On more than just local government

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Is it worth the lives?

Watching the terrorist attack on the school in North Ossetia, Russia made me wonder what are the criteria for a political leader like President Putin (or, in our case, President Bush) to determine that a specific situation is worth the loss of life to achieve the goal.

Why keep Chechnya? They don't want to be a part of Russia. It doesn't seem to have any natural resources of any value. It must be all about national pride.

When the Soviet Union broke up, many of the sections of the USSR that had been formed into "republics" had the social and political infrastructure to become nations. Regions like Chechnya, Ossetia, etc didn't, so it remained in Russia.

This happenstance has cost a lot of people, partcularly children, their lives.

But, then, not unlike President Bush, Putin has used this situation to restore a great deal of centralized political command and control. In Bush's case, 9/11 and Afghanistan was a rationale (right or wrong) for a policy of war on Iraq. With Putin, this Ossetia attack has been used as a shield for the restoration of dictatorial control in Moscow.

This is not political leadership. It is dictatorship...at the price of the lives of innocents.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Ahhnold Grimm, of fairy tale fame

Governor Schwarzenegger made a boffo speech to the Republican National Convention a little more than a week ago. Too bad much of it was about as truthful as his promise to Californians that he would be free of the influence of special interests.

It seems that Ahhnold made up the stories about his youth in Austria. His father and uncle probably did fear running into the Russians after the end of the war, but that would be natural since the Russians were merciless with Nazi collaborators. After all, over 10 million Russians died during World War II at the hands the Nazis.

It was fortunate, therefore, that the Schwarzenegger family found itself in the American zone rather than the Russian one. Being in the American zone, by the time Ahhnold was old enough to notice, there were no Russian tanks, just American soldiers, primarily in Jeeps.

The Governor also talked about his distaste for “socialist” Austria. However, during the time he was there, the governments were run by conservatives, either with a majority or in coalition with small middle-of-the-road parties.

Ahhnold’s predeliction for making things up has extended to his time as our Governor. During the recall campaign, he promised that he would make Sacramento free of special interests. He was going to break down the structure of government and recreate it as a leaner, more efficient machine.

Yet, his California Performance Review, the keystone of his government restructuring was privy primarily to the thoughts of those people and companies who had forked over thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. Take energy policy as an example. In true Cheney-like style, he took his advice from ChevronTexaco, who, basically, wrote that policy statement.

Perhaps this proves that he is a real Republican.

When cities and counties heard during the recall campaign that Ahhnold would protect their revenues, they thought they had finally found a champion. However, Ahhnold reneged on that promise, requiring the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties to force his hand by gathering sufficient signatures to put a constitutional protection measure on the November ballot.

The Governor finally relented, after a couple of flip-flops, and helped get Proposition 1A on the ballot. This measure, while a compromise, will make it possible for cities, counties and special districts to be more secure in their revenue projections for future years.

This kind of legislation by initiative is not the best way to make public policy, but it was all that was left to these local governments as every other special interest was locking up portions of the state budget for their exclusive use. The only way to really solve this revenue problem is for a true honest broker with solid political capital to be a leader in deconstructing and reconstructing how all levels of government are financed.

However, with Ahhnold’s love of fantasy, he is not one of those we can trust.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Sorry, Ahhnold. No White House for you.

Any ideas Arnold Schwarzenegger had for running for President died last night after his boffo speech to the Republican Convention.

After all, in order for him to become President, a Constitutional amendment would be required. That means that two-thirds of each house of Congress and three-fourths of the States would need to approve.

However, since nearly every one of the 51 Republican Senators think they can be the next President, why should they make it easier for someone they know would wipe the floor with them into the game. No amendment, no Ahhnold.

But, then again, how many Republicans would want to see a Kennedy as First Lady?

Maybe Kevin Shelley just needed some juice

Electronic voting is a topic that creates passion even among those who have no clue what anybody is talking about. From a theoretical level, the idea of voting and not providing a paper trail of that vote makes absolutely no sense. However, on a practical level, most voters in the US have been electing people just that way for nearly a half a century.

That’s because the lever style voting booths that are prevalent in Eastern states, especially the most populous like New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio and Illinois, haven’t produced a single piece of paper for any election since around the time of Harry Truman, when they came into general use.

In fact, even in states like California, where punch card voting was used, the votes were tabulated by computer and, when recounted, were merely retabulated by the same computer. No one I have spoken with in the elections community can remember when Californians actually went back to the original pieces of paper to recount. People accepted the computer result and that was it.

So, from a practical perspective, we haven’t used a paper trial in the memory of nearly everyone now voting. Yet, that doesn’t stop the naysayers from perpetuating the urban myth about the preparations for an elections coup in 2004. Suffice it to say that non-electronic shenanigans, like voter roll manipulation, is where the elections fraud focus should be aimed. But that’s not sexy.

One of the leading proponents of the addition of a voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) to California’s growing list of electronic systems is Kevin Shelley, our Secretary of State. This position is new to him, since he didn’t have any trouble with electronic voting when, as an Assembly member, he voted to accept money from the Feds under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and in recommending to voters that we borrow $250 million to meet the cost sharing requirements of HAVA.

With Shelley’s urging, under legislation just passed but not yet signed, VVPATs will be required by 2006. However, the Legislature, in its “wisdom,” has put a freeze on the spending of HAVA money, which would be used to buy the systems. The cause of the freeze is a legislative audit reviewing, in part, a mailer Shelley was proposing to get more people to become permanent absentee voters. Naturally, Shelley’s name would be plastered all over this mailer. Sounds Quackenbush-like to me.

In addition, the Legislative Joint Audit Committee is concerned about the whether Shelley has diverted HAVA voter information funding only to those areas where Democrats reside, and particularly where old political cronies can benefit. This, it would seem, would be counter to the requirement that, as the Chief Elections Officer of the State, he be neutral in these areas.

In fact, this lack of neutrality is a perfect reason why the Secretary of State should not be an elected official. After all, he relies on contributors to run statewide and, by definition, brings a partisan focus to what should be our most non-partisan job.

With revelations of directing money from state-funded projects to Shelley’s friends also swirling around Sacramento, the joke is that maybe, rather than sitting out the election process in terms of campaign contributions, the electronic voting manufacturers should have paid to play. Then, maybe, they would have gotten a fair hearing.