"What has always made the state a hell on earth has been precisely that man has tried to make it his heaven." ~ Friedrich Hoelderlin
I live in Nevada. When pundits and the like discuss Nevada, they sometimes describe it as 'libertarian' or 'libertarian-leaning.' Even our elected officials love to glamorize our state as the last vestige of the Wild West. So-called alternative weekly papers in Las Vegas, where I reside, mewl incessantly about this purported libertarian streak and the social havoc it allegedly wreaks upon the poor and oppressed citizens of the state. Turn on the Travel Channel and hear about 'freewheeling' Nevada. The local convention authority garnered beaucoup ink with its recent 'What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas' tagline. Yippee! What libertines, those crazy Nevadans.
Two aspects that lead to fallacious observations of 'libertarian Nevada' are, of course, legal gambling and prostitution. I suppose one can also throw in the lack of a state income tax, no sales tax on food in supermarkets, a biennial legislature, and the recent 'decriminalization' of marijuana. Our local newspaper, the Review-Journal, is generally a steady libertarian voice--it features Vin Suprynowicz, for one. It is also a shameless Bush apologist on a number of issues, particularly the colonization of Iraq. As for our other alleged libertarian tendencies, they quail in the face of superficial examination.
You can't swing a dead mobster without hitting a gambling joint in this country anymore. They are now so pervasive that Las Vegas touts its shopping, restaurants, and nightclubs more than its games of chance. Tax-starved politicians across the land now trip over themselves to pass laws allowing 'gaming'--the politically correct euphemism. Casinos, once the milieus of rough-and-tumble, fugitives-cum-entrepreneurs like Benny Binion and Bugsy Siegel, are now strictly button-down, corporate behemoths. Solidly Middle America, many of them are traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
Nevada remains the country's lone outpost for legal prostitution, true. However, the social evil is allowed only in the state's outback regions. It is forbidden in the two most populous counties, Washoe and Clark, where Reno and Las Vegas reside, respectively. Somehow it's okay for the rural folks to make a short drive for a quickie (state-mandated condom required, of course), but the city folk have to want it bad enough to make an hour-and-a-half journey--or they can go downtown and tempt fate with a $10.00 hummer from a street whore, just like the lonely and libidinous in the rest of the country. The local police regularly conduct blue-nosed, ineffectual prostitution stings and proudly bloviate about how much safer we all are for it.
Nevada's politicos love to tout the state's lack of an income tax. What they won't effuse about is the plethora of other ways and means the state has of separating us from our money. Excise taxes, usage taxes, line taxes, delivery taxes, and--my favorite--privilege taxes. Our gasoline tax is among the highest in the country. The Nevada Supreme Court last year issued a ruling that, in effect, invalidated a state constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds majority in both houses of the legislature to pass any tax increase. The two-thirds rule was passed by a vote of the populace--twice, as also required in the constitution. The Kafkaesque ruling came about because the two-thirds requirement ran contrary to another provision in the constitution requiring public schools to be funded during each session of the legislature. Our reputedly conservative, Republican governor insisted that tax increases were necessary to maintain the present level of state services, let alone allow for more dole money for the suddenly fiscally at-risk state bureaucracies.
Many taxes are euphemized as fees. Excise fees, usage fees, line fees, and delivery fees, for a short list. Would you like a job in our burgeoning casino industry? You'll pay a $75.00 fee to obtain a work card. Said cards are required for employment in positions that involve direct access to cash. The cards are obtained only through the local police department, provided you pass a background check and submit fingerprints every five years. Convicted felons need not apply. Will you be handling food or beverages? You'll need a health card--and a tam card if your job involves serving alcohol. For a fee, of course. North Las Vegas requires a 'trucking' fee for all commercial traffic through the city limits. That will set your establishment back $25.00 per vehicle, whether a truck or not. The bureaucrats bristle when anyone refers to these acts of extortion as taxes. They are fees, you see, not taxes.
Many of those taxes and fees go toward the care and feeding of our local 'public safety' officials, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. The Wild West analogy may work here, only in the sense of testosterone-crazed thugs slinging lead at the slightest provocation. Metro (the local parlance) sports a rich history of questionable conduct. The most recent outrage involved an officer shooting a black, unarmed suspect in the back for making 'furtive movements around his waistband.' Three other officers surrounded the suspect. The shooter stood 50 feet away. A few years ago, another officer emptied his clip into a suspect armed with a high-caliber, semi-automatic basketball. Not long before that incident, two off-duty cops drove through a Hispanic neighborhood and opened fire on a group of youths. Just for kicks. New Years morning of 1994 saw police in riot gear unleash pepper spray and truncheons on a well-behaved crowd. The cops claimed they were only trying to break up the party--at 12:30 A.M. in a town where alcohol is served 24/7/365--when 'a few bad apples' began throwing bottles. I was there. Nobody threw bottles until the goon squad moved in. I don't recall seeing any 'apples.' Finally, New Year's Eve 2003 saw 300,000 revelers descend on the strip. But not before the Brown Shirts rummaged through every single purse, parcel and backpack. The local FBI field office, under terms of the PATRIOT Act, demanded and received names and personal information of every guest registered in every hotel in the city over the holiday weekend.
The post-9/11 rush to the loving embrace of Big Brother has been largely ignored, or endorsed wholesale, by the residents and politicians of Nevada , even as they continue to pride themselves for that mythical independent spirit. While there is a statewide effort to rollback provisions of the PATRIOT Act, the major response from Joe Nevadan regarding the rape of his civil liberties has been tepid to nonexistent. We now boast our very own state Homeland Security Department--Little Brother, cheerfully endowed by a grant from Big Brother. In addition, results of two ballot initiatives during the 2002 election cycle also put the lie to our state's libertarian renown. A proposal to define marriage as strictly a heterosexual affair passed by a landslide, while a referendum to allow the personal possession and use of marijuana was soundly drubbed. The libertine facade put up by the image-makers conceals stalwart, Mormon-influenced, nanny-state underpinnings.
If you feel inspired to visit our little libertarian enclave--perhaps drawn by one of those oh-so-edgy 'What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas' spots--remember these things. You will pay a state tax on your airline ticket, hotel room, and rental car. If you see a show, you will pay an entertainment tax. Really. Your credit card and other personal information are subject to review by local and federal authorities. As you walk up and down our famous strip, bear in mind the corporate casinos surrounding you claim ownership of the public sidewalks on which you tread. If you dispute this claim with outward conviction, it's possible you will be thumped, gassed, or otherwise harassed by a strapping, outwardly friendly Metro police officer and/or casino security officer. You will be watched, and not just inside the casinos. Outdoor surveillance cameras scan the cityscape. Metro routinely confiscates surveillance tapes from businesses near crime scenes. You may be subject to scheduled document stops if you drive at all, particularly on holiday weekends. The cops call them DUI checkpoints. And if you should happen upon a dispute between our fine officers and an unarmed suspect, best to find something impenetrable behind which to hide, just in case.