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  Texas : Features : Humor : Column - "A Balloon In Cactus"

Scarier Than Halloween

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
There's a reason U.S. elections take place right after Halloween -- politicians figure we're so scared already by creepy haunted houses, doorbell-ringing Draculas, and rubber-masked Osamas, that we're already psyched out and primed to vote. That must be why candidates are getting scarier and scarier.

In the far past, we voted for the candidates who told us what they stood for, how they'd solve existing problems, and what their plans were to prepare for the future. They also wrote their own speeches. Not any more. Today, we're given a choice of candidates who make such vicious statements about their opponents, one wonders if Joan Rivers might be their speech writer. So much dirt is slung around that the candidates have no ground left to stand on.

If they were honest, they'd say something like, "Vote for me now and forever, baby, and just for you, I promise to name an Alaskan bridge-to-nowhere after myself." Then again, most politicians suffer from ethics deprivation.

What choice does today's voter have except to vote for the candidate they dislike least? We don't really want any of them, but we have no inspirational leaders running for office.

There are probably honest politicians out there, but we never read or hear anything about them. We can no longer believe what we read in the papers or on the net because what is called "news" is either slanted to serve a purpose other than that of all the people, or scandalous goings-on leaked to the public in the nick of election time. Actually, we can't even trust "leaks" any more, since often scandalous items are leaked on purpose to destroy an opponent or sway public opinion. Occasionally, these stories might even have some truth to them. But which ones? As Winston Churchill said, "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."

We have politicians in Washington so egomaniacal that they stick a bridge to nowhere named after themselves at the end of an important bill, to insure passage. How sick is that? The people end up paying for parks and highways named after politicians. What, we have no heroes to name bridges, parks and highways after? What about naming naming them after the brave men of Flight 93? Or some of the 9/11 firefighters? Or Congressional Medal of Honor winners? What a idea. But no, naming big time projects is not up to us, is it? We just pay for them.

Voting on the issues isn't much less scary either. In California, members of both parties once voted for a cut in auto insurance rates and it passed. However, the infamous Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the voters' wishes. Gee, do you think maybe the insurance companies hired a gift-bearing lobbyist? "What's that big, wooden Trojan horse doing outside the capitol?" "Never mind, it's full of booze and vacations and girlie girls." "Oh, cool, then wheel it in."

Californians also once voted for a state lottery, largely because a portion of the money was to go to schools. Voters didn't know then that for every lottery dollar given to a school, that same amount was deducted from state funding. So when we pay property taxes, what happens to the money supposedly going to schools? Who gets it now? Bring in that Trojan horse.

An issue voted on and passed in the last election apparently had a loophole rendering useless the will of the people. The item is up for a repeat vote on November 7th, so the people are forced to vote again for the same thing they thought they'd passed before. For all we know, the courts may eventually overturn it as a matter of habit. Or Trojan horses.

It sure do take the fun out of going into the voting booth. Some die hards are still counting 2002 ballot chads in Florida. Various counties, townships, states, have different voting apparatus than others, leaving unanswered questions when it comes time to see who won. Why can't we go back to the days where they gave you a paper ballot, you went into a private, curtained booth, checked off what you wanted, and placed your folded ballot into a locked box? There were no chads to count, and count again. And again. That was back when dead people didn't cast votes, and nobody from the media grabbed your arm on the way out of the polling place to ask how you voted. It was private. We didn't know who won until the results were actually in. Those were the days. Of course, we had Harry Truman then; too bad we don't have him now, dead or alive.

No wonder fewer people than ever are actually voting, and many of those who do vote send in absentee ballots, whether they're absent or not. It's a road back to the old, successful paper-and-pencil vote. When did the people ever vote for computerized machines that call every vote into question? Whose bright idea was that anyway, horror master Wes Craven's?

Pamphlets issued by the local and Federal governments are supposed to simplify for voters the issue at hand. Instead, they appear to be designed to confuse. Who writes them, political terrorists? First the pamphlets lay out for us, in the least understandable terms possible, what's at stake. Then there's a rebuttal, followed by a rebuttal to the rebuttal. What? A few years ago, we took the time to figure out that a "no" vote actually meant "yes," and that, if we voted "no," the project would proceed at taxpayer expense. So if you wanted "no," you pressed "yes" on the voting machine. How can voters possibly be expected to spend so much time trying to figure out what is meant by what is written. It's not Trick or Treat, it's Trick or Trick. Why can't they be straightforward and say what they mean?

"Plain English Campaign," an organization based in Derbyshire, England, is calling for clarity in writing. Clarity would certainly come in handy this election year as we're reading those voter pamphlets that nobody understands.

How are we supposed to know that the parts with lines through them mean they are current law, and the parts with lines under them mean that's what we're voting on? Even if we get on the internet and research through the websites of local, state or federal government, there's no guarantee Einstein could've understood the explanation.

Here's a sample paragraph by the Attorney General of the State of Washington which is supposed to explain to the voters how their pamphlet was written:

"29.81A.040 The text of each measure accompanied by an explanatory statement prepared by the prosecuting attorney for any county measure or by the attorney for the jurisdiction submitting the measure if other than a county measure. All explanatory statements for city, town, or district measures not approved by the attorney for the jurisdiction submitting the measure shall be reviewed and approved by the county prosecuting attorney or city attorney, when applicable, before inclusion in the pamphlet"

Huh? Say what?

Sometimes the pamphlets are downright insulting. Take for example California's Prop 83 on the November 7th ballot; it's called "Sex Offenders Sexually Violent Predators. Punishment, Residence Restrictions and Monitoring Initiative Statute." Voters who might have a problem trying to figure out just the title, are helped along by the first paragraph called "Analysis by the Legislative Analyst" (as if we thought an analysis would be done by other than an analyst), which reads: "Definition of Sex Offenses. Sex offenses are crimes of a sexual nature." I didn't make that up. That's really what it says.

Californians, who live in an earthquake-prone state, are also being asked to vote on whether or not to float a bond to pay for the repair of potholes on the freeways. Pothole repairs used to be paid for out of property taxes. What do the property taxes go for now? Bawdy parties? Trojan horse anyone?

Every state should forget about the impossible-to-understand legalese always used and hire a retired school teacher to tell voters in plain English what they're voting for. Better yet, have the politicians tell voters in plain English what they stand for.

Until that day comes, we should consider Jay Leno's definition of politics: "Politics is actually a combination of two words: "poli," which means many, and "tics," which means bloodsuckers."

There's a lot to be scared of these days, and not just at Halloween.
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus" >
October 31, 2006 column
Email: maggie@maggievanostrand.com
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