a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

2008 US Voter Info

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 28th October 2008

Once you enter your address, the gadget above shows you a map to your voting location, helps you find out whether you’re registered to vote, and provides links to state election board web sites.  From the description at the Official Google Blog:

It’s hard to believe that in 2008, information so important to U.S. citizens and the democratic process isn’t well organized on the web. To solve this problem, we’ve released our US Voter Info site, an effort to simplify and centralize voting locations and registration information.

We developed the site in the hope that it will increase voter participation. We were helped by a number of partners, including many state and local election officials, the League of Women Voters, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and others involved in the Voting Information Project.

(h/t Takoma Park city councilmember Josh Wright)

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It’s not my party and I’ll cry if I want to

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th October 2008

Copyright Zina Saunders 2008
Lieberman’s Heartbreak
Copyright Zina Saunders 2008.
Published here by permission of the artist.

Senator Joe Lieberman (“Lieberman for CT”-CT) is busy rowing away from the sinking McCain campaign as fast as his little arms will let him — but not without a few shots of his own at the burning wreckage.

On Saturday, the Hartford Courant’s Greg Pazniokas reported on a rather testy conference call between Lieberman and several Connecticut newspaper reporters.  Lieberman on Sarah Palin:

“She’s not going to have to be president from day one because McCain is going to be alive and well. I’ve been talking to actuaries and doctors,” Lieberman said. “He can be expected to live to his mid-80s and probably longer.”

When pressed about when she would be ready, Lieberman replied, “Well, let’s hope she never has to be ready.”

Right there with you on that one, Ace — and I know just how to make sure of it.  Lieberman also wants it known how deeply he respects Obama after all:

“When I go out, I say, ‘I have a lot of respect for Sen. Obama. He’s bright. He’s eloquent.’ Someday, I might even support him for president, but now in the midst of this series of crises, John McCain is simply so much better prepared that that’s who I am proud to support.” […]

“[McCain] is ready to be our president at this very difficult time,” Lieberman said. “And Sen. Obama is not as ready. It’s as direct as that.”

(Emphasis added.) As the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg notes, that “not as ready” is pretty precious:

Google “lieberman obama ‘not ready’” if you need a few thousand samples of the unqualified way Joe talked about Barack’s readiness before the ship hit the iceberg.

Lieberman has a novel theory about why the campaign has turned so nasty in the last weeks:

“You guys are going down a road, you have contributed to the demeaning of our politics by this kind of focus,” Lieberman said. “I mean, give me a break. Have any of you been out listening to me?”

That’s the problem, Joe — we have.

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The battle of Fredericksburg

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 26th October 2008

After canvassing for Obama in Woodbridge, Virginia the last two weekends, I was sent to Fredericksburg, Virginia yesterday. I arrived at Bethesda Chevy Chase High School after taking care of absentee voting in Rockville — I plan to take Election Day off and will in fact stay overnight in Leesburg, Virginia so I can help with election eve “get out the vote” (GOTV) work there.

Unlike every other weekend so far, canvassing weather yesterday was *not* gorgeous. We were caught in a driving rain at the high school, and the rain continued in patches all day long. Luckily, my ride to Fredericksburg, Jim M., was utterly brilliant and had brought two huge golf umbrellas — my umbrella is broken and drooping on one side, it would have been a pathetic sight.

Fredericksburg is quite a hike from Bethesda; it’s about an hour down I-95 when the traffic is good — and the traffic wasn’t all that good.  We left Bethesda about 12:30, and got to the Fredericksburg office about a quarter after two, I’d say.  We got the usual briefing, walking materials, political “literature” — always strikes me as a funny word for the glossy, buzzword-laden fliers — and absentee ballot applications, and headed out on our way, destination Autumn Leaf Circle in nearby Stafford.  The route took us past Spotsylvania Mall, and thus through more incredibly bad traffic.

And when we got there, we realized our walking list said “Autumn Drive” — not “Autumn Leaf Drive.”  A phone call back to the headquarters confirmed the bad news: we were about 30 miles from where we were supposed to be, the wrong map had been attached to our packet.

Sigh.  So we drive back through the ongoing traffic jam, on to I-95, north to the other side of Fredericksburg, and west on VA 3 into a half rural, half exurban countryside of horse farms, mobile homes, and McMansions; houses up long gravel driveways, mailboxes on the other side of the road, that kind of thing.  We drive and drive and drive —  finally finding ourselves on the walking maps, and head up the first street we’re supposed to visit.  We pull up at the house on our list, put our clipboards together, get our umbrellas, get out, walk up the driveway and sidewalk, and knock.  The rain is steady; it’s around 4 in the afternoon by now.

And a lady answers, and when we tell her what we’re there for, she says, “You know, I don’t want to talk about this, you all come here too much.”  And that was that.

It helped to have a canvassing partner with a good sense of humor.  The whole thing really was funny —  like we were the butts of a long, long shaggy dog joke.

Things went better after that — how could they not —  and we actually did contact or recontact Obama supporters, even way out there in rural/semirural Virginia.  The rain let up now and then, we got through maybe half of our “walking” (really “driving”)  list of 40 or so houses, and got back to Fredericksburg around dusk.

Please note that I’m not complaining about the map mistake.  That kind of thing happens; it just goes to show how every detail is important — and how every detail has usually been right when I get to the Obama campaign in Virginia.  A lot of care goes into assembling the walking packets, the people who put them together deserve a lot of credit.  Thanks!

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Better Democrats

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 23rd October 2008

Most readers probably know that there’s an easy, centralized way to contribute to campaigns of specific Democrats — “ActBlue.” Some blog supersites have set up lists of candidates they approve of in special ActBlue fundraising campaigns; for example, “firedoglake” has “Accountability Now,” and “Daily Kos” has “orangetoblue.”

The one I like right now is called simply Better Democrats,” and it’s a project of the “OpenLeft” blog run by Matt Stoller et al.  The reason I like it is that I ran across Matt Stoller’s interview of Georgia Senate candidate Jim Martin, in which the Georgia Democrat pleasantly surprised me:

Question: Do you have a position on FISA and government wiretapping?

Jim Martin
: The threat of terrorism is real and the government should take all necessary measures to protect us. While I support the overall aims of the recent FISA bill, the inclusion of a provision granting amnesty to telecom providers who permitted the government to listen in on the conversations of Americans without a warrant troubles me. Because I do not believe that the government should craft policy that permits law breaking, I would not have supported the FISA bill that included telecom immunity. […]

Question: Do you think that Congress should investigate potential criminal activity within the Bush administration after he leaves office, or should Congress choose to ignore them and work on legislation going forward?

Jim Martin: Congress has an awful lot to do in order to get this economy working for the middle class again, and that would be my first priority. That said, laws are meaningless if not applied and applied fairly. If there is reason to believe that Bush Administration officials broke the law, they should be investigated and punished if found guilty just like anyone else.

These and other good answers — plus, it must be admitted, the prospect of kicking Saxby Chambliss’s worthless ass out of the Senate — convinced OpenLeft community members to support adding Martin to the “Better Democrats” list.

Note the name, and make no mistake — if you want a “Absolutely Perfect Democrats” ActBlue list, you’ll need to keep looking.  For example, Martin severely disappointed GLBT Georgians this summer with his opposition to same-sex marriage, though he supports the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell,” and other affirmations of gay rights.

Even on FISA, I don’t think Martin is pitch-perfect; for my part, I don’t even support the overall aims of the recent FISA bill, not when they include shortcuts around the probable cause principle of the Fourth Amendment.  But to the extent that Martin “gets it” that telecom immunity permitted lawbreaking retroactively, he may eventually get it that the FISA bill permits ongoing Constitution- and Bill of Rights-breaking as well.

So Martin is a “Better Democrat” in my book, and I recognize many of the names on the “Better Democrats” list as well:

  • Darcy Burner (WA-8), author of “A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq” — which includes provisions for giving plaintiffs status to sue if they believe warrantless electronic surveillance is threatening their First Amendment rights.
  • Sam Bennett (PA-15), co-endorser of “Responsible Plan”;
  • Jeff Merkley (OR), who called out Obama for voting for the FISA Amendment Act.
  • Al Franken (MN), who made his opposition to the Iraq war the center of his campaign with effective, hard hitting ads like this one.
  • Dennis Shulman (NJ-5), who wrote on his web site after the FISA Amendment Act passed in the House: ““The House of Representatives, with the support of Republican Scott Garrett, recently passed a bill that would grant President Bush and future administrations unprecedented powers to spy on American citizens without a warrant or review by any judge or court. The new law would also let our nation’s largest telecom companies off the hook for knowingly violating the law and releasing their customers’ private information at the behest of George Bush.

I’ve been flogging the “Better Democrats” idea via facebook and myBarackObama “Get FISA Right” groups, and thought I ought to mention it here as well.  Matt Stoller was nice enough to add a “Get FISA Right” tag (the “?refcode=GetFISARight” at the end of the URL), which makes it possible to track the subtotal gathered via all the various links sharing that tag, like this one.

So if you can spare a few bucks, but want to make sure they go not just to any old Democrat the DCCC wants to spend money on, but to ones you want to spend money on, here’s a place to do just that.  Click the link: ActBlue – Better Democrats.  Thanks.

UPDATE, 10/23: Shulman point added.

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Decision 2008

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 16th October 2008

McCain and Obama after third debate, Hofstra University, 10/15/08
McCain and Obama after their third debate, Hofstra University, 10/15/08.

The image comes via Jonathan Schwarz, who is kinder about it than I will be: “In any case, the point here really isn’t that John McCain is a ridiculous person. It’s that he’s a person, and hence ridiculous.” That’s true. I have no doubt if 100 photographers were snapping away at me for 15 minutes, they’d catch a ridiculous expression or five by the time it was over.

But it’s also true that this particular moment didn’t come out of nowhere; for me, the image captures and crystallizes a difference between the two men.

First, throughout the debate, McCain was fidgety; Obama was calm.  McCain was dismissive and derisive of incredibly inappropriate things, rolling his eyes when Obama mentioned the murders of labor leaders in Colombia, and sneering about a mother’s health as a valid reason for late term abortions.  He also would jump in to interrupt Obama frequently.  To me, Obama was more polite and, for lack of a better word, more mature than his elder rival.

Second, rolling the tape clarifies the moment a little.  McCain had (somewhat inexplicably) begun following Obama around the table to shake moderator Schieffer’s hand, even as Schieffer was continuing to move in the opposite direction, to meet McCain on his side of the table.  McCain caught himself, and executed an exaggerated, “look how loose I am,” …. what’s the word I’m looking for …. erratic doubletake to reverse course.  “Must attack” had been replaced by “must shake hands and appear friendly.”

The debates themselves are generally uninformative compared to reading the news, and generally disappointing in that even the preferred candidate often makes concessions to conventional wisdom and the putative “center” that I wish he or she wouldn’t.  (Still, here’s a transcript of the third one via the L.A. Times.) I sort of hate watching them in the same way I hate watching gymnastics or figure skating competitions: things can only go wrong, a stumble or a spill often determines the winner more than their best effort does.  I can’t even handle the second hand pressure of it all.

But the candidates need to be able to handle it; there will be tougher challenges than that in store for the winner.

And in an election that has a subtext about who’s ready for that 3 a.m. phone call, who’s the “steady hand at the tiller,” it seems to me that Obama has won that comparison by now — and by quite a margin.  The photo above isn’t necessarily evidence, but it is an apt symbol.

UPDATE, 10/23: At, jbc goes into the goofy moment in more depth, and links to good commentary by Atlantic Monthly’s James Fallows.  Among jbc’s many good observations: “But in the contrast it makes with Obama’s much more serious tone, it really highlights a difference in temperament between the two. Obama takes this effort really seriously. McCain, on some level, not so much.”;

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Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq: candidate updates

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 16th October 2008

While the economy has taken center stage in the final weeks of the 2008 campaign, Iraq remains a critical issue as well — the war costs billions of dollars each month, and costs American and Iraqi lives, limbs, and health as well.

The “Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq” was developed by congressional candidates Darcy Burner, Donna Edwards, and others as a campaign platform and legislative agenda. For more on the plan — which seeks both to end the war in Iraq, and prevent failures like it in the future — follow the link and/or see my blog posts about it.  The plan calls for

  • Ending U.S. military action in Iraq
  • Using U.S. diplomatic power
  • Addressing humanitarian concerns
  • Restoring our Constitution
  • Restoring our military
  • Restoring independence to the media
  • Creating a new, U.S.-centered energy policy

…with specific legislative proposals for each goal.  Here’s a quick rundown on how some of the candidates who developed the plan are doing.

  • Donna Edwards (MD-04): an incumbent by now, and a prohibitive favorite — no Republican has received more than 25% of the vote in this district since 1994.
  • Eric Massa (NY-29): Up 51-44, (10/7/08, SurveyUSA)
  • Tom Perriello (VA-05): Down 42-55 (10/7/08, SurveyUSA); has gained 12 points in 2 months
  • Chellie Pingree (ME-01): Up 44-33 (10/2/08, PolitickerME);  22% undecided!
  • Jared Polis (CO-02): “heavy favorite” (9/10/08, PolitickerCO)
  • George Fearing (WA-04): can’t find recent poll information; debate on 10/16 attended by about 200 people (
  • Larry Byrnes (FL-14): out earlier this summer.
  • Stephen Harrison (NY-13): out in September primary (9/9/08,
  • Sam Bennett (PA-15): “Republican favored” (CQ Politics); recent mistake about the solvency of two banks in a televised debate was blurred and muted at Bennett’s request by the broadcasting TV station — probably not a good development.
  • Darcy Burner (WA-08): Up 49-44 (10/14/08, DCCC); had been down 44-54 (9/9/08, SUSA).

Obviously, all of them deserve our help and many are in close races. To help with a non-tax-deductible donation, go to the Responsible Plan ActBlue web site and give to any or all of them.

UPDATE, EDITS, 10/16; Bennett, Harrison, Fearing information updated.

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Split ticket weekend

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 6th October 2008

Saturday for Barack Obama in Leesburg, Virginia; Sunday for Gordon Clark (Green) in Takoma Park, Maryland.

Marylanders — most, if not all, from Montgomery County — swamped the Loudoun County Obama headquarters in Leesburg on Saturday in two shifts.  I was on the late one, 1 p.m. from Bethesda High School (the meeting place there is now in front of the high school, not in the parking lot).  Drove over with a very interesting lady, wife of a former Republican congressman from the South.  As she explained, being progressive in the South once meant being Republican.

Loudoun County Obama HQ.
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew.

Anyhow, the briefing at Leesburg was a little chaotic — people kept interrupting the guy doing the briefing — but the upshot was that we were using data from the past few elections to contact sporadic, possibly persuadable voters, we wanted data even if it was indirect, and we wanted to make sure people were registered.  As in Dumfries two weeks ago, the questions were about who people were supporting (“not ‘voting for’ — people will close the door on you if you ask that”) for president, senator (Mark Warner (D) vs. Jim Gilmore (R) to replace outgoing Senator John Warner), or representative — Judy Feder vs. incumbent Frank Wolf (R).

Bank owned property, somewhere in
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew.

The two of us wound up in a similar neighborhood to the one I canvassed in Dumfries a couple of weeks ago — rental apartment complexville, Mr. and Ms. (Pretending They’re?) Not Home on Weekends.  Between the two of us, we knocked on about 60 doors, found 8 strong Obama supporters (2 volunteers among them), 1 leaning towards Obama, 2 McCain.  I was surprised at that, because I got both McCains, the Obama leaner and the undecided person, and just one of the strong Obamas; maybe people are likelier to open the door for an older lady than for me — even though I’m such a nice guy!

Unlike in Dumfries, this time every time I actually did speak to someone, it was the person named on the list.  The “Votebuilder” lists are quite good, but there are some glitches.  To whoever programs the software: you might as well not include “Apt 000” addresses in the printouts, OK? Also: the only “lit” (=”literature” =political fliers to stick in people’s doors if they weren’t home) they had for us to drop was a Warner/Obama flier — nothing for Judy Feder; that was a bit of a missed opportunity for that campaign.

The last observation of the day was from a birthday party Maddie went to here in Takoma Park that evening.  It must be the circles we frequent, but many of the other moms and/or dads had been out canvassing as well.  People really want this.

Today I fried my face on Carroll Avenue in Takoma Park from 10 to noon while repeating three main phrases — “Gordon Clark for Congress,” “Here he is,” and “Would you like a sticker?” — to families drifting by the Green Party booth at the Takoma Street Festival.  (See these posts — mainly this one — for why a long-time Democrat like myself is supporting Clark over Van Hollen.)  Our booth faced south, and I forgot to bring a cap.  I think I’ll pay a price tomorrow, even though I did use some sunblock.

Gordon Clark was there too, of course.  He’d been at the “Taste of Bethesda” event on Saturday, and said Chris Van Hollen came by.  The meeting was not cordial — Van Hollen told Clark to “stop lying” about him; Clark says he replied he’d be happy to debate Van Hollen whenever he liked.  I wonder what that was about — everything on the issues comparison brochure the Clark campaign has is documented.

People can be funny about political booths.  It’s their weekend, of course, and not all of us want to gather political information at a crafts, food, and music fair.  But some people pick up speed and/or veer away as they might catch something from us, while others will make a self-approving point of how much they dismiss whatever you’re doing — demonstrative handwaves of refusal, little snorts, that kind of thing.

But the people who kind of slowly walk up, looking at the signage and the table, coming to a decision — they make up for that.  I think it’s kind of fun, and kind of good, to be a part of that — encounters like that, decisions like that, they’re the little atomic units and molecule formations of politics.  I’m just there trying to help catalyze the reaction.

EDIT, 10/6: added comment about having no Judy Feder fliers.

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Congressional candidate debate: minus Van Hollen, plus Gordon Clark

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 3rd October 2008

The Maryland 8th Congressional District candidate debate was hosted by the local League of Women Voters (LWV) in Rockville’s main public library last night.  It will be rebroadcast on “Access Montgomery” public cable channels 19 and 21 three times in the next 7 days.*

Gordon Clark (Green), Steve Hudson (R), Van Hollen (D) legislative director Bill Parsons
Gordon Clark (Green), Steve Hudson (R), Van Hollen (D)
legislative director Bill Parsons
at League of Women
Voters debate in Rockville.  Write-in candidates
Deborah Vollmer and Lih Young were also there,
but are obscured behind the photographer on the
right.  The moderator was LWV president Diane Hibino.
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew.

To my disappointment, but not to my surprise, my Representative, Chris Van Hollen (D) was unable to attend; he had to stay on Capitol Hill because of the “bailout” legislation.  Legislative director Bill Parsons took his place. The other candidates on the ballot — Gordon Clark (Green) and Steve Hudson (R) were on hand, as were write-in candidates Deborah Vollmer and Lih Young.

As I wrote on Monday, I’ve decided to support Gordon Clark in this election, and I saw nothing to change that decision last night.  Clark has a formidable grasp of issues from global warming and energy to foreign affairs to the financial crisis.  He also communicates that well, with a forceful, clear speaking style that contrasted well with the other challengers — and with Van Hollen’s last-minute substitute Mr. Parsons, for that matter.  I could easily picture Gordon Clark as a United States representative; none of the other challengers met that simple test, in my view.

The debate began with prepared statments by each of the speakers, followed by one minute responses to questions prepared by the moderator, by the audience , or submitted by email correspondents to the LWV.  I’ll give a thumbnail impression of each speaker in the following; an embedded video of the debate is just after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Campaign update: Michigan, Virginia, and Lawrence of Arabia

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd October 2008

  • Michigan: It’s still just based on “two Republicans,” no confirmation from the McCain/Palin camp, but’s Jonathan Martin reports McCain pulling out of Michigan:

    McCain will go off TV in Michigan, stop dropping mail there and send most of his staff to more competitive states, including Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida.

  • VirginiaGreg Sargent of TPM Election Central forwards a copy of an ad now playing in southwest Virginia:

    A Virginia Democrat sends over a new radio spot that Obama is airing in the southern part of the state — it stars homegrown bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley vouching for Obama’s values and character to the tune of some banjo pickin’ in the background.

    “Barack’ll cut taxes for everyday folks — not big business — so you’ll have a little more money in your pocket at the end of the year […]

    I also know Barack is a good man. A father and devoted husband, he values personal responsibility and family first.”

  • Lawrence of Arabia:

    “No prisoners.”
    “Damascus, Lawrence.”
    “No prisoners.”
    “Damascus, Lawrence. Go around, Lawrence.”
    […Lawrence draws sword] “NO PRISONERS!”

    Metaphorically speaking, that is.

UPDATE, 10/2: A Washington Post story (Scherer, Cohen) provides more details, including the sources being a “senior Republican official” and a “McCain campaign advisor”. Offices will remain in Michigan because leases are already signed.

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    Rate *all* the debates

    Posted by Thomas Nephew on 28th September 2008

    A side note: I also joined many hundreds of others in “rating the debate” for an initiative by the FreePress.Net organization, which set up a questionnaire for participants to rate the media — in this case, Jim Lehrer — on his performance. The idea, at least in part, is to try to discourage the kind of farce that Stephanopolous and Gibson staged with Obama and Clinton before the Pennsylvania primary.

    Rate the Debates

    In that regard, I think that on the whole Lehrer was sensible and constructive, and did not come anywhere near the lows of the primary season (see the video below, by

    I do think Lehrer was noticeably less deferential to Obama than to McCain, though. First, he all but hectored Obama twice to address McCain directly (“say it directly to him”). Even though he then at least said “I’m just determined to get you all to talk to each other. I’m going to try,” he then did not demand the same of McCain, at least not as baldly or memorably. Second, he was far more persistent in demanding Obama confess which of his programs would be dropped in view of the huge bailout price tag — despite Obama’s reasonable answer (assuming the premise had to be granted) that his response would be not to drop programs but phase them in more slowly.

    But to be clear, I’m not interested in making a federal case of that — just in trying to do my part as one citizen media watchdog.

    “Rate the Debates” will set up online rating systems for each of the next three debates as well; consider joining in.

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