Five positive takeaways after a pandemic

Hello, March.

It’s been a year since COVID-19 intruded on every citizen’s life. Some lost their job, their business, their celebrations, or their personal connections with family and friends.

Some lost their life.

We’ll never be the same, but in some ways we can be better.

Searching for something positive to come out of this—anything positive, whether big or small—brought these top five:

#5 There’s better seating at restaurants. Remember pre-pandemic days when some restaurants would seat you right next to a cluster of other occupied tables, even though a good portion of the establishment was empty? It was more efficient for the wait staff but provided little quiet and privacy for the customer. After the initial lockdown, restaurants were prohibited from seating others too closely. It took a pandemic to give customers what they want. Restaurants, please remember this moment. Your patrons will.

#4 If you’re sick, stay home. Previously, our work ethic dictated that we continue to show up and get our jobs done, even if we weren’t feeling the best. Same for social commitments. We didn’t want to let friends and family down by missing an event. COVID-19 changed all that. And it’s for the better. The world will keep turning when we stay home and keep our germs to ourselves.

#3 Parents are in charge when it comes to educating their children. There are pros and cons to school choice issues, and they’ve been debated for decades. COVID-19 escalated the argument. Teachers, administrators, school boards and unions were, maybe, a little shocked that parents would fire school districts for not offering in-classroom instruction. Across the country, many private schools found a way to stay open. It became an attractive option for some working families—families that had never before considered a private school. The global pandemic did more to advance school choice issues than any other means.    

#2 We’re a stronger nation when we recognize that experts may not know everything. There were plenty of missteps throughout this pandemic. The issue of mask-wearing is one. Some of the things that experts advised were to not wear a mask because it wouldn’t help, to definitely wear a mask to protect yourself and others, to wear two or three masks because one mask isn’t enough, and to wear a mask under certain conditions, even if you’ve been vaccinated.

The worst part was being treated like children. Dr. Anthony Fauci admitted that the general public was told that masks weren’t needed, when the pandemic first broke a year ago, in order to prevent a mask shortage for health care workers. At the time, our front-line workers did have the greatest need for masks. But the citizens of this country, at all times, deserve the truth.   

It’s astonishing to witness an entire country behave in a child-like way and obediently accept every change in masking and other pandemic mandates, without doing any critical thinking. Don’t ignore mandates, but do ask questions. And evaluate. It will be better for everyone—and better for our country—if we have good thinkers instead of great followers.                                                                                     

#1 Our “inner circle” has revealed itself as something to be deeply appreciated. It may be nice to have 500 friends on Facebook or 50 more personal relationships in our outer circle. But the ones who have sustained us during the pandemic are the 5 (ish) in our inner circle—people we see or talk to frequently and rely on to get us through daily life. We’re now more aware of who and what’s important in life.   

Nobody wanted the arrival of COVID-19. Nobody will want the next virus, either. But we learned a few things this past year.

And life will get better.

Reasonable term limits are needed

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The idea of term limits keeps bubbling up.

A recent proposal in the U.S. Senate seeks an amendment to the Constitution that would limit a representative to three terms (six years) and a senator to two terms (12 years.)

Not going to happen. It requires the support of too many in Congress who seem to prefer unlimited power. Not limits on power.

The problem is clear. The solution is fuzzy.

It’s not enough to say that we have term limits through voting. We have incumbency retention days. It’s the day that citizens vote for the name most recognized, thanks to media and money advantages that incumbents possess. The Center for Responsive Politics reported that during the 2016 election, about 87% of U.S. senators and 97% of U.S. representatives were re-elected.

And, yes, some decades-serving politicians have done a good job at representing their constituents. But they’re replaceable. Others are capable of leading. Washington should not be the permanent home for either the corrupt or the capable. Our founding fathers believed in self-government through citizen representatives, not career politicians.

We can’t count on incumbents of either political party to institute term limits. In Senate Report 104-158—a failed attempt to pass term limits about 25 years ago—it was shared that Rep. Thomas Tucker offered the very first term limit proposal in 1789. Also unsuccessful.

Sometimes, a good idea fails because it’s taken to the extreme. We go overboard.

This latest Senate proposal makes the same mistake that the 104th Congress made. Back then, its authors would have been happy with limiting representatives to six terms (12 years) and senators to two terms (12 years.) But when the current starting point is unlimited terms, negotiating it down to 6-12 years is a bit harsh.

Members of Congress who opposed these short term limits railed against them, in part, because of the time, money and energy it takes to run for public office and then govern. Many step away from successful careers or businesses when they travel to Washington.

A more reasonable approach could help. Even increasing limits to nine terms (18 years) for representatives and three terms (18 years) for senators could make the proposal more agreeable. If you begin your career in the House with a newborn and end it with a high school graduate, it would be hard to say that you just didn’t have enough time to serve.

And if you like it that much, challenge a Senate seat and stay in Washington for another 18 years if you can swing it.   

What’s important is the constant awareness of limited time to accomplish what’s important to your constituents, instead of unlimited time to pander to special interest groups.

Back in 1995, congressional proponents of term limits stated, “One reason the people seek term limits is they perceive a stunning lack of political courage in Washington. In their eyes, Congress cannot even vote to balance the government checkbook…To many Americans, the system is broken. The difficult vote to end wasteful programs is not cast because re-election depends on helping some special interest. Without term limits, there may never be the political courage to solve the nations’ most difficult problems.”

That’s as true today, as it was in 1995.

If we can’t get term limits through a constitutional amendment, perhaps we should just start a new political party where candidates agree to serve just 18 years in the House and/or 18 years in the Senate. We can call it the “Term Limiter” party. Voters who support term limits are likely people who want basic, common-sense governing in all areas. It’d be a great home for someone who doesn’t want to be a Socialist-leaning Democrat or a Libertarian-leaning Republican.

Be a “Limiter.”

Who’s with me?

Biden’s next executive order should address election integrity

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Unity was the theme of President Joe Biden’s inaugural speech. But unity, like respect and loyalty, cannot be achieved with demanding—or even pleading—words. It occurs after meaningful actions.

And nothing will bring unity faster than to solve problems important to most Americans.

Responses to a recent Gallup poll uncovered this list of top five problems to solve: coronavirus, the government and poor leadership, economic issues, racism, and election reform.

As the Unifier-in-Chief, Biden has issued plenty of executive orders to begin tackling problems.

Twelve have addressed the coronavirus. And because the economy was roaring before the virus arrived, it’s clear that any order dealing with COVID-19 will, at least indirectly, affect the economy.

One order focused on government and poor leadership. It’s the “Ethic Commitments by Executive Branch Personnel.” These individuals will be required to make an ethics pledge. Pledges are nice. It’s why children recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school, elected officials take an oath to defend the Constitution, and why we stand for the national anthem.

“Advancing Racial Equity and Support in Underserved Communities through the Federal Government,” will give increased support for racial issues. Rioting and protests broke out across the country for much of last year, sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis. It’s just one order that wholly speaks to racism, but it’s a start. 

But of the top five problems that Americans have identified, Biden has given zero attention to election integrity. And, according to this poll, election reform scored as a higher concern than health care, immigration, the environment, education, crime, and several other categories.

State legislatures seem to concur. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports a flurry of activity since the election.

Alaska introduced a bill to require signature verification and establishes an election offense hotline. Arizona has pending legislation on creating a voting systems technology study committee, investigating voting irregularities, and using death records to help establish a more accurate voter database. Florida introduced a bill that prohibits use of voting systems and software that is made or designed in a foreign country. Indiana legislators correctly want voting systems that must store votes as whole numbers—one person, one vote—without the use of decimals or fractions. They are also working to establish a commission on election integrity. Kansas introduced a bill that prohibits backdating of postmarks on mail ballots. Kentucky has pending legislation requiring that no voting system be connected to the internet. New Jersey wants the Secretary of State to create a website for voters to report irregularities with mail ballots and establishes a commission to study voting by mail. They also introduced a bill requiring that half of any future, federal election funds go toward voting systems with paper records.

There are many more.

We’ve heard a lot from Biden about choosing hope over fear and facts over fiction.

The truth is that legislative activity at the state level and the Gallup poll show real concern that many have about election integrity. There’s also plenty of chatter in Congress about it.  

Mr. President, issue an executive order (or at least a memorandum) that allows for a bipartisan investigation into 2020 election procedures. Do not be fearful of what you will find. You’ve been installed as the 46th president of the United States. Nothing will change that. Instead, be hopeful that investigation results and facts will help to unify our country. Then you will have a better chance to “build back better.”  

A president, who truly wants to represent all the people, would address issues most important to the citizenry.       

And that’s a fact.

The art of metabolism

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Here we go again. A new year is right around the corner. For goal-setters it means, “A new year—and what are you going to do about it?”

For many, an annual resolution is made to lose weight or exercise more. But a heavy price is paid. It can require an enormous amount of effort with limited results, leading to low satisfaction and eventual surrender of the resolution.

This year, don’t tell yourself that you want to lose weight or exercise more. Instead, focus on increasing your metabolism and desiring to feel strong and healthy. The weight loss will come.

There are a few ways to go about increasing metabolism. Research about it, and choose one that works for you. Then tweak it, and tweak it some more until it fits your lifestyle.

In an effort to pique your interest, I’ll share my personal metabolism story. And before I go any further, this is where I tell you that I’m not a doctor, a nutritionist, a fitness instructor or any other kind of expert. Always seek approval from your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.   

Firing up your metabolism comes down to building more muscle, pushing yourself to do high-intensity workouts and changing up your diet.

Sounds awful, doesn’t it?

The beauty of increasing your metabolism, though, is that it doesn’t require a great deal of effort.  

Let’s start with the exercise component.

I’m 57 years old. There’s only so much high-intensity aerobics I can handle.

But what I can do is get on the treadmill every Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for 30 minutes. I walk for a half mile, speed walk another half mile, and then push myself to run at a pace that’s difficult for me but one that I can endure for a half mile. That’s followed by a quarter mile slow down and cool down. Presto. On and off the treadmill in about 30 minutes.  

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I lift weights for my arms and upper body strength for about 10 minutes.

What all this means is that I’m only exercising for about two-and-a-half hours every week. That’s not much. Increasing your metabolism doesn’t mean you need to log a lot of miles or gym hours. Just schedule time to do short, high-intensity workouts coupled with some type of regular weight lifting.

Now, for the diet. According to WebMD, “Your body burns many more calories digesting protein than it does eating fat or carbohydrates.” It’s one of the reasons why low-carbohydrate diets have been popular.

There are problems with strictly low-carb diets, though.

For starters, it’s not a lot of fun. Many times, high-carb foods are the foods that comfort us. Potatoes, pastas and breads.  

Another issue is that low-carb diets can become unsustainable. When your body goes a long time without sufficient carbohydrates, it may actually think you’re trying to starve it. When that happens, your metabolism shuts down.

So, instead, I go low-carb on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I incorporate carbohydrates into my meals. The key, here, is don’t go overboard on free carb days. Have one bowl of cereal, granola bar, sandwich, fruit snack, or serving of lasagna—not two. Add a protein option, if still hungry at mealtimes.

One big advantage to this diet plan is not feeling deprived. Knowing that you’re only one or two days away from being able to enjoy deep-dish pizza or a loaded baked potato makes the low-carb days doable.

And that’s it.

By the very nature of this diet and exercise program—the on again, off again carbs and some muscle building—weight will fluctuate slightly. Stay with it. Make a few adjustments, if needed. It will eventually trend toward weight loss.

I lost 14 pounds in four months by focusing on my metabolism. It’s not a spectacular weight loss result, but I feel strong and healthy.  

And happy.

Because it’s not taking that much effort.

There are fitness junkies out there who thrive on long and tough workouts. It’s the best part of their day. There’s a word for these people—“young.”

More power to them. It’s great to be young.

But by increasing your metabolism, it’s not so bad being 57 either.  

Assess risk, while protecting your freedom, this Thanksgiving Day

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The Pilgrims landed in November of 1620. After a harsh winter and challenging growing season, they gave thanks a year later for their survival with a celebratory feast—the first Thanksgiving.

But it’s a bigger story than that.

During our 2020 global pandemic, it’s helpful to remember why they made a dangerous journey across an ocean to a new land.

The Pilgrims were fleeing government oppression.

King James enforced religious persecution in early 1600s England with fines and imprisonment. The Pilgrims fled, first to Holland, and then to this country.

Government officials are recommending that Thanksgiving dinners be limited to those who reside within your households. That could mean a one-person meal if you live alone or a five-person meal for a couple with children.

Considering that the COVID-19 virus is surging in Iowa, this may seem reasonable.

But the reasonable-sounding doesn’t always hold common sense.

Nobody understands the dangers of this virus better than health care professionals. It’s why doctors and nurses wear N95 masks and personal protective equipment while on the job.

Doctors and nurses work hard, but they don’t work 24/7. At some point the shift ends, and they go home. 

Then, they do their best to follow the same guidelines that the rest of us try to follow. Wear masks. Social distance. Wash hands.   

And yet, the Mayo Clinic Health System in the Midwest just reported that 905 staff members have contracted the virus within the last two weeks. A full 93% caught it while out in their community—not at work.

When health care professionals—who follow safety protocols—test positive from community spread, it doesn’t seem logical to believe that the rest of us have any substantial control over this virus.  

In the meantime, people must still put food on the table and a roof over their head. Many will go to work and interact with the public on Wednesday, Nov. 25 and Friday, Nov. 27, but are discouraged from being with their loved ones on Thursday, Nov. 26.  


The Pilgrims found the rulings of King James unacceptable. They didn’t want to give up their freedoms. A two-month journey across a vast ocean in a 100-foot boat to an unknown land was a risk they were willing to take.

If you’re elderly or have underlying health conditions, stay home and stay safe. If you personally feel that staying home is best for you and your family this Thanksgiving Day, follow your instincts and stay put.

But for many, a celebration to connect with family members is sorely needed after a long, hard year. Assess the risk.

A recent study from Indiana University, and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, looked at the COVID-19 fatality rate by focusing on community populations. The study did not include young children who, for the most part, are not at risk (under 12) or those who are institutionalized (nursing home populations.) It wanted to find out what the risk was for the average person living in a community. This study placed the overall COVID-19 fatality rate at well below one percent—just 0.26%.

That’s still too many. But it’s similar to the fatality rate of other illnesses, like cardiovascular disease.   

Will some people die from COVID-19 because they attended a Thanksgiving dinner? Yes.

And some will die from a massive heart attack while enjoying a second piece of pumpkin pie. 

But 330 million will live.

Measuring risk, while protecting our freedom, is something we must all calculate.   

Not just on Thanksgiving Day, but every day. The Pilgrims understood that.   

Happy Thanksgiving.

Vote for Trump, despite race, gender and peer pressure

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There are Trump voters, Biden voters, and undecided voters.

There’s a fourth group of voters, though. They’re people who actually agree with the policies of President Donald Trump but are abandoning their vote for him.  

Race, gender and pressure from family and friends are probably the three biggest reasons why a vote doesn’t match a belief system.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

The Pew Research Center conducted a survey of validated voters from the 2016 election. It reported that 91% of Blacks, who cast a vote, did so for Hillary Clinton. That election was not unusual. The Center found that in the last 40 years, Black voters have solidly supported Democratic contenders.

Presidential candidate, Joe Biden, may believe it’s “a given” that he’ll receive the Black vote. He stated, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump then you ain’t Black.”

Nothing could be more racist than to tell someone that it’s not necessary to do your own thinking.

Since 2016, Black unemployment fell and wages increased. Criminal justice reform became real with The First Step Act. And Opportunity Zones made entrepreneurship more possible for Black Americans. This all happened under the first three years of the Trump administration, before a global pandemic hit.

The Center also found in a recent poll that only 39% of women voters favor the president’s re-election.   

Some have called Trump a misogynist because of past words and actions.  

But there’s plenty of video of Biden and his many inappropriate actions with women. And then there’s the sexual assault allegation by a former aide.

Neither one is a saint.

But during the Trump presidency, female unemployment fell and wages increased. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act increased the child care tax credit. And safety is on the ballot, this year. Trump has received many law enforcement endorsements. Biden never condemned the violence, burning and looting happening in predominately Democratic-run cities, during his own national convention.  

Besides race and gender, there’s the pressure factor from friends and family who value personality over policy.

Although this president has given us too many testy tweets and not enough lofty oratory, he did something more important.

He brought back our nation’s confidence.

We are an exceptional nation, and we don’t need to apologize for it.   

He fortified a military that was becoming vulnerable. Peace is only possible through strength.  

Trump went to work immediately on correcting huge trade deficits with China, Mexico, Canada, and others that hurt the American worker, while other corrupt players became filthy rich. The swamp hates Trump.   

United States taxpayers are no longer expected to foot every bill from every world organization, while other nations don’t do their fair share.

The small business optimism index reached record highs under the Trump administration, because of his regulation-slashing and tax-cutting measures. When small businesses are optimistic, they hire more, pay more, and invest more in their businesses.

And if 401k growth is your thing, consider that the stock market fell when Trump entered the hospital for COVID-19 and rose when he was released. The economy likes Trump.

In the book, “The Help,” 1960’s Black maid, Aibileen, talks with her friend, Minny, about the imaginary lines in our lives—whether it’s about racism or domestic abuse. “I used to believe in em. I don’t anymore. They in our heads…Lot a folks think if you talk back to you husband, you crossed the line. And that justifies punishment. You believe in that line?…Cause that line ain’t there. Except in Leroy’s head. Lines between black and white ain’t there neither. Some folks just made those up, long time ago…You don’t have to get hit by Leroy no more…You are free.”

Plenty of people lay down lines for voting, too.

Maybe nobody has reminded you of this in a long while, but you are free.

Free to vote according to your belief system.  

It’s not the race vote, the gender vote, the household vote, the friend circle vote, or family tree vote.

It’s one person—one vote. Yours.

Study each party’s platform. Make a choice. And don’t let any imaginary lines get in your way.  

More conversation needed on who’s not contracting COVID-19

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Raise your hand if you believe we are closer to reaching herd immunity to COVID-19 than what the experts are reporting.

Conventional wisdom is that a minimum two-thirds of the population must be immune to a virus, through either natural immunity or a vaccine, before there is herd immunity. It’s the point where the spread of the virus will greatly decline due to a smaller number of unprotected hosts to infect.

We don’t have a vaccine yet, but we do have some positivity numbers.

There are 328 million people in this country, according to the Census Bureau. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that seven million have tested positive for the virus. That’s about two percent.  

Those who have tested positive for the virus and those who had the virus are two different numbers, though. Some were asymptomatic, never tested, and never knew they had COVID-19.   

Stanford University researchers tried to get a handle on the “real” number of positives. A study in July and recently published in the medical journal, The Lancet, estimated that nationwide about 10% may have COVID-19 antibodies. Still a low number.   

Some areas of the country may have higher saturation levels, but even hard-hit New York City is estimated at just 22%. That number, too, is far away from the minimum two-thirds needed to reach herd immunity.

But these numbers may be misleadingly low.

Scientists, health care professionals, politicians, and the media have made it abundantly clear that COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus and a raging pandemic. But even though this monster has been with us for more than six months, the experts still place at least 80 – 90% of the population as uninfected.

Yes, we’re social distancing, wearing cotton masks, and washing our hands. It seems doubtful, though, that these simple measures are outsmarting something as viral as COVID-19.

Maybe the Stanford research is off and there are far more individuals that were asymptomatic, didn’t know it, and now have antibodies that are protecting them.

Or, there may be a possibility that some have a type of natural immunity against the virus.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus, responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, is part of a family of coronaviruses. Four are responsible for a type of common cold. Two are more dangerous. All six spark the production of antibodies and memory T cells. T cells help to kill infected cells and activate and recruit immune cells. They then retain some of these disease-fighting cells as memory cells. The next time they’re exposed to a similar pathogen, the memory cells quickly go into battle again.

The National Institutes of Health shared research from LaJolla Institute for Immunology. It found that of the SARS-CoV-2 and common cold coronavirus fragments that were most similar (at least 67% genetic similarity), 57% showed cross-reactivity by memory T cells. “We have now proven that, in some people, pre-existing T cell memory against common cold coronaviruses can cross-recognize SARS-CoV-2 down to the exact molecular structures.”

It would explain why some people, the same age and with the same health conditions, have very different responses to COVID-19. Some may have a degree of protection due to a past coronavirus infection and have very mild symptoms. Others, whose bodies are completely naïve to the virus and encountering it for the very first time, will struggle with it. For far too many—200,000—it’s been deadly.  

And all of this helps some answer the question, “How is it possible to be in a raging pandemic for six months, to live life, and not contract COVID-19?” Someone like the essential service provider who never isolated and went to work every day throughout this entire pandemic. Or the one who felt badly for restaurants that were forced to close for two or more months and supported their reopening by dining in their establishments. And people who rewarded the few county fairs and city festivals that never canceled their events, by attending their functions.

Of course, there is one last possibility. Perhaps 80 – 90% of the population has just been lucky.

But they deserve a more scientific explanation from the experts.

Use other moments, not the anthem, to make statement

deflated football

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Recliner season is almost here—those glorious Sunday afternoons spent being entertained by the amazing athletic ability of professional football players.

Except, now, it might not be so glorious.

There will likely be many players who disrespectfully kneel during the national anthem.

Somehow, it won’t feel like Sunday fun day anymore.

This country has problems. No doubt about it. There’s work to be done.

But this country also has greatness, and that part seems to get forgotten.

Think about it this way. A lectern at a funeral service is not the time or place to disparage anyone, especially the deceased. Eulogies are meant to be respectful.

You may have a grievance against the deceased. Perhaps the person treated you unjustly. You have every right to feel the way you do, but there will be other moments to be heard. Don’t make your statement during the one-hour service.

It’s because the church will be filled with individuals who love, honor and respect this person. And it will be important to them that others show their respect, as well. Family and friends may know their loved one wasn’t perfect, but that there was also a systemic goodness to him or her. A goodness that overrides criticism—at that particular moment.

Same with kneeling for the anthem. You may have a legitimate grievance or experienced an injustice in this country. But there will be other moments to get your point across. Don’t make your statement during the three-minute anthem.

There are many who love, honor and respect our flag and all it represents. It’s important to them that others show respect for the country that we all choose to call our home. This country isn’t perfect and has flaws. But there’s a systemic goodness to it. A goodness that overrides criticism—at that particular moment.

Participating in the family fantasy football league is tough this year.

We do a live draft. And over the years, I spent more time than I ever thought I would in researching players and trying to invent a new drafting strategy that would bring certain success. I work full-time, and my free time is valuable. But this was fun.

Not this year.

Just printed off the experts’ draft recommendations, and mostly went down the list and picked the next available player needed to complete a roster. It produced this team: Derrick Henry, DeAndre Hopkins, Kenny Golladay, Chris Carson, Dak Prescott, Kareem Hunt, San Francisco Defense, Hayden Hurst and Greg Zuerlein.

Who, on this team, is a kneeler? Don’t know. But since kneeling for the anthem is apparently in vogue right now, there will probably be more than a few.

After each draft selection and waiting for the next round, I daydreamed about other activities I could do besides watch football.

Phone a friend or family member. If the coronavirus will allow it, make a personal visit.

Read a book. So many good books out there and such little time to read them.

Try out a new restaurant. Appreciate a unique menu and the work ethic and hustle that goes along with owning a business.

Lift weights for my arms. I’m in my fifties. Enough said.

Enjoy a fire at the fire pit. Start it with football jerseys no longer wanted.

Listen to good music with a nice glass of wine, and let my mind wander and reflect. Best meditation there is. Even better than yoga.

Don’t worry. I’ll keep plugging in the highest projected players each week and maintain a full fantasy football roster.

But that’s it. My new team name is Don’t Kneed Football.

Thanks for the memories, professional football players. We had a good run.

Voting is most secure when done at the polls

voting machine

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Voting in the Iowa June primary at the polls in Chickasaw County was easy.

And safe, even in the age of COVID-19.

There was no long line, although the floor was clearly marked for social distancing guidance.

A hand sanitizer station was located just inside the front doors, and precinct election officials worked behind some type of plexiglass.

A touchless scanner was positioned so the voter could easily hold up either a driver’s license or voter identification card to have the bar coding on it scanned. Officials, using computers, quickly read and verified this information authorizing the individual’s right to vote.

Paperwork and a new pen were slid underneath the glass to the voter. After signing it, the same pen stayed with the voter in order to use it for the ballot.

The ballot was carried to a voting station, and candidate selections were confidentially made. Voters were instructed to keep the pen, and stations were wiped down and disinfected regularly by officials.

Next the voter slid the ballot into the voting machine, where he or she could physically watch the vote being counted.

And that’s the important part. Only at a precinct or polling place do voters maintain full custody of their vote.

COVID-19 is convincing many that absentee ballot voting is the only way to go. And for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, it will be the best and safest choice.

But based upon this voter’s experience at the polls, voting seemed to be 10 times safer than going to a grocery store, convenience store or dollar store. And probably 100 times safer than even small social gatherings with friends and family.

There’s the potential for quite a few things to go wrong with absentee ballot voting.

The voter gives up ownership of the ballot to the county auditor’s office for safe handling until Election Day. County employees are professional. But, like the rest of us, they’re not perfect human beings. Surrendering your ballot to another person increases the chance for error.

Absentee ballots must by reviewed at the county level with an absentee board. Missing signatures, signatures that do not closely match or other directions not properly followed could result in ballots being rejected and not counted. At the polling place, election officials obtain information from the voter and most questions are typically addressed immediately and resolved.

And the absentee ballot must be postmarked correctly. That doesn’t always happen.

The Census Bureau collects data in election years and determined that 137.5 million voted in the 2016 election. However the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives reported only 136.6 million qualified votes.

Off by about a million. Maybe the Bureau’s data was incorrect. Or, maybe some absentee ballots didn’t get counted for any number of reasons.

What we do know is that President Donald Trump won Michigan by 11,000 votes and lost Minnesota by 45,000. Each vote matters.

We’ve become a freedom-lazy country. The United States recently ranked 26th in voter participation out of 32 developed countries, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Low voter participation rates have been pretty regularly reported over the years. This isn’t news to anyone.

Maybe that’s why the absentee model is gaining ground. There may be a tendency to mentally give ourselves a standing ovation for doing any kind of voting at all. After all, it’s better than doing nothing.

Our freedoms, though, shouldn’t hinge on “good enough” kind of voting.

Absentee ballot voting has its place. There are some who, logistically, can’t make voting happen on Election Day and depend on this option. And now with COVID-19, it’s a good choice for the most vulnerable.

For everyone else, though, precinct voting versus absentee voting is an important citizen’s choice. Yes, it’s still a free country.

So far.


See something, record something


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After 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security started a national campaign called, “If you see something, say something.” It wanted the public to report any suspicious activity to state and local law enforcement. Terrorists had delivered a deadly blow, and our country was enlisting everyone’s help to prevent another attack.

We have a small number of home-grown “bad guys”, too. They infiltrate every walk of life—public, private and religious. Where there’s a power structure, there’s the potential for abuse of it. But if organizations “self-police,” they can weed out problem people before big problems occur.

And yet, they don’t. Or, won’t.

White police officer, Derek Chauvin, had more than a dozen complaints filed against him during his time as a Minneapolis police officer. It didn’t stop him from boldly placing his knee on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, until he was non-responsive.

Chauvin seemed to have no fear. Perhaps he felt that weak leadership within the police department and a strong police union would protect him.

It may have, if it weren’t for a citizen’s video recording from a smart phone.

The Iowa Legislature acted unanimously to pass police reform measures that include banning most chokeholds, preventing the hiring of officers with felony convictions, and requiring training on de-escalation techniques. Gov. Kim Reynolds didn’t hesitate to sign the bill.

It’s a big, important step in the right direction.

But back to the power of a citizen and a smart phone.

Many newspapers publish some type of police report or sheriff’s report, itemizing dispatch calls. People want to know what’s happening in their community, their neighborhood, or block—even if it’s not breaking news.

Maybe there should be a “citizens’ report” as well—itemized, written descriptions of phone videos capturing the actions of law enforcement.

Submissions would need to be from a recent event. Newspapers are timely.

Submissions would need to clearly convey undisputed information. Newspapers are factual.

And submissions may show wrongdoings by law enforcement, but they could also showcase heroic acts. For example, a video may capture a police officer pulling an individual from a burning car. Newspapers report good news, as well as the bad.

Major events will always be headline news, and social media will make those videos go viral.

But knowledge of smaller incidents within the police force can be important to members of a community, too. If more minor infractions were regularly reported, it might prevent a bigger abuse from occurring in the future. At the same time, a citizens’ report could validate the many good deeds performed by law enforcement.

Frequent recording isn’t fun for anyone, but tapes don’t lie. They can bring justice for an innocent victim or exonerate a wrongly-accused officer. Many in law enforcement already wear body cameras. A cell phone is simply another camera. And when an organization fails to self-police—when it fails to voluntarily remove problem personnel—it invites other solutions to present themselves.

Nearly everyone has a smart phone. Those phones can make a difference.

And it means a positive change could happen without defunding the police, a demand by some that is gaining traction.

Remarkably, the Minneapolis City Council voted to disband its police department during a time of unrest in the country. Chicago recently experienced 18 murders within a 24-hour period. According to the Chicago Sun Times, the murders included a father, a high-school student, and a college student. Certainly, their last thoughts in life weren’t about how we’re spending too much money on law enforcement.

Police departments need greater funding and support for the difficult work they do, not less.

And citizens deserve police departments that are more accountable to them, not less.

Smart phones can help with that. If you see something, record something.