Dave Gilson

Dave Gilson

Senior editor

Senior editor at Mother Jones. Obsessive generalist, word wrangler, data cruncher, pun maker.

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Dave Gilson is a senior editor at Mother Jones. Read more of his stories, follow him on Twitter, or contact him.

Foley Wasn't Only Public Servant Using Web for "Excessive Indulgences"

| Fri Oct. 6, 2006 2:03 PM EDT



Turns out Mark Foley wasn't the only public servant using his taxpayer-funded Internet access for a bit of extracurricular activity. "Excessive Indulgences," a new report [PDF] from the Interior Department (with a cover that screams "stock photography of illicit activity"—Bare midrift! Slot machines! Grocery shopping! Chess!), reveals that in a single week, DOI employees accesed thousands of sex sites, sometimes up to an hour at a stretch. A couple even got busted for surfing child porn at work. DOI staff is also really into online auctions and gambling: The report calculates that they spend 104,000 hours a year bidding and betting. C'mon, House Republicans! You gonna let a bunch of pencil pushing bureaucrats show you up like that?

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Bludgeoning Iraq's "Burgeoning Free Press"

| Fri Sep. 29, 2006 1:47 PM EDT

It's a rotten time to be an Iraqi journalist. If being kidnapped and murdered by insurgents or detained indefinitely by the U.S. military aren't bad enough, now the government is cracking down. From today's New York Times:

Under a broad new set of laws criminalizing speech that ridicules the government or its officials, some resurrected verbatim from Saddam Hussein's penal code, roughly a dozen Iraqi journalists have been charged with offending public officials in the past year.

Currently, three journalists for a small newspaper in southeastern Iraq are being tried here for articles last year that accused a provincial governor, local judges and police officials of corruption. The journalists are accused of violating Paragraph 226 of the penal code, which makes anyone who "publicly insults" the government or public officials subject to up to seven years in prison. [snip]

The office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has lately refused to speak with news organizations that report on sectarian violence in ways that the government considers inflammatory; some outlets have been shut down.

Meanwhile, back inside our own executive media bubble... President Bush, earlier this year: "I like the fact in Iraq that there's a burgeoning free press, there's a lot of press, which is a positive sign. It's a healthy indication."

Going Postal on George Allen

| Thu Sep. 28, 2006 4:12 PM EDT

Here's an, um, unique response to the allegation that the young Sen. George Allen stuck a severed deer's head in the mailbox of a black family. "George Allen hates the U.S. Mail," according to Letter Carriers for Truth, which is proposing that the postal service go after Allen for vandalizing federal property, i.e., a mailbox. Or as LCT puts it, "This mailbox belonged to you and me ... the federal taxpayer ... and frankly I don't like it when people go around sticking severed heads in my slot."

Presidential Signing Statements Revisited

| Thu Sep. 28, 2006 3:45 PM EDT

There's an interesting new report [PDF] from the Congressional Research Service (leaked to the Federation of American Scientists' Secrecy News) on presidential signing statements, a practice introduced by James Monroe and now used by George W. Bush to keep his fingers crossed while signing bills into law. CRS confirms the Boston Globe scoop that counted more than 700 examples of presidential pushback on specific legal provisions. But as the CRS points out, Bush's objections seem to be less about constitutional principle than the (questionable) assertion of presidential preeminence:

... the large bulk of the signing statements the Bush II Administration has issued to date do not apply particularized constitutional rationales to specific scenarios, nor do they contain explicit, measurable refusals to enforce a law. Instead, the statements make broad and largely hortatory assertions of executive authority that make it effectively impossible to ascertain what factors, if any, might lead to substantive constitutional or interpretive conflict in the implementation of an act. The often vague nature of these constitutional challenges, coupled with the pervasive manner in which they have been raised in numerous signing statements could thus be interpreted as an attempt by the Administration to systematically object to any perceived congressional encroachment, however slight, with the aim of inuring the other branches of government and the public to the validity of such objections and the attendant conception of presidential authority that will presumably follow from sustained exposure and acquiescence to such claims of power.

Translation: Dubya issues signing statements because he can. It's part of the big ol' executive power play cooked up by Cheney, Addington, Yoo et al. And as today's headlines make clear, in the absence of opposition, the power's there for the taking.

The CRS report also contains a couple of tidbits that hint at how the Supreme Court might line up if this issue winds up there: Back when he worked for Reagan, Samuel Alito argued for signing statements' "rightful place in the interpretation of legislation." And in a 1991 decision, Antonin Scalia heartily affirmed the president's "power to veto encroaching laws ...or even to disregard them when they are unconstitutional."


All of which raises a question that no one has answered to my satisfaction yet: If a president thinks a law is unconstitutional—or wants to puff out his chest at Congress—why not simply veto it? Or has Bush rendered the veto—like other bothersome checks and balances—obsolete?

Open Season on Menhaden Again?

| Thu Sep. 21, 2006 3:35 PM EDT

Men-ha-what? Menhaden—in case you forgot—are smelly little fish that just happen to be the ecological lynchpins of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. As H. Bruce Franklin detailed in his story our Oceans package in March/April, "menhaden are the most important fish in North America." They're certainly the most important fish in the Bay—kill them off and you're condemning the Bay to become a giant dead zone. But menhaden are being overfished by the antiseptically named "menhaden reduction industry," a monopoly controlled by Omega Protein, which grinds them up into stuff like animal feed and fish-oil supplements. Now we learn, via Greenpeace USA, that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council is considering lifting a recent (and, Greenpeace says, unimplemented) cap on menhaden fishing at the behest of Virginia Governor Tim Kaine and Omega. According to Greenpeace, the Kaine plan would allow Omega to "vaccuum up" a whopping 123,000 tons of menhaden in a season. Greenpeace and other Bay watchers want a moratorium on menhaden fishing. That's not going to happen soon, but the ASMFC is still considering public comments before making its next decision. For more info on how to weigh in, download this [PDF].

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