Friday, August 31, 2007

A New Dodd

I spent the car-ride back from New Hampshire this morning trying to figure out how to write up this post. I started to absorb all of the things I had experienced in the past hour and thought about ways to distill it. I was tempted to elaborate on what it felt like to have goosebumps again at a campaign event (the last time that happened was a John Kerry rally in New Hampshire I attended only two days before the '04 election), or whether I should talk about the humbling feeling when you find yourself surrounded by hundreds of firefighters.

Just this Wednesday, two Boston firefighters--both veterans in the department-- were killed in an area fire. Warren Payne and Paul Cahill were remembered at the start of this morning's rally for Senator Chris Dodd in Manchester by a bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace" played by a firefighter's honor guard. A sea of firefighters wearing the IAFF's signature yellow t-shirts gathered silently to pay their respects This would be the first of many moments the crowd would gather in communion throughout the morning.

The IAFF's President, Harold Schaitberger, took to the platform and explained the union's rationale for endorsing Senator Dodd. Though Schaitberger's comments on the matter have been widely publicized--that Dodd was not picked to avoid confrontation with any of the top tier candidates--he again outlined that his organization looks beyond the polls and considers all candidates for their endorsement. Schaitberger reiterated that Chris Dodd is the closest ally of firefighters nationwide, and if he's only polling at 1% than they just have to work harder to put him in the lead.

I realized then that firefighters approach their job in a similar manner: thinking not which lives are worth saving easily and giving up after that, but instead committing themselves (and occasionally losing their lives) in a fight to do whatever they can to save anyone in danger.

It wasn't until Schaitberger's introduction of Chris Dodd, however, that I fully understood how important the backing of the IAFF will be for the Senator. In a cheer more often associated with a football game, Schaitberger rallied the crowd by asking if they would do whatever it takes to campaign for Dodd and not rest until the primary and beyond. In unison the firefighters responded with a resounding "hell yeah!"

After attending events for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in New Hampshire, I figured Chris Dodd would never preside over a large, electrified crowd. I was quickly proved wrong when Senator Dodd was welcomed onto the stage.

The Senator articulated what the IAFF's backing truly signifies by underscoring the amount of respect and heroism we associate with firefighters. Whether neighbors, friends, or little league baseball coaches, firefighters are perhaps the single most trusted individuals in any community. If I didn't have access to the news, was never phone banked by a candidate's staff, or never received piles of mail telling me who to vote for, I'm confident I would trust a firefighter to tell me who the best candidate was. It's that level of deference to the firefighter's profession that makes the IAFF endorsement so important for Dodd.

Though I consider myself well-versed on the policy positions of many presidential candidates, I know very little about what the candidates have done that affects firefighters and emergency workers.

In most cases, whenever a campaigning politician mentions or his or her legislative accomplishments or has their career summarized by someone else, audiences don't often get too excited. Even candidates addressing such groups as the NEA receive applause more out of general support for the candidate than for the details of the mentioned bill or proposal. When Chris Dodd's resume of protecting firefighters in his 26 years in the Senate was explained by Harold Schaitberger, however, the audience notably began nodding in anticipation and approval before the words "SAFER Act" (provided departments with the ability to hire more firefighters and thus prevent firefighters from entering dangerous situations with too little backup) and "FIRE Act" (a measure that has provided more than $3 billion for training and equipment upgrades across the country) were mentioned.

So little is communicated from the television screen; the emotions of a crowd are only palpable when you're there in person. Being surrounded by the mass of firefighters drove home the level of sincere agreement and respect for Dodd's bills that the audience felt.

I walked away from the rally this morning in awe. After seeing Chris Dodd on three prior occasions, I agreed with those who were critical of his often-bureaucratic manner of speech, but Dodd is markedly new man now: he's all fired up (pun intended). With a fresh haircut, a raspy voice (no doubt from two consecutive days of IAFF rallies), and a throng of cheering supporters, I can now visualize a different Chris Dodd. Where I previously saw little more than a Washington politician--a kind one, but far from charismatic--I now see Dodd as a candidate capable of both succeeding in his legislative role, but also someone with the spark to lead and inspire the people who hear him.

When I first met the Senator I asked him about youth involvement in politics and what needed to happen to empower younger generations. His answer touched upon a lot of points I can no longer remember, but his last sentence presented a personal challenge to me that no other candidate I've met has asked: "Support me in the primary--we need young people like you."

As Dodd accepted President John F Kennedy's call to national service by joining the Peace Corps, I'm proud to say I have taken up Chris Dodd's challenge to support him in the primary. I'll still cover every candidate and event that lands on the New Hampshire campaign schedule, but like the IAFF, I endorse Senator Chris Dodd.

(all photos: © 2007 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

It's Rallied GOP Support Before...

Apparently gay marriage is now legal in Iowa, and all I can think of is the 2004 election's slew of gay marriage proposals on ballots across the country and the high turnout from the Republican base to vote against gay marriage in 11 states. Now Iowa, one of the hottest states in the primary process will be dealing with its own gay marriage conflict.

Though there won't be a ballot initiative regarding gay marriage on any Iowa ballot soon, the entrance of the gay marriage debate into the state's politics will certainly cause some Iowa Republicans to be up in arms and throw their support behind a candidate staunchly against the expansion of gay marriage. Whether it's Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback, or some other smooth-talking candidate that presses hard on the issue, voters will likely start to move behind social conservatives because of this news.

Did I not say a while back (HERE) that Huckabee would find his time?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

One Week Away

Should you expect a photo like the one above on this site a week from today? The answer is yes. Why? Well, I've been officially credentialed as a member of the press for the University of New Hampshire's GOP Presidential Debate on September 5th.

I often pretend to be unexcited by the buzz at big campaign events--most of them are just the same routine over and over again just with different people in different places--but a presidential debate is a big deal for someone like me, and I can hardly contain my excitement.

Being a part of the debate will be quite an experience in itself, but it's the access to the spin room that I'm looking forward to most. I've taken pictures alongside the AP, LA Times, and ABC News, but the spin room will be home to the Fox News live broadcast and hundreds of other journalists and photographers.

I can't wait to jockey for position with them...

"John Had No Intention of Dying"

I've been a big McCain guy for a while, and until now I thought I knew a lot about his life as both a politician and a solider. His campaign's newest video is nothing short of extraordinary, and as McCain's mother says in the video, "I almost feel sorry for his opponents, because he stands so head and shoulders above these other people."

Military service shouldn't be a prerequisite for the presidency, but John McCain's career and service really do set him apart. The Senator is currently holding below 10% in national polls, but I'll celebrate every upward tick he's sure to make before the primaries, even if he falls to Romney, Giuliani, and his GOP competition when all is said and done.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Reaffirming Moment

At a time when the election feels increasingly dominated by television spots, cheap pitches for money, and a never-ending stream of debates, it's nice to see America's unions starting to take sides. Though I'm not in a position to predict the long term impact of the recent endorsements by the United Transportation Union and the International Association of Firefighters for Senators Hillary Clinton and Chris Dodd respectively (though I know they're both bad signs for John Edwards' continuing viability as a candidate), I'm excited that after months of largely uneventful campaigning things are starting to get moving.

The International Association of Firefighters endorsed Senator John Kerry in September of 2003, and were quickly followed by endorsement decisions by the unions of Steelworkers, Teamsters, Food and Commercial Workers, Utility Workers, and the Laborers Union of North America.

Looking at past union endorsements and the eventual success of their picks may cause one to wonder what role these old-fashioned union endorsements play in a rapidly-changing election landscape. For instance, it was the generally-uninspiring Dick Gephardt who received the majority of union support in 2004 before a disappointing fourth place finish in the Iowa caucus. But it's what IAFF President Harold Schaitberger said about his union's endorsement of Chris Dodd that reaffirms the notion that unions are among the seemingly small group of voters that still understand the significance of a presidential election and don't just tag along with early winners in the polls: "We make decisions that in some people's view are not conventional. Whatever the D.C. people need to say, so be it. This is for real for us."

Is Dodd still a long shot? Yeah, but when long shots, especially ones with decades of Senate experience, get at least some of the attention they deserve it's something to celebrate.

If the pictures didn't give it away, it was Senator John Kerry's backing by the IAFF that many credit with his come from behind victories in New Hampshire and Iowa in 2004.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Graduation Tour

I stumbled upon the Greyhound Bus website this morning and decided that after my graduation from high school this coming June I must embark (with anybody who cares to join) on a trip across America by bus, and around the Western Hemisphere by plane to visit the childhood homes of all of the 2008 presidential candidates for a photo-essay/once in a lifetime journey.

Here's the tentative schedule:

Start: Boston, MA
to: Springfield, MA (Mike Gravel)
to: Scranton, PA (Joe Biden)
to: Green Tree, PA (Ron Paul)
to: Cleveland, OH (Dennis Kucinich)
to: Detroit, MI (Mitt Romney)
to: Park Ridge, IL (Hillary Clinton)
to: Garnett, KS (Sam Brownback)
to: Denver, CO (Tom Tancredo)
to: Riverside, CA (Duncan Hunter)

to: Punahou, HI (Barack Obama)
to: Mexico City, Mexico (Bill Richardson)
to: Panama Canal Zone, Panama (John McCain)

to: Hope, AR (Mike Huckabee)
to: Sheffield, AL (Fred Thompson)
to: Robbins, NC (John Edwards)
to: Brooklyn, NY (Rudy Giuliani)
to: Willimantic, CT (Chris Dodd)
FINISH: Boston, MA

Sound tiring?

As a side note, I found it interesting 9 of the 17 politicians grew up in a state different than the area they represented during their time in office. It gives hope to my dream of one day moving away from Massachusetts and getting into politics elsewhere.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Beyond Bridges: America Thinking Ahead?

On a recent cross-country flight from LA to Boston I picked up a copy of MIT's Technology Review magazine. Much of it (especially the nanotechnology and chemistry articles) went right over my head, but a feature article on Holland's new policy on climate change protection caught my attention.

In a departure from the traditional strategy of raising sea walls and constructing more dams, the government and private sector companies have teamed up to re-envision and re-landscape areas of immediate vulnerability, as well as plan ahead for regions where rising waters could one day pose a threat.

The article doesn't spend much time commenting on the United States, but one MIT researcher makes the following statement--

"He notes that in the U.S., as in the Netherlands, planners and engineers have historically focused on the strength of seawalls and levees, not the extent of the destruction that could occur if they failed. "In the past, our approach has been, 'We will protect to a certain-level hurricane,' without trying to translate that into, 'What does that mean in terms of risk to the population?'"

European researchers have also begun to simulate the effect of extreme weather patterns on a continent very different from today--one where development begins to replace traditional farmland in the coming decades--a smart and necessary step in understanding what types of planning are necessary. Research alone, however, is taking place around the world, and it seems every city has run simulations on potential destruction possible in worst case scenario situations. What's most necessary is the foresight in government to heed the warnings.

Again, from the magazine--

Part of the problem in the United States, Link [a former R&D Dir. with the Army Corps of Engineers]notes, is that the federal government has little control over land use, and local governments are often unwilling to challenge developers in areas that may face higher threat levels. In the Netherlands, the federal government can take more control, says Balfoort. "Sometimes you must make a top-down decision for the benefit of the nation as a whole," he observes.

The Minneapolis bridge collapse has brought about a strong reaction from various US politicians attempting to right the wrongs of the tragedy. John McCain criticized pork barrel spending on transportation bills as the reason that issues of bridge safety and structural testing have been ignored, and a number of other lawmakers and state leaders have pledged to test and repair dangerous bridges. Coincidentally, Senators Chris Dodd and Chuck Hagel introduced a new transportation and infrastructure overhaul bill only hours before the bridge fell (HERE).

I also think about Hurricane Katrina and America's passionate call to rebuild New Orleans and the levees that failed nearly two years ago. The Dutch built the best levees they could (many are capable of withstanding storms that make landfall only once in ten thousand years). They've come to realize that it might not be the smartest idea to keep putting themselves at risk. Don't get me wrong, I sympathize with those who feel the residents of New Orleans deserve their homes and neighborhoods be rebuilt and given a second chance, but part of me asks why we don't just close off a few areas from resettlement and understand that building ten feet below sea-level on all four sides might not the most enlightened option on the table.

What remains to be seen is whether America's representatives in Washington can pull together both progressive (Dodd and Hagel's bill) and reactive bills (Clinton's new infrastructure proposal) along with believers in both big and small government to finally heed the warning and put words into action. Columbine, Virginia Tech, the Sago Mine disaster, and the warnings of rising CO2 emissions are all examples of unanswered warnings. I only hope we start to realize that bridges won't repair themselves, just as gun laws and global warming won't fix themselves on their own.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Free Books at Woodrow Wilson

During my recent visit to New Jersey I explored Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School. Among other neat things I discovered was a cart of free books--most of which were published by Princeton University Press or school faculty. Under a stack of Matthew Miller's "Two Percent Solution" was a worn and very retro-looking book with an illustration of the six New England states drawn on the cover.

Who knew, that nearly half a decade after its publication, the faded and unassuming "New England State Politics" would still be so relevant?

The section on Connecticut is the largest, but what's contained in the New Hampshire chapter offers both a brief retelling of the state's history and an accurate guide for what 21st century Granite State politics have evolved into.

According to the book, the New Hampshire primary first gained its importance in 1952 with the defeat of Robert Taft by Dwight Eisenhower--the candidate long believed to be the frontrunner in the state. Only six years after that election, the book weighed in on the primary's significance in the state.

"To the extent that the primary opens new avenues to the aspiring politician hoping to move into the ranks of the influentials either within the party or in the public office, the primary thereby cuts some of the ground from under the customary party organization. If the main route to power is through the leadership of the party, the organization ipso facto is powerful. But if a direct appeal to the voters really becomes an alternative route to power, the central leadership is certain to decline."

I take that to mean there's no such thing as a frontrunner going into New Hampshire primary season. It confirms that John McCain's lead last year didn't have to hold, and it means Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney may not stay on top.

I've got a list of things I'd like to do before I die, and on that list at position #4 is "Go to a bookstore and buy and read all the classics." Though I have no idea what I would learn from such an undertaking, sometimes what someone said many years ago makes more sense than the new releases of today.

We'll see what I find next.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Good, the Bad, and the Uncertain Future: John McCain and the Iraq War

Whether or not you've been opposed to the Iraq war since the start or are determined it should end or continue, it's hard to prove that public opinion isn't begin to swing back in favor of Bush's surge strategy. Compared with polls taken one and two months ago, the number of Americans who believe the surge is improving the situation in Iraq has risen by nearly 10%, and a similar increase in percent now say America was right to take military action against Iraq (43% now vs. 35% in May). (CBS News Polls)

If the military and security situation is improving on the ground in Fallujah and across Iraq, the long term result of America's presence in Iraq is uncertain. Presidential candidates have, with varying degrees of clarity, staked out their positions on the war and the "surge," and it's yet to be seen which Democrat or Republican can turn changing public opinion into higher poll numbers. Even more, can a swing in public opinion on the war swing the voting public towards the GOP field in 2008? These are questions with few answers at the moment.

I remember watching Colin Powell's address to the United Nations and the warnings of mushroom clouds and vials of dangerous explosives and chemicals. At that moment I was scared, and I supported Bush's move towards military action against Iraq. Every day since the invasion, however, my support for the war has dwindled, and until recently I've maintained the belief that every day the United States is in Iraq is a day too long. And now we see Democrats such as Brian Baird of Washington supporting the surge and Hillary Clinton's recent statements announcing that progress is being made. While I haven't been won over enough to believe that the situation in Iraq is completely better and we need to recommit to a long-term engagement in the country, my support of Senator John McCain's steady position on the war has risen.

Now that we've seen Hillary Clinton announce success and failure, Barack Obama go from opposition to voting for troop funding bills, and a number of other candidate's doublespeak on their positions, John McCain's unapologetic support of the war is strangely refreshing. McCain sees Iraq as being an issue above politics--one that concerns our standing in the world and the survival of our nation--just as he speaks of issues such as immigration as a national priority--more serious than the cries of "sanctuary cities" by his opponents. Instead of jockeying for position on every issue like Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, McCain has stated where he stands and held true. Unfortunately for him, Rudy vs. Mitt attacks are more interesting to listen to, and McCain has been ignored of late.

It would be a shame for America if the Senator's mismanagement of campaign funds and personnel is what dooms him in 2008. Instead, I'd like to see McCain go down with the honor that so defines him--if the war he so believes in turns sour and he's the last man standing.

Unlike his competitors, McCain is the only man with the guts to remain standing.

(all photos: © 2007 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Off to the Garden State

I'll be on the road the next few days in New Jersey, making it a bit harder to write anything up on here. I am in the midst of writing a nice long piece about John McCain, however, so that should be online by week's end.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Photostream

My latest images from the campaign trail--

(all photos: © 2007 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Strength Through What and Who We Are

While some second-tier Republican candidates shamelessly promote a "strength through arms" policy, Rudy Giuliani has recently been on the road championing the principle that what makes us strongest is what we already posses: freedom, democracy, capitalism, and the triumph of the individual's right. Giuliani asserts that America needs to be led in a course that plays off our strengths, not our problems--a comment he followed with snipes at opponents like Barack Obama who he says try to show voters why our country is bad instead of why we are still the best.

I'm aware of a number of significant problems in our country now, and it's been years since I've felt an intense wave of patriotism since September 11th, but there's no doubt Giuliani's new approach to his speeches is rallying voters back around our country...and his campaign. Rudy firmly states that our capitalistic society remains a shining example when contrasted to nations such as Great Britain and France, and he gets applause whenever he says it. He even goes as far as to say that President of France Nicholas Sarkozy's recent visit to New Hampshire was not simply a vacation, but rather an opportunity to experience our country's economic opportunity and better understand the incredible power of the American individual in a free market.

Giuliani spent most of question and answer session adapting a wide range of topics to cover one or more of his strengths as New York City's mayor. One question asked of the mayor concerned his approach to curing diseases such as Alzheimer's. Rudy, not knowing the statistics for Alzheimer's, instead rattled off numbers about cancer and the ability for the federal government to make progress on critical drug research and testing, saying that because we don't have a socialist-style universal health care system (or what he states John Edwards and the Democrats want to impose on us) that allows America to continue to lead the way in pioneering research and medical care. Giuliani cited figures showing a 82% survival for prostate cancer--a disease that he himself suffered from--in the United States compared to 44% in Great Britain.

To end his response, Giuliani mentioned that his wife Judith is active in Alzheimer's research charities, and while he wasn't greeted with an extended round of applause for his remarks, his words lingered--stirring and impassioned. Though not known especially well for his record on healthcare as mayor, the issue played well for him by the end of his emotional and honest response. The mention of his wife, however, signaled the beginning of what would become the morning's uneasiest moments.

Far from Rude-y

With her young daughter lying on the ground next to the stage, a woman asked Giuliani how America would be able to rally around him if is family hasn't been supportive of him in the past.

Without seeming rude or shaming the woman for asking him the question, Giuliani assertively rejected the advance of his personal issues into his presidential campaign. In contrast to the way the MSM has treated his response, the mayor's comments resounded in the conference room as a thoughtful and respectful response, not a stiff rebuff or rehearsed rejection of any question about his family.

Criticized early on for his campaign's rough approach to traveling through the Granite State and dealing with its citizens, Giuliani now exudes a deep level of comfort in a state whose maverick nature causes some to shy away from their natural persona. With a level of ease not seen among candidates such as Mitt Romney, Giuliani is doing a great service for his chances in the state by effectively combining a tough New York City attitude and focus on the issues with a light and joking personality that keeps every one of his words fresh and meaningful.

After attending three Giuliani events I've yet to hear repeated campaign slogans or reused examples from his political career as answers for questions. To the contrary, each time I've heard Romney speak to clarify his changing position on abortion, the former Governor cites his veto of a embryonic cloning bill in Massachusetts as evidence for a strict pro-life commitment. Unless Romney can miraculously conjure up examples that back up his current views he'll have a lot of explaining to do.

If Giuliani can continue to address criticism as forthrightly as he is now, he may just possess the ability to overcome the obstacles "experts" predict will derail him.

(all photos: © 2007 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Friday, August 17, 2007

"God Bless Him"

The air conditioner was working hard at Harvey's Coffee Shop Bakery when Congressman Dennis Kucinich and his wife Elizabeth walked in this afternoon to shake two hands and sign one of the Granite State's most common pieces of memorabilia: the menu autographed by every candidate passing through. I stayed inside the building as Kucinich left, and for a moment wondered why he paused for a moment in the entryway once he walked outside.

I turned around to hear the store's owner smile and whisper to herself, "And he even closed the door, God bless him."

Instead of holding a number of events throughout Dover, NH, Kucinich--accompanied by his state manager, one reporter, one college videographer, and a volunteer--simply walked three blocks through town and stopped to talk to anyone who passed by. Two of the first people he noticed were a father and his young son, a boy named Robbie. It just so happened that Robbie had a question for the Congressman: what was he going to do about protecting animals? Mr. Kucinich and his wife crouched down to talk with him, and Dennis explained in simple terms how he would protect cows and other animals.

It doesn't take long to realize why Kucinich finds himself in a special place in the Democratic party. If you consider him solely on his experience, his strong record of voting his conscience, and his progressive measures to provide universal health care and an end to the war, and a consistent position against American militarism, he would appear to be the perfect Democrat. It seems, however, that the Democratic party, as well as the support for those like Kucinich, has moved elsewhere.

Very early on in this campaign, and going back years to his previous runs for president, Kucinich has been labeled as an outsider within his own party, considered more of a joke than a viable candidate. But only scanning the crowd assembled in his new office in Dover reveals a tremendous strength of his that I have seen nowhere else the past few months: in equal numbers as older voters and New Hampshire citizens were a collection of high school students. Instead of standing in the back and keeping quiet, a member of the group asked Congressman Kucinich a unique question--

"What will you do about the 'Invisible Children' crisis in Uganda?"

It took a moment before Kucinich undersood what the girl was talking about, but his wife, having just returned from Uganda (did I forget to mention she's spent her life volunteering in India, Tanzania, and the British Red Cross' refugee unit?), was able to passionately and adeptly answer the question, after which Congressman Kucinich provided a relevant postscript on achieving "strength through peace" in places like Uganda, Afghanistan, Iraq, Peru, and to a collective nod of agreement, New Orleans.

I'm aware that the One Campaign and the "I'm a Health Care Voter" movements in New Hampshire have not formally endorsed candidates for the '08 election, but I had the pleasure of speaking with representatives from both campaigns, and there's no doubt Kucinich stands out and has earned their respect for his commitment on the issues they are trying to shed light on.

I'm not easily won over by a candidate's words, but I allow myself to absorb the atmosphere that surrounds anyone running for president that visits New Hampshire. I've picked up on the energy of a Clinton rally, feelings of liveliness and wariness with John McCain, but the sensation of walking with a candidate down the street instead of following behind fills me with hope and reassurance that there are still individuals in our government who serve the people and don't feel the need to set themselves apart.

Just as Kucinich made sure to close the door at the bakery, I held the door open for him and his wife as they entered the campaign office. If I can't guarantee him my vote, I felt I would show him the respect he so willingly shows others.

(all photos: © 2007 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Busy Day (+ Weekend)

Here comes Thursday!

By 8:30 AM tomorrow I'll be back in New Hampshire for one of the most fun events in any campaign season--the town hall meeting. Having Rudy Giuliani there doesn't hurt either.

The day continues with two candidates I have yet to see, and am excited to be around. Dover, NH plays host to two Kucinich events I'll be attending, followed by my former Governor, Mitt Romney, in Londonderry by suppertime.

After a Friday of rest, it's back to the trail on Saturday with Mike Huckabee--the hottest thing out of Ames, Iowa--for a little chowder in Kingston, and what's bound to be an interesting GOP BBQ in Hollis with Tom Tancredo, Huckabee, Ron Paul, Duncan Hunter, and New Hampshire's own, Senator John Sununu.

Time to fill up the car!

House Cleaning

You know things are going from bad to worse when your own website's discussion board contains the following quotes all on the same page:

"It seems __________ has a lot of problems answering questions of any type in debates, every debate we've had so far he's had problems understanding questions etc. If we want to beat a republican, we have to have someone who isn't going to look weak and pathetic in a debate and appear that he doesn't know what he's talking about. Therefore I officially withdraw my support for ___________."

"If I don't see some kind of turn around in _______ campaign, I'm considering withdrawing my support too."

"We need a strong leader in the White House. At this point, I'm sorry to say I can no longer see my self supporting _________. He lost me :-("

Who are they talking about? None other than Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico.

The comments came in response to Richardson's performance at the HRC Forum, an almost-debate that focused on issues important to the gay community.

It seems that Richardson not only fumbled some of his answers during the forum, and, as one message poster on Richardson's site said, "...he seemed to be walking on egg shells, like he was trying too hard. He looked like anything but a leader," but his campaign's response the next morning attempting to clarify the Governor's statements received low marks as well. Some called it a reversal instead of a clarification. Others said the clarification was no better than the double-talk in Washington.

I can't say I've completely throw in the towel on Richardson, but unless his campaign pulls a 180 on us and starts making some real progress, the Governor is going nowhere but down--fast.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

New Photo Site

I've created a nifty little web-page with a collection of photos I've taken the past few months during the campaign. Some of them have been on this website within various postings, others were just hanging around on my hard drive.

If you'd like a print of any particular picture feel free to email me at the address on the site.

Check it out (HERE)

Chess Masters

Since I've got a light load of reporting until Thursday, I figured I'd hold myself over with some YouTube-ing..

I don't doubt Richardson's record on gay issues, but it's the Governor's discomfort and the sheer awkwardness that radiated out from my computer screen that tells me he's not ready to be under fire in the Oval Office just yet. George Bush took his time reacting to the news of 9/11, but if he was asked the same question as Richardson was I'm sure he would have fired back an honest (albeit crazy) response quickly.

Former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel has put out a new online video advocating a simple, yet often ignored part of the foreign policy discussion by either Democrats or Republicans.

It's an idea similar to Ron Paul's "blowback" or consitutionalism--both core American principles, but so far removed from today's politics they seem foreign. The larger picture here is that two small-name politicians are inserting powerful messages into the political debate. We can only hope that both Paul and Gravel's messages will be embraced by a more survivable candidate to advocate through November '08.

I've got a light load of reporting until Thursday,

Saturday, August 11, 2007

"I'm Tommy Thomspon, Son of a Grocer"....and a Former Presidential Candidate

Governor Tommy Thompson just finished speaking at the Ames Republican Straw Poll, and if he's betting his candidacy on a win or second place finish today, then he can count himself out.

I have to admit that when Steve Grubbs (Thompson's Iowa Chair) took the podium, he looked so solemn I suspected he was about to announce the end to Thompson's candidacy. Tommy began his speech by rambling on about his recent tour of Iowa, but to be fair, his speech got a bit louder and a bit more exciting as it continued--most notably his factually-incorrect comments about ANWR drilling and his idea of "medical diplomacy."

Beyond speeches, the numbers sure don't look good for Thompson. Sam Brownback, the speaker after Thompson is sporting a crowd of supporters about five times larger.

We'll see what the results are at 8pm, but don't expect Thompson to come in near the top.

UPDATE: Tommy Thompson finished SIXTH (yes, behind Ron Paul and Tom Tancredo) in the Ames Straw Poll and rumors from one of his top aides say he will withdraw from the campaign in the coming days.


It's not really news (as it's been circulating since June), but the internet media is throwing around quotes from Tom Tancredo and rumors about the Tommy Thompson campaign that the two will drop out of the presidential race if they don't perform well in today's Ames Straw Poll. For Trancredo, that means a top 5 finish, and Thompson says he's done if he doesn't place first or second, high results that seem out of reach for both men.

To be honest, I like the Ron Pauls of the campaign, and I hope he doesn't (and he certainly won't) drop out of the race until next year at least, but the likes of Tancredo, Thompson, and Hunter have added little to the campaign and clutter the debates without adding any positive dialogue. Tancredo and Hunter are one-issue candidates, and Thompson has as little charisma as you'd expect from the Secretary of Health and Human services. My money's on at least one of them to make a departure from the campaign in the coming days.

Roll Up Your Sleeves

"There's hope in every message of his. He doesn't talk about all the negative things, he'll inspire us with positivity instead."

After a Barack Obama event in downtown Manchester, I was searching to comprehend the content of Obama’s speech and the audience’s reaction, and that line is a part of what I heard as a group of volunteers gathered afterwards.

I don’t usually have to search for clues to the meaning of a speech. I spend most of the time at such events taking photos and moving around the location, I’ve always been able to absorb a large portion of whatever the candidate says. I try to be safe, however, and I always take an audio recording of every speech, question, and answer. Reviewing the speech is as easy as playing a file on iTunes, but I’ve never needed to go back and try to find out more.

Now I faced an entirely new situation: I couldn’t remember Barack actually laying out new policies or letting us know about anything he's working on in the Senate. To be fair, I do remember him receiving a substantial amount of applause for saying he would do away with the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for gays in the military, but my mind was hazy on any details beyond that. One particular moment that I especially remember was when a woman asked the Senator about his health care policy; she had filed for bankruptcy due to the cost of successive medical treatments and procedures. I've heard Senator Edwards respond to situations like that, and he does it by outlining his plan for universal health coverage.

Obama can, and only did so much. He engaged the crowd and the woman by asking her to explain the details of her story. He sympathized with her and acknowledged the severity of the problems in the health care system. The Association of Health Care Journalists has a page on each candidate and their health proposals. Barack Obama's page is one line, filed under "Health care plan highlights," which sums up how I feel Obama's campaign is running at the moment: "Provide affordable, comprehensive and portable health care."

What that line from the AHCJ doesn't end with is, "for everyone." Obama's plan would establish a national health care plan and give Americans another health care coverage option--more honest and less money-driven than the HMOs of today--but only offering another option instead of making some real changes.

Other Democrats running for President (those apparently less "focused on a united message of hope" than Obama) are bolder and have some real highlights on their pages: "Ensure universal affordable quality coverage by creating a Health Care General Fund to serve all Americans. Then, require employers to either cover their employees or contribute to the fund." I won't hide the fact that I think Chris Dodd is one of those bold, solution-oriented politicians that is seemingly so unpopular in America--too old and thus out of touch with modern-day needs and concerns. A successful politician, however, is marked by a three-step cycle that I like to refer to: 'Optimism-Opposition-Resolve.’ The first step—the one Obama enjoys tapping into—is the most glamorous, youthful, and..."hopeful" of the three, but it only goes so far.

A voter asked Senator Obama what he would do in the coming months in the Senate to put an end to the war. It's a shame that I can't remember a word of Obama's response. But I'm pretty sure that had it been a powerful declaration of purpose and commitment to doing what it takes to work with or without Republicans and make a concerted effort to bring the troops home, I would have remembered. For now, he's just another member of the Democratic Congress that only 25% of Americans approve of. Obama, unlike others who have committed themselves to seeing their ideas through to completion, is still stuck on 'optimism,' and has yet to move past any 'opposition.'

As someone who put my faith in Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats this past election I'm ashamed not because the war isn't over—Republican opposition to a withdrawal will pose a mountain of opposition for the foreseeable future—but because that unguided optimism and promise of progress in ending the war sucked us into believing that we'd see a change.

The Democrats swept the 2006 election with a passionate opposition to the Iraq war. But instead of following through on their promises and forging ahead through opposition, legislators like Barack Obama have done little more than criticize the President and whoever votes to continue the conflict. Moreover, Obama continues to rewind to 2002 and brag about his opposition to the war while he was a member of the Illinois Senate, often claiming that it sets him apart from the Senators and Congressman who were fooled by Bush into supporting the war. His opposition back in 2002 should not be entirely overlooked, but having not received any of the intelligence reports from the Bush administration, he is certainly not worthy of as much praise as he claims for himself.

Good stock brokers or fund managers are characterized by an extraordinary ability to see the winning investment in the long run, but they sink fast if they can't scrap a plan together in a hurry if things start to go wrong. Now that things have been very wrong for a few years , Barack Obama hasn't put his career on the line to defend the war he says he so opposes. He knows as well as anyone what he'd like to see in Iraq, but I wonder how he can change the course of action we’re currently on.

Barack Obama's vision for America may be 20/20, but I'm worried he doesn't see what it takes to reach the results he always talks about.

While I have my doubts about Obama, it’s hard to deny the energy he’s bringing to the Democratic party. The excited spirits are back—they are young and old, men and women, students, families, or veterans. In large numbers they are setting their sights on a brighter day and conjuring up their dreams for a better country and world. His campaign workers and staffers smile more than they sweat as they hit the road to spread the word. It is, undoubtedly, the excitement that Barack and his campaign add to events such as the gathering in Manchester that will move voters towards his camp in 2008. Even I can't deny the possibility of one day being sucked in by that energy.

I’m sure any regular watchers of CSPAN have seen the reaction of Nancy Pelosi whenever the House passes one of its non-binding or futile attempts to block war funding or bring the troops home bills: a nice big grin, maybe some raised-arm cheers. To be honest, it’s a pretty sickening sight. If the Democrats could work as hard in seeking an actual end to the war as the Republicans have worked towards convincing the world progress is being made in Iraq, maybe we’d see some real results.

It's 2007 and there's still plenty of time for Obama to use his support to highlight some important issues and move towards ending the Iraq war—I just hope that's what he does. Given the problems we face now, having more ideas without any plans to get things done is no better than what we’ve got now.

Barack, roll up your sleeves and get down to work. We trust you. Take a risk.

(all photos: © 2007 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Feasibility vs. Necessity

Senators Chris Dodd and Hillary Clinton were in New Hampshire this past Wednesday for a sweep of the state and two speeches and events of note. In the greater picture of the election the presentations they made weren't spellbinding, but each represents a larger trend in the campaign cycle.

As part of a roundtable discussion on higher education at the Manchester Community Technical College, Chris Dodd took the opportunity to outline his plans for making college affordable for all Americans. It's part of Dodd's "Middle Class Matters" campaign--one that focuses heavily on education.

In front of a sizable gathering at the MCTC library, Dodd proposed a number of measures to guarantee that more Americans have access to higher education. His proposals included a program in which the federal government would match state college tuition reductions, publish an index of college tuitions that rose above inflation, gradually raise Pell Grants, as well as create government auctions for student loans in an attempt to end profiteering off of student credit. As Dodd engaged in discussion with the assembled panel of students, teachers, and administrators, he was quick to admit that while raising Pell Grants by $100 a year is a step in the right direction, he wishes he could do more.

What Dodd has brought and I hope can continue to bring to this campaign is an optimistic message with a strong backbone of reality. It's easy to get caught up in the pioneering proposals heard throughout the election cycle, but it's often those that admit their imperfections (even the slightest ones) that are the most achievable and encouraging. His speech comes at a time when more and more people are aware of the growing problems with the system of higher education in America and we are increasingly looking for someone to take a stand and fix things.

Fifty miles North, Hillary Clinton was in Rochester, NH to unveil her "Rebuild America Plan." In response to the Minneapolis bridge collapse, the Clinton campaign must have scrambled together some staffers to prepare a hearty response to the problems that the disaster made the public aware of. It was an opportunistic move to use her high profile status to gain an edge on this issue, but she did so with grace and the clarity.

While her words and phrases capture our attention and cause audiences to nod in agreement--"Something is very, very wrong when, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, in the richest country on earth, people are actually nervous about driving over bridges for fear that they’ll collapse. Or they’re worried that their levees may burst, or their highways may buckle"--her numbers may not add up. It's the risk politicians take when they try and stand out on an issue. One can only remember President Bush's plan to put Americans back on the moon and Mars in coming decades and the lack of long-term commitment that the proposal received from his administration.

I sense that a Hillary administration would follow through on an infrastructure overhaul more than space programs, but it is unnerving to read the specifics of her proposal--the numbers she states are pocket change when you're talking about rebuilding an ailing system of roads, bridges, tunnels etc.

One major part of Clinton's address was an Emergency Repair Fund whose funds would renovate or reconstruct among other things, the 60,000 bridges across the country that are "structurally deficient" for $10 billion over 10 years. That figures to nearly $160,000 for each bridge--a figure more often associated with home renovation than critical infrastructure repairs. And we're just talking about bridges...

Her ideas cover a wide range of necessary issues, but I'm dismayed at Clinton's decision to unveil the opportunistic side of a necessary proposal instead of making it clear to Americans what the real costs and sacrifices of charting a dramatic new political course will be.

Both Dodd and Clinton's highlight policy-driven approaches to tackling the '08 campaign--an approach that distinguishes the two from the likes of Barack Obama--but it's the job of us voters to judge the feasibility of the reforms we're promised and the character leaders we're offered.

(all photos: © 2007 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Friday, August 3, 2007

Oh My God

If the 2008 campaign seemed too scripted and smooth for any real news to jump out, Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo's recent comments sure break that trend.

During a meeting with Iowa voters this week, Tancredo said the following:

If it is up to me, we are going to explain that an attack on this homeland of that nature would be followed by an attack on the holy sites in Mecca and Medina. Because that is the only thing I can think of that might deter somebody from doing what they would otherwise do. But as I say, if I am wrong, fine.

Reading that for the first time (and every successive time), each of his statements was like a bucket of cold water in the face.

Some outlets of the MSM have proclaimed that the statement is a ploy to appeal to hard-line Republican voters just prior to the Iowa Straw Poll. I live in Massachusetts and don't spend much time with diehard war-on-terror Republicans, but I can't imagine any sane person actually believing what Tancredo said...even Tom Tancredo.

Was it a slip-up? Hell no! Tancredo had a response for everyone who would undoubtedly attack him for his comments: this battle against fundamentalist Islam, I am hardly preoccupied with political correctness, or who may or may not be offended.

I was already mad enough when Rudy Giuliani completely discredited Ron Paul's belief of the "blow-back" theory when applied to the war on terror, but Tancredo's remarks make me as stark raving mad as he is.

If consequences don't matter in the real world (as our friend Tancredo apparently believes), then I'm sure Al-Qaeda wouldn't feel the need to strike back at say...EVERY JEWISH TEMPLE IN THE WORLD, right? Or better yet, why not send some of the million new terrorist recruits over to the Vatican and level that place too?

I can only think that after running through all the possible scenarios that could come as a result of his strategy Tancredo would have sobered up a bit and backed down, right? Wrong again!!
In the words of the man himself:

But as I say, if I am wrong, fine.

Oh my god.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Nobody Wins

There's been a small war of words between the campaigns of Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback recently. For those of you who've missed out on the excitement, a Huckabee supporter criticized Brownback's Catholicism in an email. One of Brownback's PR people sent a message to the Huckabee campaign after catching word of the email:

"Why is Governor Huckabee hesitating to denounce the anti-Catholic comments from his supporter, Pastor Tim Rude?"

This type of communication between campaigns isn't uncommon, but the email I received today from the Huckabee campaign certainly is. Instead of tacitly apologizing by stating that the email originated from a supporter and putting an end to the matter, Chip Saltsman (Huckabee's Campaign Manager) used the opportunity to take a low blow at Brownback.

It's a shame someone like Huckabee--one of most sincere and personable candidates in the 2008 field--has resorted to attacks on John Edwards' hair, Michael Moore's belly, and now one of his fellow Republicans in order to get some press attention. There are ways second-tier candidates can make names for themselves without all of that dirtiness (look at Joe Biden's YouTube debate performance.)

The pastor's email was private and outside of the control of Huckabee, but the words of Huckabee's own campaign manager weakened his apology. I rubbed my eyes a few times after reading the email to make sure those guys are running a PRESIDENTIAL campaign.

The following are excerpts from the "IMMEDIATE PRESS RELEASE" that just showed up in my inbox:

"It's time for Sam Brownback to stop whining and start showing some of the Christian character he seems to always find lacking in others...For Brownback to claim that the Governor "owes him an apology" is nonsense and indicates that if Brownback is going to fall to pieces every time a supporter of the Governor says something he doesn't like, he clearly isn't tough enough to be President...The Governor strongly disavowed the statement by the supporter, but that wasn't enough for Brownback. He continued to cry about it."

I'm in high school, but I still remember those nasty letters that middle school girls would send to each other during their periodic feuds.

(photo credit: © 2007 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)