Sunday, September 30, 2007

"Desperate for Bipartisan Success" sounds a lot better

So here I sit--sick for the fifth straight day, stuck inside the house for 48 consecutive hours, repeatedly hearing the "ping" of new emails as midnight approaches.

"Update from HQ: 10 hrs. left!"
"Big news"
"Tonight at Midnight"
"Less Than 5 Hours"
"A Special Request"
"Closing in on Our Goal"

God forbid an email asking for money should brag about something other than staggering campaign donations by people richer than me, how selfish I am for not wanting to save our country, or how Hillary's $1000/plate dinners are so terrible compared to the contributions from every millionaire trial lawyer.

Of all of these URGENT REMINDERS, only one message managed to stay out of my trash folder.

Joe Biden's campaign has been touting the Senator's recent Iraq amendment calling for U.S. policy to encourage a new federal system in Iraq. It would divide the country up into regions according to religious affiliation instead of pursuing a plan of uniting the whole country under a central government. In recent months Biden hasn't been all over the airwaves promoting whichever Iraq policy seems most popular at the time, instead he's been working behind the scenes to pull together a plan that would eventually get the kind of bipartisan support that Nancy Pelosi can only dream about: a 75-23 vote of approval.

What's most encouraging is that Biden co-authored the bill with Republican presidential nominee Sam Brownback. Isn't it nice when a Democrat and Republican can rally support around the same thing without having to attack anyone else?

I can't help but noticing that one of Biden's Democratic competitors, Governor Bill Richardson, seems to like Biden's proposal a great deal. Richardson says, "I would also study Senator Biden's federation [proposal]. I think that may be ultimately the right solution." [Christian Science Monitor, 9/27/06]

Funny that Richardson's official Iraq strategy is summed up in three headings on his website: "Remove ALL Troops," "Withdraw as Quickly as Possible," and "A Diplomatic Surge."

Shows that taking time to develop a viable strategy works a lot better than rushing on the scene with some clever, yet naive bullet points.....

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Here's Johnny

It seems the McCain campaign in New Hampshire is circulating a Union Leader article on the Senator's recent gains in the state.

So what's the reason behind McCain's recent success? Well, much of it is due to Mitt Romney's recent downticks in New Hampshire polls from higher positions he held earlier this summer. Some of Romney's old supporters have moved over to Giuliani, but more voters seem to be heading back to McCain.

New Hampshire Republican primary voters (unlike their Democratic counterparts) will vote for the candidate they think is the "true conservative" in the pack. Even if Romney has the organization and money to beat out his Democratic competition in a national election, it seems Granite Staters are beginning to realize Romney may not be as solid a conservative candidate as they thought. Took them long enough....

Funny that so many articles predicted a McCain dropout after the release of Q2 fundraising figures and staff abandonments (One, Two, Three) when in fact McCain was subtly reinventing his campaign and recharging his fiery personality for an autumn surge.

And it isn't even all about the polls. The fact that McCain has bounced back from national numbers in the single digits only two months ago to nearly twenty percent now is less important than the fact that people are no longer using his name as the punch-line of jokes.

As GOP "savior" Fred Thompson seems all but dead after falling from grace with his campaign's botched launch, McCain's biggest fall was out of the sky over Vietnam forty years ago. That sure didn't stop him, did it?

I can't say I didn't see it coming.

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


After a few weeks away from the Granite State campaign trail, the time has come to get my hands dirty again. John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, and Barack Obama are all in New Hampshire this coming Saturday, and more than anything I yearn to write up another one of those long event summary posts that were such a staple of this blog over the summer.

P.S. Thank God it's supposed to be in the 70's this weekend--Fall weather should never leave you sweating after biking around the block. Besides, I'm ready for McCain's patched leather biker jackets again.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Awful PR

Ignoring the specifics of the article, this kind of headline never looks good.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Two Democrats Show Where Their Priorities Are

Some representative from the Edwards campaign was on Hardball this evening trying to defend the former Senator's criticism of Hillary Clinton's cozy relationship with Washington lobbyists and $1,000 luncheons--the Carolina Senator's latest reason for attacking the frontrunner. I use the word "trying to defend" instead of "successfully defending" because even the liberal-friendly Chris Matthews was able to poke some pretty serious holes in the campaign's distinction between the millions of dollars Edwards has received from trial lawyers and Clinton's soft money.

To be honest, I don't consider myself anti-John Edwards, but I'm not pleased he and his wife have chosen to divert much of the energy of their grassroots press organization towards attacks on Hillary Clinton's fundraising, and most recently her health care plan. It is truly unfortunate if Clinton's proposal is just a more highly-publicized copy of what Edwards has been saying for months, but instead of playing the "imitation is the highest for of praise" card, John and Elizabeth have tried to paint Clinton's actions as somehow wrong.

On the other side of it all, waging that pleasant kind of "from the ground up" political activism network around supporting the Habeaus Corpus Restoration Act are Senators Chris Dodd and Patrick Leahy. Sure, Dodd is a current member of the Senate, while Edwards stepped down a few years back, but the fact he is engaging in some productive measures during the work week and campaigning as hard as he can on the weekend says a lot about his character. The strategy of balancing the two tasks could hurt Dodd's chances of coming out on top this primary season, but it is comforting to know where his true priorities lie--in serving the people. While Dodd and Leahy aren't competing for the same job, their ability to stand on common ground on an important issue make you wonder why Hillary's unveiling of a very comprehensive health care proposal is worth Edward's criticism.

Am I right in thinking Edward's focus isn't on campaigning on the weekends only, but taking every opportunity to get an edge over the competition.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Why I Like Mike: Putting it Together

The past few months I've weighed the merits of the Republican and Democratic fields of candidates, choosing among the diverse crowd of presidential hopefuls who seems to embody the things we need most in a leader. I play favorites, and I won't deny I'm impressed with the experience and rationality of Chris Dodd and inspired by the story and leadership of John McCain, but until now I've yet to synthesize how I feel about Governor Huckabee, so here goes:

First and foremost I'm a sucker for candidates who take risks, especially when the risks taken end up benefitting average Americans. Mike Huckabee's advocacy for health reform and art education in schools won't be the talk of the political newswires, but many of his proposals are for the betterment of the country in ways many of us aren't aware of.

Whether under the spotlight of the media or a large crowd, Mike Huckabee is able to connect with every person in is presence as if he were meeting with and talking to them one on one. Such a skill is uncommon, and many of the 2008 frontrunners maintain multiple personalities: one for interviews and one for greeting ordinary people and voters. It's reassuring to have a sense of security in your elected official that they won't turn into a different person behind closed doors. Mike Huckabee's honest character would be a breathe of fresh air after living through years of government with very little transparency.

Huckabee's issue page on "Crisis Management" speaks highly of his accomplishments as the Governor of Arkansas, but like the modesty he seems to always display, he never once crosses into shameless self-promotion; polite acknowledgment of one's strengths is admirable, but capitalizing on the tragedy of others can be left to other candidates, not Huckabee. Further emphasizing his strength of character, it seems that for Huckabee, his greatest achievements have been his most personal: his fight to lose weight and his religious devotion, especially.

While other candidates seek to win over our trust and support by touting their military and foreign policy experience only, Mike Huckabee's genuine sincerity and commitment to his values and reputation make him truly stand out in the Republican field.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Where'd Everyone Go?

The Granite State Organizing Project's Candidate Forum fell apart this past Saturday, as did Chris Dodd's Red Sox vs. Yankees bet with Governor Richardson, and the election event calendar is pretty empty until October rolls around.

I complain about it now, but it's a nice opportunity to take a breather, do some creative writing that I've put off for a long time, and shift away from candidate event reports to some posts with random pictures like the one up top of my t-shirt.

PS. That would be Polish for "where is everyone?"

Saturday, September 15, 2007

From Summer to Fall

Hearing "highs in the low 60's for Sunday" caught me off guard today. Though school's been in session for about a week and half, I was still fighting to hold onto summer, but it's increasingly hard to ignore the early morning chill.

The changing of the seasons isn't so difficult for me though; any New Englander knows the snow and cold that comes with living here. And while the temperature will slide slowly in the next three months, the presidential campaign has already moved on from the joys of summer. The low 60's number has some significance in campaign terms as well: candidates like Hillary Clinton have already pulled in fundraising past the $60 million mark, and it will talk some cold hard cash to keep the visits to New Hampshire coming.

Some candidates will inevitably never experience the New Hampshire winter like their wealthier opponents who stick around through the primary. Already, many of the second-tier presidential hopefuls have had to scale back their campaigning efforts, with debates and forums being the only chance they travel up north. It's exciting to read that Maine is predicting a strong foliage this year, and I can't help but get excited for seeing Southern lawmakers and governors from all around the country (especially John McCain) experience the Fall clothing shift and suit up in leather jackets and, for those looking to appease the locals, Red Sox windbreakers.

It all makes me want to hop in the car with some essential fall music and take in the White Mountains...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Who'll React First?

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement department issued a statement today saying it would cost no less than $94 billion to remove the 12 million illegal immigrants that live in the United States. That comes to nearly $8,000 to kick out each illegal immigrant--locating and legal fees not included.

That sure doesn't sound like a deal to me!

I can't wait to hear some of the GOP presidential candidates start tossing that figure around on the stump and mock what they're sure to say are the "overly-lenient" practices of the ICE, including the average 32 day incarceration period for each immigrant. I assumed captured illegal immigrants wouldn't cost much so keep overnight, but apparently it costs $97 for each day of ICE detainment.

$97 a night x 32 nights = $3,100+

Since I'm sure a handful of the candidates are looking around for some good price comparisons on that, I headed over to started imagining someone like Tom Tancredo saying the following line:

"It'd be cheaper to put up each illegal immigrants for a month in a Superior Room at the Fiesta Inn in Laredo, TX with satellite TV, air conditioning, a private balcony, and internet access! "

Good point, Mr. Tancredo, it certainly would be cheaper (that room would cost only $87/night).

Enough of me, just listen for the "spoiled immigrant" lines to start hitting the campaign trail soon--I'll make sure to put some of them up here when they do.

In case you were wondering, I'm no fan of illegal-immigration, and I wish we'd wise up and tighten our borders up, but the idea of booting out 12 million immigrants is completely absurd and un-American in my eyes.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It's on my iTunes

I've got to say it's better than "Obama Girl," and the quality sure ain't bad for a guy playing guitar right in front of his computer.

All it seems to be missing is the Governor on bass.

Give it a moment to get going...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Move On and Out

While today's debate over General David Petraeus' Iraq report was sure to be filled with partisan calls for continuing the surge or pulling out ending the war--and many from both sides angling for the most election-savvy position to's carelessness just adds to the mess.

Though is not the Democratic party, it's easy for Republicans and supporters of the Iraq war to tie the two together as just another example of the Democrats' "surrender" mentality and lack of respect for our commanders on the ground in Iraq. I wasn't too confident that the Democrats would change their strategy based on a positive report by Petraeus (which he more or less provided today), but I hoped they would at least pretend to listen and consider what he had to say.

When the Democrats criticize President Bush for not listening to opinions that contradict his, their words carry less weight when they appear to listen just as little as he does.

MoveOn's actions are so harmful because Democrats never coordinate with each other and because they don't enjoy the modern theatrics now required to combat media pressure. The GOP leadership in Washington is calling loudly for Democrats to denounce MoveOn's ad, and while I think such demands are absurd, it will end up hurting the Democrats in the eyes of talk-radio Americans when they don't condemn the advertisement.

If only MoveOn had held off until tomorrow...

Back to School

Now that I'm back in school I've had to substitute a lot of my time on the ground in New Hampshire with hours of essay writing and text books reading. While I wish I was on the campaign trail more, I've found there's quite a bit to learn and take from the things I'm reading now that applies to the things I like to write about. Two of my classes especially, U.S. Government and Environmental Science will offer countless insights into the world of politics and hot topics of discussion. In fact, I've already found a number of noteworthy passages from Machiavelli's The Prince, and the works of Plato, Tocqueville, Hobbes, and Locke only promise more.

And now it's time for me to pack my backpack up and get to class.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Scene

When I press the play button on my voice recorder and listen to the sounds of what's known as 'the spray,' I quickly turn down the volume. For the first few seconds, as a dozen photographers scrambe down the stairs from a press holding area towards the debate stage, the tape plays back in bangs and clatters. Equipment pushes against bodies and silent breathes become noisy. One photographer jokes and yells "dive! dive! dive!" as he jumps down the steps.

At the end of a bright concrete hallway is the darkened floor of the arena. We wait in the shadows under a makeshift television stage, hidden from the view of the crowd. With no warning an announcer's voice fills the room and begins introducing the debate participants. As the last name is read off and Brit Hume pauses for an ad break before the event begins a hand signal is made from halfway across the floor and the race begins. Our footsteps dampened by thick red carpeting, the photographers find the shortest route towards the base of the debate stage. Up the aisles and around the crowd, the looming wall of red, white, and blue seems to lean over us as we draw closer. Arriving there, however, the shiny jewels of the television set and the polished contestants are unimposing, personal, and imperfect.

We're told we have four minutes to take all the photos we can. Some of the photographers kneel down front and center, aiming to catch the head of a mayor or governor at the foot of the towering and colorful facade, while others set up tripods at stage left and catch each man lined up like dominos in matching suits and ties. I realized that every photo I would see in the morning's paper would be taken by someone within feet of me. The guy yelling "dive! dive! dive!" would have his shots in hundreds of papers from the Seattle Times to the Houston Chronicle, and it's likely I would wind up with a photo nearly identical to his. So took a photo of the photographers taking their photos, because I knew that would never be published.

It was oddly silent standing at the base of a television scene. Somehow, in the same room as thousands of students, noisy Ron Paul supporters, and millions of dollars of equipment, cameras, and lights there didn't seem to be any noise; I'm used to more noise coming from ten kids at the back of the high school auditorium. The silence is a blessing because it opens up a window into the movements and noises of the candidates on stage. As the photographers moved around and and angled for their shots I could clearly hear Mitt Romney whisper "time to suck it in, guys," and Duncan Hunter repeatedly saying "we've got a nice crowd here tonight," making the nerdy and obvious comments to himself that nobody responded to.

I lost track of time and didn't hear the press wranglers reminding us how long we had left until it was time to go. We all moved off to stage left and slipped behind the tall black curtain. I couldn't help but peer back behind me and see the stage lights brighten up a notch and the quirky individualism of each candidate turn to the polite and polished faces of the television. The security guard near us around stated firmly that there were to be no photos taken back stage and I faced forward again and marched towards the cement passageway. Cindy McCain leaned on her crutches to my left and gazed back towards the light of the stage.

It took a few minutes for the group of photographers to find its way back to the two hockey training rinks that comprised the spin room and blogger area; without a guide our knack for taking photos served us little in navigating through the intricacies of a place we weren't familiar with. A UNH student with some sort of yarn pullover and tangled hair took the lead and helped us back. He was holding a tiny Nikon Coolpix and was busy looking through his pictures. The guy from the AP looked at me and laughed when he saw the guy was wearing a press pass just like us, but I merely smiled back--though I may have had more equipment than my UNH counterpart, there's a pact between "new media" people that can't be broken--we're still bloggers and student journalists, and five years ago we never would have ended up on the floor of a Fox News Debate.

We pushed through an unmarked door and walked past some students on their way to the weight room before coming upon the converted hockey rinks again. The red carpet of the spin room glistened in the light of the empty television set, and a lonely maintenance worker walked around and made sure everything was working. I broke from the group and followed the plexiglass siding of the rink around the building towards the exit and went outside. To my left was a giant white trailer the size of an 18-wheeler with its supports embedded into the grass outside the arena. The trailer methodically whined as hidden engines supplied power through dozens of thick plastic tubes that snaked back into the building and into the laptops and battery chargers. Some Austrian journalists sat on the railing by the door and had a smoke while reviewing their footage, and I passed by them and up a dark stairway.

Just a little ways up was the main entrance to the arena. I walked through the last of the protesters and sign-holding supporters, all of us clueless as to what was being said inside or whose candidate was really standing out. What had been a noisy and raucous area of competing chants only an hour earlier was peaceful now. At the end of the long fence that had held the crowd back was a simple piece of folded plasterboard stretched out beneath a twisted tree. The two guys watching over it said it was the "Memorial Wall," an imitation of the stone monuments in Washington D.C. of fallen soldiers from decades past. A hundred yards from debating politicians inside an enclosed and vibrant sports hall was a solemn reminder of what should be the most important issue of debate. The first three years of names, about 3,700, were neatly painted on the gray board, with the most recent victims from Iraq printed out on computer paper and waiting to be painted later. One of the men said the woman who did the painting found the task so painful that she had to stop down for a while.

I headed back down the stairs and into the blogger room again, taking a seat in the very back row and spreading my equipment over the table. A number of people at the front of the room typed rapidly, glancing up the television monitors of the debates and summing up video with a few sentences of a blogger's words.

About an hour later I was tapped on the shoulder and told that the spray for the end of the debate was getting ready to leave. I packed up my gear and prepared myself for heading out onto the debate floor and obnoxiously taking a bunch of pictures of candidates I was gradually losing more and more interest in. Not once during my hour of rest in the middle of the debate did the blogger room ever audibly react to anything that was said on the television screens, and I was curious to see what would be spun into interesting news from all of it. The second spray in the arena was longer and less interesting than the first. Students tried to get autographs and pictures themselves, and I ended up trapped next to Brit Hume and Ann Romney on the questioners stage, wondering how long it'd be before I could head back to the spin room.

I had seen a few fashionable twenty-somethings with special VIP passes running past us on the way into the arena after the debate, and sure enough the spin room was packed with smooth talking representatives eager to let everyone know why their candidate really stood out. "Hannity and Colmes" was already live on tv, and Rudy Giuliani smiled under the bright spotlights that filled the room. John McCain entered through the back entrance of the television set and an assistant slipped an earpiece and transmitter onto him before he wandered over to the wing of the stage.

With the cameras rolling and the reporters talking the room started to bustle with activity. I found a step ladder and peered across the floor, locating the most congested areas, assuming there was someone interesting in front of the groups of reporters and cameramen there. Sam Brownback stood underneath an awning with his name on it and took questions from everybody with a pad of paper or a microphone. Each individual had their own reason for being there and a particular question that they wanted to ask, but watching all of it, the questions and answers lacked any coherence.

Some other candidates worked the crowd too, signing autographs and creating semicircles of press in front of them. One girl even managed to get a photograph with Duncan Hunter and said her dad would be so proud to see it. I found the "exciting and unpredictable" spin room to be the epitome of a messed up election process. So much was made of Fred Thompson's decision to skip the debate and his lack of respect for the New Hampshire way of campaigning, but I didn't see anything New Hampshire about manipulative men and women in suits working the television cameras either, and with every candidate going on Hannity and Colmes to explain why they were the clear winner, it seemed just as much an advertisement as Thompson's 30-second spot.

I spent another few minutes taking photos and saying hello to some of the campaign staffers that I knew before heading out to my car. I popped in an old CD instead of listening to talk radio, and drove the two hours back to Boston. It was 3:00 A.M. before I finally went to sleep, but I slept excited to go back to school and my US Government class. Perhaps fifty minutes of Plato, Machiavelli, and history could enlighten me more than ten hours at a debate.

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

Here's Some Filler

Everyone seems to be focusing on Fred Thompson these days and why he chose Jay Leno over New Hampshire.

I don't particularly care, and I won't spend any time writing about it, but since I'm working on a more interesting piece, why not put up the one picture that says it all?

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

Thursday, September 6, 2007

It's Late

but I couldn't help but posting some photos.

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

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Closing In

My cameras are charged and all systems are go for UNH's GOP Debate tonight at 9 P.M., and while I won't have time tonight to post any pictures or write anything up, expect a handful of posts starting Thursday afternoon.