Senator Whitehouse attempted to get a clear answer out of Attorney General candidate Michael Mukasey yesterday, but came away “very disappointed.” From The New York Times:
[...] 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. [full text]
The article also discusses the ways in which Mr. Mukasey seemed to hedge in his answers about the warrantless surveillance that has taken place under the Bush administration, but then stated that the consensus seems to be that he will be approved. So it looks like the Bush administration will have another protector in place soon.
I am wondering how Senator Whitehouse is reacting to the news. His press office line is busy, but I imagine an email statement from the Senator, after all his effort on this issue, is on the way. From MSN:
WASHINGTON – Embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, under fire from congressional Democrats and even some Republicans, has resigned, senior Bush administration officials said Monday.
Gonzales spoke to President Bush by telephone on Friday and then visited him at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on Sunday where he formally submitted his letter of resignation, a senior administration official said.
â€œHe (Bush) very reluctantly accepted it,â€? the official said.
UPDATE: As predicted, here is Whitehouse’s statement:
â€œItâ€™s been clear for months that Alberto Gonzalesâ€™s resignation is in the best interest of the country. This is also good news for the Department of Justice, but a great deal of work remains to be done to restore Americansâ€™ confidence in this great Department, to restore its traditions and spirit, and to restore its ability to fairly and dispassionately enforce the law. Fortunately, there are many people of both parties who know and love this Department who I’m sure would be glad to help.
â€œI hope that whoever the President nominates to be he new Attorney General at this critical time will put the interests of the Department, its employees, and the American people foremost â€“ before partisanship, and before politics.â€?
Believe it or not, this article from CNN discusses the possibility of Michael Chertoff being nominated for the Attorney General position.
This is a picture from Senator Whitehouse’s trip to Greenland this past weekend. It is taken in Ilulissat Icefjord, where there is very loud and fast-moving glacial ice stream. From the UNESCO World Heritage website’s description:
The combination of a huge ice sheet and a fast moving glacial ice-stream calving into a fjord covered by icebergs is a phenomenon only seen in Greenland and Antarctica. Ilulissat offers both scientists and visitors easy access for close view of the calving glacier front as it cascades down from the ice sheet and into the ice-choked fjord. The wild and highly scenic combination of rock, ice and sea, along with the dramatic sounds produced by the moving ice, combine to present a memorable natural spectacle.
More information about on the Ilulissat Icefjord is available here.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is joining Senators Charles Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, and Russ Feingold in calling for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate possible perjury by Attorney General Gonzales. They have sent a letter to the Solicitor General for the Department of Justice, Paul D. Clement, asking for the special counsel to be established. From the letter to Solicitor General Clement:
Dear Mr. Clement:
We write to you in your capacity as Acting Attorney General for matters where Attorney General Gonzales has recused himself. We ask that you immediately appoint an independent special counsel from outside teh Department of Justice to determine whether Attorney General Gonzales may have misled Congress or perjured himself in testimony before Congress.
We do not make this request lightly. We believe a special counsel is needed because it has become apparent that the Attorney General has provided — at a minimum — half-truths and misleading statements about the removal and replacement of US Attorneys, about his role in trying to circumvent Acting Attorney General Comey, and about the Administration’s position on the NSA wiretapping program. For example:
–Attorney General Gonzales testified on February 6, 2006 that within the Administration “there has not been any serious disagreement about the [Terrorist Surveillance Program].” Yet, Attorney General Gonzales indicated in his testimony this week that the purpose of the March 10, 2004 briefing for the “gang of eight” was to advise them “that Mr. Comey had informed us that he would not approve the continuation of a very important intelligence activity.” General Hayden stated in unclassified testimony on May 18, 2006, that the very same briefing for the “gang of eight” was on the “warrantless surveillance program.” Thus, Mr. Gonzales’s statements about the lack of disagreement regarding the surveillance programs are deeply troubling.
–Attorney General Gonzales testified that the purpose of the March 10, 2004, meeting “was for the White House to advise the Congress that Mr. Comey had advised us that he could not approve the continuation of vitally important intelligence activities,” which the Attorney General later testified was “not” the NSA wiretapping program. This is contradicted by an unclassified letter from John Negroponte, then Director of National Intelligence, to then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert on May 17, 2006, describing the same “Gang of Eight” briefing as being “on the Terrorist Surveillance Program.”
–On April 19, 2007 when discussing his role in the US Attorney investigation, Attorney General Gonzales testified, “I haven’t talked to witnesses because of the fact that I haven’t wanted to interfere with this investigation”; however, Monica Goodling testified before the House Judiciary Committee that she had an “uncomfortable” conversation with the Attorney General where he outlined his recollection of what happened and asked for her reaction.
The letter goes on to ask that the person who is appointed be someone who will not be hindered by conflict of interest, a person of “unimpeachable integrity, ability, and experience.” Good luck finding this person within the beltway these days.
From the Whitehouse press office:
Whitehouse Joins National Arts Council
Distinguished Panel Advises National Endowment for the Arts on Grants, Initiatives
Washington, D.C. â€“ U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) has been appointed to serve as an ex-officio member of the National Council on the Arts, the advisory body to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). He was named to the Council by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
â€œIâ€™m honored to represent the Ocean State on this distinguished panel,â€? Whitehouse said. â€œThe NEA supports Rhode Island artists, performances, and educational opportunities that make our communities richer, our economy stronger, and our lives more meaningful. Our great senator, Claiborne Pell, championed the NEA, and Iâ€™m proud to have the opportunity to assist this organization in its important work.â€?
The National Council on the Arts serves in an advisory role to the Chairman of the NEA, Dana Gioia, reviewing and making recommendations on grant applications and initiatives. Along with the six ex officio Congressional members, the council consists of 14 people widely recognized for their contribution to the arts. Over the years, members have included Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein, Helen Hayes, and John Steinbeck.
The NEA was created in 1965 with the enactment of the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act, signed into law by then-President Lyndon Johnson. The bill was originally sponsored by former Senator Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.), a champion of the NEA throughout his life. The agency has repeatedly recognized Rhode Islandâ€™s contribution to the arts through grants to some of the stateâ€™s famous artistic institutions, including the Trinity Repertory Company, the Everett Dance Theater, and the Rhode Island School of Design.
Rhode Islanders are also taking advantage of the NEAâ€™s innovative programs, such as the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violenceâ€™s participation in The Big Read program, which will give residents of the city of Warwick the opportunity to read Zora Neale Hurstonâ€™s Their Eyes Were Watching God together.
This is good news for the arts, since we know Senator Whitehouse will apply himself diligently to funding worthy artists of all kinds. Speaking of which, I would like to raise the issue of whether artistic blogging and computer-generated online creators will be given due consideration when states are handing out their grants to artists.
When I first started Kmareka, I filed for and received 501(c)3 status. Back in its conception, Kmareka was less political and had equal fifths of literary essays and book reviews (the Literature section), essays and interviews on community-building (the Community section), essays and interviews on socially responsible financing and investing (the Finance section), fiction and vegetarian recipes. These all remain key interests for me, but when Kmareka became primarily a blog, we decided to end our 501(c)3 status. The organization had become more than 10% political.
The National Endowment for the Arts has a category for “new media.” I wonder whether art blogs fit within their purview, and whether any online artists have been funded through the NEA. I did a little googling to try to find out but didn’t come up with any clear answers.
Kmareka was rejected for a Rhode Island State Council on the Arts grant in 2005. It said on the anonymous judges’ rejection sheet that Kmareka appeared to be a “one woman show.” I called to discuss the rejection and to remind them that we had published more than 25 writers and artists on the site. The Executive Director of RISCA, Randall Rosenbaum, said something about how we were also rejected because we had “other stuff” that was not art such as vegeterian recipes.
I was pushing the definition of what qualified for a RISCA grant — wanting to get help for the costs of running the website and paying the creators of our artistic and literary content. It didn’t work. Kmareka also had content that could be considered political in its focus, and this probably disqualified us further from the possibility of getting RISCA funding.
But I question whether it is even possible for art, as an expression of humanity, to be non-political. Which is why I hope that blogs that have sufficient artistic content can be considered an art form and people can apply for federal funds to do their work. Perhaps there need to be some limitations on the quantity of political content for online artists, as there is the limit of 10% direct advocacy for legislation for 501(c)3 organizations. But the fact is that some literary works are being created online — take Baghdad Burning, for example, which was nominated for the prestigious Samuel Johnson literary prize in Britain. The possibility of government support for online artists should be available in the US.
Looks like the Rhode Island Delegation is going to rock all night for change on the Iraq war. Just got this from Whitehouse’s press office:
Whitehouse Joins All-Night Senate Debate for Change in Iraq
Washington, D.C. â€“ U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) will take to the Senate floor late tonight as part of an all-night debate on legislation, sponsored by Rhode Islandâ€™s senior senator, Jack Reed, that would force the beginning of a redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq.
The Senate is considering an amendment offered by Senators Reed and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) that would begin redeploying American troops out of Iraq within four months, with a target ending date of April 30, 2008. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has announced that he and the Senateâ€™s Democratic leadership will hold the body in session overnight Tuesday, to force senators who oppose the Levin-Reed amendment to explain to the American people why they do not support bringing our troops home.
9:00 p.m. Whitehouse Attends â€œCall to Action to Change Course in Iraqâ€? Rally, Upper Senate Park, United States Capitol, Washington, DC
Iraq War veterans, military families, and members of Americans United for Change, Moveon.org and Vote Vets will join members of Congress for an event to remember soldiers who have lost their lives in Iraq.
2:00 a.m. Whitehouse Joins All-Night Debate on a New Direction in Iraq
(approx.) Senate Chamber, United States Capitol, Washington, DC
Whitehouse will speak on the Senate floor starting at approximately 2 a.m. to discuss the need for a change of course.
Whitehouse has repeatedly spoken out for a change of course in Iraq, including in an Oval Office meeting with President Bush. A member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he visited Iraq in March to learn more about the situation on the ground there.
This bill is being discussed on the Senate floor today. Here is Whitehouse’s statement:
For more than one hundred years, organized labor has been a strong voice, and a powerful advocate, for the working men and women of America in their fight for fair treatment, safe workplaces, and honest pay for an honest dayâ€™s work. But in recent years, it has become increasingly difficult for workers to organize and gain that voice.
Today, the Senate has an important opportunity to begin to reverse this trend: by voting in support of the Employee Free Choice Act, which takes several critical steps to ensure that all American workers have the right to form and join a union.
When a majority of workers wish to organize, they should have that right. This legislation would require the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to certify a bargaining representative if a majority of the employees sign authorization cards. The bill would also direct the NLRB to issue guidelines for selecting a bargaining representative via majority sign-up â€“ including model language for authorization cards and procedures to verify the validity of authorization cards.
Newly-formed unions shouldnâ€™t face stalemates and stall tactics as they advocate for their members. The Employee Free Choice Act would set a waivable timeline for reaching a first contract agreement once a representative has been certified and bargaining has commenced. Parties would be required to meet and begin bargaining no later than ten days after receiving a written request from the newly certified bargaining representative.
And this bill would strengthen existing penalties for unfair labor practices, making it easier for workers to organize without fear of reprisal or backlash.
The Employee Free Choice Act is good for American workers â€“ and for our economy. As a group, union members make 30 percent more per week than their non-union counterparts. They are 63 percent more likely to have health insurance, and they are a staggering 386 percent more likely to have a guaranteed pension. At a time of growing income inequality, when everyday families in this country are stretched to the limit just to afford health care, or the mortgage, or gas to drive to work and to school, we canâ€™t let this opportunity slip by. The Senate must pass this bill.
The Employee Free Choice Act would allow workers to choose a union without fear, facilitate contract negotiations, and prevent the anti-organizing scare tactics that, unfortunately, still exist today.
Mr. President, the Employee Free Choice Act is the first step towards realizing the dream of fairness for every American worker. I am proud to support this legislation, I ask my colleagues to do the same, and I yield the floor.
The bad news is that large chunks of icebergs in the Antarctic are breaking off and starting to float away. The good news is the US government is finally paying attention to global warming, at least in some limited, lukewarm way. But it’s a start. From the Environmental News Service:
WASHINGTON, DC, June 22, 2007 (ENS) – The U.S. Senate passed energy legislation late Thursday night that mandates a 40 percent increase in fuel economy standards by 2020 and calls for a massive expansion of renewable fuels production. But the final bill is far less ambitious than Democrats had originally hoped for, as Republicans successfully derailed a plan that would have funded $32 billion in renewable energy tax breaks by increasing taxes on oil companies and blocked a measure requiring utilities generate more electricity from renewable sources.
The vote, 65-27, came after more than a week of intense debate that demonstrated deep partisan and regional divides over the nation’s energy future, as well as the pervasive lobbying power of electric utilities, auto manufacturers and the oil industry.
The White House has voiced concern over the mandated increase in fuel economy and threatened a veto because of language in the bill imposing stricter penalties on oil companies for price gouging.
The House is also working on energy legislation, with the goal of considering a bill after the July 4th recess, but has thus far avoided tackling the fuel economy question.
Fuel economy is a tricky political issue for U.S. lawmakers, and the Senate bill only passed after a compromise was reached over the fuel efficiency provision. The original language called for raising standards to 35 miles per gallon, mpg, by 2020, with four percent annual increases from 2021 to 2030.
Current standards require automakers to meet an average of 27.5 mpg for cars and 22.2 for sport utility vehicles and small trucks. Other than a very small increase in requirements for SUVs and trucks, the standards have not changed in two decades.
The compromise eliminated the mandated annual increases, instead calling on federal regulators to increase the standards “at a maximum feasible rate.”
“Our message to the domestic auto industry is, ‘You can do this,’” said Senator Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat. [full text]
They can, but they won’t. The auto industry continues to effectively avoid the full-scale shift to alternative energy fuels for cars. It’s a sad case of how corporate influence limits the ability for innovation and expansion into alternative resources. For more on this, I refer you to a movie that David posted a while ago called, “Who Killed the Electric Car?”
Regarding the passage of the Clean Energy Act, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse provided the following statement:
â€œLast night, the Senate took a dramatic step toward reducing our reliance on foreign oil, conserving more of the energy we use in our homes, cars, and businesses, and investing in new technologies that will help in the fight against global warming.
â€œOur energy bill will require more of our energy to come from sustainably-produced biofuels; raise fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks for the first time since 1975; incentivize the production of fuel-efficient vehicles; create new standards for appliances and lighting to help conserve electricity; and take a closer look at ways to trap carbon emissions before they reach the atmosphere. It will save tens of billions of dollars for American families.
â€œI was especially proud to support legislation, which passed as part of the energy bill last night, that will make the federal government a leader in energy-efficient, environmentally-sound building standards. Buildings that use less energy, and keep our air and water cleaner, will help preserve our environment, save taxpayersâ€™ money â€“ and take us one step closer to curbing the threat of global warming.
â€œTo keep our economy strong and our people and environment healthy, we must lead the world in finding innovative ways to produce and use energy. This bill moves us closer to that goal.â€?
Ron Paul on Tucker Carlson: Republican Man of Principle: If you don’t know who Ron Paul is, it might be time to find out. He’s one of the most vocal Republican critics of the President’s fiscal as well as military policies, and he’s running for President.
Sheldon’s for Hillary — Whitehouse Picks First Female President: The Hillary for President Campaign released Whitehouse’s statement: â€œAll of my colleagues seeking the Democratic nomination are committed to a new direction for our country, and it has been an honor to serve with, and learn from, each of them. Today, I’m proud to endorse Senator Hillary Clinton to be our next president,â€? Whitehouse said. â€œHer smart, tough, experienced leadership will be critically important as we work to bring our troops home from Iraq, reform our health care system to cover more American families, and solve the energy challenges of the 21st century.â€?
Bubbles: Bring ‘em On: Book review of what sounds like a convincingly argued book that we are in the first international financial bubble. Pop, by Daniel Gross, argues that bubbles are good for the economy. Gross emphasizes the creative reuse and expansion of new technology that accompanied the high-tech bubble as evidence that bubbles can be good for the economy.
For those who are following the advances for health information quality and consolidation, Sheldon Whitehouse will be delivering a keynote address on this subject at the Center for American Progress. Details are as follows:
Whitehouse to Deliver Keynote Address on Health Information Technology
Washington, D.C. â€“ Just weeks after introducing his first legislation, which focused on reforming our broken health care system, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) will deliver the keynote address at a Center for American Progress discussion exploring ways to implement health information technology. The event, titled â€œNavigating American Health Care: How Information Technology Can Foster Health Care Improvement,â€? will take place tomorrow, Wednesday, June 6 at 12:30 p.m. and is open to the press.
EVENT: U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse to Deliver Keynote Address: â€œNavigating American Health Care: How Information Technology Can Foster Health Care Improvementâ€?
WHEN: 12:30 p.m.
WHERE: Center for American Progress, 1333 H Street N.W., 10th Floor, Washington, DC
The event will explore â€œhow health IT applications and the data analysis that health IT enables can improve health care quality and productivity.â€? A roundtable session following Whitehouseâ€™s remarks will feature Karen Davenport, Director of Health Policy at the Center, Dr. Mark Carroll, the Telehealth Program director for the Indian Health Service, and Gerald Shea, Assistant to the President at the AFL-CIO.
Whitehouse has long made reforming the health care system a priority. As Rhode Island Attorney General, he founded the Rhode Island Quality Institute, a collaborative effort between health care providers, insurers, and government that has pioneered efforts to expand the use of electronic prescriptions and improve the quality of care delivered in the stateâ€™s intensive care units. Whitehouse, a freshman senator, last month introduced a trio of bills aimed at encouraging health quality reforms, including legislation to build a national health IT infrastructure. An amendment cosponsored by Whitehouse and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to provide incentives for the adoption of health IT was passed by Congress as part of the fiscal year 2008 budget resolution.
And for those who missed it, you can hear Whitehouse’s debut statements on the health care bills he is proposing in this audio recording of his speech in Cranston, Rhode Island on May 21, 2007: