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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

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“In what’s become a bit of a regular occurrence”

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 1st April 2010

…President Obama once had a different position on offshore drilling. Here’s a clip of candidate Obama’s statement on the subject, on June 20, 2008:

My transcript of his remarks follows.  Given President Obama’s reversal on the subject, candidate Obama’s criticism of McCain’s reversals seem even more hypocritical than his one-time environmentalism:

But what wouldn’t do a thing to lower gas prices is John McCain’s new proposal, a proposal adopted by George Bush as well, to open up Florida’s coastline to offshore drilling. In what’s become a bit of a regular occurrence in this campaign, Senator McCain once had a different position on offshore drilling, and it’s clear why he did: it would have long term consequences for our coastlines, but no short term benefits, since it would take at least ten years to get any oil.

Well, the politics may have changed, but the facts haven’t. The accuracy of Senator McCain’s original position has not changed. Offshore drilling would not lower gas prices today. It would not lower gas prices tomorrow. It would not lower gas prices this year, it would not lower gas prices five years from now. In fact, President Bush’s own energy department says that we won’t see a drop of oil from his own proposal until 2017. And in fact you wouldn’t see any full production out of any oil drilling off the coast until 2030. It would take a generation to reach full production, and even then, the effect on gas prices will be minimal at best.

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The greening of Van Hollen

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 18th July 2009

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) that read, in part:

Thanks to your hard work, the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed 219-212 in last Friday’s historic vote. Although, as we’ve said, key features of the bill fall short of what scientists say is urgently needed, there were several members of Congress who emerged as true climate leaders — including Congressman Van Hollen. Congressman Van Hollen is on a well-deserved recess until July 6th but I want to make sure he hears from his constituents when he gets back. That’s why on Tuesday, July 7th, I plan to hand-deliver a giant thank you card to his office. (Care to join me? Just email me)…

I decided against joining in on the giant thank you card. But I think the story of just how Congressman Van Hollen got the “climate leader” accolades and “climate herogala festivities CCAN has been bestowing on him is worth telling.

Gordon Clark, the 2008 election, and “cap and dividend”
In last fall’s election, Representative Van Hollen was opposed by (among others) Green Party candidate Gordon Clark — whom I supported. Van Hollen is a personally popular liberal Democrat elected in something of an uprising against local moderate Republican Connie Morella in 2002; he’s not hurting for campaign funds, and many in the area are proud he’s chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — despite Van Hollen’s association with the disappointing Democratic “opposition” to Bush between 2002 and 2008.

Clark, a long time activist in and director of peace and environmental movements,  campaigned hard and turned in a strong debate performance — which Van Hollen couldn’t attend due to the emergency bailout vote the same evening.  On Election Day Van Hollen easily outdistanced both Clark and his Republican challenger.

But the Clark/Green Party campaign was influential nonetheless; as often happens with third parties, they peel off some activists, they serve as an important source of ideas, and they can win some important skirmishes even if they wind up losing the contest. In this case, the skirmish Clark won was one for the endorsement of an influential local political group, Progressive Neighbors. In a very surprising development (covered on this site), Clark tied with Van Hollen after a kind of “mail-in debate” — the only debate of any kind between the two candidates in the campaign. Clark had parried Van Hollen’s less coolly composed letter with point after point detailing Van Hollen’s lack of leadership, especially on the financial crisis, peace, and environmental issues.

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The Inauguration

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 21st January 2009

I’m still thawing out from attending the Inauguration; meanwhile, have a look at a few photos from Monday and Tuesday.  What a contrast to the one four years ago.

Getting to the Mall proved less difficult than expected, though our party (nine friends and family) did have to squeeze into some extremely crowded Metro cars to make the trip.  We got out at Farragut North and walked the rest of the way to the Washington Monument — a path that led around the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route.

Exiting Farragut North, we joined a stream and then a river of humanity flowing down towards the Mall in the early morning darkness.  The mood was festive as it had been all weekend, but as we arrived at the open spaces around the Washington Monument, it became more like what I imagine the final leg of a pilgrimage might be: solemn and joyful all at once.

The fingers- and toes-numbing cold made the ensuing wait a bit of an ordeal.  Nonetheless, it was great to see out the end of the bad old Bush years in person, and to hear first-hand that the new president intends to lead differently than the past one did.  I don’t intend to use this space to closely analyze Obama’s speech; what I think was more significant (even) than the many good things Obama said was the sheer size of the outpouring of public support he got on  Tuesday.  If this can indeed be harnessed into an effective “permanent campaign,” as TIME Magazine calls it, the limits of what Obama will achieve may not be set by his opponents, but by himself.

For today: congratulations, President Obama!  But also, congratulations to all those who sacrificed and worked to make this day happen –from the civil rights activists of yesteryear to Obama election volunteers in 2008.

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How that worked out: an election followup

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 4th December 2008


My yard signs, Election ’08
Results: lost, wouldn’t want to bet a great
deal of money on it, lost, ongoing (Purple
Line, a transit proposal).
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew

A look back at at my ticket-splitting, effort-splitting, and other split decision-making in the 2008 elections.

Virginia Senator Jim Webb had one of the memorable quips of the campaign in October. Speaking in Roanoke to an Obama rally, Webb said McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin for veep reminded him of the line from a country song, “I know what I was doing, but what was I thinking?”

Whatever McCain’s motivations were, though, my own choices might seem equally hard to explain.  I wound up working hard for a vice presidential candidate who was instrumental in passing the Bankruptcy Bill; for a presidential candidate who went back on his word and voted for a FISA Amendment Act featuring telecom company immunity, and who arguably took the oxygen out of a favored candidate’s campaign when he promised to stick to a publicly financed campaign — which he obviously did not do.

I thereby worked on behalf of a party that had effectively abandoned opposition to the Iraq War in 2007 — despite sweeping back to power on that promise — and on behalf of a party that had stonewalled pleas to hold the architects of that war, of torture, of warrantless surveillance, and more accountable by impeachment.

Meanwhile, though, I joined in a campaign for Gordon Clark, a Green Party candidate who wound up with around 2 percent of the vote.  I supported that campaign with time, writing, and even some money — with the net effect, particularly of the writing, perhaps making me persona non grata to a Congressman I’d frequently praised on this site.

So what do I have to show for it?  What explains the mixture of satisfaction and regret I feel?
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Turn right at Destiny Drive: Obama GOTV in Chantilly, VA

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 7th November 2008

This is about my last twelve hours or so of work — Monday evening and Election Day — for the Obama campaign in Virginia.  It may not be all that riveting to you, but it was a privilege to be a part of it, and to meet so many smart, hard-working people in such a short time.

I had canvassed twice in Leesburg, and it was my intent to rejoin the Leesburg office for final GOTV (“get out the vote”) work on Monday night and Tuesday.  While I assume that would have been welcome, I also needed a place to stay, and that proved difficult to arrange.  I had needed to leave quickly on Saturday; as I tried to recontact people at the Leesburg office on Sunday and Monday about where to go,  I came to suspect I was becoming more of a  problem for the people there than a potential asset for them.

I had rented a car for the occasion (I would need to drive straight from Virginia to Ohio for a funeral).  By Monday afternoon I’d resolved to book a Leesburg motel room as well and just show up at the Obama HQ there when I got a call from one Lynne Weil, who said she’d been given my name.  Having established that she wasn’t in Leesburg, Virginia but in the vicinity of Chantilly, that that didn’t matter to me, and that she had a place for me to stay, we agreed I’d arrive around 8.  But between a late start, traffic, and eventually needing to buy a Loudoun County map to find my way, I finally arrived at the address I was given around 9 pm.



Precinct/turf situation board, South Riding hub,
Chantilly, VA, night of 11/3/08
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew
Slideshow here.

Talamore Drive
Somewhat to my surprise, it really was just another single family home among many in a prosperous looking neighborhood — big, fairly new houses, usually several cars per driveway.  But the house turned out to have been all but handed over to the Obama campaign by its owner — the garage was a canvassing staging area, the kitchen had bowls of salad and multigallon coffee containers, the dining room was occupied by four or five people entering data on their laptops.  I had arrived between shifts, and stood to the side eating an unexpected dinner on a paper plate and listening in to low conversations in the living room about how urban or rural a given “turf” was, were there enough flashlights, when the door hanger work would start.

I got to talking with another volunteer clearly also waiting for work to do — and it turned out he was part of the Senate Foreign Relations committee staff.  We talked about Iran briefly; he seemed to approve of pressure on Iran on the basis of their past nuclear weapons work, and noted that a problem with the “MIT solution” is the fear of a breakout — the Iranians might work with an international uranium enrichment facility for a while, then appropriate the facility and/or the expertise gained and go back to nuclear weapons work on their own.  I suggested that no matter what, there will be the possibility of disappointment.  But I didn’t want to press things much further than that — we’d both come to do get out the vote work, not have a debate on Iran.

Around 11:30pm, that’s what we did.  I couldn’t even say where we went — he had the map and address list, I had the flashlight and the bundle of door hangers (“Obama / Warner”); we got into a process of me shining our flashlight on the mailboxes, confirming we were at or near the right spot, and jumping out to hang up the door hanger.  After jingle-jangling my way to a couple of doors, I emptied my spare change and car keys into the back seat.  I was forever braced for Rover the dog to start barking — and not sure what I would do –  but thankfully that didn’t happen.  The whole thing took maybe an hour and a half.

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A little patience

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 3rd November 2008

“A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles.”

– Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Taylor, 1798

I’ll be in blog silence for the next couple of days — not that that’s very different from any random couple of days.  First I’m off to Loudoun County, VA to help with GOTV tonight and tomorrow; then I need to drive to Ohio on family matters.

Here’s hoping we’ll be celebrating an Obama victory when I get back.

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The Lost Cause

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd November 2008

I was in Leesburg, Virginia at the Loudoun for Obama headquarters there again yesterday — the office called me last week and asked whether I could help them this weekend and on Election Day, so I said yes. I was fortunate to be able to arrange a ride on my own this time — thanks again, Steve S.!   Usually I’ve hitched a ride with another volunteer at Bethesda High School gathering point, but that wasn’t an option this time: the Montgomery County Obama people were sent by bus to canvass in Richmond, Virginia.

This time we were sent to a neighborhood east of Leesburg, with similar-looking single family homes neatly spaced down their streets, plastic tricycles in the yard, lawnmowers running.

The second house I got to had two young voters listed on my walking list; probably students, not likely at home, was our guess at the canvass briefing, where the briefer used the list to illustrate various scenarios we might encounter.  Sure enough, when the door opened, their mom explained that one was away at college and had voted absentee, and the other was in high school — which seemed to be her way of saying I couldn’t talk to that one.  She added that I was not the first canvasser to come by, and seemed a bit exasperated about it; so I tried to say something noncommittal — “I understand” or something like that, and was about to say thanks and bye.

Then Dad came to the door, gave me an intent look and said “Obama’s a terrorist.” I couldn’t quite believe it, and couldn’t judge his mood, so I started to smile a bit — at which point he said “I’m not joking”, and slammed the door on me.

Naturally, I took that as my cue to leave, walked up the road a bit, and stopped to record some notes about the address.  Then the door opened back up — as you may imagine, gentle reader, a very unwelcome development from my point of view.  “What all adjectives are you writing down there?” shouted Angry Dad.  “Just that we maybe shouldn’t come back,” I said, noting to my relief that he didn’t appear to be armed.

“You all act like people are too stupid to know how to vote.” No idea what he meant by that, maybe that there are a lot of “know your voting rights” leaflets and messages floating around; at least for in person absentee voting (in its last day as we spoke), the i.d. requirements in Virginia require some explaining, as they depend in part on whether you’re a first time voter or not.  I actually thought all this, in shorthand so to speak, as he ranted at me.

“You all shouldn’t be here,” Angry Dad continued shouting.  “You all should be in the projects” – he drew it out, a contemptuous “praww-jecks” — “that’s where his supporters are.” Umm, yeah, you racist sh*thead, I thought but wisely did not say, opting instead for a bright “Have a good day.”  The door shut, this time thankfully for good.  I added “A hostile reception.  He may not be a supporter of ours” to my writeup.

Later on I ran across my first sign of life for the McCain campaign in Virginia — a door hanger.  The part I could read — I didn’t take it off the door knob to read the other side — said, from my partial recall: John McCain, Sarah Palin.  A country worth fighting for.  A people worth protecting.  … We are Americans, honorable and noble… Our future: Prosperous. Remarkable…” etcetera.

There’s something a little pathetic about insisting we are honorable and noble.  There’s also something more than a little disquieting about implying McCain’s opponents are not, or that they don’t consider the country and people of the United States worth protecting.

But you know what: whatever.  I think the McCain (and formerly Bush) people know it’s hopeless, that they’ve lost already, and that their disastrous ascendancy is about to end.  So you get these flareups on the one hand, and these pathetic little passive-aggressive “well, we’re the real good guys” messages on the other.  Angry Dad will be stewing something fierce next week, I hope.  His problem, not mine.

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“The other folks are voting”

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 1st November 2008

Assume, for the sake of argument, that America’s previously most important election campaign is now a mortal lock.  Then America’s newest most important election campaign is in Georgia. From “Heavy Black Turnout Threatens Georgia Senator,” Carl Hulse, New York Times:

Nearly 1.4 million Georgians have voted, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, and more than a third were black. (Blacks make up just over 29 percent of registered voters in the state, which keeps track of racial data under civil rights laws.) Early voting began Sept. 22, and this week the state opened extra polling stations and extended their hours. The development is not lost on [Senator] Chambliss. “There has always been a rush to the polls by African-Americans early,he said at the square in Covington, a quick stop on a bus tour as the campaign entered its final week. He predicted the crowds of early voters would motivate Republicans to turn out. “It has also got our side energized, they see what is happening,” he said.

From “Obama shakes up Georgia Senate race,” David Rogers, Politico.com:

[Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss] is outwardly confident, but there’s urgency in his voice as he tours North Georgia, trying to boost turnout in his predominately white base: “The other folks are voting, he bluntly tells supporters.

(Via A. Serwer (TAPped), brownsox (Daily Kos), and ultimately a friend I’ve never met, Isaac Smith.)

Dear good people everywhere: this, too, is why we fight.  So excuse my language, but please help blow this asshole out of the water — give to the Jim Martin for Senate campaign, if you can’t go door to door for him.

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A Van Hollen/Clark “mail in debate” at Progressive Neighbors

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 30th October 2008

Progressive Neighbors nonendorsementBy Montgomery County standards, it qualified as a political earthquake: the respected Takoma Park/Silver Spring “Progressive Neighbors” PAC steering committee did not endorse Chris Van Hollen in his bid for re-election to Maryland’s 8th Congressional District seat in the House of Representatives.  As their election issues flier — to be distributed by volunteers before and on Election Day — states,

Progressive Neighbors is split between endorsing the incumbent Chris Van Hollen and Green Party challenger Gordon Clark.  We appreciate many of the stands Van Hollen has taken but have been disappointed by his lack of progressive leadership on issues that Clark is championing such as ending the War in Iraq and single payer, universal health care.

The organization’s web site front page adds, “The positions of both the incumbent Chris Van Hollen and Green Party challenger Gordon Clark were considered by the steering committee, and the committee came to a split decision.”

I spoke with Progressive Neighbors steering committee member and contact person Wally Malakoff, who said he agreed with the position the group took: “Van Hollen has taken good positions, but could be more aggressive” in pushing them, while Clark is a “good, articulate spokesman” for progressive positions.  He said that the steering committee solicited member opinions via email and also considered those responses — roughly evenly divided — in coming to its decision.

The two candidates submitted letters to the Progressive Neighbors steering committee — first one by Van Hollen requesting endorsement, and then a response by Clark– both of which are now posted on the Progressive Neighbors web site.*  Given that Van Hollen had to miss the only debate he was willing to schedule with Clark, the letters are perforce the only debate the voters of the 8th Congressional District will get to judge.

There are a lot of specific points made by both candidates in their letters.  Instead of dwelling on these specifics, I’ll try in the following to get across the themes of both candidate’s positions accurately.  In case it needs restating, I should make it (even more) crystal-clear that I support Clark.

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I’m going to miss this election

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 29th October 2008

Via docudharma. (h/t Priscilla L.)

UPDATE, 10/30: Another version. Why? Because you can’t stop me:

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UPDATE, 1/21/09: The second video was first taken off YouTube for a while, and is now marked as “private, make sure you accept the sender’s friend request.” It was open to the public when I posted it here.

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