Dan is Mother Jones' deputy DC bureau chief. He is the New York Times best-selling author of Sons of Wichita(Grand Central Publishing), a biography of the Koch brothers that is now out in paperback. Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.
It's hard to imagine anything more undemocratic than a presidential signing statment -- wherein the commander-in-chief appends language to the bill he's just signed exempting the executive branch from following various of its dictates -- but the president's latest is truly an Orwellian masterwork. Appended to the innocous sounding Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which the president signed into law before the holidays, the statement gives the Bush adminstration the authority to open your mail without first obtaining a warrant under "exigent circumstances." As the New York Daily Newsreports today, "that claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed."
Most of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act deals with mundane reform measures. But it also explicitly reinforced protections of first-class mail from searches without a court's approval.
Yet in his statement Bush said he will "construe" an exception, "which provides for opening of an item of a class of mail otherwise sealed against inspection in a manner consistent ... with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances."
Bush cited as examples the need to "protect human life and safety against hazardous materials and the need for physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection."
White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore denied Bush was claiming any new authority.
"In certain circumstances - such as with the proverbial 'ticking bomb' - the Constitution does not require warrants for reasonable searches," she said.
Bush, however, cited "exigent circumstances" which could refer to an imminent danger or a longstanding state of emergency.
"the road is one succession of dust, ruts, pits, and holes." So wrote Dwight D. Eisenhower, then a young lieutenant colonel, in November 1919, after heading out on a cross-country trip with a convoy of Army vehicles in order to test the viability of the nation's highways in case of a military emergency. To this description of one major road across the west, Eisenhower added reports of impassable mud, unstable sand, and wooden bridges that cracked beneath the weight of the trucks. In Illinois, the convoy "started on dirt roads, and practically no more pavement was encountered until reaching California."
Melanie Sloan is the mastermind of a vast left-wing conspiracy—a cunning operative whose phony "watchdog" group, bankrolled by a shadowy billionaire, is out to smear politicians and manipulate elections. At least that's how Republicans were talking about her last fall as the headlines filled with a seemingly endless list of gop congressmen in trouble. Cloistered in his Illinois home after news of Rep. Mark Foley's emails to pages broke, House Speaker Dennis Hastert railed about "Democratic operatives, people funded by George Soros" who had publicized the scandal—a not very veiled reference to Sloan's organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or crew. "When the base finds out who's feeding this monster," Hastert cryptically warned, "they're not going to be happy." Embattled congressman Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), always a fan of conspiracy theories, got right to the point: "[Sloan's] goal is to try to embarrass me or somehow hurt me so that the Democrats take control," he told a reporter after the fbi raided the homes of his daughter and her business partner while investigating whether Weldon had used his position to steer business to their lobbying firm. "I assume she's hoping that if the Democrats win, she'll get a job on the Hill again."
Push polling is one of the dirtier, yet mostly legal, tricks in a political operative's bag of last-minute campaign tools; robo-calling software makes it dirt cheap to place millions of calls to a single swing district. And the game is changing: Reports after November's election suggested that some races were tipped to Republicans after voters endured a slew of "false-flag" calls, which take the art of voter suppression to a new level. With the 2008 race approaching, things are only going to get nastier. Meet one of the kings of the political robo-call.
Name: Gabriel Joseph III, president of FreeEats.
Odds that you might hear from him: FreeEats can make up to 3.5 million phone calls a day. "We generally talk to more people than watch television, listen to the radio, or read the newspaper combined," says Joseph.
Who’s calling: FreeEats is also known as Advantage Research, ccAdvertising, Data Research, Election Research, fec Research, fecads, Political Research, and Public Research. It has been accused of disguising or "spoofing" its caller IDs; Joseph has reportedly said his company has "thousands" of aliases.
Before the Senate Armed Services Committee interrupted its questioning of Robert Gates to break for lunch, outgoing chairman John Warner commented that today's hearing was among "the best we've had" in his 28 years in the Senate "best" being code, one assumes, for least contentious. The hearing was certainly uncharacteristically civil and free, for the most part, of partisan barbs, save for one surreal moment when Senator Hillary Clinton questioned Gates on whether he believed the President and the Vice President are "intelligent men." But absent from the hearing as well were any tough questions about the serious allegations that have been leveled against Gates in the past, including his role in Iran-Contra and in politicizing intelligence at the CIA.
Senator Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat on the committee, came the closest to raising these issues, asking Gates to comment on a passage from former Secretary of State George Shultz's memoir, Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State, which relates a conversation Shultz had with Gates, then the acting CIA director, in January 1987. "I don't have any confidence in the intelligence community," Shultz reportedly told Gates. "I feel you all have very strong policy views. I feel you try to manipulate me. So you have a very dissatisfied customer. If this were a business, I'd find myself another supplier."
Gates responded by telling Levin that he believed Shultz's view of intelligence was colored by his fractious relationship with former CIA director (and Gates' mentor) William Casey. "Bad blood influenced the Secretary of State's view of intelligence," he said, pointing out that Casey had once written to President Ronald Reagan recommending that Shultz be fired. Levin did not press him further.
Certainly Shultz was not the only one who distrusted the information coming out of the CIA. So did some career CIA analysts who believed Casey and Gates were subverting the intelligence process in order to play up the Soviet menace. One of them was Mel Goodman, a longtime friend of Gates and a veteran Soviet analyst, who became one of his most vocal critics, offering damaging testimony during Gates' confirmation hearings in 1991 as he sought to become the director of Central Intelligence. "My major concerns are issues of integrity," Goodman told me recently. "For me, basically, the test of character is what you do when no one's looking. I don't think Bob Gates can be trusted when no one's looking."
Perhaps the Democratic wing of the Armed Services Committee, who would seem the most likely to raise questions about Gates' past, feel this is ancient history, but it certainly seems relevant given the intelligence failures to put it charitably that preceded the Iraq war.
During the hearing Gates, who has previously been circumspect about what he knew about Iran-Contra, was praised repeatedly by members on both sides of the aisle for being a straight-shooter. "Dr. Gates, thank you for your candor," Clinton remarked. "That's something that has been sorely lacking from the current occupant in the position that you seek to hold." She was referring to the way Gates had fielded questions about Iraq, at one point answering "No, sir" when asked by Carl Levin whether "we are currently winning in Iraq." Sadly, it seems any semblance of truth passes for candor in Washington these days.