09/22/2006 09:38 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Patrick Murphy for Congress; and My Neighbor Speaks on Torture

I went to a fundraiser given by my neighbors Margaret and Matt in mid July for Patrick Murphy, a young and vibrant Democrat running for Congress. He wants to represent the 8th district of Pennsylvania, which includes Bucks and Montgomery Counties and northeast Philadelphia. He is running against the incumbent Michael Fitzpatrick, a young and rubber-stamping Republican who deserves to be unseated.

As Arianna Huffington wrote two days ago: "There couldn't be less ambiguity about the stark choice being offered to the electorate in November. Do you want to let George Bush continue to have a free hand in destroying this country or do you want to pull the plug on him? It's that simple."

Voting for Patrick Murphy is one of the ways we can take away that free hand Bush has been enjoying, and get back some of the checks and balances that are in the constitution but are not presently functioning.

Patrick Murphy is in a competitive race, and stands a good chance of winning. Early on, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chose to fund Patrick as a "Red to Blue State" Candidate.

What are his positions?

Murphy is for stem cell research, and supports full funding. He opposes the ways pharmaceutical companies were allowed to form the prescription drug bill, and oil companies were allowed to influence or perhaps even write the energy policy.

He is in favor of health care for all Americans, a concept Republicans seem allergic to.

He is concerned about climate change and, unlike Bush and many Republicans and oil company executives, he does not do elaborate dances pretending it doesn't exist.

He wants to break American reliance on foreign oil and to encourage American ingenuity to develop alternative fuel sources, and to offer incentives to companies who invest in alternative energy, including things like hybrid cars.

(Do you remember Bush's 2004 Economic Stimulus Plan which allowed small businesses to deduct the entire cost of buying an SUV, including for a doctor or financial adviser to deduct up to $88,000 for a Hummer? That's our energy conscious president for you! An explanation of how this worked is here.)

Murphy is also pro-choice, which does not mean "oh I love abortion," it means that the right to decide should belong to the woman in consultation with her doctor. You can be uncomfortable with abortion and still not want the government to be the "decider" on this issue.

He believes the government should balance the budget. That used to be a Republican position, but of Reagan, George Walker Bush, and Clinton, ONLY Clinton, the Democrat, got rid of the deficit.

George W. Bush is the worst yet in terms of spending. He's like a spoiled rich kid - what do I mean "like," he IS a spoiled rich kid who charges astonomical amounts on his credit card. Bush's credit card is called China, and we will all get this bill from China in years to come.

I think the media should insist on reporting how much has been borrowed from China, and at what interest rate. I think they should mention this borrowing each and every time funding for the Iraq war comes up. But then that's just me.

Murphy sees Bush's Iraq war as a terrible mistake and has a nuanced plan for how and when to get our troops out of there. His plan is called "A Soldier's Solution to Iraq."

And yes, he is an Iraq war veteran. He was deployed to Baghdad in 2003-2004 as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division. He also served in Bosnia in 2002. Impressively, he also taught constitutional law at West Point.

When he spoke at my neighbors' fundraiser, Murphy told a striking anecdote about teaching a class at West Point, part of which was on the Geneva convention. After the class he was stopped by a female cadet, who was very troubled.

She wanted to know why there had been no "Article 5 hearings" held for the U.S. prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, as required by the Geneva Conventions. Murphy realized he had no answer, he couldn't defend the government.

"Article 5 hearings" are required by the Geneva Conventions, and they can be as short as two minutes, Murphy said. Under the Third Geneva Convention, an Article 5 hearing is convened whenever there is a question concerning whether a combatant can be considered a lawful or unlawful combatant. If they are a lawful combatant, they are eligible for the humane protections of the Geneva Conventions.

Furthermore, anyone who has NOT been given an Article 5 hearing and has thus not been declared an unlawful combatant must then be given all rights under the Geneva Conventions.

Since no one at Guantanamo Bay had been given an Article 5 hearing, all prisoners there needed to be given all the considerations as if they were Prisoners of War. At least if the United States wanted to follow the international agreement it had agreed to.

However, as we've learned, President Bush breaks the law all the time, or redefines it at whim to mean something else, encouraged in this illegality by his toadying attorney general Alberto Gonzalez and by the odious lawyer John Yoo.

(I've been wanting to call Yoo odious for a while. He was the legal mind behind much of the redefining of torture, for Bush's convenience, so that anything that didn't cause organ failure was not considered torture. He frequently offers his legal opinion that as long as the President has declared an unending war on terror, the president's position in wartime supercedes Congress and the courts. The President is the Decider, and you better just stay out of his way. You can read about Yoo here and here and here. A truly dangerous man who uses his brain to dismantle the American system of government. Do you get how I feel?)

So Patrick Murphy was disturbed by the administration not playing by the very rules he was hired to teach at West Point.

Sometime after his time in the military was over, Murphy heard the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (that preposterously named organization) put forth their baseless assertions that Kerry had been unjustifiably given five medals during his time fighting in Vietnam.

Wow, the army must really be incompetent - FIVE separate medals, and the army made a mistake on ALL of them? Shall we look at other people's medals from wars, and assume that a large percentage are mistakes?

Those who use Rove-like dirty political tricks know that truth doesn't matter on TV and that accusations harm, because the media just repeats them endlessly.

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth episode was a low point in television journalism. The normal journalistic rules of "fact checking" just went out the window. Around a week and a half later, some newspapers came out with articles investigating these accusations, and finding them false (including some of the accusers having previously praised Kerry's war record). Television never did a follow up that I saw. As far as TV news is concerned, if an accusation comes out, you just trumpet it over and over and over.

I have one. Did you know that George and Laura Bush bite the heads off chickens and drink their blood, all the while dancing naked and screaming "666, it's on his forehead, 666!" I have that on VERY good sources, please put that on Fox News and MSNBC and CNN as soon as possible, and keep repeating it every 30 minutes. Thank you.

At the fundraiser, Murphy said that when he heard the Swift Boat attacks, he went straight to a Kerry headquarters and offered his help, both as a citizen and as someone who'd been in the military. (He has since gotten to know Kerry, and been endorsed by him; they just wrote a joint editorial for the Philadephia Daily News about Iraq.

Murphy is young (32), he's just gotten married, and he's also a lawyer. And he told us that his mother initially asked him to consider postponing running for public office a little longer, so his career could get going more, and so his new family life could settle in. And Murphy said to her, "The country can't wait, it needs help now."

Which is what I feel. We need candidates like Murphy to bring the checks and balances back to our country. (And there are a whole bunch of other good candidates out there too.)

A few words about Murphy's opponent, incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick has basically rubber stamped Bush's Iraq war policies until about two months ago, when he distanced himself from "stay the course" and switched to a McCain-ish "we need more troops" position. And his Doylestown office told me he is hoping something called the Iraq Study Group will hold meetings to discuss the Iraq situation and come up with alternative solutions to victory.

I suppose that's slightly better than parroting "stay the course," but wanting more troops and waiting for a report from a study group - sounds like 5 more years in Iraq to me. (I'm not too impressed with the Republicans who are just now starting to question the war. It's too big a mistake to just be noticing now.)

Fitzpatrick is also opposed to stem cell research. And in a recent debate he used the phrase "my faith tells me" to justify his position. Remember when Kennedy promised he wouldn't do that? Fitzpatrick is pro-life, or as I like to say, he doesn't want the woman and her doctor to decide, he wants the government to.

There is also controversy with Fitzpatrick taking tainted money both from convicted Jack Abrahmoff and Congressman Bob Ney. Ney gave us the terms "Freedom Fries," and recently pled guilty to federal corruption charges. An article on Fitzpatrick's connections to this is here.

Also there's been criticism of Fitzpatrick sending out expensive campaign literature using tax payer money rather than campaign fund money. Sounds wrong to me. An article on that is here.

To be fair, his votes are good on the environment. And he voted against a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, saying the states should decide. Whether or not he's actually pro civil rights for gays, I can't tell by that vote. I still give him credit for it, yet his "my faith tells me" remark makes me wonder where he stood when Senator Rick Santorum spoke out so strongly about wanting states to retain the rights to criminalize homosexuality. Santorum's faith tells him a lot of things.

I was raised Catholic, I'm lapsed for various thelogical reasons, but when I believed I did NOT believe every single thing the Church said. The authoritarian strain in the Catholic Church is not something for Catholics to be proud of. Declaring yourself infallible is a laughable way to win the argument, as the Pope and Church did centuries ago. It's based on Christ saying to Peter, "upon this rock, I build my church." Does that sound like "all popes are infallible" to you?

Fitzpatrick is trying to smear Patrick Murphy for not walking in lock step with the Catholic Church. (They're both practicing Catholics.) Back off, Fitzpatrick - walking in lock step with only conservative views in the Catholic Church is for people who won't use their minds. Do you really support the Church's insane, anti-sex and illogical stance against birth control? Well, this is Catholic infighting, let's move on.

Time to vote Fitzpatrick out. Candidate Patrick Murphy is every bit as strong on the environment, and is more unambiguously in favor of gay rights. And he is better on all the other issues - and Iraq and stem cell research are CORE to me. I'm sick of the Republican neocons and theocrats ramming their "how to spread democracy with bombs" and "life begins in the petri dish" theories down our throats. The majority of the country does not agree with them on either issue.

So please - THIS IS THE TIME TO GET RID OF THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE RUBBER-STAMPED BUSH. We have been held hostage to this President's whims and lack of sober, intellectual judgment for 6 years, and there have been NO checks and balances with the Republicans controlling both Congress and the Senate.

Bush has been driving us over the cliff, and the Congress and Senate have sat in the back of the "car of state" exchanging advertising slogans: Don't cut and run. Stay and die. When the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down. If Iraqis sit down, we'll throw up. Regardless, we'll just stay there, letting our soldiers die and get maimed as they "babysit a civil war" (to quote New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who annoyingly supported this "war of choice," but now thinks the Bush team incompetence has made the whole effort beyond saving).

So if you're in the 8th district in Pennsylvania, please vote for Patrick Murphy. And if you're not, please send him a donation, he's one of the ones who could win, but it's close. In March, incumbent Fitzpatrick had a 14 point lead. In September, it's down to a 5 point lead. So Murphy is making strides. But he has to keep making strides if he's to win, so support him if you can. (Murphy's website.)

I have a Part Two to this posting.

It's about my neighbor Margaret, who with her husband organized this fundraiser. She was inspired to action after a group of us went to see Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth, which played for many weeks in our area. She decided to help a Democrat candidate replace a Republican one, and she got about 150 of her friends and acquaintances to pay a modest amount to come to her farm and meet Patrick and hear him speak.

Margaret Dulaney is a playwright and essayist, but she is not one who craves the spotlight. So most of us were surprised that she had prepared a speech to introduce Patrick.

Margaret's speech was very moving in its sincerity, sweetness, sadness and calm logic. A lot of what she said had to do with what has happened to the country during Bush's administration, how we've lost our American character, we've lost our moral compass. "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity," to quote W.B. Yeats.

Her speech was in July, and in it she spoke about torture.

And torture has been in the news a lot lately, with Bush demanding that the Congress rewrite the Geneva Conventions so that the CIA can keep using their "extreme" versions of interrogation.

As you know, Senators John Warner, Lindsay Graham, John McCain and Susan Collins, with public support from Colin Powell, have been refusing to grant Bush what he wants. They want the Geneva conventions upheld.

Last evening it was announced that an agreement had been reached. Whether or not our brave moderate Republicans stood up to the President or capitulated, I can't quite tell yet. Keep in mind John McCain has never said boo about the signing statement President Bush attached to McCain's anti-torture bill - which pretty much negated force of the bill; the President's statement says he will enforce it, except when he won't. So though I appreciate the signs of sanity in the few moderate Republicans left alive, I still have fears they may cave in to Bush. (Here's an update this morning. Seems Bush backed off some things, but it's not done yet, and different articles are presently some details differently. So we'll see.) (Uh oh. Late this afternoon Cenk Yugur wrote this. I find his interpretation believable. And still more, the Washington Post feels it's mostly caving into Bush in this editorial.)

But back to Margaret and her speech introducing Patrick Murphy. She speaks for a lot of us with what she says (and in a sweeter, milder voice than mine).

Here is what Margaret said:

"Matt and I bought this farm in early 2000, during those halcyon days of American complacency. We bought these 113 acres to save the neighborhood from what we feared was the threat of reckless development. In November of the same year, a national decision was made to place an administration in the White House, that would see us hurling into one of the darkest of periods of our nation's history, and we were to witness reckless developments of the most fearful magnitude, effecting the entire world and the planet. I don't have to reiterate for this group all of the elements of this particular darkness, we are all too sorrowfully aware of them.

For many years the saving of this small piece of land seemed not to matter the slightest bit against such a tide of global darkness.

I remember the day this seriousness of mine overtook me. It was sometime after 9/11 while reading an article in the New Yorker. The piece was taken from interviews of a friend of the Bush Family, a Saudi ambassador, and it outlined George W's relaxed view on torture. It was before the Abu Ghraib scandal, before many reports had come out of Guantanamo and well before any information had been exposed about our secret prisons, but it implied all of this.

It implied that the concepts of Christianity and Torture could presume to be linked in the same mind. That these ideas could exist anywhere near each other seriously appalls. The fact is they cannot, and therefore one of them, either Christianity or Torture must be a lie. I wish I could say it was torture.

How, I wondered, how could anything we did in our little corner of Bucks County make an ounce of difference against this tremendous horror.

In 2004 when John Kerry conceded the election I felt as if some beloved member of my family had died and I was in a sort of paralyzed state of mourning. A friend suggested that family member had been hope. I spent much of 2005 in a sort of frozen torpor but I don't think it's natural to remain in a state of despair and lately I sense something new awakening. I believe out of this mountain of gloom, little shoots of hope have begun to sprout.

Last month Matt and I attended a CARE function where people from all across the country were invited to come into Washington to advocate to their home state Congressmen and Senators for the alleviation of Global hunger, for AIDS relief and other third world concerns, while the foreign aid bill was on the table. 700 people signed up for this effort. More than CARE could handle, and most of them were under thirty. We left Washington feeling almost buoyant.

There are no great deeds, Mother Teresa tells us, only small deeds done with great love.

Matt and I have decided to try and make this farm a pioneer project for sustainable energy. We're going to fill that barn roof with solar panels, we're looking into wind energy, hope to grow an ethanol crop someday soon. We've made a commitment to change our little corner of the world, believing that the ripple effect of good effort, no matter how gentle, will make a difference. I look around my circle of neighbors and see Danny, who is planning on heating his home this winter with his homemade biofuel converted from Dilly's french-fry oil. Eve and Tim who are growing organic produce for our farm community, Marlin who fills our tractor and takes care of this farm with biofuel. I see hybrid cars popping up like flowers around the neighborhood. All of these grass roots efforts make a difference.

In the midst of these hopeful signs of Spring, and as I was sensing the return of light, up popped Patrick Murphy (at least on my radar.) I was intrigued. I went to his web site. I was delighted. I met him and I was galvanized.

Patrick began his grass roots efforts toward change over 18 months ago with small volunteer projects all around the District. He is committed to local change with a desire to lessen our dependence on foreign oil by focusing on alternative energy. He understands our need for land preservation, our need for better health care, swift flood relief. All of these issues are important to me as a citizen of Bucks County but my requirements for this seat in Congress are greater than my local interests. I require my candidate also have an awareness of the world and how much our country's policies are affecting that world and our earth.

Patrick has a broad history with first hand knowledge of our Country's foreign policy. He has served in the military in two deployments since 9/11, the fist in Bosnia in 2002 and the second in Baghdad in 2003 2004. He was a paratrooper in the 82 Airborne division. Graduating from Widener University School of law he has practiced law in New York, North Carolina and Baghdad, where he initiated reconstruction efforts within the justice system, and trained the new Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. He was the youngest professor to teach at West Point, and more important he taught constitutional law. In short, he is not only someone with local concerns but with global knowledge.

It seems apparent that in these times, apart from focusing on what will bring hope to our local community, we owe it to the world to elect those people into public office who have an understanding of what might bring hope to the world. We are a global community, there's no question of this, and we are in very dark times. Patrick's desire to serve our community in the US Congress has given me hope. I hope it will do the same for all of you."

Then she introduced Patrick. Everyone there plans to vote for Patrick, and hopes passionately that he wins. But we also hope that Margaret runs for office, or, if not her, hope more and more people like her run for office. Some sanity, some empathy for people, including those who suffer from our policies. No swagger, no bellicose posturing. It would be nice to have smarter, wiser leaders. We need them.

[Note: I received invaluable help tracking down information and articles on the two candidates by actor/politico William Meisle. Thank you, Bill.]