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Is Obama up to a test?

Bad childhood memories — that was my first reaction to Sen. Joe Biden promising us that a President Barack Obama will be “tested” with an international crisis, just like President John Kennedy was “tested.”

Kennedy’s “test,” I am sure you remember, was a threat of nuclear war on U.S. soil, commonly called the Cuban missile crisis. Kennedy passed with guts and luck.

I was a school kid at the time. We were taught that at any moment — day or night — we could die from a nuclear bomb or, worse yet, survive to endure a nuclear winter. Why Nikita Khrushchev would waste a missile on the farmland of Glendale, Ariz., was a question rarely asked. So we practiced taking shelter under our school desks. We learned about radioactive fall-out and memorized the fastest route to the nearest Civil Defense shelter (the library, for goodness sake!) where we were told we might live for months separated from our family.

I had nightmares for years.

So, when Obama’s own running mate promises — promises, mind you! — that Obama will be “tested” like Kennedy, it raises one of two scenarios. Either Joe is right and you must ask: Why vote for Obama? Or Joe (a heartbeat away from the presidency) is one taco short of a combination plate and you must ask: Why vote for Obama?

Biden does have a way of clarifying things, doesn’t he?

The Powell endorsement

On the other hand, one must note that Sen. Obama received the endorsement of Gen. Colin Powell. In the pantheon of endorsements, that’s a big-dog endorsement. Powell’s still America’s favorite general and a top thinker on foreign policy. If Sen. Obama were “tested” with a nuclear weapon, all Americans — especially Republicans such as Powell (and Sen. John McCain, for that matter) — would come to his aid.

But again, if Powell and McCain need to come to Obama’s rescue, we’re right back to those two pesky Biden questions, are we not?

Are the polls accurate?

How accurate are the polls this year? Some smart political people I know say one of the unintended consequences of the ACORN voter registration fiasco perpetrated in Nevada and other states is badly skewed polls.

It works like this. ACORN juices up the voter rolls with phony Democrat registrations. Some of those phony registrations are caught immediately. Others contain verifiable names and addresses, but the intent of those registrants to actually go vote is, well, questionable. Say, for example, for every 10 registrations turned in by ACORN, five are phony. Of the five good ones, only one turns up to vote.

This is all guesswork, of course. But, if only one of 10 is a real voter, then the polls are wrong. Why? Because polls use current voter registration lists to weight participation. So, if there are 5 percent more Democrats registered than Republicans, pollsters will talk to 5 percent more Democrats, thus skewing the results.

I, for one, am convinced the recent spike in voter registration numbers in Clark County is way off the mark. That means in daily tracking polls candidates may think they are up by 1 percentage point the day before the election, only to find that on Election Day they lost by 2 percentage points.

When that happens there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Perhaps even some talk of voter fraud/suppression. But the real culprit may well be ACORN’s misguided (and, I think, illegal) attempt to game the system.

Be that as it may, see you at the polls. Vote early; vote once. Please.

Pension storm a-comin’

And finally this morning, may I draw your attention once again to the financial storm clouds on the horizon for local governments. It’s a storm building off the coast of California and moving Nevada’s way.

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that the L.A. County employees retirement system (92,000 employees paying into a program that supports 50,000 recipients) may experience a shortfall requiring taxpayers to cover “nine figure” losses.

The full story won’t be known until next June when the fiscal year ends. But the financial crisis now eroding the retirement fund’s $38 billion investment portfolio has officials in L.A. worried.

A pension deficit coupled with eroding tax revenue spell trouble for all state, county and city governments. California may be hit first, but Nevada could be hit harder. The time to cope is now. Las Vegas’ unemployment rate is now above the national average and, I am sorry to say, could reach double digits. So again I ask: Are our elected officials up to the task?

Sherman Frederick (sfrederick@reviewjournal.com) is publisher of the Review-Journal and president of Stephens Media.

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