Daniel Schulman

Senior Editor

Based in DC, Dan covers politics and national security. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, the Village Voice, the Columbia Journalism Review, and other publications. He is the author of a forthcoming biography of the Koch family, Sons of Wichita, which will be published in May by the Hachette Book Group. Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.

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Senator Holding Back Anti-Pork Bill Unmasked

| Wed Aug. 30, 2006 2:09 PM PDT

In mid-August we reported that shortly before Congress recessed an anonymous senator placed a hold on widely popular anti-pork legislation introduced by Senators Barack Obama and Tom Coburn. The bill, which has backers on both sides of the aisle, would create a publicly accessible database that tracks federal contracts, loans, and grants, giving taxpayers the opportunity to actually see how their tax dollars are spent –- and, all too often, misspent.

After we broke the story, a grassroots campaign began in earnest to unmask the offending legislator, with citizens around the country contacting their senators. Well, the anonymous senator is no longer anonymous. TPMmuckraker is reporting that Senator Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican, is holding the bill back from floor consideration. Yes, that's the same Ted Stevens who earmarked more than $200 million to build the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere," which would connect Ketchikan, Alaska, a city of 8,900, with the its airport on Gravina island, home to all of 50 inhabitants. There's speculation that Stevens may have blocked this important legislation simply out of spite for its co-sponsor, Tom Coburn. Last fall, it was Coburn who led the charge to block Stevens' outlandish earmark, suggesting that the money be spent instead on rebuilding a Louisiana bridge damaged during Hurricane Katrina. When Coburn's proposal was considered, Stevens "threw the senatorial version of a hissy fit," as The Washington Post described it, during which he bellowed this warning to his fellow senators: "I will put the Senate on notice -- and I don't kid people -- if the Senate decides to discriminate against our state and take money only from our state, I will resign from this body." As the Post put it, and no doubt many would agree, that "sounds awfully tempting to us."

Update: This is rich. Stevens' spokesman, Aaron Saunders, is now saying that the senator placed a hold on the bill because he's concerned about its potential cost. Stevens "wanted to make sure that this wasn't going to be a huge cost to the taxpayer and that it achieves the goal which the bill is meant to achieve," Saunders said. The whopping price tag of the database: about $15 million, which is approximately $208 million less than the amount Stevens earmarked for the "Bridge to Nowhere."

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Plame Case: The Plot Thickens

| Sun Aug. 27, 2006 11:20 AM PDT

There's long been speculation about Richard Armitage's role in the ongoing Valerie Plame saga, which has already forced the resignation of Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, and, to an extent, ensnared the Veep himself. In the past two weeks, though, the former deputy secretary of state has emerged not just as a bit player in the leak case but as a central figure. Last week the AP reported that an entry in Armitage's State Department calendar reflects a one-hour appointment with Bob Woodward (who has acknowledged having an informal discussion about Plame with an administration official) on June 13, 2003, not long before Plame's status as a covert CIA operative was blown in a column by Robert Novak. Today Newsweek, plugging a new book by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, is reporting that Armitage was Novak's primary source, the "senior administration official" Novak has previously referred to as "not a partisan gunslinger." According to the story:

Armitage, a well-known gossip who loves to dish and receive juicy tidbits about Washington characters, apparently hadn't thought through the possible implications of telling Novak about Plame's identity. "I'm afraid I may be the guy that caused this whole thing," he later told Carl Ford Jr., State's intelligence chief. Ford says Armitage admitted to him that he had "slipped up" and told Novak more than he should have. "He was basically beside himself that he was the guy that f---ed up. My sense from Rich is that it was just chitchat," Ford recalls….

While Armitage's disclosure of Plame's identity may have come about during a bull session with Novak and perhaps Woodward too, there is certainly evidence to suggest that in the hands of White House officials this information was not dispensed accidentally, but rather used in an effort to discredit Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, for his criticism of the Bush administration's use of pre-war intel on Iraq. Expect many more interesting revelations about the Plame affair with the publication of Isikoff and Corn's book, "Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War," which will be out in October.

The Rising Cost of Secrecy

| Fri Aug. 25, 2006 10:45 AM PDT

The Bush administration's penchant for secrecy is no secret (Cheney's office refuses even to provide figures on how much information it classifies), so it should come as little surprise that the government is now spending more than ever to shield information from public view. Still, the numbers just in from the Information Security Oversight Office, which oversees the government's national security classification system and recommends policy to the president, are staggering. During fiscal year 2005 the government spent $7.7 billion on classification, up from $2.7 billion in 1995 and "a 5.8 percent increase above the cost estimates reported for FY 2004," according to the ISOO report. Add to that the $1.5 billion that private industry spends on classification and the total amount rises to $9.2 billion.

Beyond the fact that classifying information is enormously expensive -- in 2004 taxpayers spent $460 each time a classification decision was made -- there is evidence that some information is being classified needlessly. A 2005 report from the watchdog group Open The Government found that "at least 50 types of designations" are being used "to restrict unclassified information deemed 'sensitive but unclassified.' Many of these numerous terms are duplicative, vague, and endanger the protection of necessary secrets by allowing excessive secrecy to prevail in our open society." As the Federation of American Scientists' Steven Aftergood points out over at Secrecy News, "If the classification system were functioning properly to enhance national security, these billions of dollars might all be money well spent. But there is abundant reason to doubt that such is the case."

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