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October 07, 2008

Keeping the election honest

There’s an important use for the Obama campaign’s text-message database that’s not being discussed, and it’s a way to help prevent the Republicans from stealing the election.

We know that Barack Obama’s campaign has done a much better job at getting people’s cell-phone numbers, from his various text-message initiatives (including the contest at the DNC to see which state would send in the most text messages).

We don’t know what, exactly, they plan to do with them. They used them to announce his pick of Joe Biden for veep, but it’s been pretty quiet since.

My guess - and it’s not an earth-shattering one - is that the campaign will send out a huge blast text message on Election Day, reminding people to go to the polls and vote.

But they need to go one step further, to help ensure the validity of the voting - in that text reminding people to vote, they need to ask people to text the campaign back, to confirm that they did vote for Obama.

That way, the campaign will have a rough tally of at least a minimum number of people who cast their votes for Obama in each state. (Sure, some folks will have area codes from states other than where they live, but this is not an exact count.)

The election is likely to end up very close in several key states around the country. Imagine if the Obama campaign had its own rough count of how many people there voted for him. It wouldn’t be an exit poll, nor actual ballots, but a minimum number of people who said they voted for Obama. This will definitely be an underestimate of the votes Obama should get - not everyone who votes for Obama will have gotten a text in the first place, and among those who do get a text, not everyone will reply.

Now imagine that the official ballot count ends up saying that fewer people voted for Obama than texted the Obama campaign to say they did - or even that the official results are very close to the number of those who texted.

Rather than being stuck trying to guess - based on exit polls or other demographic data - whether the count is likely valid or not, the Obama campaign will have its own independent data.

And that data will include information allowing the campaign to actually contact individual voters to let them know what’s going on - to get them involved in the effort to challenge the results, if need be, or to take any other action that might be appropriate.

This may not be an important move in many (or even most) states, but in some battleground states it could make a vital difference.

And of course the McCain campaign (or any third-party campaign) could use the same tactic to ensure accuracy in voter counts, if only they had a database anything like the size of Obama’s.

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by Jeff Inglis | with 1 comment(s)
October 07, 2008

Oil tank design to be unveiled tomorrow

It had to happen sometime: the Maine Center for Creativity plans to announce the winning design in its Art All Around oil-tank-painting contest tomorrow morning at the new Mercy Hospital building on the Fore River Parkway.


The winner will receive $20,000 and will have his or her (or their) design painted on the tanks just as soon as the MCC raises the rest of the $1.2 million needed to finance the job. (At last tally, the organization had $200,000. I wonder how this glorious economic boom is affecting their ability to reach the goal.)


The effort does seem to be having at least one struggle: its Web site is not working ( - no link because it doesn't work).


And MCC founder/executive director Jean Maginnis is clearly protecting her pet project - since our stories early last month (see “It’s Not About the Art” by Jeff Inglis, and “Words Over Pictures” by Ken Greenleaf, published September 5), there’s been nary a peep from Maginnis in any media, in Maine or anywhere else.


We won’t pretend to be surprised that she didn’t include our stories - which were critical of the concept, the project, and the art - in the MCC’s Web page cataloging media coverage of the project, nor that Maginnis - who initially refused to give the Phoenix any information about the project at all - didn’t send us the press release about the impending announcement of the winner. (Thanks to Linda at for posting it!)


Here’s Maginnis’s fair warning: she should be prepared to answer, at tomorrow’s press conference, the following questions:

1) How much money has MCC raised to date?

2) How long does she expect to need to raise the rest?

3) When will the painting of the tanks begin?

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by Jeff Inglis | with no comments
October 06, 2008

But before Nader, another third-party candidate

Yes, Ralph Nader's in town tonight, as Deirdre noted earlier.  But a couple hours earlier, at 5:15 pm (that's about 40 minutes from now), independent write-in US Senate candidate Herb Hoffman will be at the First Parish Church at 425 Congress Street with a presentation of his own.

Hoffman is trying to challenge Susan Collins and Tom Allen, but ran into trouble when the Maine Democratic Party successfully blocked him from the ballot, getting the Maine Supreme Court to rule that some of his nomination petitions were invalid on a technicality. (Specifically, he signed a statement at the bottom of each petition page saying he had been present when the signers signed on. For three people, he wasn't present, and the state's high court therefore threw out not only the three individual signatures, but all the signatures on those pages - which left too few signatures for him to be on the ballot.)

At this evening's event, Hoffman will claim that if that same standard were applied to Tom Allen's petition, Allen's name would not be allowed on the ballot either.

It's a clever argument - though its success would mean that Collins would be the only one whose name is on the ballot, an outcome Hoffman likely does not actually desire.

In other news, wanna-be Senate candidate Laurie Dobson will attempt to insert herself into tomorrow's Allen-Collins debate by protesting outside it. She didn't turn in enough signatures to get on the ballot, and has used that fact as part of her basis for claiming that the two-party system is biased against outsiders. (It may be, but I'm still not buying the idea that her failure to get signatures is proof.)


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by Jeff Inglis | with 2 comment(s)
October 06, 2008

Nader in Portland today

Independent presidential and vice-presidential candidates Ralph Nader (no intro needed) and Matt Gonzalez (a San Francisco politician who came close to being that city's mayor in 2003) will be campaigning in Portland at 6:30 this evening at the First Parish Church (425 Congress Street). Suggested contribution is $10 ($5 for students). 

In recent days, Nader's criticized Congress (and Barack Obama and John McCain) for its actions on the bailout bill and the economy. He's still pushing to be included in the debates and the polls.

Still, he's attracting far less attention (and ire/angst) than in previous years. One columnist thinks the spoiler effect is being overlooked this year

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by Deirdre Fulton | with no comments
October 02, 2008

Crime bits

Next Tuesday, October 7, at 4:30 pm, Equality Maine and the Portland-based Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence are sponsoring a rally in response to a recent crime uptick in Portland -- with a special focus on the September crime perpetrated against a man who "was perceived to be gay." Attorney General Steve Rowe, Jill Saxby of the Maine Council of Churches, Mayor Ed Suslovic, Steve Wessler of the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence, and Betsy Smith of Equality Maine are among those scheduled to attend. 

In related news, the public is invited to October's Public Safety Committee meeting, to be held the following Tuesday (10/15), at 5:30 pm in the city council chambers, where West End city councilor Dave Marshall, representatives from the Portland Police Department, and acting police chief Joe Loughlin will talk about recent crime trends and take questions from attendees. 

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by Deirdre Fulton | with no comments
September 30, 2008

Local accountability

City Councilor Kevin Donoghue has "re-launched" his blog @ On it, he's posting news bits as well as his daily schedule, in order "to work for more transparency through posting up each of my appointments, both public meetings and one-on-one meetings." This reminds us of an unfortunately unpopular service we read about in Wired recently -- the Punch Clock Campaign to track members of Congress' schedules, administered by the Sunlight Foundation, which attempts to increase governmental transparency. (So far, only nine members have signed up.)

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by Deirdre Fulton | with no comments
September 30, 2008

More on Allen -- and the environment

Here's his interview with, the leading environmental-policy Web site. In it, he highlights Susan Collins' vote for the (extremely flawed) 2005 energy bill in an effort to draw attention away from her otherwise acceptable environmental record. 

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by Deirdre Fulton | with no comments
September 30, 2008

Teachers back Allen, but only because he's a Dem

Back in July, the Maine Education Association - the 25,000-member union representing Maine's teachers and other educators (including my wife) - announced it would endorse Democrat Tom Allen in his bid to unseat two-term Republican US Senator Susan Collins. At the time, union executive director Chris Galgay said Allen's "views are closest to the hearts of educators and his record of support for our issues is outstanding."

But this week, NEA Today, the magazine published by the National Education Association (the country's umbrella teachers' union), took a slightly different tone, suggesting the endorsement was less about Allen's views (which are fundamentally the same as Collins's - they both are graded "A" on the NEA's Legislative Report Card).

It turns out the union was more interested in Allen's party membership, according to the magazine:

"Incumbent Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, has a fine record on public education - but so does her opponent, U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, a Democrat. The difference is that if Allen's elected, the Democratic Party has a chance to create a majority in the Senate, and that could make a big different in their effectiveness."

That's a nice way to treat a man who's really not doing well in the polls at all - tell him you don't like him for himself, but for the people he hangs with.

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by Jeff Inglis | with 2 comment(s)
September 29, 2008

Kudos to Others!

Brad McCurtain, owner of Others in Monument Square, took issue with Brian Duff's description of his lemon bars as "sort of gummy and the crust was pasty," in a review of various desserts earlier this month (see "Treat Yourself," September 12).

But - in a move we find ourselves eager to encourage in other restaurateurs who disagree with our reviews - McCurtain decided not to call and complain, and didn't opt to write us a letter, either. Rather, he cheerfully stopped by our office bearing gifts.

Specifically, he dropped off a check for $6.31 to honor his business's money-back guarantee. (How expensive are these lemon bars, anyway?) And he dropped off some lemon bars as well as a few chocolate-chip bars - about a dozen in all.

The general verdict here is that they're quite good. So perhaps McCurtain was right, and Duff got one from "a bad batch." (UPDATE: After getting more feedback, the final verdict is much closer to Brian's original description.)

Either way, we'll give Others credit for McCurtain's courage and creativity.

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by Jeff Inglis | with no comments
September 25, 2008

McCain and the RNC, begging together

What with John McCain suspending his campaign and all, it’s a good time to explore what his campaign is really thinking. Let’s do that through the lens of the letters his campaign and the Republican National Committee sent out last week, begging for money. In the process, he and the RNC demonstrated how thin their grasp is on reality, truth, and integrity.

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by Jeff Inglis | with 2 comment(s)
September 25, 2008

Commenting on women's health

Last Friday, Hillary Clinton and Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about efforts by the Department of Health and Human Services to change federal rules in a way that could limit women's access to reproductive health options. Basically, the rule change would require any federal grant recipient to allow its employees to deny contraception based on their religious beliefs. It's language is fuzzy and suggests a disturbingly flexible definition of when pregnancy -- and life -- begins. Slippery slope stuff.

It's gotten the reproductive rights community in an understandable uproar, and with less than twelve hours until the comment deadline, the Maine Civil Liberties Union has entered the fray. 

"Tomorrow, the Bush Admininstration will hearf rom more than 1,000 Mainers who are concerned that proposed Health and Human Services regulations will harm patient health," MCLU executive director Shenna Bellows said in a press release sent out this morning. "The new federal regulations appear to conflict with Maine law that requires pharmacies to fill all prescriptions including birth control. In the case of pharmacies, individual pharmacists have been able to refuse to fill a prescription as long as someone else in the pharmacy can meet the patient's needs. Similarly, because of legal protections already in place, individual clinic workers have always been able to refuse to perform abortions, but this rule would mean they would not be required to inform women of their full range of treatment options, and provide appropriate referrals."

The press release reminds people that they can email comments about the proposed regulations until midnight tonight to, or through the MCLU Web site.


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by Deirdre Fulton | with no comments
September 23, 2008

Carsharing finally coming to Portland?

Portland is one step closer to getting a carsharing program, according to Matti Gurney, a local transportation planner who has led the efforts to bring such a service here.


In an email to interested parties last night, Gurney said that while the city wasn’t interested in Zip Car’s proposal (which may have involved a financial commitment on the part of the city), there is interest in U-Haul’s carsharing service, U Car.


The city’s parking manager, John Peverada, presented a U-Car proposal to the transportation committee last week: “They are not asking for any revenue guarantees, but they are looking for four reserved on street parking spaces placed near public transportation centers, and possibly some marketing assistance,” Peverada wrote in a memo to the committee. Peverada suggested two spots near the Casco Bay ferry and two spots near the intersection of Congress and Elm streets.


City councilors and transportation committee members Kevin Donoghue and Dan Skolnik both support bringing the proposal before the full council.


U Car charges $10/hour or $65/day with 125 miles included, plus a $50 application fee. There are special plans for businesses and for city employees (and part of U Car’s presentation included a pitch for turning over the city’s fleet of vehicles to carsharing). View the full proposal here: //

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by Deirdre Fulton | with no comments
September 17, 2008

Pick your favorite skatepark plan!

It's official - Portlanders can choose their favorite skatepark design. As we know, this has been a long time coming. (See "Bumps in the Ramp?" by Sam Pfeifle, September 23, 2005; "At Long Last, Light at the End of the Skate Ramp," by Deirdre Fulton, July 18, 2007; and "With a Blank Slate, Anything's Possible," by Deirdre Fulton, September 5, 2007.) After the jump are overviews of each of the three options, followed by a slideshow of close-up images of sections of each.
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by Jeff Inglis | with 73 comment(s)
September 17, 2008

A Civil Disturbance video

Richard Pelletier of Juke Joint Video here in town stopped by today and dropped off a video of Civil Disturbance live at the Station, from back in June. Take a look:

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by Jeff Inglis | with no comments
September 17, 2008

Just what I was thinking!

 Not that I think I'm special or anything, but when I heard the news about the Fed's AIG bailout, I thought immediately that Bush's "privatize everything" philosophy was about to turn on its head into "nationalize everything." And sure enough, Cenk Uygur over at HuffPost had the same thought - plus, he argues the point more fully and more convicingly, in his post, "Bush Becomes A Socialist."


Cross-posted to the Phlog.

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by Jeff Inglis | with no comments
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