a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew


Posted by Thomas Nephew on 16th November 2010

ActBlue Fundraising page “newsrack actblue”
Fundraising pitch

Below are some of the Democratic candidates my friends and I are supporting in the 2010 election season.

These are progressive candidates facing tough elections. They’ve done the right thing, and we need to have their back now. You can learn more about them below, and you can keep up with how they’re doing at the 2010 elections web page we’ve set up to track their progress.

It’s up to you — give them all a little, or give one a lot down on the list below. 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!)

Contribution blurb
It’s critical we keep the progressive representation we have in Congress — and add to it when we can. You’re a big part of that — thanks!!!

Email receipt text
Thank you very much for contributing to “newsrack actblue”! We’re taking our politics into our own hands when we make up our own minds and give to the *exact* candidates we prefer, rather than simply to a party or a congressional campaign committee.

I’ve added this message after seeing so many people like yourself give to these candidates through this ActBlue site. I’ll keep tabs on how the candidates are doing and post to my web site ( about that from time to time. It means a lot to me that you decided to give this way; once again, thank you very much!


Russ Feingold

  • I think you’ve heard of him. If not, here’s a great profile by John Nichols of “The Nation,” Russ Feingold, The Senate’s Real Maverick: Over time, Feingold’s antiwar and anticorporate record, as well as his defense of civil liberties, have made him a hero to progressive populists. “Russ is not shy about taking on the forces of arrogance and ignorance in my party,” says author and activist Jim Hightower. Since the death of Wellstone, says Hightower, “Feingold’s the one Democrat I don’t have to apologize for.”
  • Feingold was the only Senator to vote against the PATRIOT Act, and is perhaps the highest profile civil liberties advocate in the country. It’s critical we not lose his voice in the Senate. Here’s Russ talking about FISA back in 2008: [[youtube:]]
  • To get to know him better, have a look at these interviews: Interview with Sen. Russ Feingold (Glenn Greenwald); Live Chat with Russ Feingold: Worth Fighting For (Brad Reed, Crooks & Liars).
  • NRCAT anti-torture score: 100 out of 100.

Alan Grayson

  • I think you’ve heard of him, even if you think you haven’t. Remember this? I thought you would. Grayson is one of the fightingest Democrats in Congress, we need more like him.
  • [[youtube:]]
  • NRCAT anti-torture score: 100 out of 100.

Mary Jo Kilroy

  • “Time to Double Down on Mary Jo Kilroy (Howie Klein, DownWithTyranny): “Sunday, The Hill, while not explaining their methodology, weighed in with their picks for the 10 most endangered House Democratic freshmen […] Most of those on the list are there because they’ve alienated the Democratic base by voting against the interests of ordinary working families. Kilroy is the exception and deserves an extraordinary effort to save her seat from a sleazy bank lobbyist and protégé of John Boehner’s.
  • [[youtube:]]
  • NRCAT anti-torture score: 100 out of 100.

Patrick Murphy

  • A friend of mine from Pennsylvania talks about him all the time; here’s her latest summary:”He’s the Congressional leader on repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. He was out front on health care reform – specifically the Public Option – and stayed there. It was a hard position to take in this district. Most recently he’s been out front on ending the high-income tax cuts – another difficult position to take, but he won’t back down. He could use support because he’s in a tough race against a former Congressman – the one who cast the tie-breaking vote to pass CAFTA back in the day. Holding this seat is very important and is probably our best chance in PA.” Click here for various Patrick Murphy links)
  • [[youtube:]]
  • NRCAT anti-torture score: 100 out of 100.

Tarryl Clark

  • …is facing the notorious GOP incumbent and so-called ‘Mama Grizzly’ Michelle Bachman, who once called on reporters to investigate which Congressmembers were “secretly against America.” But Howie Klein (DownWithTyranny, HuffPo) argues it’s not just about supporting anyone versus Bachman — Clark is a genuinely excellent candidate: “Instead of running around the country and ranting and raving at tea parties, she proven herself an effective leader for the people she represents, working to secure the funds to upgrade the facilities at Saint Cloud State University, working to ensure Central Minnesota’s nursing homes are paid fairly, working to establish a special law enforcement unit to fight gang activities in Central Minnesota.” Read on to learn about more of the meat and potatoes, jobs related initiatives Clark has championed in Minnesota. Wish we had more like her in DC.
  • [[youtube:]]
  • Michelle Bachmann’s NRCAT anti-torture score: a mere 10 out of 100.

Joe Sestak

  • Sestak deserves support just for opposing the Incumbent Party’s choice Arlen Specter in the May primary. He voted for health care reform in early 2010, and the veteran ex-Navy officer supports repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”
  • [[youtube:]]
  • NRCAT anti-torture score: 100 out of 100.

Bryan Lentz

  • This prosecutor — and former Army Ranger — is vying for the open seat Joe Sestak took in 2008. He’s an effective campaigner, who took the same stage at a press conference where he was accused of taking part in “Bonusgate” to make the point that he wasn’t in the PA Assembly when any of that happened . Lentz’s appearance turned the tables on his accuser Pat Meehan, who looked confused at having to actually answer questions about his accusations. (video) As for his progressive politics, this supposed attack web site makes the case as well as anything I could hope to compile: pro EFCA, pro cap and trade to fight global warming, even — gasp! – pro community bank/small business loan program.

Manan Trivedi

  • A 2d generation immigrant, doctor, and Iraq war vet, Trivedi is also a solid progressive grassroots candidate who pledges to fight for a public option if elected, and who considers the Iraq war to have been “unnecessary and immoral.” He has been endorsed by Democracy For America.
  • Opponent Jim Gerlach’s NRCAT anti-torture score: a mere 14 out of 100.

Raul Grijalva

  • Grijalva is co-chair of the Progressive Caucus in the House — a group *my* Congressman (Van Hollen) isn’t willing to belong to. While he may seem invulnerable in his district, appearance may deceive, says digby (“On Chicken Counting) — Republicans are willing to spend millions to defeat him, esp. after calling for an AZ boycott in the wake of SB1040.
  • Fun fact: Grijalva was on the short list for Secretary of Interior — but Obama liked Salazar better because he wasn’t the drilling skeptic Grijalva is.
  • NRCAT anti-torture score: 100 out of 100.

Chellie Pingree

  • UPDATE, 10/18: This candidate is estimated to be in good shape: “solid Democratic”, near-100% chance of winning according to the New York Times /
  • I’ve followed Ms. Pingree since she was running for this seat in 2008; I gave to her then and I haven’t regretted it since. A former director of Common Cause, she was also a signatory to the important “Responsible Plan to Get Out of Iraq” initiative developed by our own Donna Edwards and others. She’s strongly pro-labor, and was one of the leaders in the effort to include a ‘public option‘ in the health care reform package. Maine can be a tough environment for progressives. Let’s make sure she stays in office.
  • NRCAT anti-torture score: 100 out of 100.

Lloyd Doggett

  • UPDATE, 10/18: This candidate is estimated to be in good shape: “solid Democratic”, near-100% chance of winning according to the New York Times /
  • A Texas friend writes, “Texas Senator Lloyd Doggett has been tried and true for a long time. He has fought very hard for education at all levels — from Head Start to college/university. If I remember correctly, he was one of the few to really stand up for a real health care bill (not the watered down corporate handout that we got). This year he is in the tightest race of his life against a Dr. Donna Campbell who, from what I can tell, is a political opportunist riding the anti-incumbent wave.” (links added)
  • NRCAT anti-torture score: 100 out of 100.

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Skeptical at the spectacle: moderate American liberalism jumps the shark

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd November 2010

Somewhat to my own surprise, I tried to attend the Stewart/Colbert “Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear” extravaganza on Saturday. Friends were arriving from Pennsylvania, so I thought whatever my reservations were about the event, I could set them aside to try to meet some people I like.  Maybe by really joining in, I’d come to embrace the event.

In the event, that didn’t pan out — they wound up stuck in a tremendous traffic jam somewhere in suburban  Virginia, and then in a Metro system unequal to a record-breaking overload.  And then their cell phone gave out. I spent about an hour above ground when I got to the Mall around 11pm, and then the next three hours or so tunnelling beneath it to wait (unsuccessfully) at L’Enfant Plaza for my friends, who apparently got off at a different station anyway. As my cell phone helpfully told me re text messages I tried to send: “Me (Failed).”

It seems the turnout was nothing short of spectacular: given that WMATA (the Metro system) reports 875,000 trips were taken on Saturday vs. an average of 350,000,a turnout in the vicinity of 300,000 seems like a reasonable estimate.*  People brought many funny signs, eclipsed Glenn Beck’s event earlier this year, and generally had a whale of a time.  All good things.

So how did I not love thee, Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear?   Let me count the ways.

First, I had thought Stewart and Colbert were antidotes to the mindless media habit of ‘equal opportunity criticism’ — in this case, equating Cheney on the right with Code Pink or Alan Grayson on the left, as Stewart did in his announcement of the “rally.”  Right: people who start an unnecessary war are on the same level with people who protest it, however disruptively.  Shouldn’t you be a bit disruptive about a heinous war?  Shouldn’t you be a bit dismissive of a party of “no” that offered no hint of compromise or alternatives to bitterly needed health care reform?

And if you’re not, shouldn’t you perhaps at least shut up and not wring your hands about people who are?  Not if you’re Jon Stewart.  Far from walking back his comments about the protest group Code Pink before the event, Stewart’s Daily Show delivered the back of its hand to Code Pink yet again by subjecting founder Medea Benjamin to a farcical interview lineup featuring her, a Tea Party Yosemite Sam looking fellow, a fake anarchist, and a paper mache puppet guy, ending with the admonition to all, “Don’t be a douchebag.”

Also, while I realize it’s a small, self-selected group and it’s a silly “hot or not” sign contest at the rally website, it bugs me that that group and mindset is such that posters like this get thumbs down (“insane”), while insipid ‘I’ll listen to your nonsense and nod, yay me’ posters like this get thumbs up.

Fight Fox
Some groups knew which side they were on.

Second, I question my connection to an allegedly, even ‘militantly’ sane crowd that flocked to a “rally” whose own instigator admitted he wasn’t clear what its purpose was.  Classically, “moderation” is an attitude or tactic that embraces compromise and thoughtfulness over conflict and stridency.  So far, so unremarkable — I, too, prefer to get my way without conflict and stridency; I, too, will adjust my thinking on the basis of new facts.  But “moderation” is now apparently also a description for “will travel hundreds of miles to make a vague statement that I hope aligns me with a purpose I’m not yet acquainted with.”  It’s one thing, moreover, to be blindly following the leader, it’s another to be quite as self-congratulatory about that as many event-goers were — no matter how well spelled their posters were.

Finally, there was the matter of the date.  Saturday, October 30 was the better one of two precious weekend days before what looks to be a watershed ‘counterreformation’ election that will set back, yet again, hopes for a functional (let alone just) economy, that will complicate (at best) hopes for a sane foreign policy, that will delay (for the foreseeable future) hopes of reversing the civil liberties defeats of the past ten years.

Make no mistake, this criticism is mainly directed elsewhere.  For 300,000 plus people — apparently, for the most part, reasonably smart, moderate-to-liberal folks — to conclude that the most salient political act they could perform three days before a major election was to travel to a comedian’s show on the Mall can only be viewed as a stinging rebuke to a Democratic Party that will probably get more of their votes today than any other party will.

But both Stewart and Colbert on the one hand, and the event-goers on the other share responsibility as well.  The only conceivable political value to the extravaganza — even from a nonpartisan point of view — would have  been “changing the game”: mobilizing unlikely voters to vote with a national event drawing millions of viewers.  While there were a few hand-lettered signs like mine (“Vote – What’s The Worst That Could Happen?”) to that effect sprinkled among the many wonderfully wry, witty messages, there was no sustained effort to encourage the one thing even an avowedly moderate event for the “middle 80 percent” could unambiguously support.

“Jumping the shark” is an expression derived from an embarrassing “Happy Days” episode towards the end of that TV show’s run.  It means, roughly, “suddenly becoming passe or irrelevant” — and specifically, engaging in a stunt to attract attention and deflect it from something’s declining value.   While a major party that seems to operate by the curious slogan “We’re Less Right Than They Are” and a comedian suddenly finding his inner David Broder should be asking themselves questions today, so should the event-goers.  Judging by their signs, they seemed to know there are sharks in the water.  Judging by their signs, they also seemed not to want  to pick a side, or value actually fighting for it once they do.  That leaves them — and the moderate American liberalism they claim to represent — joining a party and a comedian in all but jumping the shark themselves.

* Subtracting average weekday traffic, the event outdrew August 27th’s combined Beck/anti-Beck turnout (not even in WMATA’s top five Saturday traffic volumes) by about a factor of three.
EDIT, 11/2: “statement that I hope” for “statement on behalf of I hope.”; “wasn’t clear what its purpose was” link added.
UPDATE, 11/2: It was an anti-media rally, writes Jason Easley.  If so, Stewart is in the process of adopting many of the media’s worst false equivalence and ‘center must be right’ habits.
UPDATE, 11/3: Chris Hedges’ take is similar to mine in “The Phantom Left“: “The liberal class wants to inhabit a political center to remain morally and politically disengaged. As long as there is a phantom left, one that is as ridiculous and stunted as the right wing, the liberal class can remain uncommitted. If the liberal class concedes that power has been wrested from us it will be forced, if it wants to act, to build movements outside the political system. This would require the liberal class to demand acts of resistance, including civil disobedience, to attempt to salvage what is left of our anemic democratic state.” Hedges tweezers up this wince-worthy quote by Stewart for inspection: “Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution or racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own?” Which Marxists? What are they doing wrong exactly? I seem to remember they were among the handful of white people who *weren’t* racist before that was safe in the 20th century. I thought you got to say what you think and associate with whom you want. Stewart seems like a precocious grade schooler here:he knows lots of big words and he knows the story he’s supposed to tell, but it’s pretty vapid, conventional wisdom for an alleged Lion of the Left.
UPDATE, 11/10: In fairness, Stewart’s full remarks make the one Hedges pulled seem more a counterfactual than an accusation: “So, why would we work together? Why would you reach across the aisle to a pumpkin assed forehead eyeball monster? If the picture of us were true, our inability to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable. Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution or racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own? We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is — on the brink of catastrophe — torn by polarizing hate and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do.” I.e., he’s saying we work with people *accused* of being such things, presumably because we deny the “untrue picture” of the accusation. Ie., Obama is not a Marxist, and Tea Party people are not necessarily racists and homophobes. It’s still not great — Marxists don’t necessarily subvert the Constitution (whatever that means), and are on a different plane than racists or homophobes. But it’s not the blatant “how dare you work with them” statement it looked like to me at first.

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Elect to End Torture 2010: congressional scorecards

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 29th October 2010

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) Action Fund has produced detailed Congressional vote scorecards of House and Senate incumbents’ “actions on major pieces of torture-related legislation in the 109th, 110th, and 111th Congresses,” from 2005 to 2010:

You can tell people how their vote will make a difference by writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper that either thanks your incumbent Representative or Senator for his or her good votes to end torture – or takes him or her to task for failing to vote against torture. Get involved today – we’ve got suggestions and sample letters available.

I’ve reformatted the data to an online spreadsheet, visible to the right.  NRCAT compiled House votes on the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA), the Military Commissions Act (MCA), and bills about habeas corpus, Army Field Manual “golden rule” in interrogation, videotaping interrogations, and closing Guantanamo, as well as the House attempt to override Bush’s veto of the “golden rule” bill.

For the Senate, NRCAT also reviewed DTA, MCA, habeas corpus, and Guantanamo closure votes, as well as the Mukasey confirmation vote and a vote on establishing a commission to examine detainee treatment abuses.  Scores were computed as the sum of equally weighted positive votes to end torture and negative votes to tolerate it, divided by the greatest possible score for the Congressperson or Senator, expressed as a percentage.

Goal Thermometer
Support these progressives:
Feingold, Sestak, Grayson,
Kilroy, Murphy, Clark, Lentz,
Trivedi, Pingree, Grijalva,

Naturally, I was interested in how “newsrack actblue” candidates or their opponents voted — and I’m very pleased to report that every single incumbent we’re supporting got a NRCAT score of 100. Moreover, two challengers — Tarryl Clark and Manan Trivedi — face Republican incumbents with extremely poor scores: Michele Bachmann (10) and Jim Gerlach (14) respectively.

NRCAT has also published questionnaire responses for selected Senate and House races. One of the Senate races was Wisconsin’s — and while Russ Feingold agreed with the NRCAT position on every count, Ron Johnson stayed true to form by… refusing to answer the questionnaire.

While it’s true that candidates have probably completed buying the air time they can purchase before the election, a Feingold staffer has emailed me that his campaign can still use funds to mount the best possible “get out the vote” (GOTV) drive they can. So if you haven’t donated, there’s still time, and now it’s even clearer that we’re supporting some outstanding candidates.

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A phonebank story

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 29th October 2010

I dial the number.

While it rings, I read that I’m calling Mrs. X, age (quite old).  Mr. X answers the phone.  When I ask for her, he replies she’s crippled and can’t come to the phone; so is he.  I’m thinking well, I guess he got to the phone so maybe crippled means arthritic, so I go into my early voting spiel when he brings me up short: she’s just back from the hospital with a broken hip; she had been *his* caregiver; he’s lucky he has many children, some of them are upstairs with her now.  I say things like oh my gosh, good you have kids to help you, I’m so sorry.  I feel bad: look what I’ve intruded on, not that I could help it.

And then he says: would you like to hear a joke?  Sure.  He says a guy walks into the doctor’s office and tells the nurse, “tell the doctor I have a problem: I’m invisible.”  The nurse tells the doctor, and the doctor says “tell him I can’t see him.”

I laugh quietly and say good one.  He laughs quietly, and says just a little joke.  I told him I liked the joke.  I really did, I’m also really in a certain amount of awe that he has the equanimity to have told any joke to a stranger on the phone in the first place — to have wanted *me* to laugh when he’s facing this tragedy.

So it’s important to me he not think I’m just humoring him, and I hope maybe he hears that somehow.  I say is there any way we should try to get you to the polls next Tuesday, he says no, his kids will help him.  I say I really hope your wife gets well soon, thanks for talking with me.  Also, unspoken but somehow said and somehow heard: thanks for putting up with me.

We say goodbye. I hang up.

The dial tone is loud and empty.

NOTE, 12/19: EMBARGOED since 10/29

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The Rand Paul STOMP, the media pearl clutch

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 28th October 2010

Great ad — but Talking Points Memo’s Evan McMorris-Santoro  harrumphs: “It seems Democrats have decided to politicize the allegedly criminal assault of activist Lauren Valle.”

Well, of course they are — and well they should.  Has someone explained to Evan that there’s an election on?  It’s really not a big leap to say hanging out with thugs like Tim Profitt might, just might be of a piece with coming up with thuggish policies like insanely high Medicare deductibles, opposing coal mine safety regulations, or 23 percent sales taxes.  Punctuating that point with Profitt stomp footage seems OK to me.

Will it “work”?  I don’t know.  It’s unlikely to convert Paul voters to Conway voters, but it might make a few stay home; the main effects they may be after is galvanizing unlikely Democratic voters to vote and getting undecideds to move to Conway.

What gets me is that yet again, a hard-hitting, accurate ad is disparaged for its decorum rather than its content.  Dear media: when you decide to go all Marquis of Queensberry on us, at least know what the game is and what the rules are — and don’t confuse those rules with your own precious, pearl clutching judgments about campaign etiquette.

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So it turns out there are four Harmony, Wisconsins: phonebanking for Russ

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th October 2010

Building votes for Russ
A good evening’s work done

I took part in an orientation for Russ Feingold remote phonebankers yesterday, and dialed Wisconsin voters for four hours tonight.

Tell you what: I’ll do four more on Thursday — but maybe you can make an hourly pledge in the comments and then go straight to the Get FISA Right with Russ Feingold fundraising page and make your contribution.

The orientation was attended by at least twenty(!!) people from around the country on a conference call. To get signed up for an orientation, call (414) 727-5682 . You’ll get an 800 number and an access code to join the conference call.

Our orientation guy was very good: concise, enthusiastic, organized. He sent materials by email so we had an agenda is and a handout describing the online data entry system to look at. Obviously, with a week to go before the election, I think it’s safe to say the campaign is thinking about getting out the vote (GOTV) — i.e., Lincoln’s old line “find out who your friends are and get them out to vote.”

And that proved remarkably easy in the phone calls I made. When I actually reached someone — as ever, maybe 40 percent of the time — it was almost always “Oh yes!” “Straight Democratic ticket!”... “I’ve always voted for Russ!”“We’ll be there!” Some agreed they’d vote early or absentee, some said they’d vote on Election Day — a sentiment I understand, since I kind of like voting that day too.

Goal Thermometer

Needless to say, some people hung up on me or weren’t thrilled about calls later in the evening. Also, a small fraction turned out to be wavering or undecided voters. Occasionally, people would need to know where to vote early — almost always City Hall or “Village Hall” — and I’d go to one of the tabs I’d set up for the locales I seemed to be calling — Edgerton, Evansville, Milton, some others. One of them was from Harmony, WI — and to my befuddlement, four of those showed up. Wisconsin is clearly a very harmonious state!

The “VoteBuilder” online data entry software works superbly and the data are well maintained — meaning there were never times where the number was wrong, though (again, as ever) there were often times where it was disconnected or not in service. Once one call was over, you entered the “not home” or “support”/”early vote” information, saved, and got a new person to call. Nice features: (1) sometimes other persons in the household were listed, so you could switch gears and ask for Joe instead of Betty Smith; (2) a “note” field let you describe what happened in the call if need be — wants a yard sign, etc.

Folks, I promise this $3,000 goal is the final one — and we’re very, very close. Could we push it over the top sooner rather than later, so the Feingold campaign has just a little more to work with between now and Election Day? Let’s support Feingold one more time. Thanks!

[crossposted from “Get FISA Right”]

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“Seems odd”: the final Feingold-Johnson debate

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 24th October 2010

The third and final debate between Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson was held on Friday night at Marquette University; moderator Mike Gousha posed some questions himself, and citizens from around the state added those of their own. The roughly ninety minute debate can be seen online in two parts provided by television station WISN.* As the Associated Press report relayed by WISN noted, Feingold’s primary tactic was to suggest his opponent remained an unknown quantity:

Feingold accused his opponent at least half a dozen times of ducking questions by resorting to vague cliches instead of offering specific arguments. “I’ve never seen a larger gap between questions and what’s said in response than any debate I’ve ever been in,” he said. Feingold said he himself offered specifics, for example a 41-point plan to help control federal spending. Johnson said the plan would cut $25 billion per year at a time when the deficit is $1,400 billion. That “doesn’t cut it,” he said. Feingold shot back that at least he’s providing a plan, whereas his opponent hadn’t done even that.

The debate was also characterized by an almost exclusive focus on the economy and the federal budget. In fact, foreign policy only barely made it into the debate, as moderator Rousha’s final questions: “How long should American troops remain in Afghanistan?” , and “besides the terrorist threat represented by Al Qaeda and other similar terrorist groups, what concerns you most in foreign policy, what keeps you up at night?”

I’ve appended these exchanges to the transcripts of the two prior debates — but both candidates gave essentially the same answers they did in those debates: Johnson felt the war in Afghanistan should continue as long as required to deny it as a haven to Al Qaeda, while Feingold urged a timetable for withdrawal. Likewise, both candidates agreed that Iran was a threat — and Feingold once again made clear he had no qualms even about supporting a military strike to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Johnson added North Korea — and then added, “That’s one of the reasons we should not have moved the missile shield from the Czech Republic and Poland. That was a real mistake.”

That gave Feingold the chance to observe — with a priceless, puzzled expression — “If your concern is North Korea and Iran, I don’t know how a missile shield relating to Russia is the answer. Seems odd.”

Not if you’re Ron Johnson — who seems to specialize in non sequitur answers to every issue of the day: tax cuts for the wealthy as part of a plan to return budgets to balance; opposing the stimulus bill to return America to prosperity, scrapping health care reforms and starting from scratch because health care is that important.

The good news is that Feingold has pulled into a statistical tie with Johnson according to a recent Wisconsin poll.  The bad news, of course, is that the political climate is such that Feingold has needed to come back at all to get to this point, and that the election remains a toss-up, given the vastly unequal resources being spent on it.

But for those of us who value Feingold as a consistent voice for civil liberties and for a rational foreign policy, this debate and those before it should also be troubling in other ways.

First, it’s telling that not a single citizen question focused on either of those issues.  While an economy that remains frail at best is undoubtedly going to be uppermost in people’s minds, the side effect is to relegate fundamental questions of war and peace, liberty and security to the back burner at best — or to some forgotten jar in the cupboard at worst.

Second, should Johnson win, he has given ample signals (e.g., repeated, Cheney-esque emphases on missile defense and “very strong intelligence capability”) of being a nearly 180 degree turnaround from Feingold’s positions.  Johnson stands for a return (to the extent we’ve even managed to leave it behind) to the Bush-Cheney vision of America as a kind of militant Stratofortress, intervening and bombing wherever there’s even the prospect of enemies finding a haven.  Not only that, but with his view that Senators should discuss such matters in private, rather than take public stands, Johnson affirmatively believes in permanently relegating such issues to “back burner” or “forgotten” status.

Still the right symbol for
“Get FISA Right”?

Finally — and this is simply my personal opinion, not one that should unduly influence allied groups like “Get FISA Right” or others — we should recognize that we need not always fully agree with even a Senator we esteem as highly as we do Russ Feingold, just as we don’t always agree (to put it mildly) with President Barack Obama’s decisions before and after assuming office. If the past ten years have shown anything, it’s that peace, security, and civil liberties are closely connected issues.  It may be time to put our own allegiances to to civil liberties and to peace ahead of those to parties, men, and campaign slogans or insignia when the situation calls for that.

To get to the point, as scary as Iran could be with nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union was scary too — and we emerged from that era with our planet intact and our hands clean of beginning at least that war.  There is little we could do that would more certainly guarantee Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons than attacking their enrichment facilities; those facilities are dual-use, to be sure — but one of those uses is legitimate.  Nuances get lost in debates, but Feingold’s repeated insistence that “nothing is off the table” with respect to Iran are words he may want to have back some day, just as many of us wish we hadn’t supported the Iraq War at any juncture.  Let’s hope we don’t have to repeat the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan — with the people of yet another country paying the fullest price for it, but ourselves paying ever higher prices in fear and curtailed liberties as well.

All that said, I have no doubt whatsoever which man I’d rather have in the Senate if this issue is debated.  We need Senators like Russ Feingold who aren’t just willing to say “seems odd” about the non sequiturs of men like Johnson now or Bush and Cheney in the past, but to speak out against and vote against their plans. I continue to be proud to support the most independent, principled, liberty-defending man in the Senate: Russ Feingold.  Let’s continue to stand by him in every way we can.

* Unfortunately, the video clips from WISN can’t be embedded within this post the way those I found for the prior two debates (links 1, 2) could be.

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Annals of Truthiness: the Jack Conway ad, its Rand Paul subject

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th October 2010

truthiness (n.) – the alleged emotional or “gut” level truth of a statement or proposition, rather than its actual, verifiable truth.*

Conway ad text (corroborating links added):

“Why was Rand Paul a member of a secret society that called the holy Bible “a hoax,”
that was banned for mocking Christianity and Christ? Why did Rand Paul once tie
a woman up, tell her to bow down before a false idol, and say his god was “Aqua
Why does Rand Paul now want to end all federal faith-based initiatives
and even end the deduction for religious charities
? Why are there so many questions
about Rand Paul?”

The political ad of the year so far appears to be this one, to the right, run by the Democratic Kentucky Senate candidate Jack Conway in his contest with Republican-slash-Tea Party-slash-libertarian Rand Paul.

While any ad short of enthusiastic Paul-adulation would likely be met with outrage on the right, this one has caused some jaws to drop even on the left side of the political commentariat, and has been fiercely condemned.  See, e.g., Jonathan Chait, who calls it the “ugliest, most illiberal political ad of the year” and — not to be outdone –Jason Zengerle, who goes with “The Most Despicable Ad of the Year“:

First, no candidate over the age of, say, 30 should be held politically accountable for anything he or she did in college—short of gross academic misconduct or committing a felony. Second, and more importantly, a politician’s religious faith should simply be off-limits. If it’s disgusting when conservatives question Barack Obama’s Christianity, then it’s disgusting when Jack Conway questions Rand Paul’s.

…an opinion perhaps all the more credible for coming from the reporter who actually broke the bizarre, disturbing “Aqua Buddha” story last summer. On the other side, Theda Skocpol — sociologist and academic by day, unsuspected political firebrand  by night — rejoins:

People are acting as if it is some kind of political sin to point out to ordinary Kentucky voters the kind of stuff about Paul’s extremist libertarian views that everyone in the punditry already knows. This does not amount to saying that Christian belief is a “requirement for public office” as one site huffs. It is a matter of letting regular voters who themselves care deeply about Christian belief know that Paul is basically playing them. No different really than letting folks who care about Social Security and Medicare know that Paul is playing them. (link added)

Now, Conway’s ad actually gives me the first few reasons I’ve had to favor Paul — I think faith-based initiatives mix church and state far too much, and I think that churches shouldn’t be tax exempt, given that they engage in political activity one way or the other.

But like Rand Paul, I’m not from Kentucky —  and unlike him I’d hesitate to put myself forward as a candidate for one of its Senate seats.  Put me down on Conway’s and Skocpol’s side — it’s completely fair game for Conway to place this ad.

Bluegrass Values
Rand Paul’s purist-libertarian ideology is a a foreign transplant in Kentucky — and most other places, for that matter.  I’d personally pick other Kentucky-clueless stuff of Paul’s, such as not knowing what Harlan County is famous for.  But this fits the “really from KY?” theme well too — the more so since ‘out of touch with heartland values’ is such a frequent GOP refrain. Read the rest of this entry »

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Stand By Me

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 18th October 2010

OVER TWO THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS raised for Senator Russ Feingold — and counting! We are standing with our friends. We are standing with Senator Feingold. And we are standing tall for civil liberties, the rule of law, and for real democracy.

To all the good people who make up “Get FISA Right” — give yourselves a huge round of applause.

[crossposted from “Get FISA Right”]

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Selected “newsrack actblue” candidate updates

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 15th October 2010

Goal Thermometer

Lentz tied with Meehan, Sestak pulls ahead of Robbins, Grijalva race tightens, Grayson foes zero in with millions, Clements (Green) makes inroads among South Carolina Democrats.  SUPPORT “newsrack Dems” BY CLICKING ON THE THERMOMETER TO THE RIGHT! CLICK HERE TO DONATE TO THE TOM CLEMENTS CAMPAIGN!

  • Polls show a tight race between Meehan and Lentz (Bender, Philadelphia Daily News; October 14)

    The 7th Congressional District race between Republican Pat Meehan and Democrat Bryan Lentz had been a question mark on the map of competitive U.S. House races, mainly because of the lack of independent polling in the Delaware County-based district. Suddenly, we’re waist-deep in polls, including today’s Daily News/Franklin & Marshall College poll showing Lentz trailing Meehan by only a few percentage points among likely voters with the midterm elections less than three weeks away. And a poll released yesterday by The Hill, a congressional newspaper, put Meehan one point ahead of Lentz, 40 percent to 39 percent. Those two surveys, combined with last week’s Monmouth University Poll that had Meehan ahead of Lentz, 49 percent to 45 percent, show that Lentz has a chance of withstanding the national Republican “wave” that could give the GOP control of the House. In all three polls, Meehan’s edge is within the margin of error.

  • Two Internal Polls Show PA Senate Tightening (Fitzgerald,; October 13)

    Democrat Joe Sestak has clawed his way into a statistical tie with Republican Pat Toomey in the Pennsylvania Senate race, according to two new internal Democratic polls. Toomey was leading Sestak 46 percent to 45 percent among likely voters in a poll conducted for Sestak’s campaign by David Petts, of the Washington firm Bennett, Petts and Normington, and obtained by The Philadelphia Inquirer. The survey of 800 likely voters was conducted Oct. 4-6, and results were subject to a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Also, a poll conducted for the Democratic Senatatorial Campaign Committee by Garin-Hart-Yang over the last week showed Sestak leading Toomey 44 percent to 42 percent. When “leaners” were pushed to make a choice, Sestak went up 47 percent to 44 percent. The poll was based on 606 likely voters.

  • Vote 2010: poll points to close race for Grijalva seat (; October 12)

    We are less than a month away from the November 2 election and a new poll shows Congressman Raul Grijalva’s race might be closer than many thought. The website cites a Colorado poll showing republican Ruth McClung within two ponts of Grijalva. Today Sarah Palin announced her support of McClung.

  • My Vote Is Not For Sale (Alan Grayson, The Hill’s Congress Blog; October 11)

    “Conservative outside groups” have now spent more than $9 million “slamming vulnerable House Democrats,” and (B) the total against me will reach “at least $1.7 million by the end of next week.”

    Think about that. I am only one member of the U.S. House of Representatives, out of 435. I represent one-quarter of one percent of America. And yet roughly TWENTY PERCENT of spending in the entire country by these shadowy right-wing groups has been spent to defeat…me. I feel so proud!

    I must be doing something right.

  • Clements has passed Greene (John O’Connor, The State; October 13).

    U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint is poised to cruise to re-election, as 58 percent of poll respondents favor DeMint. But Green Party candidate Tom Clements of Columbia is preferred by 12 percent of voters, while Democratic Party nominee Alvin Greene is preferred by 11 percent of voters. Clements leads Greene among Democrats 30 percent to 22 percent. Greene, the surprise winner of the Democratic nomination, has not actively campaigned.


  • Democrats Step Out for Clements — Quietly (Corey Hutchins, Columbia Free Times; October 13-19)

    Just recently, former Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges and ex-South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian were listed as hosts for a local meet-and-greet on behalf of Clements.

    Hodges declined to say who he’s supporting in the U.S. Senate race. He says his energy is focused on the governor’s race and other statewide bids.

    “I’m interested in hearing what he has to say,” Hodges tells Free Times about how he ended up as a host for the Clements event. “I think it’s safe to say that I’m very unhappy with the Democratic and Republican candidates for U.S. Senate. I think the country’s got some serious problems to deal with, and I’m not confident that either the Democratic or Republican candidate is the right person to do the job.


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