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.

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."

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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].

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.

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