Focus, Group: Routine Maintenance for Elections

A few thoughts on voting and counting and counting the voting:

(1) Nevada would be better served if we’d take a few moments to consider the age, use, maintenance, and condition of our voting equipment than if we persist in the highly questionable track of “run to ruin” accounting.  “Run to ruin” is altogether too common in the public sphere — it’s a condition, initiated by under-funding or limited revenue in the first place, compounded by public unwillingness to spend “sacred taxpayer dollars,” and finally the proximate cause of expensive projects and replacements in the last instance due to deferred maintenance, or deferred replacement.  Colloquially, it’s the process by which park service managers don’t replace cattle guards until the whole front end of an extended cab pickup falls through; or, a water system has pipe in the ground for 65 years without replacement; or, a county clerk hopes beyond hope he or she can get two more elections out of the voting machines in the courthouse basement.  It’s what Granny called penny wise and pound foolish.

However, on some occasions there’s no way to escape it.  That’s why we have three levels of government.  If the local county resources won’t cover the cost of new or upgraded voting equipment, then the county looks to the state; and, if the state can’t manage the entire tab, then the federal government kicks in.  If all three levels are loathe to spend any money on any government services, again it’s what Granny called penny wise and pound foolish.  The cattle guards will collapse, the pipes will break, and the voting machines will crunch and crumble into their version of electronic/mechanical Valhalla.

We can, and probably should, start asking questions now (as opposed to waiting around for another two years) of our local election officials:  How old are our voting machines? In what kind of shape are they in?  What’s the maintenance schedule for them? Is that schedule continuous or only when the devices are hauled out every two years for use? How secure are our machines?  How likely is it that the computer systems in place for local voter registration can be hacked? Do we have a coordinated plan in place to prevent interference?

Do we have enough voting machines?  Do we have a sufficient number of voting machines to insure that every citizen who wishes to cast a ballot can do so in a reasonable amount of time?  At a reasonable distance from his or her residence?

(2) Do we need to consider other voting formats?  Some localities have mail-in ballots. This saves personnel costs in remote regions; saves time and expense for members of local law enforcement in regard to the transportation, collection, and security of voting devices, and keeps voting personnel expenses to a minimum.  The system doesn’t come without some decisions, a few controversial, about the process.  For example, must ballots be postmarked prior to the deadline or received by the County Clerk’s office before the voting deadline? Should the voter’s signature be clearly visible on the exterior of the envelop or should a privacy flap cover the name? (The flap system is a bit more expensive.)

(3) Are we staffing our elections adequately?  One of the contentious elements in current chatter concerns how local and state election officials are handling the count of absentee, mail-in, and provisional ballots — this really shouldn’t be an issue. Every legal ballot ought to be counted in every jurisdiction in every election.  The question is: Do we have the personnel to do that?  Should there be a higher than expected turnout, then do we allow our local election officials enough resources to properly staff the counting process, and/or do we allow them enough time to accomplish the tasks without having to hire too many (a number that represents a policy decision) additional people for the count or recount?    Are we allocating sufficient resources so that local election officials can plan for the best possible election service instead of the cheapest possible election service.  Granny said, “You get what you pay for.”

Granted we may all have a tendency not to look at the tires until one of them goes flat, and not to take heed of the washing machine until there’s water on the floor, but we’d be better prepared for elections if members of the public were to take an interest in our voting systems, processes, equipment, and staffing, BEFORE election seasons hit us with the full force of the advertising on our TV screens.

And, just to re-emphasize the punctuation in the title:  Have you eaten Granny?

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Make America Good Again, Nevada Style

Congratulations to Nevada’s Democratic candidates, and to all the people who worked so hard to get them elected!  Now, perhaps we can get down to business, down to making America Good Again.

For one thing we can honor the victims of the horrific shooting at the Las Vegas concert by implementing the background checks for gun purchases approved by Nevada voters.  We can also remember them by enacting legislation banning bump stocks and other means of increasing the lethality of firearms.  This would be a good start. Nothing herein impinges on any 2nd Amendment rights, but should serve to preserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for citizens, residents, and visitors to our state. Every little step helps.

There’s another step we can take to make America Good again, at least in our portion of it.  We can bolster and improve our health insurance coverage options for Nevada citizens and residents.  We might want to look at the structure of our taxation system, are the “big box” operations getting an advantage over our family owned small businesses?

We should evaluate the way in which we fund our schools.  Do we really want to obsess over standardized test scores?  There are some serious questions in this domain which deserve equally serious debate and consideration.

And, we need to look very carefully at the security of our state and local elections.  We still don’t know with any great precision which states were among the 21 subjected to Russian interference in 2016.  We would be best served by assurance our voter rolls aren’t subject to any form of interference.  There is also the matter of adequate funding for upgrading our voting systems, appropriately staffing our polling stations, and preventing each and every attempt to suppress voting.  Some localities may need assistance with these items, and local governments might need some pressure to tackle these issues; the state should stand ready and willing to assist.

The rest of us aren’t off the hook quite yet either.  Yes, it’s time to enjoy, indeed celebrate, the Blue Wave in Nevada. No, it’s not time to rest on the old laurels and quietly emit sighs of relief. There is still work to be done.

There are still women in this state earning significantly less than men for performing the same work. There are still workers in this state for whom the minimum wage is an unrealistic sub-minimum travesty in terms of compensation. There are still families in this state  living in substandard housing.  There are still families in this state struggling to see their children fed properly.  There are still parents in this state who are one paycheck away from homelessness.  There are too many people, even one would be too many, who are waiting for mental health care.  There’s still work to be done.

While we’re celebrating the wins, and focussing on issues that matter, it’s time to separate some sheep and goats.  It would be useful to ignore some bleating goats. They can be safely moved away from civic discourse, at the very least from the center of it.  For example, the “Pelosi Leadership” issue is a press manufactured cocktail party circuit process topic, closely related to the hoary old Dems in Disarray theme so popular among the Chatteratti. It can be safely shunted to one side.

Watch out for shiny objects.  The current administration seems to have mastered one thing: Distraction.  As various topics vaporize in the mists of scattershot globules of what passes for news, there are some which should be retained in focus. Comprehensive immigration policy reforms are much more important than the president’s latest round of petulant name calling.  There are still children who were separated from their parents at the border who have not yet been reunited with them.

Indeed, the president’s inflammatory rhetoric should not divert our attention from the evident racism of his immigration and other social policies.  Since he began campaigning for the presidency he’s been crude, rude, and racist. We’ve seen his demonstrations of empathy deficit on too many occasions to count.  We can stop counting and start doing something about it.

He insults African-American female journalists, what else is new?  Our attention should be drawn to his racist, misogynistic assault on the press, the only profession specifically protected in our Constitution.  The Chatteratti wrinkle their noses and “see a pattern.” NOW, you see a pattern?

The president brightens at the appearance of Putin in Paris, like a little boy who spots the new train set under the Christmas Tree.  We still don’t have a read out of what happened in Helsinki.  So, what happened in Helsinki?  Efforts to find out, and to oversee the adequacy and accuracy of presidential records will be deflected by the GOP buzzword of the day: Presidential Harassment.  Forget Secretary Clinton’s 11 hours of testimony and the whole Benghazi/ Email flap. Call “presidential harassment” what it is, a lame attempt to change the subject. Keep talking about things that matter. Health insurance for those with pre-existing conditions. Comprehensive immigration policy reform.  Infrastructure.  Foreign policy. Economic equity. Gun violence as a public health problem.

We can, should, and must make America Good Again. We can if we aren’t distracted and diverted.  We simply need to get back to the business of sustaining a good country with good people, all trying to do the right thing.

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Is Halloween Over Yet?

The candy has been distributed, the costumes retired for the season, and the President is still trying to scare the bejeezsus out of us.  Immigrants!!  They’re coming! Actually, and economically speaking, we’re not getting enough immigrants. But who’s going to let a few facts get in the way of a good scare strategy to rouse the basest of the base?

Back to basics:  The GDP depends on buying things, good old fashioned goods and services.  We have GDP growth when more people buy more stuff. Have I made this easy enough for The Great Pumpkin?

So, let’s try one more step. If one wishes to create economic growth something has to increase. Simple enough?  Spending would be good. Now, careful Great Pumpkin, things are about to get more complicated.  Spending increases if people have more money to spend,  and not just the top 1% of all income earners. Spending increases if there are more people to spend more money.  See, that’s not too difficult.

If the birth rate isn’t increasing then the other way to get more people is to take other people’s people. It’s called immigration.  Therefore, it makes no sense to limit immigration merely because they happen to be the “wrong” color.  Focus, O Great Pumpkin, if the object is to generate more Green, then it is counter productive to get distracted by Brown.

Remember, O Great Pumpkin,  your vaunted tax cut for millionaires and billionaires was supposed to be countered by economic growth.  Economic growth requires increased spending, increased spending requires more people — or, requires something you don’t seem anxious to do — raise wages. Only inside the nonsensical bubble of pie-in-the-sky fantasies do we get to increase consumer spending by diminishing the number of consumers doing the spending.

Chew, O Great Pumpkin, on your semi-edible seeds for a moment.  You, O Great Orange One, want increased economic growth, but when you tack on increased tariffs on consumer goods to an anti-immigration policy things can go pear shaped in a hurry.  One pear is developing in the national housing market.

Interest rates are going up. Why? Because the tax cut has increased the deficit.  Higher deficit levels mean higher interest rates, meaning fewer people can afford new housing.  Returning to an old theme in the posts over the past few years, housing is a mid-stream economic area.  Construction takes raw materials, occupancy means more spending for retail items to make the occupancy comfortable.  Housing activity ripples out on all sides.

Seeking economic growth by adopting policies which restrict population increases, while increasing the deficit, when threatening the safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare, when conducting a trade/tariff war with a major supplier, and while ignoring the consequences of muting our efforts to modernize our overall economy (see transitioning from reliance on fossil fuels,) is tantamount to believing pumpkins grow best in Antarctica .

This is something of which we should be legitimately afraid.

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Words Matter

There’s what is said, what is meant, what is intended, and what is understood. Additionally, there’s much space between each of these elements and we don’t need advanced degrees in rhetoric, communications, linguistics, or psychology to understand this.

A discussion which has been touched upon in the last 48 hours, but not to my mind fully explored, concerns leadership comments and how these might be perceived by the various audiences.  Perhaps we should review a smattering of the vocabulary involved.

Let’s start with the phrase which has earned the President some criticism in the wake of the massacre in the Pittsburgh synagogue: Enemy of the people.  The President seems disturbed that the broadcast media discounted his denunciation of the horrific act in Pittsburgh.  They are therefore the fake news, the inaccurate news, the false news.

At one level the President is saying the media is unfairly criticizing him when he did, in fact, condemn the atrocity.  However, there’s another layer, one understood by a segment of the audience that understands this phrasing in a very different way.  In their minds the Jews control the media, the media is unfair, ergo Jews are the enemy of the state, especially the President.

At one level the President is saying the asylum seekers from central Americs are a menace to America.  Anderson Cooper offered a segment on his CNN program this evening about the words involved.  An important observation made was that what the President said and what an unhinged bigot heard were related if not causally connected.  When the President hints Soros (Jewish) is paying for an “invasion,” the bigots hear “Jews are those Others who are destroying our nation.”  When a prominent Congressional Republican tweets “Steyer, Bloomberg, Soros” can’t be allowed to control the upcoming election, the bigot heard echoes of the anti-Semitism formerly associated with the name Rothschild.

The term “globalist” has a deep and stained history.  Globalist = Internationalist = Jew. Perhaps it’s time for a network to dust off previous explications of anti-Semitism in America, broadcast them, and re-educate a population which no longer has a significant number of World War II survivors.  The generation that witnessed the horror of the Holocaust is dwindling by the day, the generation which went to war or manned the Arsenal of Democracy is declining as the pages of the calendar turn.

When we are careless with our terminology and unconscious of our history there is an opportunity for amplifying hateful, anti-Semitic rhetoric. We can and should do a better job of monitoring our commentary such that our compassion is emphasized  beyond that of our conflicts.

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Values Voters?

I’m old enough to remember when the chattering classes called a certain group

Values Voters.  As with so many phrases this one becomes the property of conservatives, narrowing the definition to those of a certain religion, and a certain subset of that religion. Perhaps it’s time for more people to become values voters.

Do we value inclusiveness?  Do we welcome the views of our political adversaries and seek to understand those elements of issues upon which we agree so that we can work toward solutions? Or, do we value the battlefield wherein only our own positions merit consideration?  Do we take pride in an uncompromising stance, and declare intractability a positive character trait?

Do we value diversity? Do we see in our fellow citizens sources of innovation? Creativity? Economic progress? Fellowship?  Community service? Do we value The Stranger who approaches our tent? Do we abhor the actions and expressions of those whose response to a diverse cultural environment is eliminationist rhetoric?

Do we value progress?  Do we welcome change, innovation, and improvement?  Do we keep what is positive in our institutions and traditions while seeking ways to enhance the lives of others if those institutions and traditions somehow limit their participation in the fullness of American life?

Do we value a free press?  Interesting, there’s only one profession specified for protection by the US Constitution — the press. The press is not, as the Stalinist phrase goes, the enemy of the people.  The press reports. The press opines. We can choose which broadcasters to watch, which newspapers to read.  What we cannot do, without doing great violence to our own civic institutions, is to restrict the flow of information to merely that which reinforces our individual preferences.  We can, and should, insist media reports be as accurate as possible,  but we cannot require they be propaganda conforming to our ideologies.

Do we value morality and ethical behavior?  I’m not convinced a person needs to espouse a specific religion, or indeed any religion at all, in order to be a moral and ethical individual.   What moral people share is a commitment to standards of behavior which promote the well being and safety of others. What moral people demonstrate is respect for others. What ethical people share are patterns of behavior which respect the rights and well being of others. What ethical people demonstrate is a willingness to place the value of norms and mores above the value of their own individual reward.

Perhaps it’s time for us to review what it means to be a values voter?  It’s time to exercise our right to vote with an eye toward putting our values front and center. Life is never a zero sum game, and Eleanor Roosevelt was correct, “no one can make us feel inferior without our consent.”  Thus we are strong because, not in spite of, our inclusiveness; because not in spite of our diversity; because not in spite of our attitude toward progress; because not in spite of our commitment to a free press; because not in spite of our ethics and morality.

Vote our values.

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Happy Halloween: Legitimate and Illegitimate Fears

Happy Halloween kids! During this fun holiday there are some legitimate and some illegitimate fears. Here are a few samples.

Legitimate: Your neighbors will purchase bags of that ultra cheap candy with little or no chocolate.

Illegitimate: The asylum seekers at the Mexico-Guatemala border are coming to get you. They are far away and many will not make it to the US southern border. Perhaps some people will be afraid of these asylum seekers because they don’t want more people working on farms and construction sites, or they don’t want more hotel rooms cleaned, more elderly people having home health aides, or more people working in meat packing plants.  These fears are foolish. The people harboring these fears would be better served by worrying about whether you’ll get cheap suckers rather than tasty Butterfingers.

Legitimate: It will rain on Trick or Treat night and mess up your costume.

Illegitimate: “Globalists” will seek to buy a US election.  The word “globalist” is a spooky term which means someone who goes to a synagogue on Saturday rather than a church on Sunday.  It’s sort of like saying Boo! to some adults. It scares them. They are foolish.

Legitimate: Your older sibling will attempt to swap pieces of colorful but far less satisfactory candy for the Peppermint Patties you have collected. Do not be fooled. Offer to trade a few of the undersized lollipops in your sack for the colorful pieces on offer. If your offer is refused you’ll know the proposed transaction was a scam.

Illegitmate: That the Democrats will raise Your taxes.  This might be true if you or your parents are in the top 0.01% of all income earners in this country. If this is the case, then what on Earth are you worried about?

Legitimate: Your healthy eating neighbors will be handing out packages of nuts and raisins. Tamp down your fears, it could be worse — they could be handing out banana chips and dehydrated carrots.

Have a Happy Halloween !

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First, Offer Comfort

This isn’t difficult. The first action required in the face of tragedy, such as the horrific massacre in Pittsburgh today, is to offer comfort.  How hard is that?

We do that; we offer thoughts and prayers. We don’t generally blame the victims.  We also recognize providing comfort means more than words and formulaic expressions.

We can offer comfort by our assurance that the impulses on which the demented act are not to be seen as socially acceptable, and definitely not to be triggered by ill considered rhetoric, or incendiary statements.  Words matter. If we would offer comfort then we are called upon to give our fellow citizens a sense that we will not lend any assistance to those voices whose words should never be amplified.

We can offer comfort by considering the safety of our fellow citizens before we focus on our individual needs and wants.  There are some serious questions raised at this point.

What does it mean to be a “responsible gun owner?”  Does this mean everyone can purchase anything any time merely because it’s allowable? Does this mean some common sense regulation is desirable?  What does a responsible firearm owner do with regard to safe storage? What actions might we take which would help our neighbors feel more comfortable,  safer, in their homes, churches, synagogues,  mosques, grocery stores, schools, and other public and private spaces?

This is not to “politicize” the situation, rather this discussion should lead to a situation in which we might all feel more comfort and solace.

We can offer comfort by refusing to tolerate the intolerable.

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