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Column: Big Brother is watching -- and other observations

Some thoughts on issues that crossed my path in recent days: ? I could write a column every day about the increasing ways Big Brother is watching us. This isn't all bad -- but Americans should keep tabs on this trend because it could easily becom...

Virgil Swing
Virgil Swing

Some thoughts on issues that crossed my path in recent days:

  • I could write a column every day about the increasing ways Big Brother is watching us. This isn't all bad -- but Americans should keep tabs on this trend because it could easily become bad.

One recent example: I saw four wheelchairs within easy reach of thieves at the entrance of a local medical building; but when I told a security person, he seemed unconcerned, saying: "The camera is watching them."
Many of you learned recently, if you didn't know already, that cameras are aboard DTA buses. A police photo showed a woman suspected of taking another woman's purse.

The company that insures my home and car recently invited me to save money with a program to monitor my driving habits to show what a safe driver I am. I consider myself as such, but spent too much of my life before 1984 to let Big Brother examine my driving habits just as he watches me in so many other ways.

None of these incidents violate my freedoms but are worth pondering. Was that a drone overhead?

  • I'm glad Gov. Mark Dayton won't seek 2013 money for high-speed rail travel in Minnesota but sorry he called current projects "good ideas." The proposed Northern Lights Express between Duluth and the Twin Cities is a bad idea for the next few decades at least.
  • Minnesota lawmakers took steps in 2010 to deal with financial problems of state-employee pension funds, which were underfunded by about $12.7 billion. After three years of changes, the underfunding problem has changed also -- it's now up to $16.7 billion.

Costly public-employee pension demands are a major problem in many -- perhaps most -- states. The governor and 2013 Legislature should ensure that underfunding doesn't continue to grow, but rather moves toward a solution. It's hard to see how that can happen without major changes in state labor contracts.

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  • It's interesting that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker disagrees with some fellow Republicans in being willing to consider changes to rules on how electoral votes are awarded in presidential elections.

Many national Republican officials, unhappy about how President Obama's relatively small margin in popular votes became a one-sided win in electoral votes, join Walker in endorsing change. But GOPers in some states, who think they can turn their fortunes around, balk at the idea.
Nebraska and Maine are the only states that now award electors on a proportional system, but Republicans in states that tend to be closely fought -- including Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia -- are pondering the change.

We can't easily end the Electoral College because it's embedded in the U.S. Constitution, but proportional distribution has passed court muster and would be fairer. Voters in Ohio, who were swamped by political TV ads last year, would no doubt like to create more "battleground states."

  • And speaking of elections, I dislike many Democratic Party efforts to make voting easier and easier, based on a theory that the easiest possible form of voting will help their partisans.

Dems in 14 states seek to expand early voting and in Congress are pushing legislation to force states to allow at least 15 days of voting before what used to be called election day. Given their way, they might create an election season that lasts longer than a Duluth winter.
Democrats say voting lines were longer in places where their party outnumbers Republicans and this must change. I won't repeat here the many arguments against early voting I outlined in earlier columns, but they are substantial.

Instead of earlier voting, states should improve how they administer elections. Minnesota routinely leads the nation in voter participation, and Duluth is among the highest-turnout parts of the state. Within this Democratic-leaning city, my precinct normally has the biggest flood of voters. But I've never had to wait in a line so long it bothered me.

We need to ensure that all who want to vote and are eligible to do so get a chance to cast ballots. But this crucial part of our democracy should require some effort on the part of the electorate.

Budgeteer opinion columnist Virgil Swing has been writing about Duluth for many years. Contact him at vswing2@chartermi.net .

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