a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Good news, bad news

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 25th September 2010

First the good news: in less than one week, “newsrack actblue” has raised $860 for our list of progressive candidates around the country!

It’s also good news that Raul Grijalva (AZ-7) and two late adds Chellie Pingree (ME-1) and Lloyd Doggett (TX-25) appear to be in good shape, judging by New York Times / estimates today. I’ve pushed those candidates to the bottom of the “actblue list,” with updates noting their relatively safe status.

The bad news is that the remaining candidates are struggling. In Senate races with “newsrack actblue” progressive Democratic and Green candidates…

  • Russ Feingold (WI) — The New York Times rates him a “tossup” with challenger Ron Johnson, and Nate Silver’s analysis gives the Republican an 80% chance of victory as of today. The latest poll results I found put Feingold behind by 6 percent as of 9/22. (Editorial comment: this must not stand.)
  • Joe Sestak (PA) — The New York Times rates him a “tossup” with opponent Pat Toomey, and Nate Silver’s analysis gives the Republican an 80% chance of victory as of today. The latest poll results I found put Sestak behind by 5 to7 percent as of 9/25.
  • Tom Clements (SC) — Neither the Times nor Nate Silver rate him at all; DeMint is a prohibitive favorite over Democratic challenger Alvin Greene.

In House races…

  • Tarryl Clark (MN-6) — The New York Times rates her race against Michele Bachman as “lean Republican” , and Nate Silver’s analysis gives the Republican an 98% chance of victory as of today. The latest poll results I found put Clark behind by 9 percent as of 9/17.
  • Alan Grayson (FL-8) — The New York Times rates him a “tossup” with challenger Dan Webster, and Nate Silver’s analysis gives the Republican an 52% chance of victory as of today. The latest poll results I found put Grayson ahead by 40 to 27 percent as of 9/5 — with 23 percent undecided.
  • Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15 ) — The New York Times rates her a “tossup” with challenger Steve Stivers, and Nate Silver’s analysis gives the Republican an 76% chance of victory as of today. The latest poll results I found put Kilroy behind by 5 percent as of mid-August.
  • Patrick Murphy (PA-8) — The New York Times rates him a “tossup” with challenger (and former incumbent) Mike Fitzgerald, Nate Silver’s analysis gives the Republican an 71% chance of victory as of today. The latest poll results I found put Murphy behind by 14 percent as of 9/10.

You can update all of the above by going to a special “2010 Elections” page I’ve set up here; you’ll find other useful links as well.

The upshot is that some good people need help, perhaps especially Russ Feingold, Patrick Murphy, and Mary Jo Kilroy. We need to keep as many of them on the Hill as possible. So please click over on the fundraising badge and give what you can right now, while there’s still time to close the gap and overtake their opponents.


UPDATES, 9/26: (1) In an interesting “Why Generic Ballots May Underestimate Democrats” post , Nate Silver examines results suggesting that the common question — “If the election for Congress were held today, would you vote for the Democratic candidate in your district or the Republican candidate in your district?” — tends to exaggerate Republican advantage by about 4 percent, compared to when the question concerns the actual candidates running against eachother. Interestingly, Mary Jo Kilroy is one of the candidates involved — but unfortunately, she does worse than the generic comparison for her district (same poll cited above). (2) Great Alan Grayson ad (FL-8) against his theocrat opponent, “Taliban” Dan Webster. You’ll see the moniker is not unjustified — and that Grayson punches hard. More on Webster here.

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Candidates I support in 2010

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 22nd September 2010

Goal Thermometer

Below are some of the candidates I support in the 2010 election season.  I nominated some on my own, others have been suggested by friends of mine around the country.

Each of the candidates is progressive in his or her politics, and all are facing tough elections. They’ve done the right thing, and we need to have their back now.  You can contribute to most of them by clicking the green “Contribute button” to the right.  Tom Clements is the exception; ActBlue doesn’t help Green candidates with fundraising, which seems a shame to me.

I’ve set what I hope is a feasible goal — $500.  It’s up to you — give them all a little, give one a lot. But give something — and give a little more than you planned to — so they can keep up the good fight.  Thanks! (PS: And don’t forget to include a tip for our friends at ActBlue!)

The list so far: Russ Feingold, Mary Jo Kilroy, Alan Grayson, Tarryl Clark, Patrick Murphy, Raul Grijalva, Joe Sestak (Democrats) and Tom Clements (Green).  More on each below.

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Get the BP oil spill flow rate right *now* — call Congress, 202-224-3121

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 14th May 2010

Dear Congressman Van Hollen,

I’m reading today that the volume of oil being spilled from the Deepwater Horizon disaster site may be substantially larger than government estimates first indicated.

It’s *imperative* to get the *best possible estimates* of the size of this catastrophe, and it’s imperative that BP not be allowed to obstruct that in any way, shape, or form, and indeed that those, um, ne’er-do-wells be compelled to pay for those best possible estimates. Time is of the essence; please add your voice to those urging the best possible estimates of the flow rate from that well. Woods Hole scientists and equipment should be flown there *today*.

(The URL for the article is

From the article (Size of Oil Spill Underestimated, Scientists Say, Gillis, NYTimes):

…BP has repeatedly said that its highest priority is stopping the leak, not measuring it. “There’s just no way to measure it,” Kent Wells, a BP senior vice president, said in a recent briefing.

Yet for decades, specialists have used a technique that is almost tailor-made for the problem. With undersea gear that resembles the ultrasound machines in medical offices, they measure the flow rate from hot-water vents on the ocean floor. Scientists said that such equipment could be tuned to allow for accurate measurement of oil and gas flowing from the well.

Richard Camilli and Andy Bowen, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, who have routinely made such measurements, spoke extensively to BP last week, Mr. Bowen said. They were poised to fly to the gulf to conduct volume measurements.

But they were contacted late in the week and told not to come, at around the time BP decided to lower a large metal container to try to capture the leak. That maneuver failed. They have not been invited again.

Seize BP Petition button

A scientist commissioned by NPR has used apparently similar techniques to estimate that the oil well is gushing 70,000 barrels or 2.9 million gallons of oil per day, give or take 20%. (Via Michael Whitney, “Firedoglake.”) That midpoint estimate is nearly 15 times as much as NOAA and Coast Guard estimates issued early on. I’m not saying the government is deliberately low-balling the size of this catastrophe, but they absolutely must keep working on getting a handle on it.

“Just no way to measure it.” Nice trick, when it works: we don’t measure civilian casualties we cause in Iraq, we don’t measure oil volcanoes we cause in the Gulf. This kind of willful ignorance makes it too easy to turn around and do it all again, because “who knows” what the real costs are.

And meanwhile, Congress appears more interested in getting BP off the hook than on it.

To call your own congressperson, call the switchboard at 202-224-3121 or look up the number here.

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Health care reform: an activist-annotated scorecard

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 26th March 2010

The passage of H.R. 3590 — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — last Sunday, followed by President Obama’s signature on Tuesday, created a set of broad minimum improvements to health care and health care insurance practices in America, by enshrining a prior Senate bill into law.

These may or may not be followed by additional changes in H.R. 4872 — the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act — now under debate in the Senate, chief among which are provisions delaying and reducing the so-called “Cadillac tax” on high-cost health insurance, a subject rightly of concern to unions protecting coverage for higher levels of work-related injuries and diseases.  Passage of this bill seems likely, since the reconciliation process can’t be filibustered under Senate rules, and thus requires only a simple majority.*  Even if Republicans vote unanimously against the bill (as is also likely), Democrats are likely to command that majority even if several Democratic Senators defect.  [UPDATE: the Senate and House have passed bills fixing minor infractions of reconciliation rules, but without amendments for a public option or anything else; it’s done.]

The legislation promises to improve access to health care for millions, and may well rank as a milestone in American social policy — it’s been billed by New York Times business writer David Leonhardt as “the biggest attack on economic inequality since inequality began rising more than three decades ago”, and by conservative writer David Frum as a conservative ‘Waterloo’ that will not be undone.

But the cost to liberal values and goals has also been high.

Public option dead, right to choose denied care
As rehearsed in a post earlier this month, neither House action included a public option — the popular idea of a federally administered health insurance plan to compete with private insurors that was a cost-saver in its own right, and a possible way station to a ‘single payer’ health insurance system.  Instead, an individual mandate to purchase health insurance will further fatten the bank accounts of health insurance companies.

Moreover, in the negotiations preceding Sunday’s vote, Rep. Bart Stupak (D) agreed to vote for the bill in exchange for an Obama Executive Order confirming that the executive branch would prevent federal funds from being used to pay for abortions — thus enshrining the so-called Hyde Amendment, passed annually, as a matter of permanent federal executive branch policy.  Together with provisions in H.R. 3590 — inserted by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) to the original Senate bill — researchers are predicting abortion insurance coverage will will not just be eliminated from insurance plans operating under health insurance exchanges, but will also decline overall.  Dana Goldstein (of “The Daily Beast”) writes, “To get the health-care bill passed, a pro-choice president reneged on his pledge to support reproductive rights for rich and poor alike.”

In a second article, Goldstein captured how whipsawed liberal groups could be about the events of the past weeks with the example of Feminist Majority president Eleanor Smeal.  On the one hand, Smeal vowed to go after Stupak by raising money for primary opponent Connie Saltonstall, –while on the other hand she celebrated the passage of a health reform bill won at the expense of reproductive choice: “If you turn down half a loaf, you get nothing,” Smeal said. “Given the realities of the vote count, I am glad that 15 million people will have access to Medicaid, most of whom will be women, and another 17 million will have access to these state insurance exchanges. I think to have nothing would have been horrible.”

Online and on the ground activists score the reforms
But quite aside from what’s not in the bill, there’s also the nagging feeling that what is there is less than meets the eye.  Last Friday, Jane Hamsher of “firedoglake,” who was among the most steadfast supporters of a public option in the run-up to Sunday’s vote, published Fact Sheet: The Truth About the Health Care Bill, an itemized list of “myths” about the pending health care/ health insurance reforms, along with her footnoted rebuttals to each one.

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The option – the option – the public wants options!

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 25th October 2009

Without it, it’s a giveaway!

Via Real News Network and brought to you by Billionaires for Wealthcare.

UPDATE, 10/25: Enthusiastic review by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, hilariously pinch-mouthed writeup by Garance Franke-Ruta in the Washington Post.

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Public option supporters rally

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 14th September 2009

Public option rally, Sunday, September 13, 2009, north of the Capitol.
Organized by “Americans United for Health Care and Insurance Reform

I joined about a thousand other people from around the country for a rally near the Capitol Building on Sunday.  I was impressed with how energized people seemed to be, at least compared to my own somewhat glum assessment of the situation after Obama’s speech last week. The slideshow above shows a sampling of the signs on display; my favorite was a young man whose signs bowdlerized biblical verses like Matthew 6:26 to “Look at the birds of the air; they do not pay taxes yet your Lord feeds them. … They must be SOCIALISTS.”

It was a reminder that optimism and humor beat pessimism when you want people on your side.  So maybe my fellow demonstrators had it right when they cheered speakers’ mentions of Obama’s speech; while I felt Obama artfully threw the “public option” under the bus, maybe I’m wrong about that after all, and what good does it do me if I’m right?

The rally was a true grass roots effort, bringing people from all over the country.  A woman from Asheville, North Carolina told the terrible story of her son’s death from colon cancer — and from the insurance companies refusal to pay for needed tests and treatments.  Another woman from Michigan told about holding down four jobs and not seeking medical help for an infected jaw — for four years.  A doctor from Texas told about how ashamed she was when an injured patient’s first reaction after regaining consciousness on respiratory support was to panic — and finally explain why by writing out the message “I can’t pay for this.”  These people came a long way to share their stories; they’re not giving up, and so neither will I.

Some of the recent political news isn’t great — e.g., Senator Harkin (Kennedy’s replacement for the HELP Committee saying dropping the “public option” isn’t a dealbreaker, Senator Snowe saying she’ll vote against it, Obama not meeting with progressive Congressmen and women.  But at least one analyst thinks it’s too early to count out the “public option”.  Writing in the Huffington Post, author and political consultant Robert Creamer points out that (1) it’s the push for a bipartisan deal that seems to be fading, (2) four of five congressional committees have reported out a “public option” in their bills, (3) Obama’s support for the idea matters, as does his support for holding down costs — and the Massachusetts model lacking a public option is seeing rising costs, and (4) likely 2010 voters favor a public option by 62 to 28 percent.  I’d take issue with Creamer’s description of HR 3200 as a “strong” public option, but that’s beside his point, which is simply that it ain’t dead yet.

Congressional progressives like Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva don’t seem to be throwing in the towel, either, and are conducting a “whip count” to gauge the strength of their position that any reform must include a public option.  Ellison thinks 80 to 100 representatives will pledge to oppose any legislation that doesn’t include a “public option”; Grijalva thinks that’s a little high, and told the Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim the whip count will “send a message to the administration: don’t cut deals with some elements of our party or with some elements of the Republican Party without including the progressives in that discussion.” That kind of “deal cutting” formulation may or may not be a good sign, but obviously the higher the count the more insistent he and his allies can be.

Locally, Donna Edwards is a co-sponsor of HR 676 (Conyers single payer bill) and is among those insisting on a public option.  Meanwhile, my own representative Chris Van Hollen has been MIA despite pledging support for a single payer bill in last year’s electionleading Gordon Clark to ask During this battle for  health care, where in the world is Chris Van Hollen?” It would be good if he got off the fence on this issue, at least.

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Ezra Nawi and the laughing soldiers

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 11th August 2009

I admire people like Ezra Nawi, people with the cussedness and determination and confidence to just keep doing simple right things. In Nawi’s case, that means being an Israeli yet sticking up for Palestinians on the West Bank near Hebron — people who are being viciously and criminally (they’re really the only words that will do) harassed by nearby Israeli settlers.

To the right is a short video of the incident that has led to Nawi’s conviction for “assaulting” an Israeli officer. (Nawi is in the green jacket as the video begins.) As you’ll see, I think, if there was an assault it was pretty hard to spot. Be that as it may, the first point of this post is to ask you to go to and add your name to a petition asking the Israeli justice system to forego jailing Mr. Nawi.

But the real point is what was happening to the Palestinians. Writing for Ha’aretz in mid-June, David Shulman (who says he knows Nawi and is certain the charge is untrue) explains:

On February 14, 2007, the Israeli authorities sent army bulldozers to demolish several Palestinian shacks in a tiny place called Umm al-Kheir, 25 kilometers southeast of Hebron. Umm al-Kheir embodies the everyday reality of the Israeli occupation like no place else: The 100 or so impoverished Bedouin who call it their home, eking out a livelihood by grazing goats and sheep on the dry, stony hills, live in rickety structures of canvas, tin and stone. The land is theirs: Originally refugees from Tel Arad in the Negev in 1948, they bought it for good money from its Palestinian owners in the early 1950s. Israel, however, has put up a large settlement called Carmel right next to Umm al-Kheir, and like all settlements, Carmel (founded in 1981) is constantly expanding, encroaching on the lands of its Palestinian neighbors. As documented in detail in police records in Kiryat Arba, settlers also regularly attack these neighbors, whom they would like to remove altogether from this area.

House demolitions in the Palestinian territories are routine, and there have been several at Umm al-Kheir, too. The legal justification is always that the houses were built without a permit. But Palestinians living in Area C in the territories have almost no hope of getting a building permit. (To give some idea: on average, in all of Area C, only one building permit is granted to Palestinians each month, whereas some 60 demolitions orders are issued, of which 20 are carried out. Fewer than 5 percent of Palestinian applications for building permits in Area C are approved.)

You may have skimmed past the “settlers also regularly attack these neighbors” part above, or imagined a shouting match or some scuffles.  Wrong.   Nir Rosem, writing about Nawi for Ha’aretz in 2005, reported nearby Israeli “settlers” poisoned livestock, destroyed olive orchards, plowed up fields, committed arson, and beat the Palestinian village children and foreign volunteers accompanying them to school badly enough that several needed hospitalization.

I don’t really know that much about the lay of the land over there.  So I wouldn’t usually have a feeling for whether what’s happening or happened in and around Umm al-Kheir is an outlier, or whether it’s as everyday as Shulman says it is.

Except for that video.  Because the worst thing about it isn’t the soldiers breaking in to the metal shack, it isn’t even the bulldozer demolishing the old house next to it while villagers cry and curse.  The worst thing was that the IDF soldiers laughed when they were done. Like it was no big deal at all.

You can also visit for ongoing news about the case and the cause.

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A forum on license plate scanners

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th February 2009

The panel

From the left: me, Sharon Bradford Franklin, senior
counsel at the Constitution Project, David Zirin
(The Nation, Campaign against the Death Penalty),
Johnny Barnes, executive director of the National
Capital Area ACLU.
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew
For a slideshow of all forum photos, click here.
[All photos are by Madeleine Nephew
— thank you, Maddie!]

As advertised, I was joined by Sharon Franklin, David Zirin, and Johnny Barnes on Wednesday evening for a forum about the TPPD license plate scanner proposal.  (For background, see my prior posts on this issue or this resource page.)  [UPDATE – video here] [UPDATE – transcript here]

I thank each of them very much again for coming; their discussions were on point and helpful, as was a lively question and answer period with the audience, which included one councilmember, a public safety committee chair, and — by advance request  — Chief Ricucci and Captain Coursey from the police department.

My publicity efforts were not as successful as I’d have liked, but both local press and friends were on hand; my friend Michelle videotaped the proceedings as did the ACLU; assuming there aren’t technical difficulties, that will eventually be online for others to view for themselves.

I prepared some introductory remarks.  An excerpt:

…So far, we have had an upside down process: a grant application for a device before a community decision to seek one, an agency drafting policy after the money is in hand rather than a legislative body doing so before, all before consideration of alternatives.

Some say I’m making “much ado about nothing.” I disagree, and I think after tonight many of you will as well. A decision to subject ourselves to automated surveillance ought to be a very, very hard decision, not an easy one. I think it moots the 4th Amendment and chills freedom of speech and of assembly — especially in a permissive legal environment where we will have little control or even knowledge of how that surveillance is expanded, reused, or shared with federal agencies armed with “National Security Letters.” Even if approved — as I personally hope it will not be — hard questions would remain: when and where to deploy it, which wanted tag databases to download, what kind of safeguards to set up and who will run them, what penalties to impose if those safeguards are violated.

We in Takoma Park do not need to look to what’s merely permissible to police departments. We can also say how we want our community to be, and what safeguards on our rights we will insist on.

The forum produced a few new points of specific information from my perspective.  First, Captain Coursey noted that the city attorney was looking into the question of whether data collected in this fashion could be compelled to be divulged to other agencies.

Second, Chief Ricucci and Captain Coursey appeared to me to be saying that (a) the grant application did not request funding for so-called “back office” hardware and software that would facilitate the reanalysis of stored data, and (b) that they were thereby saying they did not envision doing so.

While that was comforting to me, Captain Coursey also clearly wanted the door kept open for that, pleading for no “rush to judgment” on that score.  Also, the lack of dedicated funding for storage isn’t all that telling.  As the TPPD’s own press release last December stated, “50,000 and 60,000 plate reads equal one gigabyte of hard drive space.” Assuming the interface with the squad car device can be bridged, off-the-shelf PCs could store millions of images; assuming the scanned image tag/time/location records can be downloaded as well, even more simple data records could be stored.  The software requirements are probably not insurmountable either; a simple file/directory system might do, or records could be stored in a conventional database.

But given the open, frank, and cooperative impression both officers made on me and the rest of the audience, perhaps both the press release and the worksession discussion of storage and reanalysis were more about capabilities than firm intentions.  I’m willing to believe they don’t seek this, and that they can support an explicit “no storage” provision by City Council for the device.
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“It happens every day”: DHS supplied e-mails to MD State Police

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 20th February 2009

I guess I thought this would get a little more attention than it has.  On Tuesday, the Washington Post’s Lisa Rein reported:

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security tracked the protest plans of a peaceful Washington area antiwar group and passed the information to the Maryland State Police, which had previously labeled the activists as terrorists in an intelligence file. The federal agency obtained two e-mails containing plans for upcoming demonstrations at a military recruiting center in Silver Spring in 2005, the first indication that DHS might have worked with the police to monitor advocacy groups.

While a DHS spokesman claimed the communications were “taken off the Internet,” that is disputed by Pat Elder, a leader of the group involved (the now dissolved DC Anti-War Network, or DAWN):

“They would have had to join our group as a member,” said Pat Elder of Bethesda, the leader of a national network that opposes military recruitment in high schools. He said he was in contact in 2005 with an activist in Atlanta about how to build the cardboard coffins frequently used by protesters against the Iraq war as a symbol of what activists have called needless military deaths.

The e-mails were forwarded to the Maryland State Police from a DHS office in Atlanta.

Nice database work!
It’s interesting how well coordinated the passage of information was.  It’s as if… as if… why, it’s as if there was some kind of federal database that would enable far-flung agencies to be aware of a mutual interest in a given “terrorist” like Mr. Elder once he was entered in the system.

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Posted by Thomas Nephew on 14th February 2009

(… a.k.a. Get FISA Right)

Where to pitch in



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