Opinions, Context & Ideas from the TPM Editors TPM Editor's Blog

I am going to

I am going to take advantage of this almost end of the summer week to take a short vacation -- a literal vacation and also a vacation from Talking Points Memo.

I may pop up once or twice this week here or at TPMCafe. But this will be my last regular post until next weekend.

This week I'm going to have two guest bloggers at the site who will hold down the fort while I'm away.

First, Mike Crowley of The New Republic will sign on for the first half of the week. And then he'll be followed in the second half of the week by Steve Clemons of The Washington Note and the New America Foundation.

I'll be back next weekend, with batteries recharged and back to regular posting as the political tempo begins to ramp up once again.

Some stories may not

Some stories may not be that consequential in the grand scheme of things. But they win out on sheer comedic value.

As an example, take this article from today's Independent Record, of Helena Montana. The article is about one Shawn Vasell. We discussed Mr. Vasell in a post a few days ago over at TPMCafe.

He was a staffer passed back and forth between Jack Abramoff and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) during the period in which the two were deep into the pay-for-play game. As the Post described Vasell's job history in those years, Vasell "served as client manager on the Mississippi Choctaw account, and shuttled between jobs in Burns's Montana office and Abramoff's shop. Vasell was registered as a lobbyist for the Choctaw and Coushatta tribes in 2001, joined Burns's staff in 2002, then rejoined Abramoff's team as a lobbyist for the tribes in 2003."

Well, the Independent Record reports that Vasell is now in trouble with the law, if of a rather less serious type than that currently bubbling up around his former colleague, Mr. Abramoff.

According to the paper ...

Vasell, 32, of Arlington, Va., was charged in June with four counts of breaking state big game laws: illegally possessing big game, hunting on private property without permission, hunting with someone else's license and hunting without a license, better known as poaching.

The alleged crimes were committed on Nov. 26, 2004, Stillwater County records show. The incident was the subject of a lengthy essay and photo display on the now-defunct personal Web site of Billings resident J.R. Reger. Vasell is accused of illegally using Reger's hunting license when he shot a mule deer buck around 3 p.m. the day after Thanksgiving last year.

According to the Web site, Vasell committed the alleged crimes with Reger and his brother, Mike. All three were photographed posing with the allegedly poached buck. In one photo, Vasell poses alone holding up the head of his trophy with the hunting rifle leaned against the animal's body.


I must confess that I've fished once or twice with an out-of-date license. So, I guess, he who is without sin, and so forth ... But if you go down further into the article you'll see that Vasell's lawyer is suggesting that his client may himself have become the victim of liberal Montana game wardens who've been spending too much time in the left blogosphere.

Speaking of Vasell's lawyer, Mark Parker of Billings, the paper reports ...

He also implied that the wildlife investigators were tipped off to the alleged crimes "because people like to make a mountain out of molehill with Mr. Vasell" for political reasons.

"If you blog around the Internet, you'll find that this has been the matter of some political quibbling,'' he said. "There seems to be a political component of this that we haven't quite fleshed out."


Reminds me to nail down that story about Abramoff and the poached elk ...

Late Update: A pdf copy of the website that brought Vasell to grief. Apparently part of the problem was that Vasell shot the deer from the window of a pick-up truck.

I should be getting

I should be getting a copy tomorrow of 'Dead Wrong -- Inside an Intelligence Meltdown', a documentary CNN has on this Sunday about the Iraq intel failure. But since Sunday is only two days away, I wanted to pass on the following. A friend, whose opinion I put a great deal of stock in, tells me that it's very good. So definitely, if you have a chance, try to catch it Sunday evening.

If I get it in time, I'll post a review tomorrow here on TPM.

Arianna Huffington has a

Arianna Huffington has a new post up at her site about Judy Miller, this time taking aim at Times uber-boss Arthur Sulzberger. And she gets into a thicket of issues I've been giving a lot of thought to as the Judy saga has unfolded.

I'm far from knowledgable about the inner workings of the Times, as many of my colleagues seem to be. But you don't have to be to know that the new editorial regime at the paper stakes much of its legitimacy on the failings of the old one, and that treatment of Iraq is perhaps the key narrative thread connecting the two.

Allegedly, what brought down the Raines regime at the Times was not simply that he and the paper on his watch had been taken in by a serial fabricator, Jayson Blair. It was that he and his team had missed, ignored or made excuses for other warnings signs about Blair. And this was taken, perhaps not unreasonably, as evidence of a deeper pattern of poor editorial judgment, with political and cultural implications we all remember.

Now, let's assume, for the sake of discussion (but as I and many others believe), that Judy Miller is sitting in that prison cell for much more than the actions one might reasonably call those of a journalist. Assume that she has dirty hands in this whole affair and that the Times has quite publicly and effusively fastened its credibility to hers.

If this all proves to be the case, how will this be any different for Keller and Sulzberger than the Blair matter was for Raines?

After all, going back two years now, the Times has quite publicly and painfully failed to take any account of or responsibility for Miller's compromised reporting. And the backstory many of us suspect to her present confinement (though it is important to say that they remain suspicions and are not proved) was richly telegraphed or foreshadowed in that earlier reporting.

So if this all comes to pass, what will the upshot be for Keller? Isn't it the same? Actually, isn't it a lot worse when you consider that the real-world consequences of Blair's lies were limited at best. Journalistically they were capital offenses. But the stories he made up, from my recollection at least, were mainly human interest type stories (with the exception of some reporting about the DC sniper), which might well have been true, but weren't. The consequences of Miller's deeds are legion; and just as ignored.

Paul Begala has a

Paul Begala has a post up at TPMCafe about the right's bashing of Cindy Sheehan, and particularly, the almost total lack of attention to the antics of this nutball or as he terms it this "right-wing thug [who] ran his pickup truck over hundreds of crosses bearing the names of heroic Americans killed in Iraq [and] took out scores of American flags in the process."

Take a look.

I guess the feds

I guess the feds think they've got a pretty good case against our man Duke Cunningham. The San Diego Union-Tribune has just reported this morning that they've filed a suit to force Duke to hand over the mansion in Rancho Santa Fe because it was bought with illegally obtained money.

The Post, meanwhile, has some more detail on what we suspected about the relationship between Duke, Brent Wilkes and Mitchell Wade. Says the Post: "Wade is a former consultant to ADCS who met Cunningham through his work for the San Diego company..."

And there was an earlier IG investigation into Wilkes, a Bush Pioneer, and Duke, reports the Post ...

The Pentagon's inspector general previously investigated several ADCS contracts because of complaints "alleging favoritism and inappropriate actions," and he concluded in 1999 that they were awarded as the result of irregular procedures. Louis A. Kratz, an assistant deputy undersecretary of defense, said in a recent interview that he had requested the IG probe. Both Cunningham and Wilkes had called him seeking the release of funds for ADCS, he said.

Kratz said he had never before experienced anything close to their "meddling" and "arrogance." Wilkes "implied that it was his money," Kratz said, though the funding was earmarked for a program, not a company. The document conversion program was later killed, Kratz said.

"I can't address the specifics of this report," said K. Lee Blalack II, Cunningham's attorney, "but there is nothing inappropriate nor unusual about a member of Congress calling the Pentagon on behalf of a constituent regarding the use of appropriated funds."


And a note for anyone covering this story. Chalmers Johnson has been hip to Duke's games for years, though I doubt he knew the sheer audaciousness and criminality of the man's corruption. Look up Duke's name in Sorrows of Empire or get in touch with Johnson for more of the big picture.

(ed.note: I haven't been in touch with Johnson since the Duke story broke, though I've interviewed him once or twice for different stories in the past. My recollection is from the above-noted book or perhaps from his earlier book, Blowback.)

LiveWire