What $40 million buys

If you own the megaphone, the transmitter, and the mouth, we are not equal -- especially when it came to the cigarette tax

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OPINION I am a diehard and devoted follower of the round-ball. Basketball. If the game did not exist, I wouldn't spend a minute — hot or cold — planted in front of telly, save the half hour my kids and I watch the new Regular Show. I have no idea who wins the beauty contests or who is villain or hero on reality TV, couldn't ID you the hit sitcom star of today, don't know and don't care.

For this reason, I am intimately aware of the massive anti-Prop 29 campaign waged by the tobacco companies (their target audience is male and of a certain age).

Prop. 29 narrowly lost last Tuesday, almost entirely due to the $40 million plus poured into its defeat from out of state interests, specifically RJ Reynolds.

Without that money, Prop. 29 passes easily, a no-brainer. A dollar-a-pack tax to raise $735 million a year for cancer research, with the secondary effect of smoking reduction (the costlier cigarettes are, the more likely one will quit — also, despite the misinformation, a raised tax on cigarettes doesn't lead to bootlegging, as is Internet myth).

But at least a half dozen times per NBA playoff game, a grave looking woman in a medical outfit came on the air to warn us of the incipient dangers of this horrible idea — a new bureaucracy, new taxes (well, duh), money going out of state — relentless repetition of talking points ramrodded down the throats of the viewer.

I am told that Lance Armstrong made a pro-29 spot. Never saw it and now, I never will.

In most instances, I would have opposed Prop. 29 myself. I dislike sin taxes. I dislike the idea that one person's poison is more pernicious than another when less than 15 percent of our state smokes and a much higher percentage is overweight. But the pounding of the tobacco industry — a far more diabolical and lethal group of parasites than even the lowliest dope dealer (but legal, of course and subsidized by the taxpayer) planted enough doubt in the minds of semi-interested sports fans to send a well-meaning and job creating piece of legislation onto the shoals of defeat.

This event, coupled with the Koch family's purchase of the Wisconsin recall, signals the possible death knell for American democracy. The fact that money is speech and corporations are people has been codified into law doesn't change the reality that said sentiment is gibberish intended to consolidate a permanent plutocrat class that, on any whim, can simply bury their opposition in an avalanche of half truths and outright lies.

If you own the megaphone, the transmitter, and the mouth, we are not equal — if you are heard and I am not, no one ever hears my side. And that's where we're going.

The saddest moment in all of this was taking a trip to a liquor store the other day with my kids to get some sodas and hearing the owner's justification for supporting No on 29 — "this will wipe me out." When I pointed out that maybe soon he could sell marijuana in the place of cigarettes when it becomes legal, he turned pale and exclaimed "I don't want that shit in here".

Marlboro's and Jack Daniels, ok. The chronic, no.

And that's the mindset in America's most progressive state. I wasn't made for these times at all.

Johnny Angel Wendell is a talk show host at KTLK-AM1150 and KFI-AM640 in Los Angeles and an American roots musician