tomas Moulian
"Only the dictatorship could have disciplined the working class
into submission while their salaries were lowered and their pensions used
to accumulate wealth for others. Only a dictatorship can keep a country
quiet while education, university and health care are privatized, and while
an absolute marketization of the labor force is imposed. Today, under this
simulated democracy, the workforce is too fragmented to recover and the
population is distracted by consumerism and disciplined by credit
Sounds just like home to me.
Amnesty International just established a chapter in Las Vegas.
Be well. Raise hell.