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Armies of Compassion

Dec. 28th, 2010 09:10 am NEW WEBSITE!!!

Hello everyone,

For the last couple of years, I have been writing about politics on this livejournal site. Each year, I get more and more views and people getting involved. I would like to think that even if you don't read each post, it has helped you get the news and insight you need to be better engaged as citizens.

I'm not stopping. I'm just moving.

For the solstice, Bryna has built me a new blog site. http://sweeneyblog.wordpress.com. Its got all my old articles and a few of my new ones. From now on, I'll be blogging over there. Come join us. We have an RSS feed. I will posting there at LEAST every Tuesday, guaranteed. See you there!

The Political Junkie

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Dec. 13th, 2010 09:17 am From a Political Junkie: Things to Waste My Time

Campaign managers live in a weird temporal vortex. Our lives are obscenely busy from May to November. We become overclocked multi-taskers, living in fifteen-minute chunks as we juggle hundreds of tasks, goals, and to-do lists at the same time. Everything is a crisis, our phones are ringing constantly, and our email box is always full.          

But when all that has subsided, from December to April, I am left with a weird vacant feeling. The same way you feel after roaring down I-5 at 70 miles per hour and then jumping on the back roads and having to drive 35. You feel like life has moved to a crawl. Now some people, more sane than myself, use this time to relax, spend time with their loved ones, and recuperate. I, on the other hand, find very strange ways to waste my time.

Below is the collection of random things that have caught my interest in the last month. I figured after several weeks of straight political commentary, a few diversions would spice up the column. So enjoy!

My first new toy is the Bellingham Register. This website is a brand new political news website for Bellingham. That makes it interesting unto itself, but the true fascination comes from the fact that it is a wiki. Anyone can step up and edit pages. To test it out, I made Seth Fleetwood’s page. It’s a great system where reporters and supporters (Bob Pritchett and Rudd Morse) provide news content and citizens flesh out the background.

My second online discovery is Steam. Steam is an online video game distributor and seller. In short, instead of purchasing a computer game from a store, inserting a CD and installing the program, you can go to their website, buy it without the overhead, and download the program directly to your computer. They have a huge inventory of older computer games, enough to keep this geek fascinated for hours.

My largest time waster is the website TV Tropes. It is modeled as a Wikipedia for scriptwriters and television fans. A trope is a repeated idea, theme, or action in television, literature, or movies. For example, in a movie whenever a car runs into something . . . it explodes. Highly unrealistic, but very common. They call this “Every Car is a Pinto” and list several examples in various shows and books. Fascinating stuff, I lose hours of my life to that site. Not even joking.

When I finally manage to shut off my computer, I read. Currently I am reading “The Audacity To Win” by David Plouffe. Plouffe was Obama’s campaign manager and the book is his inside scoop on the campaign. It is thick with post-campaign mentality (this was a game changing election; yeah, we beat the Clinton juggernaut,) but nestled inside all of that are some fascinating nuggets, which I will unspool for a future column I’m sure.

As you can imagine, I continue my love affair with board games. Long time readers of this column (Hi Mom!) will remember my earlier column outlining some of the many board games I have collected. You can find it here. My most recent discovery is “CheapAss Games,” a Seattle company with an unusual line of merchandise. They came into the business looking at what the most expensive part of a given game is, and eliminating it. Namely, the board and pieces. Instead of selling lushly illustrated game boards with carved pewter pieces and tons of dice and counters, this game-maker took the opposite approach. They send you the rule book, a printed-paper board, and some paper cut out cards. They assume you can find a few pennies to use as counters, that you already have a couple six-sided dice, and that you can keep score on your own piece of paper. So instead of selling games for $50, they sell highly inventive games for much, much less (think $6.) An ingenious idea; I hope it catches on.

Finally, I would strongly encourage everyone to learn a musical instrument. Last year, my parents gave me a ukulele for Christmas. I loved it, but couldn’t find the time. Now, I have the time and am loving it even more. Music is one of the things that Bryna and I truly connect with. She plays the flute and piano and has a gorgeous singing voice; while I play the viola, guitar, and now the ukulele. I taught myself guitar. All it took was a guitar, finding some chords online and a little patience. It is worth the effort, I promise.

I hope the holiday season finds you busy and full of cheer. For me, it still retains a strange surreal feeling, perhaps a personal malaise, if you will. Keeping busy is my solution. What’s yours?

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Dec. 6th, 2010 10:31 am From TWO Political Junkies: Our 2012 Cattle Call

Note: This column was co-written by brother and closest confidant, Devlin Sweeney. He is a WWU junior, majoring in accounting, and is going to make way more money than I some day.
With the creeping presidential election schedule, a serious candidate has to run for two solid years to be a strong contender for the presidency. With that in mind, the election cycle starts now.
For the Democrats, it is real simple. The nominee is President Obama. There is no way he would not seek the nomination and no one else wants to run against a sitting president. There might be a Dennis Kucinich-style protest candidate, but no one serious.
So our list here will focus on the Republican nomination. Here is our list of potential nominees, along with our predictions about how they will do. Please take everything with a grain of salt. This time last cycle, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani were the front-runners and they both got knocked out in the primary. So stake your bragging rights now. Tell us where we are wrong, whom we are missing, and so forth.
Mitt Romney: Former Gov. of Massachusetts. A high-rolling businessman with an impressive track record of turning around failing companies. Ran in 2008. Mega-gazzilionaire. Mormon. 
Strengths: Tons of money. Supported by the Bushs, has a great deal of old guard support, good name recognition. Smooth and "presidential" looking.
Weaknesses: Looks like the guy who just laid you off, Mormon (which is a drawback with the evangelical crowd.)
Likely Outcome: Will be viewed as the front-runner and will take the most fire because of it. Will get hit for his health care plan, and do well in more battleground states but will have trouble in places like Iowa. Will have great staff and awesome fundraising, but unable to close the likeability gap. Frankly, he looks like the guy who just laid you off.
Sarah Palin: Former Gov. of Alaska. Current reality television star and Tea Party darling. Vice presidential candidate from 2008. Seriously, you don’t know who she is?
Strengths: Can fundraise like crazy. Motivates the base like nothing else. Near universal name recognition. Media eats her up with a spoon, reporting on every little thing she does.
Weaknesses: Media eats her up with a spoon, reporting on every little thing she does. She tends to make poor staffing choices and worse money decisions. Insular attitude makes it difficult to run a 50-state campaign.
Likely Outcome: Will do well in Iowa, but poorly in N.H. Fundraise like crazy, blow through it quickly. She will be the Rudy Giuliani of this year, but her endorsement will be highly prized, as she will determine who the Tea Party wing should back.
Mike Huckabee: Former Gov. of Arkansas. Candidate in 2008, came in 2nd in delegates, 3rd in popular vote. Trained as a Baptist pastor but dropped out to get involved in Christian broadcasting.
Strengths: Very personable and has a good sense of humor. Reasonably good name recognition. Very well known among evangelical community.
Weaknesses: Poor fundraising. A few mild controversies during his tenure as governor. Vulnerable to negative hit pieces because his skeletons have not  been aired out nearly as thoroughly as Romney's and Palin’s.
Likely Outcome: My pick for the nominee. He will do well in Iowa but will do okay elsewhere, his success depends on at what point Palin's campaign goes up in fire. Can campaign cheap, but has experienced staff in most states.
Other People: There are a whole slew of people who are making noises but I doubt are going to get very far. I have listed them below with just a few notes on each.
Newt Gingrich – How many times has this guy thought about running? He doesn’t want to run, he wants to sell books and be influential. Most likely sought for an endorsement.
Gen. McCrystal - I don't think he will run, but I see his endorsement as being key, and as essential as Colin Powell’s was last cycle.
Bobby Jindal - I think he will sit this election out like last time. His governor’s seat is up for reelection this year so he would have to give up his office to take a real shot at this. Would be on the short list for anyone’s VP. Good executive experience, plus being a minority makes him a tempting "add" to a ticket.
Rand Paul – The new Tea Party darling. My gut tells me he will stay in the Senate and line up a run in 2016 for something bigger. Just inked a book deal, so probably promotes that for the next four years.
Haley Barbour – Gov. of Mississippi, with VERY impressive fundraising skills. Might be a good exclamation point to Mike Huckabee’s ticket (we are white, southern, Christian and male!!!!) Otherwise, count him out.
Eric Cantor - A rising star in the House, Eric Cantor seems to be everywhere at once. I see him popping up on television, in closed-door meetings, all over the place. He is lined up quite nicely to become Speaker of the House when John Boehner is done, but he might take a turn at running for president. Another possible VP.
Kay Bailey Hutchinson – If it weren’t for the Tea Party, I would have picked her as THE next vice presidential nominee. A wealth of foreign policy experience, sharp, capable, a woman able to motivate the base, and a moderate. What ticket wouldn’t want that? But the Tea Party is gunning for her, and I imagine she will be fighting for her political life just to hang on to her Senate seat. A darn shame.
John Thune - John who? This guy hasn’t made headlines since 2004 when he beat Tom Daschle, but he shows up on many lists as a potential candidate. If you are looking for a bland but non-controversial addition to your ticket, then I guess so. (Imagine Joe Biden minus the gaffs and experience, and you are there.)
Condoleezza Rice – She consistently impresses me with how articulate and sharp she is. If she hasn’t landed some serious corporate or academic job in the next couple of years, look for her to start making media appearances; she might decide to run for something.

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Nov. 30th, 2010 08:58 am From a Political Junkie: Abstain from Abstinance-Only

When it comes to most things, I am a facts-oriented guy. I believe evolution is scientific fact because it has been tested and verified. I believe if you leave milk out it spoils, and an acoustic guitar goes out of tune much faster in cold weather. I believe the more money you spend on a political campaign the more votes you get, and that the price of gas will continue to go up regardless of just about anything. These are things that can be checked, quantified and measured. In short, they are beliefs that can be tested and found to be true.
I also believe in many things that cannot be quantified. I believe in God, in the power of love, in the simple perfection of nature and the transformative power of storytelling. I believe Led Zeppelin is one of the best bands ever, that Brandi Carlile is underrated, and that Nathan Fillion, Christina Hendricks and Sam Rockwell are all going to be huge celebrities in the next five to ten years. I believe Lyndon Baines Johnson was involved in the JFK assassination, that there is no global conspiracy to control everyone, and fluoride in the water creeps me out but I can’t tell you why.  In short, they are beliefs I have that I cannot back up with hard facts, they cannot be verified and proved to be true or false.
When it comes to government policy, we should always be pulling from the top category. Basing our community problem solving on feelings and unverified beliefs is not only foolish but shortsighted. We need realistic, results-based policy making. The kind that Wonks can verify and Hacks can espouse. Which brings me to my main point: abstinence-only education.
I went to public school in Olympia. Throughout my middle and high school education, I received abstinence-only education the entire time. There was very little discussion of condoms, and if they were discussed, it was only to talk about how ineffective they were and how often they fail. The pill, the diaphragm, various other methods were barely even mentioned. Just tons of scare tactics. Our classes were filled with lots of discussion about the various sexually transmitted diseases, the potential for pregnancy and why you should not have sex.
Speaking with my peers, I found it was pretty common in Washington state to get that sort of education. A few had better teachers; most had the same routine as I. All of us got our sex ed before Christine Gregoire mandated comprehensive sex education for all Washington public schools.
This goes back to beliefs and facts.  It is a fact comprehensive sex education reduces teen pregnancies. Period. Here is a news article from earlier this year talking about California. Yet we continue to throw millions and millions of dollars away on the belief that if you tell a teenager not to do something, they won’t do it. Yeah, it sounds just as ridiculous even in principle.
I could make the financial argument that giving people the ability to decide when they have kids saves the state money in the long run, especially when you consider the aid we give to families unable to get by. But I think that detracts from the simple point that abstinance-only education simply doesn't work.
The fact is, two-thirds of all American teens will have had sex by the time they graduate high school. I know it is better to prepare them with good, medically accurate information. Just telling them "no" is not enough. We need to give them all the tools they need to make good decisions. When you look at it, it comes down to trust.
One of my favorite metaphors is gun safety. If you knew your children were going to have access to guns throughout their life, would you tell them, “No, don’t touch!” over and over again? Or, when they could understand, would you explain to them what guns are, how to safely handle them, and what the proper use is, trusting they will deal with it when they are ready?
I believe no one should be sexually active until they are ready. That is my belief, but I also know the facts on sex education. We need to push for comprehensive sex education nation-wide. Every year, the Republicans at various levels of government team up with conservative Dems to throw more money down the drain by mandating abstinence-only education. It's time we just said "no" to that.

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Nov. 23rd, 2010 11:03 am From a Political Junkie: Buy Local, support your local campaign managers!

In the world of business, there are lots of resources for young entrepreneurs: the Chamber of Commerce, seed funds, investor groups, legal assistance, mentoring programs, tax incentives, and people to help you navigate the tax incentives. There is plenty of support from the business community because they know that stronger businesses ensure a stronger economy for everyone.
Unfortunately, this mentality does not translate into the political industry. If you view campaign managers as entrepreneurs, then you see a striking problem. Consider that these people make a business plan and carry it out. Some plans are very inventive and lead to great results, some are lackluster or cheap knockoffs of other designs and fail. Some plans are crushed by forces beyond their control, and some are buoyed by favorable winds. For six to eight months, campaign managers oversee budgets, marketing strategies, ground games, consumer relations, and a whole host of other issues.
And at the end of that six to eight months, we cast these managers aside. Win or lose, they are out of a job. Now, some gain employment as legislative aides, if their candidate was running for a legislative position and wins. However this takes campaign managers out of the industry (they can’t do political organizing while being employed by the state like that.) No matter what, campaign managers are no longer in the industry they have just been working in.
Imagine if every startup business manager was fired after six months with no considerartion of how well the business did. It would be a disaster for the community. The learning curve is so steep and these people have such a base of knowledge in their heads that to throw them away every year is foolish.
Some campaign managers find a way around it. They become consultants. They hang up their hat on the long hours slogging through volunteer phone calls and fundraisers, and just design mailers and give advice. However, to make this strategy work, you have to take on several clients at once to pay your way. Your attention and focus gets scattered. You end up taking clients outside your district, areas where you don’t have a feel for what works and what doesn’t. Al Jensen and Kelli Linville both suffered from this, employing consultants based out of Seattle and Olympia who had several other clients. I am not saying this is why they lost, or that the consultants gave bad advice, but boots on the ground make a big difference in terms of perspective.
Right now, there is a cycle.  We find some poor sap graduating college from the Political Science Department of Western. We hand them this campaign managing job and say go for it. Even if they are the brightest kid in their class, they still have to learn who all the players are in town, what not to mention to whom, and how to best motivate people in various communities. And they better learn it fast, because we hire them in June, right after they graduate and right after the candidate declares. The campaign is already in full swing.
Then, after the campaign is done, they are cast adrift. They might struggle in vain to find work here on their own, but after a few months, they will give up and move to Seattle or Olympia, never to be seen again. We will lament their loss or barely remember their name and then repeat the cycle for the next year.
It doesn’t have to be like this. We as a community, on both sides of the aisle, can support our campaign managers after the election is over. We can help them land jobs, even if it is just temporary work, a part-time job, or heck, even a phone number and a lead helps. Whatever it takes to keep them here.
The Whatcom Democrats really stepped up and helped me find work after the Catherine Chambers campaign last year. I asked for and received letters of recommendation, people made a few phone calls on my behalf, and I got some part-time work. As a result, I was able to run a stronger campaign this year for Jean.

Any good businessperson will tell you, having good staff is essential to a well-run business. It is time for our parties to invest in human capital, and buy local. Pass on the well-connected consultants from Olympia, and snap up these local boys and girls who are ready to run another campaign, before they vanish off into the sunset.

Note: "sunset" is located in Seattle, where the sun is always set.

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Nov. 15th, 2010 09:39 pm From a Political Junkie: Which Branch of Government Matters to You?

As Republicans assume power in the House, and make serious gains in the Senate, I notice an interesting trend as reporters ask them about their goals and objectives. You have all this power now, what are you going to do with it? The answer has always some variation on two themes: Stop the president in whatever he is doing, and investigate the president’s accomplishments of the last two years. Guess what those two have in common? They both are about the wrong branch of government.

Compare this to interviews with the Democrats as they took power in 2006. Same situation, they are stuck with a president of the other party and have to wait two years before they can do something about it. Interviews with Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and the rest focused around various legislative goals: raising the minimum wage, promoting investment in clean energy, cleaning up corruption in Congress, stricter rules on campaign finance, etc. In fact, they explicitly said they would not investigate the president or work directly to undermine him.

I think this reveals an interesting dichotomy with our political parties. The Republicans are mainly focused on the executive branch, and the powers and actions thereof, while the Democrats are mainly focused on the legislative branch and its abilities. In the last two years, with Democrats in control of the executive branch, Obama wasn’t issuing tons of signing statements or making big splashes about what he was going to do. Most of his focus was on meeting with Congress to get their agenda through.

Whenever Obama went to tackle an issue these last two years, his first instinct was to role it through the right committee, bring stakeholders in and craft effective legislation everyone could vote on. He held forums, discussions, roundtables. All the hallmarks of the legislative process. Whether he was effective or not isn’t the point, the point is his focus was on the legislative branch.

Compare that approach to when Bush wanted to do something - for example, invade Iraq. He made the decision, put troops in position and then got the War Resolution passed as an afterthought. You could say, well that’s the role of the commander-in-chief. Okay, here is a better comparison, privatize social security. The administration wrote most of the legislation and then handed it to Congress to pass. Bush then went on a tour to drum up support, but the opposition had outmaneuvered them and it died in Congress.

Reporter speculation is another metric by which to judge. I remember when the Obama/McCain race was in full swing; the newspapers would interview various politicians speculating about cabinet appointments on both sides. For the GOP, the most interest was in who would be McCain’s Secretary of Defense, Homeland Security chief or his Secretary of State. In other words, the departments that don’t interact with the legislative branch very much. Meanwhile on the Dems side, the talk was about who would be Secretary of Health and Human Services, or Secretary of the Interior, or Energy. These departments are so intertwined with the legislative branch that sometimes it is difficult to find where one stops and the other starts.

In many ways, this focus is indicative of the mindset of each party. The Republicans prefer the CEO, top-down method of governing where one person beats out the rest and makes the calls until someone else beats him out and everyone goes along with it. The Democrats are much more collectivist, trying to make sure everyone gets included and their voices heard, even at the extreme detriment of getting stuff done.

So what does this mean? I imagine we will see a nonstop series of bills fly through the House over the next two years, all aimed at hindering and embarrassing the president. I can see the Senate suddenly looking busy, as all the legislative effort goes into moving big pieces of meaty legislation through that creaking stubborn body. Finally, I see a great deal of frustration from the White House as they try to get the Republicans to focus on legislating, when all the Republicans want to do is take President Obama’s job.

For the next two years, both parties will be out of their comfort zone. The GOP will be struggling with the reins of the legislative process (and several bucking Tea Party colts in the stable) and the Dems will be left with the blunt hammer of the executive branch. It should be an interesting year.

Next month, I self-servingly make the case for eschewing Olympia consultants and supporting your local campaign managers.

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Nov. 8th, 2010 10:26 am From a Political Junkie: Karma and the Election

Well, that sucked. Yes, working in elections means you have to lose once and a while. I will grumble and complain but I understand it’s the will of the electorate and I will not talk down to the electorate or complain that this election was stolen. They won it fair and square. I just don’t have to like it.
There is going to be a great deal of digital ink trying to explain this election. Just as the 2008 and 2006 tsunamis were many different things to many different people, so will this election be a Rorschach test to those who look at it. Here’s my take, with a couple of caveats.
This is not a tell-all about the Jean Melious campaign. Sorry, but no. Jean was and is a fabulous candidate and it was simply a joy to work for her. She has not yet decided what she wants to do next, politically, so I’m not going to tip my hand other than say I am proud of the campaign we ran. Jean was by far the most qualified candidate and I am deeply disappointed that the County Council will not have her voice for the next year. 
Likewise, I now have a pretty good grasp on the numbers game and why some races turned out the way they did. But seeing as I am also a political businessman, I don’t want to give away my proprietary software, as it were. I have a very good idea of what changed and where. This article will speak to a couple of broad themes.
Let’s talk about the Tea Party. Now I know within the Democrats there is a big discussion about whether to reject or embrace the Tea Party. Let me tell you, the Tea Party is rarely going to vote for Democrats. They are social and fiscal conservatives, and even when there is a fiscally conservative candidate in the race who happens to be a Democrat, they are going to go with the Republican. According to surveys, their main news source is Fox News, which means they are not even dealing with the same facts as someone who reads the New York Times or listens to NPR.
That said, there is something very important to be realized about the Tea Party. Their core value is fairness. That’s what all this outrage is about. They want to be the enforcers of Karma. Right now, they see the Obama administration as blocking the natural course of Karma. When GM failed, he bailed them out rather than letting them die. When the auto sales industry tanked, he offered up Cash for Clunkers to encourage sales rather than encouraging people to wait till they could afford it on their own. His health care plan is built around making sure everyone is covered to drive down the costs, rather than letting those who didn’t plan ahead be punished with a big hospital bill.
On many levels, I can understand that. It’s a solid intellectual position.We all want to believe in fairness and equality. However, it breaks down when they get to the social stuff. You were raped so you deserve to get pregnant, having an abortion would be cheating. You choose to engage in homosexual behavior so you deserve second class citizenship.
This is where I get off the train. You are not dealing out Karma; you are refusing to look at the situation from their shoes. No one chooses to be gay or to get raped. No one chooses to get a life-threatening disease, and many of my friends can’t afford to get health insurance. What about those factory workers in GM? Should they lose their jobs because the CEO was terrible at his job? Empathy, it comes back to empathy.
This year, the national message was all about Karma. Olympia has a spending problem; those elites don’t know what it is like here on the ground. As their candidates repeated throughout the campaign, these decisions have consequences for people’s lives.  
Never mind that the stimulus was the largest tax cut in the history of the United States. Or that you can no longer be refused healthcare for having acne.  People were still reeling from the recession and this message truly spoke to them. Yeah, they don’t think about us, they just do these things (health care/candy tax/balance budget/zoning changes) and they have no clue the damage they cause.
Everyone has been hurt at some point by the government. That’s how it works. An organization that is involved in so many levels of your life pisses you off eventually. It’s just bound to happen. Everyone has a story of someone who got touched in a bad way by the government. This was their message and it worked like a dream.
And as usual, the Dems response was inadequate. Like I mentioned, I’m talking nationally here. Rather than run on their numerous legislative accomplishments, they ran away from them. They ran away from the president and their party. I don’t mind when a few of them do it (seriously, if you are running in Kentucky, I would expect you to.) But when so many refuse to talk about the good work they have done, there is a deafening silence. This silence was filled with noise and fury.
Bill Maher made a very good point recently. There is a difference between a disappointing friend and a deadly enemy. The parties’ labels are appropriate. The Democrats are a “D” which is the grade you get in school when you are just good enough not to be failing, but utterly disappointing. The Republicans are an “R”, which is the sound a pirate makes before he robs you blind.
Joking aside, I am curious what the Republicans will do now that they are in power. Will they try to push their legislative goals, like the Democrats did for the last 21 months? Or will they bring up a never-ending string of nonsensical “scandals” to try and score political points.
Next week, I will discuss the Republican’s obsession with the Executive Branch, and why the Democrats keep falling for the same tricks over and over.

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Oct. 20th, 2010 09:46 am Please Vote!

You have your ballot and there alot of local races and initiatives. If you need help figuring out how to vote, give me an email at riley.sweeney@gmail.com or call me at (360) 649-1801

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Sep. 7th, 2010 11:10 am Place your Senate and House guesses today!

Hello everyone,

I've been keeping a low profile while I've been working on the Jean Melious campaign (Vote Jean!) but I just wanted to see if anyone wants to put forth their projections for the Senate and the House next year. There is a big No-Prize to the person who gets closest.

Here is mine:
Senate  - 54 Democrats, 45 Republicans, 1 Independent (Lieberman)
House - 225 Democrats, 210 Republicans

Feel free to add your guesses below

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Aug. 31st, 2010 12:06 pm What I am reading and loving

Hello Beautiful People,

As is my habit during busy campaign seasons, I am reading lots of books that have nothing to do with politics. Its my way of decontaminating and winding down. Since you all care about what I'm reading, here is my summer reading list and what I liked:

Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis
This graphic novel series has a pretty simple formula. "Hunter S. Thompson's life" + "The Future" + "Political Satire" = Crazy Awesome. It follows one Spider Jeruselum as he inhales lots of illegal substances, tackles evil and crooked politicians and publishes his offensive columns filled with THE TRUTH! Offensively funny, this series is great, highly recommended. You get lots of bonus jokes if you are familiar with Hunter S. Thompson's life and can pick out the parallels.

The Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan
I started this series in high school and enjoyed it. I'm just now returning to see read the latest four books and I find that they are all pretty good . . . if you like doorstopping fantasy. Yes, the Wheel of Time series is epic fantasy. Grand tales of wizards, and sword wielding heroes, a dark one and ferious creatures. However, if you are nut about mythology and history, Wheel of Time offers a treasure trove of wonderful characters. You can find the heroes journeys of Odin, Thor, King Arthur, Morgan le Fey, how cannons were developed, how polearms became outdated and even a recreation of the War of the Roses. It's dense reading at times, with whole chapters about minor characters you don't really care about, but sewn together it is a fine epic. I give it 3 out of 5.

Astro City by Kurt Busiek
This beautifully done graphic novel series is a visual tribute to the Silver Age comics. It follows a number of normal people who live in a city populated by Super-Heroes. The bellhop who dodges debries from falling robots, the writer who publishes stories about the heroes and fears retribution, and even the super heroes themselves get a story or two. The first issue follows a Superman Expy who all really wants to do is fly. His greatest joy is simply moving to wherever there needs to be people saved. A fascinating series and the art is incredible.

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