Doug Lerner reports from Tokyo and St. Louis, and points beyond…

Archive for October, 2007

Reject Mukasey

I think the Senate should unreservedly reject Mukasey.

From today’s New York Times:

October 19, 2007
Senators Clash With Nominee About Torture


WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 ― President Bush’s nominee for attorney general, Michael B. Mukasey, declined Thursday to say if he considered harsh interrogation techniques like waterboarding, which simulates drowning, to constitute torture or to be illegal if used on terrorism suspects.

On the second day of confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Mukasey went further than he had the day before in arguing that the White House had constitutional authority to act beyond the limits of laws enacted by Congress, especially when it came to national defense.

He suggested that both the administration’s program of eavesdropping without warrants and its use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques for terrorism suspects, including waterboarding, might be acceptable under the Constitution even if they went beyond what the law technically allowed. Mr. Mukasey said the president’s authority as commander in chief might allow him to supersede laws written by Congress.

The tone of questioning was far more aggressive than on Wednesday, the first day of the hearings, as Mr. Mukasey, a retired federal judge, was challenged by Democrats who pressed him for his views on President Bush’s disputed antiterrorism policies.

In the case of the eavesdropping program, Mr. Mukasey suggested that the president might have acted appropriately under his constitutional powers in ordering the surveillance without court approval even if federal law would appear to require a warrant.

“The president is not putting somebody above the law; the president is putting somebody within the law,” said Mr. Mukasey, who seemed uncomfortable with the aggressive tone, occasionally stumbling in his responses. “The president doesn’t stand above the law. But the law emphatically includes the Constitution.”

The remarks about the eavesdropping program drew criticism from the committee’s chairman, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, who told Mr. Mukasey that he was troubled by his answer, adding, “I see a loophole big enough to drive a truck through.”

The questioning by the Democrats was tougher still regarding Mr. Mukasey’s views on presidential authority to order harsh interrogation techniques on terrorist suspects, including waterboarding, which was used by the C.I.A. on some of those who were captured and held in the agency’s secret prisons after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

“Is waterboarding constitutional?” Mr. Mukasey was asked by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, in one of the sharpest exchanges.

“I don’t know what is involved in the technique,” Mr. Mukasey replied. “If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional.”

Mr. Whitehouse described Mr. Mukasey’s response as a “massive hedge” since the nominee refused to be drawn into a conversation about whether waterboarding amounted to torture; many lawmakers from both parties, as well as civil liberties and human rights groups, have said it is clearly a form of torture. The administration has suggested that it ended the practice after protests from Capitol Hill and elsewhere, although it has never said so explicitly.

“I mean, either it is or it isn’t,” Mr. Whitehouse continued.

Waterboarding, he said, “is the practice of putting somebody in a reclining position, strapping them down, putting cloth over their faces and pouring water over the cloth to simulate the feeling of drowning. Is that constitutional?”

Mr. Mukasey again demurred, saying, “If it amounts to torture, it is not constitutional.”

Mr. Whitehouse said he was “very disappointed in that answer; I think it is purely semantic.”

“I’m sorry,” Mr. Mukasey replied.

While Mr. Mukasey still seemed almost certain to win Senate confirmation, a vote in the Judiciary Committee could be delayed until he provides written answers to questions raised Thursday by Mr. Leahy. The senator said he did not intend to hold the vote until after the responses were received and reviewed.

The committee’s ranking Republican, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said that while he shared some of Democrats’ concerns about Mr. Mukasey’s views on the limits of presidential authority, “I think you are virtually certain to be confirmed, and we’re glad to see the appointment and glad to see somebody who is strong, with a strong record, take over this department.”

Other Republicans joined in the praise. “I’ve listened to your testimony here, and it seems to me that you are extraordinarily well-suited for this position, pretty much as well as anybody who hasn’t served in the position before could be,” said Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona.

Among the Democrats, Mr. Leahy was especially critical of Mr. Mukasey, wondering aloud whether he had been pressured overnight by the White House to defend the administration’s view of its expanded powers in dealing with terrorist threats.

“In your answers yesterday, there was a very bright line on questions of torture and the ability of an executive, or inability of an executive, to ignore the law,” Mr. Leahy said. “That seems nowhere near as bright a line today, and maybe I just don’t understand.”

“I don’t know whether you received some criticism from anybody in the administration last night after your testimony,” he said, “but I sensed a difference, and a number of people here, Republican and Democratic alike, have sensed a difference.”

Mr. Mukasey insisted there had been no pressure from the White House on Wednesday, saying, “I received no criticism.”

My new cat?

There is this cat that keeps on coming in to my house! When I open the side door, she comes in, looks around, runs up the stairs…

I thought the 2nd floor veranda door was safe, but today when I opened it up to take in the drying laundry she came in from upstairs!

And just now, when I went upstairs, look what I saw through the dark window!

Maybe I should stop feeding her…



Conservative Republicans get it all wrong on health care facts again

From the NY Times

October 10, 2007
Capitol Feud: A 12-Year-Old Is the Fodder

WASHINGTON, Oct. 9 — There have been moments when the fight between Congressional Democrats and President Bush over the State Children’s Health Insurance Program seemed to devolve into a shouting match about who loves children more.

So when Democrats enlisted 12-year-old Graeme Frost, who along with a younger sister relied on the program for treatment of severe brain injuries suffered in a car crash, to give the response to Mr. Bush’s weekly radio address on Sept. 29, Republican opponents quickly accused them of exploiting the boy to score political points.

Then, they wasted little time in going after him to score their own.

In recent days, Graeme and his family have been attacked by conservative bloggers and other critics of the Democrats’ plan to expand the insurance program, known as S-chip. They scrutinized the family’s income and assets — even alleged the counters in their kitchen to be granite — and declared that the Frosts did not seem needy enough for government benefits.

But what on the surface appears to be yet another partisan feud, all the nastier because a child is at the center of it, actually cuts to the most substantive debate around S-chip. Democrats say it is crucially needed to help the working poor — Medicaid already helps the impoverished — but many Republicans say it now helps too many people with the means to help themselves.

The feud also illustrates what can happen when politicians showcase real people to make a point, a popular but often perilous technique. And in this case, the discourse has been anything but polite.

The critics accused Graeme’s father, Halsey, a self-employed woodworker, of choosing not to provide insurance for his family of six, even though he owned his own business. They pointed out that Graeme attends an expensive private school. And they asserted that the family’s home had undergone extensive remodeling, and that its market value could exceed $400,000.

One critic, in an e-mail message to Graeme’s mother, Bonnie, warned: “Lie down with dogs, and expect to get fleas.” As it turns out, the Frosts say, Graeme attends the private school on scholarship. The business that the critics said Mr. Frost owned was dissolved in 1999. The family’s home, in the modest Butchers Hill neighborhood of Baltimore, was bought for $55,000 in 1990 and is now worth about $260,000, according to public records. And, for the record, the Frosts say, their kitchen counters are concrete.

Certainly the Frosts are not destitute. They also own a commercial property, valued at about $160,000, that provides rental income. Mr. Frost works intermittently in woodworking and as a welder, while Mrs. Frost has a part-time job at a firm that provides services to publishers of medical journals. Her job does not provide health coverage.

Under the Maryland child health program, a family of six must earn less than $55,220 a year for children to qualify. The program does not require applicants to list their assets, which do not affect eligibility.

In a telephone interview, the Frosts said they had recently been rejected by three private insurance companies because of pre-existing medical conditions. “We stood up in the first place because S-chip really helped our family and we wanted to help other families,” Mrs. Frost said.

“We work hard, we’re honest, we pay our taxes,” Mr. Frost said, adding, “There are hard-working families that really need affordable health insurance.”

Democrats, including the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, have risen to the Frosts’ defense, saying they earn about $45,000 a year and are precisely the type of working-poor Americans that the program was intended to help.

Ms. Pelosi on Tuesday said, “I think it’s really a sad statement about how bankrupt some of these people are in their arguments against S-chip that they would attack a 12-year-old boy.”

The House and Senate approved legislation to expand the child health program by $35 billion over five years. President Bush, who proposed a lower increase, vetoed the bill last week. Mr. Bush said the Democrats’ plan was fiscally unsound and would raise taxes; the Democrats say he is willing to spend billions on the Iraq war but not on health care for American children.

Mr. Bush’s plan could force states to tighten eligibility limits, but it seemed likely that the Frost children would still be covered.

Republicans on Capitol Hill, who were gearing up to use Graeme as evidence that Democrats have overexpanded the health program to include families wealthy enough to afford private insurance, have backed off.

An aide to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, expressed relief that his office had not issued a press release criticizing the Frosts.

But Michelle Malkin, one of the bloggers who have strongly criticized the Frosts, insisted Republicans should hold their ground and not pull punches.

“The bottom line here is that this family has considerable assets,” Ms. Malkin wrote in an e-mail message. “Maryland’s S-chip program does not means-test. The refusal to do assets tests on federal health insurance programs is why federal entitlements are exploding and government keeps expanding. If Republicans don’t have the guts to hold the line, they deserve to lose their seats.”

As for accusations that bloggers were unfairly attacking a 12-year-old, Ms. Malkin wrote on her blog, “If you don’t want questions, don’t foist these children onto the public stage.”

Mr. and Mrs. Frost said they were bothered by the assertion that they lacked health coverage by their own choice.

“That is not true at all,” Mrs. Frost said. “Basically all these naysayers need to lay the facts out on the page, and say, ‘How could a family be able to do this?’ S-chip is a stopgap.”

Republicans in poor position for 2008 White House Race

The Republicans are in bad shape no matter who they select:

If they choose Romney, in addition to the Mormon baggage, they will have a notorious flip-flopper on every social and economic issue there is. If the Republicans think they had a good time calling Kerry a flip-flopper the Democrats will truly have a made-for-order target in Romney. I read an analysis yesterday that showed, point-for-point, how Hillary’s health care plan, which Romney is now criticizing, is almost exactly the same as the one he supported and which has since gone into law in Massachusetts!

If they choose Giuliani, the Republican party will undoubtedly splinter off into a third party. The anti-abortion conservative Christian crowd, who feel they own the party, simply do not compromise on what they feel are their “core issues” and would rather destroy the party than see someone like Giuliani elected.

And who does that leave? The current second-tier of Thompson and McCain.

McCain would be the biggest challenge to Hillary, but he seems to be somewhat of a fading star this time around. And his views on Iraq do not resonate with public feeling this election cycle.

And Thompson has seemed to be nothing more than a two-dimensional, lackluster candidate with no real conviction or cause behind his candidacy. Not to mention his own background problems with the evangelical conservative Republican base.

Meanwhile, Hillary has risen in the polls so that she has the support of a majority of Democrats and beats any Republican candidate in head-to-head matchups.


Limbaugh’s “Phony Soldiers” Slur

Joe Conason
Thu Oct 4, 3:00 AM ET

The controversy over what Rush Limbaugh meant when he uttered the phrase “phony soldiers” last week isn’t just another broadcast sideshow. As the political power of conservatism declines, the symbolic authority of figures such as Limbaugh is likewise shrinking. That is why he backs away from his own words, rips them from context by selectively editing his program’s transcript, and insists he didn’t demean soldiers and veterans who dissent from the Bush White House war policy — as he and his fellow partisans have done so many times before.

This revealing episode began on Sept. 26 during a conversation between Limbaugh and “Mike,” a caller who identified himself as an active-duty soldier and supporter of the Iraq war, who warned against the consequences of withdrawing U.S. troops “because Iraq itself would collapse and we’d have to go right back over there within a year or so.”

At that point the host interjected, “There’s a lot more than that that they don’t understand. They can’t even — if — the next guy that calls here, I’m gonna ask him: Why should we pull — what is the imperative for pulling out? What’s in it for the United States to pull out? . . . I don’t think they have an answer for that other than, ‘Well, we just gotta bring the troops home. Save the — keep the troops safe,’ or whatever. It’s not possible, intellectually, to follow these people.”

Replied Mike, “No, it’s not, and what’s really funny is, they never talk to real soldiers. They like to pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and talk to the media.”

Limbaugh agreed: “The phony soldiers.”

Two days later, under heavy critical fire for using those words, he claimed to be the victim of a “smear.” He served up a neatly trimmed transcript of the Sept. 26 program, omitting more than a minute and a half to make it seem as if his “phony soldiers” reference was intended solely for an anti-war activist who had allegedly masqueraded as an Army vet. That falsified transcript has provided fodder for Limbaugh’s defenders, a motley assortment of bloggers, Fox News personalities, and a Republican congressman from Georgia who has actually introduced a resolution commending him.

Not content with insulting the troops, the Limbaugh clones seem to think any soldier who examines the transcript will be too dumb to figure out how they have tampered with it. It is equally telling that both he and his defenders change the original phrase “phony soldiers” and say “phony soldier” instead — because the plural belies his alibi and emphasizes his nasty intention.

While today he whines because Media Matters for America, the progressive watchdog group, caught and publicized his slur, he cannot escape what the audio proves.

Only in a media environment where conservatives have long felt exempt from scrutiny would Limbaugh still feel free to mock the military service of those who disagree with him. He is, after all, a certified chicken-hawk who cheered on the Vietnam War as it ground up tens of thousands of young Americans, but saw no reason why he should serve. His local draft board in a Missouri county, where his family enjoyed political influence, granted him a 1-Y deferment after he dropped out of college and forfeited his student deferment. Explaining how he escaped the draft, he has cited both a “bad knee” and a cyst on his backside that supposedly rendered him medically unfit.

Despite that undistinguished record, however, he has never hesitated to denigrate the service of Sen. John Kerry, former Sen. Tom Daschle and other Democrats who volunteered to wear the nation’s uniform. He spent hours repeating the “Swift boat” lies when Kerry ran for president in 2004. And now he insinuates that the troops and vets who question this war are “phony soldiers.”

What really worries Limbaugh and his right-wing comrades is that more and more of those who bravely serve America abroad, from foot soldiers to flag officers, have begun to voice their anger at the reckless policies that have cost them so dearly. Leaders of VoteVets, a group of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans organized in support of smarter security policy, have angrily challenged Limbaugh to repeat his slur to their faces — something he is most unlikely to do.

Thanks to all the veterans with the courage to speak out — no matter what their opinion — it is no longer so easy for the Limbaugh crowd to claim the military and the flag as their exclusive property.

That illegitimate seizure of everyone’s patriotic heritage is coming to an ignominious end.

Joe Conason writes for the New York Observer ( To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Good morning, Hao-chan!


One Year Ago

Just now was one year ago that Tao passed away…


%d bloggers like this: