Glad to be Away

Berlin -- For me it's a good time to be in Berlin on this November 1, 2014, as I have successfully avoided Halloween hullabaloo in the States and will avoid U.S. election day on Tuesday. I voted early before coming here. Weather's been much better here, too. The grounds and gardens at Sans Souci yesterday were incomparable. My daughter and I walked eleven kilometers altogether, through train stations and palace promenades, every step a delight.

Had I been in the Washington suburbs last evening, I would have given the trick-or-treaters peanuts in the shell, as usual, not candy. This year I would also have been tempted to give them a copy, for their parents, of Mark Bittman's op-ed "Two Rules for a Good Diet." It's sad to see so many little obese children asking for candy and junk food.

I'm not ruling out some election day surprises on Tuesday that I'd like to be around to witness, but where I live in Nebraska and Maryland, there haven't been any real surprises for years. Both are essentially one-party states where office holders are simply not held accountable. Nebraska state government, under Republicans, has witnessed several years of ineptitude and scandal in its human services and corrections departments, but the Republican candidates for state offices are all ahead in the polls. Maryland state government is about to be headed by a Democratic candidate, currently lieutenant governor, who failed miserably last year in setting up Maryland's health insurance exchanges. But he won the Democratic primary over a similarly weak candidate, so he's likely a winner in the general election.

It's past time to look more critically at our election institutions that lead to such situations.

The election surprise I'm really hoping for is in Oregon, where better food labeling is on the ballot and has a chance, despite millions of dollars being thrown against it by Pepsico, Monsanto, Coca-Cola, ConAgra, and the like, whose favorite holiday is probably Halloween.

POST-ELECTION UPDATE: Apparently a lot of Marylanders felt as I did (see above), and did not turn out for the Democratic candidate for governor as predicted. He lost. The Democratic congressman for whom the party gerrymandered a district almost lost as well. Maryland may be heavily Democratic, but voters pay attention. In Nebraska, party label was everything, and Nebraska government will be the lesser for it.

Food labeling in Oregon lost by the narrowest of margins. Big Ag ran an astonishing disinformation campaign against it, successfully. The hope for better food labeling might rest in consumer choice rather than ballot initiatives.