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.

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?

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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].

iPod Listeners to Be Profiled?

| Thu Aug. 10, 2006 7:15 PM EDT

ipod.jpgAs noted below, the first plot to blow up airliners with liquid explosives was foiled in 1994. That particular scheme used a cheap Casio watch as a timer, a detail that might have remained a footnote if not for the, um, thoroughness of American counterterror officials. Fast forward 10 years, and now more than a dozen Guantanamo detainees have been held in part because they were caught wearing what the government has called "the infamous Casio watch." We recently printed some excerpts from their military tribunal hearings, in which the incredulous detainees tried to understand the logic of wristwatch profiling:

Detainee 651, Usama Hassan Ahmend Abu Babir: I have a Casio watch due to the fact that they are inexpensive and they last a long time. I like my watch because it is durable. It had a calculator and was waterproof, and before prayers we have to wash up all the way to my elbows.

Detainee 298, Salih Uyar: If it is a crime to carry this watch, your own military personnel also carry this watch. Does this mean they're just terrorists as well?

Detainee 228, Abdullah Kamel Abudallah Kamel: When they told me that Casios were used by Al Qaeda and the watch was for explosives, I was shocked…. If I had known that, I would have thrown it away. I'm not stupid. We have four chaplains [at Guantanamo]; all of them wear this watch.

Detainee 154, Mazin Salih Musaid al Awfi: Millions and millions of people have these types of Casio watches. If that is a crime, why doesn't the United States arrest and sentence all the shops and people who own them? This is not a logical or reasonable piece of evidence.

Today's plot reportedly involved MP3 players as timers. Air passengers in Britain have already been told not to bring their iPods on board. Earbud wearers, you've been warned.

Everything's Coming Up Rummy

| Fri Aug. 4, 2006 5:21 PM EDT

Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committe yesterday, Donald Rumsfeld managed to keep a straight face when he tried to correct Senator Hillary Clinton's assertion that he'd been feeding Congress "a lot of happy talk and rosy scenarios" about the war in Iraq. Responded Rummy: "I have never painted a rosy picture. I've been very measured in my words. And you'd have a dickens of a time trying to find instances where I've been excessively optimistic." No mention if anyone in the room did a spit-take. NPR's Mixed Signals blog has since contacted Clinton's office, which had something less than a dickens of a time coming up with a detailed list of Rummy's "measured" statements on Iraq over the last few years. A few samples:


The Gulf War in the 1990s lasted five days on the ground. I can't tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that. —November 2002

We know where [the WMD] are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat. —March 2003

The residents of Baghdad may not have power 24 hours a day, but they no longer wake up each morning in fear wondering whether this will be the day that a death squad would come to cut out their tongues, chop off their ears or take their children away for "questioning," never to be seen again. —July 2003

The increased demand on the force we are experiencing today is likely a "spike," driven by the deployment of nearly 115,000 troops in Iraq. We hope and anticipate that that spike will be temporary. We do not expect to have 115,000 troops permanently deployed in any one campaign. —February 2004

The level of support from the international community is growing. —June 2005

Q: One clarification on "the long war." Is Iraq going to be a long war?
Secretary Rumsfeld: No, I don't believe it is. — February 2006

Sen. Robert Byrd: Mr. Secretary, how can Congress be assured that the funds in this bill won't be used to put our troops right in the middle of a full-blown Iraqi civil war?
Secretary Rumsfeld: Senator, I can say that certainly it is not the intention of the military commanders to allow that to happen. The—and to repeat, the—at least thus far, the situation has been such that the Iraqi security forces could for the most part deal with the problems that exist. —March 2006

Castro to CIA: "Beep! Beep!"

| Thu Aug. 3, 2006 3:26 PM EDT

Apparently the exploding cigars were just the beginning. The U.S. has tried to kill Fidel Castro 638 times, or so says one of his former security guys. Many of the plans—which might have been taken from the reject pile of Wile E. Coyote—never got off the drawing board, like this classic:


Knowing his fascination for scuba-diving off the coast of Cuba, the CIA at one time invested in a large volume of Caribbean molluscs. The idea was to find a shell big enough to contain a lethal quantity of explosives, which would then be painted in colours lurid and bright enough to attract Castro's attention when he was underwater.

Now that its bivalve budget has been slashed, I assume the CIA has moved on from trying to off Fidel. But as it goes after our current crop of international enemies, you have to wonder what kind of half-baked, brilliant-in-their-stupidity kind of ideas it's been tossing around. Why do I have a hunch that someone in Langley is desperately trying to find out Osama bin Laden's favorite candy bar?

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