Monday, December 6, 2004

Real Money

It's seemed to me for a long time that from the point of view of the IRS, money is a huge pain in the ass. That's ironic, since the government issues the money. Nonetheless, that's the deal. If we did all our financial transactions using credit cards, debit cards, and other electronic transfer methods, we would have at the same time a perfect record of income for the taxman. No more working for a little cash under the table. Unlike everything else, money itself is anonymous.

My guess is that the moral majority or near majority would be fairly upset with the idea of a cashless society. There's a lot of those folks who have a can-o-cash back in the side yard, and even those that don't probably don't cotton to a collection plate equipped with a card slider sliding down the aisle every Sunday morning. All that clack-clack. And surely the moral whatevers would be highly inclinated to pay the hard cold for those delicate situations that they, even they, sometimes find themselves enmeshed. Little Lucy, always the wild one, seems to be a little preggo and she's only 15 and we're really hoping she'll straighten up and get herself a good credential in accounting from the community college--perhaps just this once and no one will ever ever talk about it again.

Ok, you get my drift here. We probably all agree, no matter if we're red or blue, that we want to keep money in our lives. A banking mistake in our favor is fine, but not so fine is one that goes the other way, and if it's just data entry, well it might be kinda hard to unravel in some circumstances.

Let me tell you, friends, a ballot is the same thing as a dollar bill. A regular old hand-marked piece of paper, that is. It's exactly the same thing. In fact, a democracy is basically an idea that as far as politics go, as far as who gets to govern us all, here in this great land of ours, we each get just one dollar to spend, anonymously. Straightening out the economics, that's another deal. Some folks gots, and some don't. Mamma may have, papa may have, but God bless the child who's got his own. And for damn sure, running for President isn't for the poor man--this time around it cost about $200 million for each of them the way I read it. And yes, we do know that the feller that gives John Kerry a couple of Gs is probably going to at least get a chance to shake his hand if he wants, and to say a few words about the potholes out in front of his house. Yes, yes, yes. But still, we do each, all of us, get to spend that one dollar, and that's what they count up on Election Night.

But not these days. These days the Republicans seem to have convinced all of us that when it comes to ballots, an electronic machine is better than cold hard cash. Someone working for one of the machine companies--all of which are owned by Republicans, by the way--even claims that "the electronic machine, unlike the paper ballot, gives the voter a second chance to check what he just did."

Huh?????? If you check a box, or draw a solid line between two short lines, you can stand there and look at that piece of paper as long as you want, you can quintuple check that sucker, before you drop it in the box. And when some human being unlocks that box later, they can look at your ballot, your one democratic dollar, take as long as they need, and then count it. "Four hunnerd thirty seven, Bush; twelve, Kerry."

This is just not the situation with electronic ballots. In fact, there is no ballot, it's been turned into a verb, electronic balloting or something. Some buttons get pressed, which the software hopefully transfers into a vote for the correct candidate, and then later and probably somewhere else, a server blinks up a total. If there's a problem with this somewhere, there's nothing to count, nothing to check. The central server, moreover, is connected by phone lines to all the precincts, and to more central computers, perhaps in other states. As we know from the Internet, all the computers are really connected, at least all the computers that are on line at a given moment. That's why you can have an adware program start up on your screen while you're reading an article on the virtues of corporal punishment in the arena of child rearing and find yourself suddenly transported to a website called Madam Switch.

Our election machinery is tiring and old fashioned. It's no wonder that the people who mostly volunteer to run it every election day are delighted when some Bible salesman in a shiny suit explains how touch screen voting is faster and more accurate, how it's all counted "in house," and if a technician is needed then one will be instantly provided by contract, just part of the deal if you buy, now, at our special introductory rate. Moreover, these fine volunteers have to go back to work--or to the rest home--at some point, and there's no county money to pay them any more than what you might pay a juror, and anyway, they rioted down in Florida in 2000 when they were trying to recount--does any one want some red-faced asshole with a baseball bat standing over their head??? Get the damn machines, hell yes.

But what we're doing, what we've done, is traded in our one democratic dollar for a credit card. And have you noticed how funny the exit polls are now? Is it really very likely that people in significant numbers are actually lying to the pollsters? For that matter, have you noticed that the only thing being dismissed in the exit poll information is the apparent conclusion that Kerry won? The talking heads are fine with the percentages on moral values and terrorism, they'll analyse that for two more weeks before the casualties in Fallauja get to be the big deal, but they are mostly averting their eyes when it comes to the other number: Kerry beats Bush. But Kerry himself wouldn't go there, so basically, that's over. We have Bush. Ok. We can still look at the machinery. And although half of us will argue about the outcome, almost all of us really are in agreement about the machinery. Only a tiny fraction of people who voted want it crooked.

I saw a movie about Mick Jagger the other day, just sort of a documentary on how the lad is living at the age of 61, a man of wealth and taste. And one thing he did in this movie, as well as recording a song and playing with his kids and going to a party with celebs, was vote. And damn if it wasn't a regular old piece of paper. If it's good enough for Mick, isn't it good enough for us, Reds, Blues, whatevers? Mick is one of those rich elites. Hell, he could get his butler to vote for him. He bothered to go do it.

The only people who really benefit from cooked elections are the people running. The rest of us, the voters, the citizens, benefit from having the power to choose who's governing us. I'm a Blue and right now I think that the Reds are being sold a bill of goods with regards to W and company. The Reds are apparently convinced otherwise, but with this machinery we use, who knows. Anyway, fine if they are. But one day they might actually begin to wonder, and if and when that happens, are they going to be happy with a system that doesn't allow for anything but a glowing magic box? Everyone understands the aphorism about computers: garbage in, garbage out. If electronic votes disappear, they are just solid gone. They won't turn up in some dumpster out by City Hall. Not even an off chance. This isn't just paranoia. In Carteret County, NC, where I'm playing fiddle for a dance tomorrow night, 4500 votes have plumb disappeared because some techie says the machines just didn't have the memory. They're gone, gone, gone, and they won't be coming back. They are not misplaced, they are not in a bag in a dumpster, on in the closet of the third commissioner from the left, facing the dais.

Faith is fine. I studied Wittgenstein a long while back and he has a pretty good argument that without faith you really can't even walk out your front door. Somewhere there's faith. But it sure is a lot simpler to make that mark on the piece of paper and, like old Santa, check it twice before dropping it in the box. They call computer voting "black box voting" because we really don't have a clue what's going on behind those screens and buttons. We are putting our whole democracy in the hands of strangers, giving them all our democratic dollars and trusting that they'll do exactly what we want them to do with them. If we won't do it with our currency--and we won't--why in the world do it with our votes? It's the government, after all, that protects the money. Once the government is corrupted the money probably won't be worth the paper it's printed on. Before this imperialistic administration spends all the money on its follies, let's get some real nonpartisan election reform in place. It starts with a paper ballot and a sharpie.


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