Surviving two Chernobyls in the same week


Expanded from the 12-17-00 Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

"There is probably a Chernobyl or Three Mile Island waiting to happen in some election, just as a Richter 8 earthquake is waiting to happen in California." — Willis Ware, Rand Corp. computer expert, The New Yorker, 11-7-88

Could there be a more fitting comment after a week during which the Florida electoral holocaust was shut down in Washington, DC, and the original Chernobyl was ordered closed by the president of Ukraine?

Both the voter and nuclear catastrophes will continue to sicken their respective bodies politic for a long, long time.

The stateside political affliction has affected me far longer than most. As I noted last Nov. 19, I wrote a four-column 1988 series on the vulnerabilities of punchcard voting. It was published in the Sparks Tribune and the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

I first went public with my criticism in 1982, a few years after personally undergoing both a punchcard recount and a probably fraudulent computer tally.

On general election night 1982, I was interviewed by a local television station. I brought up the flaws in Nevada's punchcard counting systems and the ease with which they could be penetrated and a result altered.

A sputtering news director came on directly after my remarks and said "I have no idea what Andy's talking about." I've got a hunch that now he does.

Last week, when five of the nine Supremes sang "Stop in the Name of Love," they actually had a point. One can make a sound 14th Amendment due process argument about the flaws in vote counting systems across the nation. Of course, just as well-schooled demagogues can find biblical justification for almost any abuse, smart lawyers can do the same with our wonderfully vague and durable U.S. Constitution.

"By claiming a role in this case, the Supreme Court may have given us an advancement in voting rights doctrine," wrote Columbia Law School Prof. Samuel Issacharoff in the New York Times.

"It has asserted a new constitutional requirement: to avoid disparity and unfair treatment of voters. And this obligation obviously cannot be limited to the recount process alone. The court condemns the fact that 'standards for accepting or rejecting contested ballots might vary not only from county to county but indeed within a single county.' That criticism surely would apply to voting machines across Florida and, for that matter, to similar variations in all other states. The court's new standard may create a more robust constitutional examination of voting processes...The legacy of this case could be a substantial jolt of justice in the voting arena," Prof. Issacharoff concluded.

I should hope so. The decentralized, penny-pinching inconsistency of local voting laws, regulations and methods now puts every election up for challenge. Unfortunately, voters don't much care if "our election system is approximate," as one California congressman put it. Local officials never get lobbied by their constituents for more modern and accurate vote counting systems. They're far angrier over the likes of Nevada DMV.

In my experience, the computer people who run the hardware and software for local governments are generally not the leading lights of Silicon Valley. Government service just doesn't pay enough. Antiquated systems and overworked, underfunded workers create critical mass for future electoral Chernobyls. You and I will continue to pay dearly.

PAYBACK TIME. George W. Bush is now doing what Al Gore would have done had he won the November crapshoot. Bush has begun to pay back his major contributors. As always, military contractors come first. Retired Gen. Colin Powell, inventor of the bogus two-front war scenario as a way to keep the military hardware budget bloated, will now become secretary of state.

For a decade, Powell's ludicrous assertion of the need to prepare for "concurrent regional conflicts" has justified untold billions from Congress. Our elected representatives have made things worse by funding the military in double-digit billions above Pentagon requests. Everyone hates government waste, but everyone loves new government jobs back home.

The election year PR about our rundown military was quite successful. Our war budget has not been underfunded, just mis-spent on hyper-profitable hardware development to enrich private corporations. In the process, rank and file enlistees and their families lost the war on poverty and began a new wave of living on welfare as we know it.

Nevada can get set for a new chapter in its own nuclear nightmare. In refusing to accept Bush's appointment as secretary of energy (and thus giving Republicans control of the U.S. Senate), Sen. John Breaux, D-La., nominated another denizen of the Cajun state with quite a background in gas, oil and nukes. Former Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, D-La., is familiar to Nevadans as father of the Screw Nevada Bill which started nuclear waste coming this way after his then-colleague, Sen. Paul Laxalt, R-Nev., declared Nevada the only state open to such a proposal.

No matter how bad you ever thought crony capitalism has been in the distant or recent past, you ain't seen nothing yet. Get set for new tax cuts for the rich and continuing tax and fee increases on thee and me. With government oversight dwindling, energy costs will continue to skyrocket worse than cable TV rates.

That will be the American Way as long as we perpetuate the myth of representative democracy at the expense of a realistic look at the communist state which we are becoming.



Starting under Jimmy Carter and continuing through Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clinton, big companies have been swallowing smaller ones at an increasing rate. When everyone is working for one big brother corporation in a company town, that's called communism.

If you want a preview of the corrupt commie-capitalist future, just take a look at Las Vegas.

Happy New Millennium anyway.

Be well. Raise hell.

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© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano,a 32-year Nevadan, is a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of NevadaLabor.com. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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