a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Better Democrats

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 23rd October 2008

Most readers probably know that there’s an easy, centralized way to contribute to campaigns of specific Democrats — “ActBlue.” Some blog supersites have set up lists of candidates they approve of in special ActBlue fundraising campaigns; for example, “firedoglake” has “Accountability Now,” and “Daily Kos” has “orangetoblue.”

The one I like right now is called simply Better Democrats,” and it’s a project of the “OpenLeft” blog run by Matt Stoller et al.  The reason I like it is that I ran across Matt Stoller’s interview of Georgia Senate candidate Jim Martin, in which the Georgia Democrat pleasantly surprised me:

Question: Do you have a position on FISA and government wiretapping?

Jim Martin
: The threat of terrorism is real and the government should take all necessary measures to protect us. While I support the overall aims of the recent FISA bill, the inclusion of a provision granting amnesty to telecom providers who permitted the government to listen in on the conversations of Americans without a warrant troubles me. Because I do not believe that the government should craft policy that permits law breaking, I would not have supported the FISA bill that included telecom immunity. […]

Question: Do you think that Congress should investigate potential criminal activity within the Bush administration after he leaves office, or should Congress choose to ignore them and work on legislation going forward?

Jim Martin: Congress has an awful lot to do in order to get this economy working for the middle class again, and that would be my first priority. That said, laws are meaningless if not applied and applied fairly. If there is reason to believe that Bush Administration officials broke the law, they should be investigated and punished if found guilty just like anyone else.

These and other good answers — plus, it must be admitted, the prospect of kicking Saxby Chambliss’s worthless ass out of the Senate — convinced OpenLeft community members to support adding Martin to the “Better Democrats” list.

Note the name, and make no mistake — if you want a “Absolutely Perfect Democrats” ActBlue list, you’ll need to keep looking.  For example, Martin severely disappointed GLBT Georgians this summer with his opposition to same-sex marriage, though he supports the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell,” and other affirmations of gay rights.

Even on FISA, I don’t think Martin is pitch-perfect; for my part, I don’t even support the overall aims of the recent FISA bill, not when they include shortcuts around the probable cause principle of the Fourth Amendment.  But to the extent that Martin “gets it” that telecom immunity permitted lawbreaking retroactively, he may eventually get it that the FISA bill permits ongoing Constitution- and Bill of Rights-breaking as well.

So Martin is a “Better Democrat” in my book, and I recognize many of the names on the “Better Democrats” list as well:

  • Darcy Burner (WA-8), author of “A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq” — which includes provisions for giving plaintiffs status to sue if they believe warrantless electronic surveillance is threatening their First Amendment rights.
  • Sam Bennett (PA-15), co-endorser of “Responsible Plan”;
  • Jeff Merkley (OR), who called out Obama for voting for the FISA Amendment Act.
  • Al Franken (MN), who made his opposition to the Iraq war the center of his campaign with effective, hard hitting ads like this one.
  • Dennis Shulman (NJ-5), who wrote on his web site after the FISA Amendment Act passed in the House: ““The House of Representatives, with the support of Republican Scott Garrett, recently passed a bill that would grant President Bush and future administrations unprecedented powers to spy on American citizens without a warrant or review by any judge or court. The new law would also let our nation’s largest telecom companies off the hook for knowingly violating the law and releasing their customers’ private information at the behest of George Bush.

I’ve been flogging the “Better Democrats” idea via facebook and myBarackObama “Get FISA Right” groups, and thought I ought to mention it here as well.  Matt Stoller was nice enough to add a “Get FISA Right” tag (the “?refcode=GetFISARight” at the end of the URL), which makes it possible to track the subtotal gathered via all the various links sharing that tag, like this one.

So if you can spare a few bucks, but want to make sure they go not just to any old Democrat the DCCC wants to spend money on, but to ones you want to spend money on, here’s a place to do just that.  Click the link: ActBlue – Better Democrats.  Thanks.

UPDATE, 10/23: Shulman point added.

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Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq: candidate updates

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 16th October 2008

While the economy has taken center stage in the final weeks of the 2008 campaign, Iraq remains a critical issue as well — the war costs billions of dollars each month, and costs American and Iraqi lives, limbs, and health as well.

The “Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq” was developed by congressional candidates Darcy Burner, Donna Edwards, and others as a campaign platform and legislative agenda. For more on the plan — which seeks both to end the war in Iraq, and prevent failures like it in the future — follow the link and/or see my blog posts about it.  The plan calls for

  • Ending U.S. military action in Iraq
  • Using U.S. diplomatic power
  • Addressing humanitarian concerns
  • Restoring our Constitution
  • Restoring our military
  • Restoring independence to the media
  • Creating a new, U.S.-centered energy policy

…with specific legislative proposals for each goal.  Here’s a quick rundown on how some of the candidates who developed the plan are doing.

  • Donna Edwards (MD-04): an incumbent by now, and a prohibitive favorite — no Republican has received more than 25% of the vote in this district since 1994.
  • Eric Massa (NY-29): Up 51-44, (10/7/08, SurveyUSA)
  • Tom Perriello (VA-05): Down 42-55 (10/7/08, SurveyUSA); has gained 12 points in 2 months
  • Chellie Pingree (ME-01): Up 44-33 (10/2/08, PolitickerME);  22% undecided!
  • Jared Polis (CO-02): “heavy favorite” (9/10/08, PolitickerCO)
  • George Fearing (WA-04): can’t find recent poll information; debate on 10/16 attended by about 200 people (
  • Larry Byrnes (FL-14): out earlier this summer.
  • Stephen Harrison (NY-13): out in September primary (9/9/08,
  • Sam Bennett (PA-15): “Republican favored” (CQ Politics); recent mistake about the solvency of two banks in a televised debate was blurred and muted at Bennett’s request by the broadcasting TV station — probably not a good development.
  • Darcy Burner (WA-08): Up 49-44 (10/14/08, DCCC); had been down 44-54 (9/9/08, SUSA).

Obviously, all of them deserve our help and many are in close races. To help with a non-tax-deductible donation, go to the Responsible Plan ActBlue web site and give to any or all of them.

UPDATE, EDITS, 10/16; Bennett, Harrison, Fearing information updated.

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Mission accomplished! — "Responsible Plan" dropped off at Van Hollen’s office

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 1st May 2008

As advertised, I joined my friends Michelle Bailey, Hank Prensky, and Joy Austin-Lane in a short visit to Congressman Chris Van Hollen’s (D-MD-8) local Hyattsville office (just outside Takoma Park), to bring the Congressman a copy of “A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq.”

Michelle is a fellow impeachment activist — or I should say I am, she and Lisa Moscatiello were the ones who started Takoma Park impeachment activism, I joined in late. I was also very gratified that former Takoma Park City Council members Hank Prensky and Joy Austin-Lane joined us.

We met at a local cafe first and went over what we were going to say. I had brought along talking points supplied by which helped us gather our own thoughts.

I introduced the plan as a comprehensive legislative agenda calling for a complete exit from Iraq, with no permanent bases, that I hoped Rep. Van Hollen would be able to support. I noted that Rep. Van Hollen is indeed a co-sponsor of many of the legislative initiatives the plan highlights — for instance, a key bill calling for a diplomatic offensive with Iraq’s neighbors — which we thanked him for.

I also noted that the plan calls for an end to off-budget appropriations for the Iraq war; Mr. Prensky added that he hoped Van Hollen would vote against the looming Iraq supplemental appropriations bill. Ms. Austin-Lane recalled the opposition to the Iraq war in Takoma Park, and the City Council resolution she and Mr. Prensky voted for opposing it.

As an impeachment activist, Michelle added that she hoped Van Hollen would reconsider his opposition to impeachment; I joined her in that, but emphasized that wasn’t a feature of the plan we’d come to discuss.

I added that I hoped Van Hollen would consider making the “Responsible Plan” part of the DCCC’s 2008 agenda, and that I thought he should make sure to support the candidates who’ve endorsed it.

It was a pleasure meeting Mr. West, who staffs Chris Van Hollen’s Hyattsville office. He listened carefully, took notes, and told us he’d have the copy of the “Responsible Plan” in Rep. Van Hollen’s hands this afternoon.

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I have a responsible plan to end the war in Iraq

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 30th April 2008

Thursday, May 1 is the fifth anniversary of “Mission Accomplished” – the day George Bush stood on an aircraft carrier declaring major combat operations over in Iraq.

Five years later, the costs of war keep mounting and there’s still no end in sight. In 1994, the Republicans came up with a Contract with America that they worked to implement as soon as they were sworn in. This time around, it will be up to us to make sure that whoever is elected to Congress move briskly to enact the Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq and bring our troops home.

True Majority e-mailing.

A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq - Click here to add your supportOn Thursday, I’ll be joining hundreds of others around the country who will be delivering a copy of the plan to their Congressional representatives (details below). We’ll be putting Washington on notice — once again –that there is strong support for getting out of Iraq and preventing future Iraqs.

As befits candidates for civilian, legislative office, the plan is a statement of purpose, campaign platform, and legislative agenda rolled into one rather than a detailed “brigade X leaves city Y at time Z” military plan. Its principles are…

  • Ending U.S. military action in Iraq
  • Using U.S. diplomatic power
  • Addressing humanitarian concerns
  • Restoring our Constitution
  • Restoring our military
  • Restoring independence to the media
  • Creating a new, U.S.-centered energy policy

The authors point to recommendations made by the Iraq Study Group in late 2006 to flesh out the fuller implications — e.g., renouncing permanent bases and ramping up a “diplomatic offensive” in the region. There are already legislative proposals to accomplish some of these goals: as Ilan Goldenberg writes in The New Republic, H.R.3797 (for a “New Diplomatic Offensive for Iraq”) would direct the president to appoint a high-ranking Special Envoy responsible for dealing with Iraq’s neighbors.

As is clear from the bullet list above, the plan is not just about how to get out of Iraq, but also about how to prevent future abuses of power from happening; thus, the plan also highlights legislation like S. 139, the Foreign Surveillance Expedited Review Act, which makes it easier to challenge FISA abuses in court, or H.R. 3045, the Presidential Signing Statements Act of 2007, which “[p]rohibits any state or federal court from relying on or deferring to a presidential signing statement as a source of authority when determining the meaning of any Act of Congress.” The “Responsible Plan” document also mentions legislation against “outsourcing” torture, and legislation requiring that the U.S. end its use of military contractors — i.e., mercenaries — in Iraq.

For more on the “Responsible Plan” — which was developed not by some think tank, but by Darcy Burner, Donna Edwards, and other progressive congressional candidates — visit the web site at, and download the document.*

To join my delegation to Congressman Van Hollen’s Hyattsville office, please RSVP at this “TrueMajority” link. We’ll gather as a group at Savory Cafe (7071 Carroll Ave., Takoma Park) around 8:30am on Thursday morning, go over the talking points, take a photo and then deliver the plan to the Congressional office at 9:00am. The address is

6475 New Hampshire Avenue
Suite C-201
Hyattsville, MD 20783 (map)
(301) 891-6982

I’ve called ahead to notify the staffer there of the meeting, which ought to be polite, of course — for one thing, Rep. Van Hollen is a co-sponsor of many of the bills highlighted in the “Responsible Plan” document.** It also will need to be brief — the staffer is due elsewhere by 9:30. If you prefer to meet us at the New Hampshire Avenue office at 9am, that’s OK, too, of course, but it may be nice to get a cup of coffee with us and get acquainted first.

* I’ve written about the plan here and here as well.
** This footnote will be replaced with (1) a list of “Responsible Plan”-endorsed legislation co-sponsored by Van Hollen, and (2) one list of such legislation not yet co-sponsored by him.

UPDATE, 4/30: is providing additional resources (signs, talking points) for the Responsible Plan Delivery here. They will also host a conference call tonight at 9PM EST with Alan Charney, the Program Director of USAction, and leaders behind the Responsible Plan including Congressional Candidates Darcy Burner and Eric Massa, as well as analysts from the National Security Network.

Responsible Plan Briefing Conference Call
Wednesday, April 30th, 2008, 9 PM Eastern
800-761-6708; entry code: 586945#


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Donna Edwards et al on "A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq"

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th March 2008

Donna Edwards and other congressional candidates explain why they’ve endorsed “A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq” in the video below:

Yes, I know he’s not Donna Edwards; I mainly want the leftyblogs Maryland link. Ms. Edwards has made the plan a prominent feature of her campaign web site. From the press release:

The United States has been in Iraq for 5 years now; 3,988 honorable servicemen and women are dead; over 29,000 are injured; as many as 1 million Iraqis are dead; and there is still no legitimate end in sight,” said Donna Edwards, Democratic nominee for Maryland’s 4th Congressional District. “This Administration and its Congressional allies continue to enable the war and defy the will of the American people who demand that a new path be forged. I join military and political leaders in calling for all possible military, diplomatic, and economic strategies to bring an end to the war while protecting American interests. When we enter Congress we will be clear about the expectations of the American people to embark immediately on a responsible plan to end this debacle in Iraq.

I actually happened to speak with plan co-author Lawrence Korb on the Metro yesterday. No, he doesn’t know me — I just happened to recognize him, and thanked him for his work. He said the Obama and Clinton campaigns hadn’t responded to the plan yet, which calls for no residual forces in Iraq whatsoever (beyond the minimum needed to guard the embassy). I assume that will change — but not unless we make them.

PS: Those of you on “facebook” can join the facebook supporters group here; for one-stop support of the candidates involved, go here; to read more about it, scroll down or click here.

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A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 18th March 2008

Responsibly ending the U.S. military action in Iraq and returning control of the country to the Iraqis is a critical step in enhancing U.S. security. This solution requires that no residual U.S. troops remain in Iraq. The continued presence in Iraq of so-called “residual” forces beyond the minimum needed for standard embassy-protection would be a serious mistake. Any such troops would become a magnet for insurgent attacks and unless they did nothing at all would inevitably become players in Iraq’s domestic political disputes, thus forcing the United States to continue to play referee to Iraq’s civil conflicts. Soldiers tasked with training missions would, to be effective, have to be embedded in Iraqi combat formations necessarily involving them directly in combat, thus continuing to hold American strategic fortunes hostage to events in Iraq that are beyond our control. […]

While the current administration and its allies may seek to portray a return pre-surge troop levels as the beginning of a military withdrawal, it is not enough to reduce troop levels to pre-surge levels. We must end the presence in Iraq of U.S. troops.

— from “A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq” (emphases added). The document was drafted and co-signed by ten candidates for the U.S. House: Darcy Burner (WA-8), Donna Edwards (MD-4), Eric Massa (NY-29), Chellie Pingree (ME-1), Tom Perriello (VA-5), Jared Polis (CO-2), George Fearing (WA-4), Larry Byrnes (FL-14), and Steve Harrison (NY-13), as well as Major General Paul Eaton (ret.), Dr. Lawrence Korb, Brigadier General John Johns (ret.), and Capt. Larry Seaquist (ret.)

The 36 page document is really more a declaration of purpose and a legislative/political plan, not a detailed military withdrawal plan.* It relies on Iraq Study Group timelines and statements of purpose — principally no open-ended troop commitment, a “diplomatic offensive” to secure outside help and guarantees for Iraq, no permanent bases, no goal of domination of Iraqi oil… and also no residual troops in Iraq, which I don’t recall the ISG being quite as explicit about.

Given the narrow confines of the Iraq debate at present, that’s a breakthrough. And the document isn’t just about Iraq; it essentially calls the United States as a whole on the carpet for issues ranging from torture to the blurred boundaries between news media and the administration before the war — often identifying specific pending legislation that might redress those issues. There’s a whole section titled, “Repair damage to constitutional processes and restore transparency and accountability,” recommending legislation restoring habeas corpus, ending signing statements, and ending “supplemental” outside-the-budget war funding. Tantalizingly, the declaration even speaks of holding perpetrators of war crimes responsible:

We should work with the international community to hold perpetrators of potential war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide accountable for their crimes. One way this could be done is by working with the United Nations to establish an independent war crimes commission or a special investigator to gather testimonies and investigate war crimes.

The declaration also, of course, directly challenges Clinton, Obama, and McCain to explain why maintaining even “residual” forces in Iraq is so important to them. I’m struck by how to the point it is — “Current State,” “The Desired End State,” “Proposals for Operations in Iraq,” “Preventing Future Iraqs, ” “Conclusion” … that’s it. About a third of it is devoted to end notes and an appendix listing pending legislation — it’s pretty quick reading.

All of the candidates involved deserve a lot of credit for developing this document. It deserves to be widely read and debated — and both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama should be challenged to adopt it as their own.

(Via Matthew Yglesias. The rollout is apparently happening at the Take Back America conference underway here in DC; here’s a firedoglake post with links to videos from the conference. Naturally, there’s a web site:

* For the details of a military plan to withdraw from Iraq, see “How to Redeploy,” also co-authored by the Center for American Progress’s Lawrence Korb. The page links to the full report, a 28 page .pdf file. From the introductory web page: “an orderly and safe withdrawal is best achieved over a 10- to 12-month period. Written in consultation with military planners and logistics experts, this report is not intended to serve as a playbook for our military planners but rather as a guide to policymakers and the general public about what is realistically achievable.” The plan is discussed in brief in the ThinkProgress post “The Way Out of Iraq: How to Safely and Orderly Redeploy in a Year;” it did envision leaving two brigades in Iraqi Kurdistan to prevent the outbreak of Turkish-Kurd violence, but otherwise calls for “phased consolidation” of the U.S. military in Iraq from the periphery to the center.

EDIT, 3/18: Candidate links added, and I’ve set up an ActBlue fundraising page for them, adding impeachment advocate Robert Wexler to the list.

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