Category Archives: Politics

Midterm elections matter

I voted today. Here’s the scene for my precinct today. Not too crowded, but a steady flow of people.

Voting

Yesterday Traci and I called voters as part of “MoveOn.org’s Call for Change”:http://www.moveon.org/. I’m always nervous about calling complete strangers. I did this for the first time for Howard Dean’s campaign and it’s easy to get disillusioned with answering machines and hang-ups. But almost everyone we talked to was planning to vote today, and I think there’s definitely a sense that this election matters. Sometimes a simple reminder is the difference between voting or skipping it, so if you only reach a handful of people it can make the difference in a close race if thousands of other people are doing the same.

I’ll be up late tonight watching the returns. Polls close early in some places and may get crowded, so don’t wait any longer if you haven’t voted yet. For location info call 1-866-MY-VOTE-1.

Five years later

I couldn’t let the 5th anniversary of September 11th pass without saying something. On Friday the Senate intelligence committee released a report showing that there was no link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. That isn’t news. What is news is the details: that Saddam actually distrusted Al Qaeda and tried to capture Zarqawi. The simple truth is that terrorist organizations are a threat to any government, even ones we have disagreements with.

If that doesn’t make you sick, here’s another one that I haven’t heard mentioned yet. Sometime next year the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq will surpass the civilian deaths on September 11th. (September 11th = 2973, Iraq as of today = 2661)

The level of incompetence in our President, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their advisors reaches new heights. What can we do? Five years ago we were uneducated and scared, and even two years later we could easily be led by fear alone. Now, just stay angry. Change starts in November.

Back to politics

Thursday is the presidential inauguration, as well as Not One Damn Dime Day. Every year or so you hear about one of these attempts to effect the economy, and of course they usually have no noticeable effect. But you never know — one day one of these virtual protests will catch fire.

“On ‘Not One Damn Dime Day’ those who oppose what is happening in our name in Iraq can speak up with a 24-hour national boycott of all forms of consumer spending.”

Meanwhile, I’m almost at the point where I can listen to the news again. For years I’ve listened to NPR every day, the Sunday talk shows, and frequently Nightline or (when I had cable) The Daily Show at night. But after the election I shut down everything except weblogs. It was just too painful to listen to the media.

Howard Dean is receiving strong support in his run for DNC chair. It shouldn’t surprise anyone who read what I wrote during the Democratic primaries last year that I support him 100%. Hopefully there will be a way to help — it doesn’t have the same grassroots feel as a presidential run because there are so few people who will vote.

After almost winning

red state See that little blue county in the expanse of red in the image on the right? That’s where I live.

Back in January, I said: “It’s about bringing more people into the process. But to do that right, we need a candidate who can speak passionately to the issues and inspire voters.” Kerry ran a good campaign, but I can’t help thinking that something was missing in both the man and the message.

Kos is calling on Dean to replace McAuliffe as head of the DNC. It’s time for the Democratic party to get back on the offensive. The last two years have been about building the groundwork for future wins — the internet infrastructure, the radio, the organization. It’s not there yet but it will be in 2006. All that’s left is to pick quality opposition candidates and to absolutely stop letting Republican’s frame every issue on their own terms.

One of the things that really bugs me is when Republican candidates run unopposed. This year, thanks to redistricting, our congressional district went from being all of Austin to a tiny strip of rural counties stretching from my neighborhood to Houston. The district was designed for a Republican win, and the Democratic party didn’t bother to challenge it until Lorenzo Sadun signed up as a write-in candidate.

There was no chance to win as a write-in, but he received 12% of the vote! 11000 people took the time to spell his name correctly because they wanted to send a message. And in the Houston suburbs, Richard Morrison came within 10 points of beating Tom DeLay, the closest contest DeLay has ever faced.

The truth is, we almost won. We almost unseated a war-time president who had 90% approval ratings after 9/11. We almost beat a party that used fear (terrorism and gay marriage) to get people into the voting booth.

We almost won, and all the hard work of the last 18 months will pay off big in two short years.

What just happened?

Based on the exit poll numbers and the supposedly record turnout, I fully expected that we’d know within a couple hours after polls closed that Kerry was the decisive winner. I was bewildered when Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin still weren’t called, so I went to bed.

I woke up off and on in the middle of the night, dreaming that I was browsing news web sites. At 5am I couldn’t stand it any longer and got out of bed for good, and now I’ve been deciphering what happened since last night.

The turnout was up, but even the current numbers seem low considering all the people who waited several hours in line to vote. And where was the young vote? I wasn’t the only one to predict they’d make the difference. Is the Republican get-out-the-vote effort just that much better?

Once again, the networks (specifically NBC and Fox) called states too soon. By giving Ohio to Bush, they were left in the sticky 269 situation, not daring to give any more states (like Nevada) to him lest they completely undermine the vote counting process. The networks promised more transparency in how they project a winner, but I didn’t see it.

Election day

ivoted.gif The daylight savings time switch has helped me get up earlier, so I easily made it to my voting location by 7am this morning. There was already a line of people (perhaps 50) stretching outside. It was cold, from the front that came in yesterday, but it didn’t seem to bother anyone too much. No one gave up and left during the 45 minutes I was there.

I’m optimistic.

Polls, Dean, and how Kerry will win

In the 2000 presidential election, Gore was behind in all the national polls before election day. I remember that night, listening to the radio in a fast food drive-in lane when NPR called Pennsylvania for Gore. I cheered to no one in particular, because it was the first confirmation that Gore could win.

If you believe the polls today, Bush has a few point lead, and the election will be decided in a handful of battleground states. I no longer believe the polls, except as an indicator for overall trends. Kerry will win by a solid margin. Here’s how:

Youth

Last Monday morning I was in the Austin airport waiting to catch a flight, watching the local news. They were covering University of Texas students who had stayed up all night outside the early voting location on campus to vote. They were all Kerry supporters.

Now, a week later, the local news is reporting some numbers from UT. There are three times the number of early voters on campus compared to 2000. For the most part these voters are not even included in polls because they all use cell phones as their primary number.

Republicans

It takes a lot to abandon years of straight-party voting, but it’s happening this year. Sometimes it takes enormous respect for the candidate (such as Democrats who could easily vote for John McCain). This year it’s the opposite: Republicans are baffled by Bush’s misjudgments in war and his abandonment of fiscal conservatism.

Also see: Republican switcher ads

The undecided

Apparently there is a large percentage of voters who are just confused about how politics work in this country. Personality means more to them than terms like liberal and conservative. Instead, there are usually a few key issues that turn these voters to any one candidate. Two of those issues this year are the economy (lean to Kerry) and fear (lean to Bush).

The debates help people choose, and Kerry outperformed Bush in all three. Kerry wasn’t totally immune to criticism, though. The flip-flop nonsense tends to stick because there is a little bit of truth to it (ignoring for the moment that Bush has more than his fair share of major policy reversals). Mathew Gross pointed to a <a href=”http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1101041004-702123,00.html

“>Time Magazine article second-guessing the outcome in the Democratic primaries:

“Democratic voters should stick to their day jobs. With just five weeks until Election Day, there’s reason to believe they guessed wrong — that Dean would be doing better against Bush than Kerry is.”

Despite the scream, I still believe that Dean would have been a strong candidate. He distinguished himself from the other candidates by a real desire to effect change: even today, he is a powerful force for local and state-level candidates. He showed the Democrats how to win when they had lost their voice.

So there you have it. My prediction: Kerry by 3 percent nationally, with important wins in Florida, Colorado, and Pennsylvania giving him the electoral college. Record numbers of young voters.

Superman

The death of Christopher Reeve will hit a lot of people pretty hard. He worked with so much determination to regain movement and he stayed optimistic. It’s an inspirational story, and it’s a shock that the story is now over. As my wife said, “He wasn’t supposed to die.” He vowed to walk again, and we believed it.

In the second presidential debate last week, Kerry brought up Reeve as an example of who we can help and why stem cell research could be so important. Here’s the quote, from the official debate transcript:

“You know, I was at a forum with Michael J. Fox the other day in New Hampshire, who’s suffering from Parkinson’s, and he wants us to do stem cell, embryonic stem cell. And this fellow stood up, and he was quivering. His whole body was shaking from the nerve disease, the muscular disease that he had.

“And he said to me and to the whole hall, he said, ‘You know, don’t take away my hope, because my hope is what keeps me going.’

“Chris Reeve is a friend of mine. Chris Reeve exercises every single day to keep those muscles alive for the day when he believes he can walk again, and I want him to walk again.”

Nancy Reagan, Ron Reagan, Michael J. Fox, and Christopher Reeve have done a lot of good as activists, because they are respected and admired by the public. But there are thousands more who are not well-known, and those people are equally worth fighting for.

It’s appropriate that Christopher Reeve, the man forever known as Superman, would fight so hard to overcome the limitations of his crippled, human body. Superman is an icon, not just an old comic. The idea speaks to a generation of kids who dream to be something more, and it’s the reason that that memorable scene in Iron Giant can bring an adult to tears.

SXSW Day 2: Ideas, Joe Trippi

One of the things I like about SXSW is that it’s a time to just think about new ideas without necessarily trying to relate them directly to a particular work project. When I take notes, I write down interesting quotes or concepts that the speakers are presenting, but I also intersperse my own opinions. It’s important to capture ideas at the time they spark, and today there were enough to fill a book. Instead of summarizing the day I will take some of the themes and work through them in later posts this week.

I should at least note that it was great to hear Joe Trippi speak, though. Ryan posted some photos from that session and the MoveOn.org keynote.

Two years blogging

Today marks the two year anniversary of this weblog. It’s been a good experience, and even if the content is not always fresh it’s still a worthwhile endeavor and will continue. Expect the posts to ramp up to at least one a day through SXSW this weekend. Here’s the post from one year ago, also during SXSW.

It’s also voting day here in Texas. On the one hand it will be annoying to vote after the Democratic nomination has already been wrapped up, but on the other hand I’m not voting for a candidate so much as an idea. We can do better.

Fight for it

I’ve written a few posts about technology, and about the upcoming Oscars, but I can’t bring myself to post them. They seem so insignificant compared to the political process in front of us.

The Democratic Party has lost its way. I’ve never been more disillusioned with government and the people’s power to effect change for our common good than I am right now.

Congress has failed us. We need someone with real backbone in the November election, someone who can bring this party back on track. That person is not John Kerry.

I’ve never given money to a politician before, but I did last week. I’ve never written letters to undecided voters in another state urging them to support a candidate, but I did last night. I’ve never made the leap from disgruntled voter to political activist, but I am right now.

Say what you think, believe what you say, fight for what must be done.

Dean’s comeback

I have no idea what will happen in New Hampshire tomorrow. The media slammed Dean all last week, but it’s clear if you pay attention to the polls and the turnout for Dean’s events that the winds are shifting again. People are coming back to Dean. If he had another week I’d say he’d come away with the win in New Hampshire, and the momentum to have a strong showing in the next batch of states. With just one day left… who knows.

I thought a lot about how I should deal with politics on this weblog. Many bloggers who I respect have chosen to keep their opinions to themselves. I was going to do the same, and the few political posts I’ve made to this blog over the last year I’ve kept non-partisan.

But the last week I have been completely obsessed with the post-Iowa coverage, and I can’t see myself continuing to think and write about this election without being clear in who I support.

Howard Dean is the real deal. The other candidates are above average, but Dean is the most honest, has great accomplishments to show as governor of Vermont, and is the strongest candidate to face Bush. When Dean speaks it really resonates with people, gives them hope for this county. Despite the loss in Iowa, his grassroots campaign is impressive, with average contributions less than $100, and hundreds of volunteers traveling from other states to help the campaign. I still believe that the way he can win in November is by exciting new voters and getting Democrats and Independents (and Republicans?) to turn out in record numbers.

I subscribe to the other main candidates’ weblogs as well. Dave Winer criticized the Dean weblog for not going far enough, but the other weblogs are much worse. They are updated infrequently and usually lack any personal touch. John Edwards doesn’t even provide summaries in his RSS feed. But the topper is this headline from Kerry’s weblog yesterday morning, where they misspell “bloggers”. Oops.

Kerry's bloogers

Sure, that’s a silly criticism. It was clearly just a typo, and actually the Kerry weblog has improved considerably over the last week. But it’s funny because it plays into an assumption that Dean is the only campaign that really gets the technology of this election. Which, from my experience, is true.

Online activism will be huge this year. The power of MoveOn.org and the Dean Meetup is in providing a channel for ordinary Americans to effect an election instead of sitting at home grumbling that “there’s nothing I can do.” It’s about bringing more people into the process. But to do that right, we need a candidate who can speak passionately to the issues and inspire voters. That’s Dean.

Iowa Caucus

I was watching C-Span.org’s live broadcast from the Iowa caucus in Dubuque County. Watching online because my cable went out today (“a fiber line was cut”). It’s laughing at me because we’re keeping cable primarily to watch the campaign!

This caucus is one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever witnessed. It’s funny, really — an elaborate game with some politics thrown in for good measure. People are making arguments trying to get people to change sides. Organizers are running around with calculators doing the math to determine total delegates for each candidate.

Peter Jennings just came on ABC with a brief message that entrance polls suggest Kerry with the win and Dean/Edwards close for second.

Checked the CNN web site which showed Kerry with 37%, Edwards with 33%, and Dean with just 18%.

The C-Span coverage for Dubuque precinct 20 wrapped up with 6 delegates for Kerry, 3 for Edwards, 2 for Dean, and none for others. Wow.

The last few days I’ve subscribed to the main Dean blog, the BloggerStorm blog, and Dave Winer’s new Channel Dean. Plus the Edwards blog and a handful of other news sources. The flow of information coming in from the ground in Iowa is amazing. I think the talk of how blogs are changing news reporting is even more of a reality for an event like this. First-person blogger accounts of news as it happens is only a small part of the full picture, but it’s a really interesting one. For this race you have hundreds of bloggers, and together there is the potential to not just see all the interesting personal accounts but also to see the trends across all the posts from different bloggers.

I’m not sure where the Kerry win is coming from, but I’m sure it will be analyzed to death until New Hampshire votes.

New York City and Al

After visiting family in Louisiana last week (wait, 2 weeks ago), we took a trip to New York City for a few days vacation. It was great New York City weather: cold, and a little rain one night. We did the usual tourist sites, Broadway show, and walks in Central Park. We covered the city on foot, by taxi, and in the subway. All great experiences, and even though I’m back at home I catch myself jaywalking. Oops.

The night we arrived, Al Franken was signing books. I finished his “Liars” book a few nights ago. It’s mostly good stuff, and I found myself laughing out loud at 1am, trying not to wake the sleeping three-year-old next to me. But there’s a darker side too. There’s only so much “funny” you can put in September 11, and he puts very little.

Of course ripping apart conservative talking heads is fine, but the problem is not just with the right. Cable news in general has spiraled down into so much sensationalist garbage that there’s little or no time for real journalism. Even so, most of Franken’s arguments are pretty dead-on and well researched. (Disclaimer: I don’t actually have cable anymore, so what do I know.)

One of the unfunny chapters is a moving description of the memorial service for his friend, Senator Paul Wellstone. Now Al Franken is contemplating a run for senator in Minnesota:

“Driving him as well has been his distaste for the Bush presidency, he said. ‘I felt like after 9/11 this president had a chance. We were united in a way that I had never seen, and he had a chance to take this country forward in a spirit of mutual purpose and mutual sacrifice. Instead, he just hijacked it and used it to his own political ends.'”

Some people look to 2004 and ask, “How can a Democrat hope to win against Bush?” But this president’s credibility has been weakened, and the uphill battle right now is his. Wait to see the turnout on election day. Democrats hate this guy, maybe even more than many Republicans hated Clinton.

Semi-related: George Soros gives $5 million to MoveOn.org, attacks Bush.

(Don’t worry, politically-themed posts to this blog will be very rare.)

Election Day

Today is the big day, and you should vote. Even though you can’t stand all the negative ads. Even though it’s hard to tell who’s the Democrat and who’s the Republican because they all move to the center for their campaign. Even though they just give us the buzzwords we want to hear (“education”, “health care”, “drugs for seniors”, “social security”) without telling us what they plan to do about it. Even though it doesn’t appear that half of them truly believe in anything anymore.

Even so, you should vote.

I voted last week on the eSlate, the replacement for the paper ballot in this county. It’s not a perfect interface, but good enough, and there was one convenient feature that I wasn’t expecting: when you vote straight party, it automatically marks all the candidates of that party and you can just page through the ballot reviewing and making changes as needed.

The only real concern I have is that people who have little or no experience with computers will be scared away from the polls, even though the system is easy to use. Luckily they had a demo station dedicated to showing people how it worked while we waited in line. I saw at least one person take them up on the offer.

Apparently the turnout this year has been higher than usual. The line was conveniently positioned along the donuts in the bakery (it was at a grocery store), and everyone joked about how tempting it was to grab a dozen glazed and make a party out of it.

Houston Chronicle: “Stakes high for eSlate voting”.

Associated Press: “Scrutiny of High-Tech Voting System”.

Austin American-Statesman: “Travis GOP reports problems at polls”.

Nobel Prize to Carter

The first thing I saw when I woke up this morning, from the BBC News: Former US President Jimmy Carter wins the Nobel Peace Prize for “decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”

The Nobel site has a long history on the Nobel Peace Prize, including this bit on the first award to a US president:

“[Roosevelt] received the prize for his successful mediation to end the Russo-Japanese war and for his interest in arbitration, having provided the Hague arbitration court with its very first case. Internationally, however, he was best known for a rather bellicose posture, which certainly included the use of force. It is known that both the secretary and the relevant adviser of the Nobel Committee at that time were highly critical of an award to Roosevelt.”

And the second, to Woodrow Wilson:

“In 1919, the Peace Prize was awarded to the President of the United States, Thomas Woodrow Wilson for his crucial role in establishing the League [of Nations]. Wilson had been nominated by many, including Venstre Prime Minister Gunnar Knudsen. In a certain sense the prize to Wilson was obvious; what still made it controversial, also among committee members, was that the League was part of the Versailles Treaty, which was regarded as diverging from the president’s own ideal of ‘peace without victory.'”

Mr. Swartz Goes to Washington

Aaron Swartz has an excellent write-up of his trip to Washington for the Eldred case. Also covered is Brewster Kahle and the Bookmobile:

“Brewster talks about how he sat down with book industry executives. He points out that they have thousands of out-of-print books, which they aren’t selling and are making no money off of. He pulls out his checkbook. ‘How much do I have to pay to be able to make these books and give them to children?’ he asks. They refuse, they will not let him make their books for any price.”

More Lessig v. Ashcroft

Every week or so the tech weblog world (or at least the portion that I view) aligns on one issue. This week it’s the Lessig arguments in the Eldred case before the Supreme court.

Matthew Haughey, “Copyright and the Commons”:

“As the law currently stands, this very piece I’ve written here and the image I made to accompany it are protected from someone trying to sell it and pass it off as their own, and that’s great for me as an artist/writer. Yet that also means neither will be available for reprinting, repurposing, or any other use without my permission for a very long time. If I die on my 75th birthday, you’ll be free to reuse the above image or this text in 2117. Is that what copyright was intended for?”

Another timely piece I enjoyed was a Salon article titled “Riding along with the Internet Bookmobile”. Boing Boing summarized it well:

“Brewster’s Bookmobile is a van with a sat dish, a duplexing printer, and access to thousands of public-domain children’s books. As a dramatic demonstration of the value of the public domain — which Larry Lessig is arguing today before the Supreme Court — Brewster is driving the Bookmobile across the country, stopping in working-class neighborhoods and printing books on demand for school libraries.”

And then there’s this ridiculous headline from the United Press International web site: “Case could strip Disney of Mickey”. File that one under oversimplification or misinformation, your choice.

Electronic Voting

Slashdot reports on Brazil’s electronic ballots.

Early voting here in Austin this month will use the eSlate system, which has already been tested in some surrounding counties. It will be used by everyone in Travis County for the general election next year. It looks like an okay interface: a wheel for scrolling through candidates and a big red button to submit your ballot. The final screen shows a summary of your choices so you can correct any mistakes.