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clinic escort

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I signed up to be a clinic escort for a local abortion clinic that's being targeted during "40 Days for Life." Which is apparently an annual event at which antiabortion protesters spend 40 days targeting clinics around the country.

Today I went to a "mini training" session. So called because there wasn't any training per se (no role playing or whatnot), it was a veteran clinic escort who just talked about her experiences, gave advice and answered questions. Some of the advice wasn't surprising -- like for instance, her rule #1 was don't engage with the protesters. Because you're there to help the patients get in the door without incident. If you start exchanging insults with the protesters, that's not going to help the patient at all & might even make her feel worse. The best thing to do, she said, was to get in between the protesters and the patient. Don't react to the protesters at all; just provide a physical barrier so their anger seems to be directed more at the escort than at the patient. That made sense to me.

The advice that surprised me was not to talk too much to the patients. At least, not to assume they want to talk. Because a lot of times they're feeling emotional about what's about to happen, and all the ugliness from the protesters just makes it worse. And you might think that a sympathetic conversation would make them feel better, but that may be the last thing they want. She said to just identify ourselves as clinic escorts, ask if they want us to walk with them to the door, and then leave it up to them if they want to talk or not.

I'm signed up to go this Saturday morning. As far as I know there's only going to be two escorts there that morning, so I hope there aren't too many protesters. Wish me luck!

wow. just wow.

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UPDATE: Turns out it's a fake account and the real John Boehner didn't say this at all. Okay, I should have checked that before posting. I did wonder why such an outrageous statement hadn't been reported in any of the blogs I read.

Which is worse: if John Boehner is so racist that he intentionally said "the real Americans are the WHITES"? Or if he's so astoundingly stupid that he said that accidently.
boehner-asshole.png

why is he still talking

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We got home from the radio station a little before 5 and have been watching C-SPAN ever since. Well, actually I admit that we've skipped over most of the "open debate period" this evening. It's not really debate, just each rep speaking for a minute or two. Just empty posturing. I left the debate on the TV while I baked cookies in the kitchen -- which I have to say, was the perfect way to watch it. I could vaguely hear them but didn't have to look at them or focus on what they were saying.

Now we're watching the speeches with the sound off. It's interesting. The Republicans mostly look more defeated than angry or irate. I guess at this point they know the bill is going to pass. God I hope so.

How do they choose the order in which people speak? Is it by seniority? It's mostly old people talking now. I hope that means they're getting near the end.

Oh, Clyburn is speaking now. He's the one who got spit on by a teabagger yesterday. (Yes, a teabagger literally spit on him. He declined to press charges.) This one I'll watch with the sound on.

senate candidate forum

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On Monday Georg, S and I went to a Senate candidate forum sponsored by DFO (Durham for Obama). They invited all the Democratic candidates to attend and four showed up: Elaine Marshall, Ken Lewis, Cal Cunningham and Marcus Williams. Each candidate got to make a short speech, then they answered questions (all submitted in advance) and then closing speeches.

It was fun to go to a DFO event again. I saw lots of people I knew, though most of them were volunteering so I only greeted a few. I felt kinda guilty that I hadn't volunteered! To be perfectly honest, I've been avoiding politics. I didn't know they needed volunteers because I haven't looked in my "politics" email box for weeks. I didn't even know about the event until S. asked us if we were going.

I wasn't expecting substance from the candidates at this event, and I didn't get any. It's not a forum where they're going to talk about hard truths or specific plans. Their campaign statements were all very similar, and mostly boiled down to "babies should eat!"* What I wanted to find out was which candidate felt credible, gave a good speech, seemed like they'd be able to handle Burr in a debate. My thumbnail impressions, for what it's worth:

Elaine Marshall: better than I expected. I went into it thinking she was a boring candidate, pragmatic and uninspiring. But she was lively and enthusiastic. Not perfect -- she had a good story about her youth which she told twice -- though I'll be comfortable with her if she wins the primary.

Ken Lewis: was a somewhat flat speaker, didn't seem to wake up until the very end. He told a great story in the closing statement though, about his grandmother who had lived to be a hundred, and the changes that had occurred in America in her lifetime. It was the only genuinely moving moment of the entire evening, and if he had been like that all night I'd be firmly in his camp. On the other hand, he has no legislative experience. And he was the only candidate to slam the others (in his closing speech) which seemed like a sour note to me. Still, I'll be comfortable with him if he wins the primary.

Cal Cunningham: I went there wanting to support Cunningham, wanting him to give me a reason. Unfortunately, he was a terrible speaker. He might be the most sincere, most earnest guy in the world in real life, but on the stage there was something completely phony, Mitt Romney-ish about him. When he told his big story in the closing statement -- it was about seeing his family for the first time after returning from duty in Iraq -- it sounded so contrived that all three of us rolled our eyes. Maybe it was just us, and the general public wouldn't be so put off by him. However, based on my impression I think he would be a disaster as a candidate.

Marcus Williams: By far the best speaker, and clearly the least qualified. He connected with the audience every time he spoke. If only we could have a candidate with Marshall's experience and Williams' demeanor!

At the end of the night we all voted for our preferred candidate. The idea was that DFO would endorse the winner, but as it turned out they set the bar too high -- 70% needed for an endorsement -- so they didn't endorse. Ken Lewis won the vote with a simple majority.

*The first political comedy I ever saw was when Al Franken hosted nightly coverage of the 1992 conventions on Comedy Central. I think it must have been 1992 because I remember he did a hilarious parody of the video introducing Al Gore and his family. Anyway Franken had a panel there to talk about the speeches, and one of the panelists was Chris Rock. Every time someone said an empty platitude (which was constantly) Rock would shout "Babies should eat!" Ever since, when I watch a content-free political speech that's what I hear in my head. Chris Rock saying "Babies should eat!" over and over.

speechless

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I come up for air after a long work day and discover that this morning, Rudy "A Noun, A Verb and 9/11" Giuliani said that there were no domestic terror attacks during George Bush's presidency.

Without 9/11, what is Rudy ever going to talk about?

key indicators

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Went to be early last night because I wasn't feeling well. Woke up this morning, went right to TPM, saw a headline that Cao (R-LA) was the sole Republican to vote for health care reform, and didn't have to look up who he is* or why he voted that way.** This may be a sign that I'm thinking too much about politics.

*He ran against William Jefferson, aka "Cold Cash," aka "$90,000 stuffed in a freezer," who was under indictment on election day but not yet convicted. His district is so deeply blue that my guess is a Democrat even slightly less corrupt than Jefferson would have been able to hold the seat.

**I imagine he would like to remain in office and realizes that he probably won't be running against someone with a freezer full of money next year, and this is a pretty dramatic statement that he will go against his party to support the views of his constituents.

i feel so validated

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"According to a source briefed on White House-Senate health care negotiations, the public option's saving grace was its political popularity with the Democratic base. The source described the back and forth between Senate health care principals and the White House as a "sort of stare down where the two sides were saying, 'you be the face of pulling it out.'" --TPM, 10/28

So maybe all those Saturday mornings spent collecting petitions, and the phone calls to my reps, and the visit to Price's office, weren't a waste of time after all. Cool.

call day

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OFA has a big call day today, trying to get 100,000 calls to Congress in one day. They have a bunch of call parties tonight and I was feeling guilty about not signing up for one. I'm happy to call my reps, but I don't really want to phone bank regular people and ask them to call.

Since I didn't go to a call party tonight, I called my reps again this afternoon. Price and Hagan's offices were fine. I told the staffer I had been following the debate all summer, asked them to thank their boss, and got confirmation that they still support the public option. Hagan's office took my name & my town; Price's did not.

I actually had a pleasant conversation with Burr's staffer. He started out by saying flatly that Burr does not support the bill. I've had a lot of mealy-mouthed letters from senators, and I appreciated his honest answer so much that I tried to engage, which was probably a mistake. I asked the staffer what Burr would do instead, and he said that Burr prefers a plan of tax cuts and preventing the pre-existing condition exclusion. I replied "well my understanding is that the current bill does prevent exclusion based on pre-existing conditions," and he fell back on repeating a bunch of jargon without saying anything. He sounded a little flummoxed. Maybe he wasn't prepared to go off script. Most callers probably just want to vent & don't actually try to have a conversation about the merits of the bill.

While he was babbling he said something to the effect that Burr's main objection was to the public option. So I asked, "if the current bill came to a vote without the public option, would the senator vote for it?" At this point he started totally bullshitting me. He said something vague, I can't remember the exact wording, but something like "the senator wants to see every American have access to health care," which was clearly designed to make me think he was saying "yes, Burr would vote for a public option-less bill." Which is obviously false. Burr will never, ever vote for the bill. He voted against the Franken amendment for god's sake. The guy is so deep into "Party of No" territory he'll vote for rape if it means voting against the Democrats.

At this point I realized that the conversation was a waste of my time so I wished him a nice day and hung up. At least it was a pleasant waste of time. I thought about bringing up the Franken amendment but decided against it, because the subject makes me so angry that I would have started yelling at the staffer. Maybe I should write a letter instead.

ice cream for everyone

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In retaliation for voting in favor of health care reform, RedState.com is organizing a campaign to mail rock salt to Olympia Snowe.

I think she's supposed to accidently pour the salt on herself and then melt like the Wicked Witch of the West? Or something? Whatever, I'm all for "activism" that wastes the time and money of angry wingnuts. If she gets enough salt, Snowe can donate it to poor municipalities in Maine which have trouble paying for ice removal. And if not, she can always make ice cream! Wouldn't it be great if she gave away ice cream at campaign appearances, courtesy of RedState.com. Everyone loves homemade ice cream, frozen with wingnut salt and seasoned with wingnut tears.

(thanks to Balloon Juice for the link.)

the great white hope

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By now you've probably heard that Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins of Kansas just gave a speech in which she said ""Republicans are struggling right now to find the great white hope. I suggest to any of you who are concerned about that, who are Republican, there are some great young Republican minds in Washington." She mentioned three Republicans who happen to be white, and might be the "great white hope" to defeat the Democrats and Barack Obama. (thanks to Lee for the link.)

As you know Bob, the phrase "great white hope" first became popular as a rallying cry against Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion. White boxing fans mounted a campaign to find a white boxer capable of defeating Johnson. It was explicitly racist: the goal of the "great white hope" was to return the championship to a white boxer and prove the superiority of whites. James Jeffries, the original great white hope, said "I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a Negro." There was a play about it in the late 60s, which was made into a movie starring James Earl Jones as Johnson.

Honestly, I don't think Jenkins intended to say something racist. I don't think she meant to say that Republicans need to find a white man strong enough to defeat Obama and return the presidency to white hands where it belongs. Even though that is precisely what "great white hope" means.

If it wasn't intentional, why did Jenkins say something so racist? I think she's just that clueless. Not only did she not know what the term meant, but it never occurred to her that when talking about opposing the first black president, the term "great white hope" might be a bad idea. I think she simply never thought about what she was saying, and she has the luxury -- the privilege, you might say -- of not having to think about it if she doesn't want to. As Ta-Nehisi Coates said, "when you don't practice talking to people who aren't like you, you tend to not be very good at it."

Granted that the word choice may have been a mistake, I have to encourage Republicans on their quest to find the great white hope. I think they should put all their energy into it, and make it their rallying cry. What could go wrong? If they can guarantee the same outcome (Jack Johnson kicked James Jeffries' ass) I'll even volunteer to help.

political comment spam

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Got home from my show just now and discovered comment spam on this morning's post about the health care table at the farmer's market. 11 paragraphs of ranting about how bad our health care system is, how badly we need reform, and how evil Republicans are. Not one word in the comment was a response to my post. It didn't sound like he had even read my post.

Needless to say I didn't approve the comment. My guess is the guy is searching blogs for the phrase "health care reform" and posting that same comment everywhere. Annoying people who are already on your side is a curious tactic. I wonder if he'll post another spam comment to this entry?

[The show was fun by the way. 4 hours because I was subbing for the person after me. I started with an hour of songs about heat and sunshine. I'm pretty tired now.]

where do i sign

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What does it take to get me off my ass? I guess it takes a death threat against a local pol I like and respect.

Yesterday morning I volunteered for the first time since the election. Durham for Obama (the political group in need of a new name) runs a table at the farmer's market every Saturday morning. I worked from 8 to 10 am.

The woman running these events was a bigtime volunteer last fall, and also one of the sweetest people I've ever met. I also saw a couple of friends from the campaign who were shopping at the market. One of them sort of sheepishly apologized to me for not continuing to volunteer after the election. I tried to explain to her that this was the first thing I'd done, otherwise I'd been completely out of it too, but she was so busy being embarrassed that I don't think she heard me. She worked really hard last fall -- she basically kept the campaign office clean and organized and running, every day for months -- and I don't think she has to apologize for wanting her life back now. She told me that she had spent the entire spring & summer trying to repair her garden which had been totally neglected last year. I know how that is!

At the table we had a glossy flyer from Organizing for American which was pretty much content free, an information-dense flyer from DFO about what "public option" actually means (hint: it doesn't mean Obama will be serving Soylent Grandma at state dinners), a flyer with suggested actions for potential volunteers, and a bunch of flyers on how to get assistance for people who need help paying for health care. It was interesting to see that we gave away lots of the info-dense flyer and almost none of the glossy one. I think people want facts, not hype. (I even forgot to take one of the glossy flyers for my own collection of campaign materials.)

The main point of the table was a petition in support of a national public option. This was so much easier than the work we were doing last fall. The farmer's market is probably the friendliest territory in all of Durham, and it showed. All we had to do was say "Petition in support of health care reform?" and most people were like "Where do I sign!! Give me a pen!!"

I was worried beforehand that I wouldn't know enough about health care reform to work the table. What if someone asked me a question I didn't know the answer to? Well I shouldn't have worried. I'm no expert on health care, but I've been paying attention and I easily knew enough to answer the questions I got. The most common question was from people who were confused by the screaming on TV and didn't understand the difference between public option and nationalized medicine. As soon as we explained it they were happy and signed the petition. "Oh, that's all? What's all the fuss about?" was a common reaction.

Only one person approached the table in order to give us a hard time, and he wasn't aggressive, just smug. We smiled and told him to have a good day and he went away. A couple of people snarked at us while they were waiting for their spouses to sign the petition. (In both cases the spouses told them to can it. It must be hard to be married to someone who mocks your principles right in front of you.)

The weirdest reaction we got was from two men (separate, not together) who refused to sign because they wouldn't support anything less than full-on nationalized medicine. They were the only people all morning who were outright hostile. I didn't understand their anger. It was kind like saying "Help! I'm drowning!" "Here's a life raft" "Fuck you, I want a yacht! Keep your stupid life raft!" The current health care situation in America is untenable. I'm willing to support reform that isn't perfect if it will be better than what we have now.

You might be thinking to yourself that a petition sounds like a waste of time and energy. And I wouldn't totally disagree with that. But during the two hours that I was there, we gave real information to people who were frightened & confused by the bullshit on the news. We recruited a bunch of people to call their representatives. We recruited two people to visit Kay Hagan's Raleigh office. And we gave information on public assistance to a man who had just lost his health insurance and didn't know how he was going to pay for health care. Plus I got to see some of my old friends from the campaign again. A morning well spent!

help wanted: poll workers

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Now is the time for signing up to be a poll worker! I just got a call today from the chief judge of my precinct to confirm that I would be there this November. In Durham County, all you have to do is attend a 2 hour training session a couple of weeks before the election, show up the night before to set up, and then be at the polling place all day on election day. It's not hard or scary work: I had to take people's names, look them up in a book and give them an ATV (authorization to vote) form. Anything out of the ordinary was referred to the chief judge.

If you're interested, just call your local board of elections and tell them you want to be a poll worker. Considering the record turnout expected this year, I'm sure they'll be glad to have you.

news flash

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I just saw a speech at the convention that didn't end with "God bless you all, and God bless America!" Warner's speech ended "God bless you all, and thank you very much!"

Why does he hate America?

obama town hall

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S. and I went to Obama's town hall meeting in Raleigh tonight. S. was amazing and waited in line for an hour yesterday to get us the tickets. We arrived separately, I got there first and wasn't allowed to save a seat for her. But then she got there just in time to be seated on the bleachers near the big flag, and luckily I was able to join her there. We were farther away than my first seat, but since we were elevated a bit it was much easier to see. I think if I had stayed at the first seat, I would have spent the entire town hall staring at the backs of people's heads and feeling frustrated.

The configuration of the audience was a bit of a surprise. Most of the audience was on two sides of the hall, and the press were on the other two sides, with a small number of VIP spectators sitting in front of them (the cameras were on a platform so the VIPs didn't block their view). I guess they do it that way so that Obama can be filmed with a lot of people behind him. But it means that he had his back to about half of the audience whenever he faced the cameras. He did walk around a lot so as to face all directions. Still it was kind of odd to see him turn towards the cameras, away from us, and continue gesturing and talking to an audience that wasn't there. I guess I only found it odd because I'd never seen a live stump speech before.

Obama connected with the audience immediately -- of course it was a sympathetic audience, but still it seemed like he hit just the right note many times. He was serious at times, inspired many cheers and standing ovations, and funny other times: like once he sneezed, then joked about having caught a cold from his daughter's friends because seven-year-olds "have a lot of germs" and therefore we should all wash our hands after shaking hands with him.

He gave a speech first, and then answered audience questions. We were both very surprised that the "town hall" format meant apparently random people raising their hands and being called on to ask whatever question they wanted. Some of the questions were silly, some very relevant, and none of them appeared to have been pre-vetted. I'm so used to the Bush administration approach, where every interaction is carefully stage-managed, that it was a big change to see a major political figure answering random questions. (I could be wrong about this of course, it's possible that the whole thing was staged. But I think if so, they would have chosen the questions more carefully to lead into Obama's talking points. A few of these questions were really off the wall and just sounded so unscripted.) I suspect the last question may have been an exception: the question, from a homeless veteran, was just so perfect that it made me wonder. I'm sure the guy is completely sincere; I just wouldn't be surprised if staffers had heard his story in advance and decided that he'd be a good way to end the town hall.

The hall, and the line to get in, were swarming with volunteers asking people to register to vote or to sign up as volunteers. And I must say, if I weren't already volunteering I would have signed up today. The meeting left both S. and I feeling fired up and ready to get back to work. We were so enthused that we didn't realize how hungry we were until we got back to the car after the speech was over. We stopped for a great dinner at Tyler's on the way home. And then I got home and found out that Spencer had called me about phone banking again! Just in time to take advantage of my excitement about volunteering. I'm glad he called because I need to find out the events we're promoting this week. But in general I'd rather do email than phone calls, because I can save the email messages as reminders of what I've signed up to do. He seems like a phone guy though, so I may not be able to convince him to email me instead.

glutton for punishment

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I listened to the first half of the Gonzales testimony today. I wasn't near a radio and wasn't able to listen to the second half. Because I am a glutton for punishment, this disappointed me.

Actually the hearing wasn't punishment at all. The Senate hearings I've heard before are generally spittle-inflected rage from the opposing party and sycophantic cuddles from friendly party. Not so today; even the Republicans were down on Gonzales. The only friendly questioner I heard was Orrin Hatch. His questions were in the typical line of "Isn't it true, sir, that you like puppies and rainbows and are dreamy?" Everyone else had taken a rare blow from the clue stick. It was particularly satisfying to hear Specter rip him a new one.

It seems like everyone can agree on hating Gonzales and the damage he's done to the justice system. He even brings together the angry Libertarian and yellow-dog Democrat who argue at lunch every day in my office. Gonzales is a uniter!

If you want to watch Gonzales being read the riot act, Talking Points Memo has video clips of the highlights.

on the issues

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If you're trying to cut through the PR bullshit and find out what the presidential candidates actually stand for, I highly recommend OnTheIssues.org. It lists quotes and voting records on a variety of issues for each candidate, all laid out in a clear format so you can easily compare positions.

This page lists all declared presidential candidates and links to their positions. Only Democrats and Republicans so far, but in 2004 they also included third-party candidates. I assume they'll do the same next year when we get closer to the election.

absentee ballots

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In Maryland I was told that absentee ballots are not counted, unless a race is so close that the absentee ballots might change the outcome.

Is this true in North Carolina? If so, is it also true of early voting, aka "One Stop Absentee Ballots"?

If it's true of early voting, then I'm very unhappy, because that's what I've done for the past 2 elections. Even if it's only true of mail-in absentee ballots, that deeply undercuts the argument that we should all vote absentee to create a paper record of our vote. Because in effect, instead of risking that our votes might not be counted, we would be ensuring that they will not be counted. I think this would be especially problematic if you were voting for a third party candidate which needed a certain percent of the vote for ballot access next time around.

the day after

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The drive back to NC was not too bad. The rain slowed me down but there was hardly any traffic. I stopped at Ikea for a few things. They are the best deal going on crazy cool fabric. Also got a new bed for Jane, which she refuses to lie on. I guess she misses her flattened down dirty old bed.

In future political volunteering I'd like to do a few things differently. For one thing, this is the second election day I've spent knocking on doors, and have accomplished absolutely zero. Everyone says they've already voted and it ends up feeling like a waste of time. In my limited experience, knocking on doors before election day seems more effective. Although the people at the party office seemed really worked up about it. I may try to read up on how much it really helps, and maybe look into other options for election day activities.

Also I'm not sure about the phone bank. People seemed so angry about the flood of calls.
It seems like it would be better to start earlier and try to establish a connection with people, rather than hammering them with a dozen phone calls in the days before the election. But again, the people in charge were convinced it was the best approach. And Cardin won, so who am I to argue?

meanwhile, back in durham

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Back home it's a bad day to be extremely conservative, extremely nuts, or both.

All the candidates I liked won, and all the candidates I loathed lost. What is this strange emotion I'm experiencing? Could it be .. optimism? Like any good high, it won't last long, but damn it feels good right now.

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