Bernie or Biden – reflections on choosing a candidate

Living abroad, I have found it helpful to remain slightly detached from the drama of American politics. I still keep myself informed of what’s happening, but for the sake of my sanity, I find it helpful to avoid marinating in the day-to-day detail. This is especially true, given the 24-hour media’s desire to amplify (and maybe even construct) the smallest conflicts, fanning the flames into brimstone and indignant self-righteousness.

That said, the Democratic presidential primary has reached an interesting, and nearly existential, point. And since the state in which I am registered to vote has not yet had its primary, I find myself facing a difficult choice: Do I vote for Joseph Biden, representing the more moderate wing of the Democratic Party? Or do I vote for Bernie Sanders, representing the more progressive – or, dare I say it – socialist wing?

Credit to the New York Times

One concern I share about both candidates (and President Trump) is their age. I think we are at a point where we need a younger president, someone who is more in touch with the factors that are affecting all aspects of our life. When I listen to interviews with both Biden and Sanders, I get a sense that they do not have a deep, first-hand understanding of technology and the digital revolution that is affecting every aspect of our economy and our society. Trump may know Twitter, but when he doesn’t understand why the influenza vaccine won’t help us with COVID-19, he seems equally out of touch.

Another concern I have about the candidates, is that they are white men. White men have run this country for nearly all of our 244 years. It’s time for some fresh perspectives. Yes, this will likely be symbolically addressed in the choice of a vice presidential candidate, but I think it’s time for a woman and/or another person of color to be sitting behind the Resolute Desk.

What about Elizabeth Warren, you ask? At this point, it seems that she has fallen to a point where her departure from the race is imminent. Of the three candidates, she is probably the most appealing but I think that ship has sailed. So let me consider the two most likely candidates.

Looking at how our country has become increasingly polarized, and how President Trump has practiced an incredibly divisive, juvenile form of politics, I find Biden appealing because he represents a more centrist, more civil form of discourse. This may be optimistic thinking on my part, but I would like to believe that there is a path that could lead use back to a more civil way of governing and I think Biden is better positioned to lead us there.

I also feel, from a social justice standpoint, Sanders is addressing some very important topics and has been addressing them, with consistently bold language, for a long time. The increased inequality in our nation is a huge problem. The system is increasingly rigged so the wealthy get wealthier while the rest get left behind. Politicians of both parties have done a poor job addressing issues of health, education and inequality and a fraying of the social fabric cannot be the definition of making America “great again”.

One of my biggest concerns with Sanders, is that he and his followers seem to be the liberal version of Trump. That is, equally extreme, equally uncivil, and leading us further and further from a path on which the majority of Americans can tread. That seems dangerous for our country and for the world as a whole. Sanders’ grand revolution will be meaningless if he cannot get any legislation passed and his track record in this is poor.

I do think Biden will do a better job when it comes to foreign policy. Living abroad, I see how important our place in the world is. And with the significant changes that are happening in the world, especially with Russia and China, we need to have a more stable hand running America’s foreign policy.

But I do have questions about Biden. What is he offering that is a vision of the future? It seems like he is offering a repeat of President Obama’s greatest hits. A lot of good was accomplished during Obama’s eight years in office. But those days are over and it is time for us to move towards the future.

When it comes to November, I will support the Democratic candidate, no question. Trump has been a disaster for America. It is a daily embarrassment being an American abroad, trying to explain to people from all around the world, how so advanced a nation could elect so ignorant and uncurious a buffoon to the White House.

But on the question of who should represent the Democrats and challenge Trump, I need to ask your help. Could you please share your perspective on why one candidate or the other is a better choice?

The ground rules: please keep your points civil and constructive. Name-calling and personal attacks do not move the discussion forward and are not welcome here. Thank you in advance for sharing your insights.

Absentee Voting from Thailand

Many Americans (most, perhaps) are unaware that citizens living abroad still have the right to vote. They can register with the last state in which they resided, or if they are only overseas temporarily, the state of their residence. A useful website,, provides a handy resource and will help you will out the correct absentee voting application. Unfortunately for the November election, the deadline to request absentee ballots in most states has already passed.


As luck would have it, the day before I left for the United States on business, my absentee ballot arrived. Convenient, since I won’t have to pay postage if I mail it from the United States! I have to credit my county’s election department. Many expats I speak with have problems getting absentee ballots in a timely fashion, but the team at my county’s election department do a great job of responding to questions and getting the ballots out well in advance of the elections.

While I don’t vote in the local races on my ballot – judges, county commissioners, etc. – since I don’t know any of the candidates or most of the issues at stake, I do appreciate being able to raise my voice for state and federal level matters because they still affect me, even all the way over in Bangkok.


Inform Yourself and Rock the Vote

rock-the-vote-18x24rev On Tuesday, November 2, Americans will head to the polls in an important mid-term election. The outcomes of elections have a real impact on us from the national level to the local level. The best electorate is an informed, involved one. Whatever your political leanings, I encourage you to take a look at the following tools to make sure you have the best possible information with which to make your voting decisions.  These links come from OpenCongress, a non-profit and non-partisan public resource, independent from Congress and any political party.

To find who your current senators and representative are, use their zipcode look-up tool.

RaceTracker – See who the candidates are, learn about their positions, and get a snapshot of the fundraising race.  This is a collaborative wiki project, so if you have information about a particular candidate, this is a great place to add your knowledge and share it on a fully-referenced, free and open-source platform.

AdTracker – In the wake of the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision allowing outside groups to spend unlimited money on campaign ads, it’s more important than ever that we have transparency in how these ads are affecting the election and exactly how they’re funded.  AdTracker is a wiki project for tracking and watching all the ads in congressional races across the country and providing background info who’s sponsoring them.  It provides a unique view into the advocacy work of low-profile independent political groups.

Voting Records – We typically find out about candidates’ voting records when they are being spun by their competitors, but on OpenCongress it is possible (and easy) to look at the actual vote data yourself.  From your senators’ and representative’s profile pages, click the “Votes” tab and search for any topics you’re interested in.  Looking at the actual data gives you a more accurate picture of how your lawmakers really voted on the issues that matter to you.  To find more votes, check out our one-of-a-kind listing of Hot Bills by Issue Area.

Compare Votes – In this election more than in most, independence from party leadership is considered an especially important trait.  Our head-to-head vote comparison tool gives you a view of party loyalty that you can’t get elsewhere.  Compare the voting records of any two senators or representatives to see how often they vote with their colleagues and on what votes in particular they agree or disagree.

Bill sponsorship – In addition to vote records, it’s important to look at the bills your incumbent candidate has proposed.  From senator and representative profile pages, click the “bills” tab to browse or search all sponsored and co-sponsored bills.  Even more than votes, the bills lawmakers support are indicative of their overall vision and ideology.

Money – Last but not least, take a second to look at your candidates’ campaign funding sources.  Time and again it’s been show that campaign finances are directly related to how members of Congress vote.  Click the “Money Trail” tab on your senators’ and representative’s profile pages to see which industries and special-interest groups have donated to them.  This is who they’ll likely owe favors to if elected to Congress in the next session.


If you need help finding out where to vote on Nov. 2nd, try this simple tool from Google and the New Organizing Institute. I sincerely hope the resources in this email help you make a satisfying decision at the voting booth.

Source of most of this content:


Sarah Says Obama is a Racist

Interesting back-and-forth going on between me and another Xangan.  This featured post on Revelife (Christian Xanga) was about John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as VP.  The author surmised that perhaps she was chosen specifically because of her conservative Christian and anti-abortion position.  The author posited these questions:

“If you are pro-life, could you vote for a candidate who was pro-choice?  If you are pro-choice, could you vote for a candidate who was pro-life?”

“I guess I am also wondering, should abortion be the only factor deciding our presidential elections?”


Among the responses was this one from Big_Esh.  (Emphasis mine)

Well, he might support pro-life, and he might want that quality in his running mate, but I seriously doubt a veteran politician as he would choose his second in command based on one moral value.  The media, as I am sure everyone out there knows, tends to be liberal in how they portray everything that goes on in this nation, and of course they are going to pick McCain apart. 

Nevermind that Obama comes from what looks like a racist background and has no real clue how to “change the face of politics” (see his speech at the DNC for proof of that)…let’s attack McCain because of one value that his running mate happens to have. 


To which I responded:

Huh?  Obama comes from a racist background?  With a Kenyan father, a white mother from Kansas, and a very diverse extended family?  How do you figure that as a racist background?


To which she responded:

I am, of course, referring to that awful pastor who is so blatantly racist it makes my teeth hurt.

Say what you will, but if you sit and listen to a man spew out such hatred, and continue to show your support by your membership of his congregation, then you are in essence showing support for what is being preached.  People leave a church when they are offended enough, and this clearly didn’t bother him enough to leave.  I know he “denounced” such hate, but actions speak louder than words, and Obama continues to support that man.  Red flag…not to mention his wife said she had never been proud of America until Obama became a candidate…where the heck has she been living?

Being of a diverse background does not give someone a get out of jail free card for racism. And being black, or another minority does not give someone the right to be racist towards whites, although that seems to be more accepted these days.


I’m not sure where Sarah (the name Big_Esh gives in her profile) lives, but felt it was worth addressing some of her – what I preceived as – slips of logic: 

Thank you for responding.  Would you agree that Senator McCain’s “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” (sung to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann”) would not be an accurate or fair way to encapsulate his foreign policy positions? 

Would you agree that even though Governor Palin doesn’t disown her daughter after it turns out she’s engaged in premarital sex, that it would be out of context to construe the Governor’s continued support of her daughter as an endorsement of her actions?

If you agree that we should try to judge candidates by considering their words in their original context rather than out of context, if you agree that it is okay for people to support those they are close to, even if they don’t agree with their words and actions, then I think you and I will agree that labeling Senator Obama a racist because of out of context comments his minister and his wife made, really isn’t a sound way to make decisions. 

Much in the same way that, even though I’m not a McCain-Palin supporter, I don’t think that Senator McCain is chomping at the bit to bomb Iran and I don’t think that Governor Palin’s support for her daughter is an endorsement of unwed motherhood and premarital sex.  Although I do have to chuckle, now that we have a good example of why “abstinence only” education isn’t so effective.


I’m wondering what her response will be or if she will have one at all.  It is frustrating that in this election, people seem to form their opinions more from pundits than facts.  I’m curious if she ever watched (or read) the sermons in context?  Surely we can agree that we need to have more substantive discussions.

Interesting quote that I came across while preparing this entry.  In the May 5, 2008 edition of the Huffington Post, Lara Cohen, news director at Us Weekly, which is regularly lambasted because of its focus on supermarket tabloid concerns, turned the criticisms back on the mainstream media and their coverage of the Reverend Wright controversy:

“The true hallmark of sensationalized journalism is ginning up controversy to drive sales, and for the mainstream news media Wright was a tailor-made tabloid icon. With newspaper sales at record lows, network news ratings tanking and 24-hour news channels desperate to fill up all 24 hours, Wright’s outbursts were the mainstream media’s equivalent of Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch—a train wreck no one could turn away from. And so they milked it, regardless of the impact on the very race they were supposedly covering objectively.” 


Same-sex immigration on Dem’s agenda

As many of you are aware, the reason I live in Thailand is because Tawn, my partner of 8+ years, is a Thai national.  US immigration laws being what they are, it is increasingly difficult for citizens of other nations to find legal means of residence in the United States.

When I speak with my American friends and acquaintances, even well-educated and liberal ones, I’m amazed at the number of people who don’t realize that, unlike opposite-sex couples, Tawn and I have no immigration rights as a couple.

For example, if Tawn and I were an opposite-sex couple, even an unmarried one, as the US citizen I would be able to apply for an “engagement visa”, which would allow Tawn to move to the US and, provided we were subsequently married within six months, apply for residency and then citizenship.

And, of course, if we were an opposite-sex couple and were married, the path for him to move to the US would be smoothly paved and well-marked.

That, unfortunately, is not the case for us.  Even if we were to get legally married in Massachusetts or to have a civil union in Vermont, we would still not have immigration rights, nor any of the 1,200+ other rights afforded opposite-sex married couples by the United States Federal Government.

I say this not to complain – I’m quite happy living in Thailand – but to make all of you aware of these facts.  As we head into the election season, I would ask that you evaluate candidates on, among other things, whether or not they support allowing committed, loving same-sex couples to receive the same rights and privileges of opposite-sex couples enjoy, particularly with regards to immigration.

Here is a press release from Love Exiles, a group with which I’m involved that specifically advocates for the rights of same-sex couples in which one of the partners is a US citizen and the other is a foreign national.

Thanks for your support!


Same-sex immigration on Democrats’ agenda

Amsterdam, Sunday, 20 April 2008 – For Immediate Release


With the presidential election looming, Democrats have set their sights on immigration rights for same-sex partners of U.S. citizens.


At their recent Global Convention in Vancouver, Canada, Democrats Abroad adopted a platform that calls on Congress to pass the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). The bill would amend U.S. immigration law and allow a U.S. citizen to sponsor a same-sex foreign partner.


“It hurts to be a second-class citizen,” said Bob Bragar, an American attorney who moved to Amsterdam in 1994 to be with his Dutch partner. “I am effectively deprived of the right to live in my own country. My husband Rik and I can only visit as tourists.”


Bragar chairs the Dutch branch of Democrats Abroad and, in August, will be a delegate for Barack Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.


One of Bragar’s top goals at the Denver convention is to ensure that changing America’s unfair immigration law is a priority for the eventual Democratic candidate.


Recently, both Democratic candidates have spoken out in favor of change.


On April 7, Sen. Hillary Clinton told talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres that she would defend gay rights as president and eliminate disparities for same-sex couples in federal law, including immigration policy.


In an open letter to the LGBT community earlier this year, Sen. Barack Obama declared his support for UAFA and equal immigration rights for same-sex couples. “I have worked to improve the Uniting American Families Act, so we can afford same-sex couples the same rights and obligations as married couples in our immigration system,” wrote Obama.


Bragar, who is legally married in the Netherlands, is a board member of Love Exiles, a community of American citizens and their partners forced to live outside the USA due to immigration restrictions.


Love Exiles represents thousands of couples who do not have the freedom to live with their chosen partners because of issues of nationality and sexuality.


Today, only 17 countries provide any possibility for their gay and lesbian citizens to sponsor a foreign partner for immigration. 


Contact Love Exiles via Martha McDevitt-Pugh (+31) (0)6 2150 4249



Thailand returns to democracy but the fun is hardly over

Sunday, December 23rd the Thai people went to the polls to elect a new government, the first democratic elections since a military-led coup toppled the constitution in September 2006.  The coup government claimed that the coup was held because Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai (“Thais love Thais”) party were corrupt and had undermined the nation’s democracy.  After an investigation, a court dissolved TRT and banned 111 of its leaders from politics for five years.

From the ashes of the largely populist TRT, which despite allegations of vote buying in previous elections seems to legitimately have the support of a large majority of the Thai citizens, rose the People Power Party.  With obvious connections to exiled Thaksin, PPP leader Samak Sundaravej has made clear that one of the PPP’s planks is 23thai_600 to continue TRT’s popular policies. 

Another plank is to let Thaksin return to Thailand and receive a fair trial.  The implication is that the 111 TRT leaders could be cleared of all charges and return to politics.

How much do PPP members support Thaksin?  This Bangkok Post picture, right, shows them at a rally wearing Thaksin masks.  TRT/PPP has been especially popular in the North and Northeast sections of the country, with Khrungthep forming the crucial battleground for the elections.

Samsak  Abhisit

The 72-year old Samak (left), a crotchety veteran of Thai politics known for berating “irreverent” female reporters, faces off against the rival Democrat Party, led by 43-year old Oxford-educated Abhisit Vejjajiva (right) who was described by The Economist magazine as handsome but ineffectual.

The Democrats, a historically conservative party that is royalist in nature that is the primary challenge to the PPP, has in recent years had a difficult time building any effective support beyond the urban middle class in Khrungthep and the residents of the conflict-torn South.


The Campaign

Thai election campaigns are more about parties than individual candidates.  With the new constitution, each region of the country is given three representative seats so parties have promoted trios of candidates who are generally not notable with the exception of being from a particular party.  We don’t need to know anything about them beyond their profession or the family they’re from.  All we need to know is that they are a member of a particular party.

The party leaders, Samak and Abhisit included, have been the only point where there has been any policy debate.  Most of this has been general and couched in elusive terms.  “We’re for the country and happiness!” could easily be the slogan of any of the seven parties.

Campaign signs are generally dull.  For example:

P1020452  P1030325 

P1020327  P1030320

From upper left: “Please vote for all the team members” from the Democrat Party.  Prachai Liawpirat, the leader of the Machimatitapai Party, an entrepreneur who is positioning himself essentially as a new Thaksin.  Ruam Jai Thai Chat Pattana Party (“Thai Togetherness, the Nation Progresses”) puts forth a slate of multi-colored shirts with the slogan, “Choose as you think best, for the life of the Khrungthep residents”.   Chart Thai (the #3 ranked party) leader, Banharn Silpa-archa, who is known by his nickname “Tung” referring to his passing resemblance to Mao Tse Tung.  Tung actually is a key player here, which I’ll talk about in a moment.

The only campaigning that was really interesting was that put up by Chart Thai’s Khrungthep candidates, who are really emphasizing their youth and being part of a new generation, fed up by the past.  Their posters, four of which I’ll explain below, are really funny.

P1030324 Left: “We smell the bad smell of “polluted water” politics.  Do you also?”  The line drawing behind them show a crowd of people holding their noses, too.  The expression nam naw refers to the polluted water that are underneath slum houses, for example along a khlong

The expression is used idiomatically to mean someone or something that is overly dramatic for no purpose.  For example, soap operas on television are called lakon nam naw – literally, “polluted water show”.

The funny event in all of this is that Tung, the leader of Chart Thai, was on a campaign stop in a slum area in Bangkok and the floor collapsed under him and he literally ended up in the nam naw.  This led to all sorts of jokes that he, too, had been tainted by the bad smell of polluted politics.

The last laugh will be on Tung, though, because unless the PPP or the Democrats get a significant majority in the elections, they will need to form a coalition government and Chart Thai is running third in the polls.  As was pointed out after the nam naw incident, Tung might be smelling bad now but after the elections, the other parties will be coming up to sniff his cheeks.

P1030319  P1020277  P1030321

Left: “Choose the team of the new generation, for the new era of politics” featuring Apikiat “Bo” Janpanit (#10) as the “captain” of the team, a perfect allusion in this football-mad country.  Center: “Time to take out the political tape worms” with an image of a tape worm medicine bottle superimposed over Apikiat’s face.  Right: “Too many new political parties, but the old faces again?  Young people get bored.”  Despite #12’s looking like he isn’t part of the young generation, Chart Thai is trying to drum up support among the younger generation.


The Results

The polls closed at 3:00 in the afternoon and three different exit polls are indicating that the PPP has won the largest segment of seats in the new parliament, although by how much is the question.  One poll puts their lead at 256 of the 480 seats, to the Democrat’s 162.  Other polls show the margin narrower.  If the PPP does get around that many seats, they may be able to form a government on their own.  But if their margin is narrower, they will have to form a coalition, which could lead to instability.

Either way, there is no doubt that the political turmoil will continue.  The current government was making overt efforts to discredit the PPP’s campaign before the election, including raising questions about vote buying and the inappropriate appearance of a campaign VCD distributed in the north with a message from Thaksin.  This looks like groundwork to potentially invalidate the election results afterwards. 

In the past two weeks, the King has publicly appealed to the nation no less than three times – a rare excess of appearances – asking for unity in this difficult time.  It will be interesting to see if his subjects pay heed to his request.

One thing is certain: stay tuned over the months to come for more political uncertainty.