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Im not sure whether

I'm not sure whether or not I'll be posting again today. But in case not, I wanted to wish those who are celebrating a Merry Christmas, both to those for whom it is a central religious celebration and to those for whom it is a secular holiday of giving and togetherness. To each of you, our best.

Knight-Ridder reports that An

Knight-Ridder reports that "An Iraqi court has ruled that some of the most prominent Sunni Muslims who were elected to parliament last week won't be allowed to serve because officials suspect that they were high-ranking members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party."

The article goes on to say that two members of Iyad Allawi's slate (the Iraqi National List) are likely to be rejected as are five members of the Iraqi Accord Front (see this list for brief descriptions of the different electoral slates).

I'll wait to hear what Juan Cole and others say about this. But from the outside it certainly seems like this would intensify the perceived marginalization of Sunnis and dominance of Shi'a religious parties that already seems to be the main result of the election.

Am I in the

Am I in the wrong line of work?

I've been involved in blogging in a pretty direct way for more than five years. And that has given me a front row seat for all sorts of developments in this developing medium. That continues to be the case now as I work to expand this original site into a small network of sites, each with a particular focus building from the first -- tpmcafe.com, tpmmuckraker.com, etc.

Anyway, I guess maybe I've had seats so close to the stage that I've missed a lot of what was going on in the seats just behind me or perhaps a section or two back.

For instance, 'blog consultants'? Who knew there was such a thing?

With so much buzz and activity brewing around blogs these days and so many 'old media' companies launching their own blogs, I guess it only makes sense that a minor trade would have sprung up of people who will provide good counsel and advice on how to blog and how to set up blogs and, I have to assume, various blogging best practices, whatever those might be.

But it just hadn't occurred to me that such a species of consultants existed.

I first heard the phrase a month or so ago when a reader wrote in to ask whether I could recommend a qualified blog consultant to help his law firm set up a blog.

There's actually a sort of funny side note here. The way I learned how to do web design was that when I was in graduate school I had a web design company that specialized in designing web sites for law firms. (By 'company', of course, I mean me with some help from my then-girlfriend.) That was my way of supplementing my meager graduate student stipend and wages.

In any case, some quick googling just found me this outfit that apparently specializes in setting up blogs just for law firms. (Note: No, that's not a recommendation; just found them on Google and linked them as an example.)

In case you're wondering, no, there's no particular reason I'm telling you all of this. It's just a reflection as we continue to work on our own expansion, all done with self-blog-consulting, I assure you.

Once again, for the more than 2500 of you who contributed to our fundraiser, again, a very sincere thank you. Most of you have heard back from us. The rest of you will shortly. Those of you who mailed in checks, it's taking us a bit longer to get 'thank yous' back. But you'll hear from us soon.

We're now building the TPMmuckraker.com site, almost done with our redesign of TPMCafe, half way done with hiring our two reporter-bloggers and now busily (and I mean really busily) looking for New York office space to house our new expanded operation.

We'll keep you posted as our progress continues.

As near as facts

As near as facts can be ascertained on this matter, I'd like to hear from people who can shed some light on the results of the election in Iraq -- results which may bring to a head the simmering tensions threatening to tear the state apart.

According to this article in the Washington Post, a rejectionist coalition of parties who together won an estimated 80 seats in the 275-seat National Assembly are threatening to boycott the new parliament and, implicitly at least, to support armed opposition.

As you know, the unofficial election results show an overwhelming win for Shia' religious parties. And pretty much everyone seems to be claiming that the elections were marred by widespread fraud.

So, my question is: Is there any reason to believe that there was a level of fraud in the election sufficient to make a meaningful difference in the results? Or is this just sour grapes? On first blush at least the results seem like the result of the fact the Shia' make up the majority of Iraqis and are perhaps better organized; and the Sunnis' electoral representation was diminished by their lack of participation in the last two elections. But perhaps there was widespread fraud.

Either way, there's no real way to get a handle on what's happening without some relatively independent analysis of whether these allegations of fraud are legitimate.

And by legitimate, I mean, not just any evidence of fraud, but fraud widespread and systematic enough to have measurably affected the result. (Any fledgling democracy will have some fraud in its early elections.)

Anyone have a good answer?

Im hoping well be

I'm hoping we'll be able to dig more deeply into the particulars later. But I want to call your attention to three articles today by Copley News Service's Jerry Kammer in today's San Diego Union-Tribune. The articles focus on Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) and the web of ties he maintains with friendly lobbyists and the federal money he steers in their direction through congressional 'earmarks'.

The articles focus specifically on the relationship between Rep. Lewis and former (and mildly disgraced) Rep.-turned-lobbyist Bill Lowery (R-CA).

Lowery got tagged in the House Bank scandal from 1992 and before that he had uncomfortably close ties with a Texas S&L huckster named Don Dixon. And he got forced into a primary against our friend Duke Cunningham. Eventually he had to bow out of the race in favor of Duke since he was the too ethically-compromised of the two candidates. So that gives you some sense of where we're at on this one. After leaving Congress he decided to go into the lobbying biz full-time.

This piece explains how Lowery and Lewis then went, in effect, into business together.

Cozy little world those So Cal Republicans are living in.

No one left to

No one left to bamboozle?

What happened here exactly? In recent months there was a new storyline afoot. Whatever his previous hijinks, whatever lack of a constituency he may have had in pre-invasion Iraq, Ahmad Chalabi, through shmoozing and patronage and guile, had managed to make himself into a political force to be reckoned with in the new Iraq. It even seemed possible he might emerge as a compromise candidate for Prime Minister in the new government.

Apparently, it just wasn't meant to be.

NBC reports that Chalabi got less than 1% of the vote in his sometimes country. And the article at the MSNBC website contains some choice schadenfreudious electoral nuggets.

Out 2.5 million votes cast in Baghdad, Chalabi clocked in at a rather anemic 8,645 votes. Anbar province, the center of the Sunni insurgency, was never going to be Chalabi's base. But you'd have thought there might be more than 113 voters who'd vote for the guy. The list on: Basra, .34 percent of the vote.

So what happened? Was there really any reason to believe that Chalabi would do substantially better than this feeble result?

Every so often a

Every so often a reader writes in and asks this question. And it's a pretty good one. So here goes: When was the last time there was a major terror alert? They were something like a regular occurence for the eighteen months or so before the 2004 election. And through 2004 the administration pushed the line that al Qaida was aiming to disrupt the elections themselves. But as near I can tell there hasn't been a single one since election day.

Through 2004, of course, critics of the administration routinely questioned whether the frequency and timing of the various terror alerts were not all or in part for political effect.

How do we explain what appears to be a night and day difference between the year prior to November 2004 and the year since in terms of terror alerts and scares?

Several readers have pointed

Several readers have pointed my attention to the ruling that came down yesterday in the 4th Circuit barring the government from transferring Jose Padilla from military to civilian law enforcement custody. It's a harsh rebuke of the administration's legal tactics. And what caught my eye is that the author of the ruling is J. Michael Luttig, the darling of conservative jurisprudence and a top candidate for the Supreme Court.

As Jerry Markon puts it in the Washington Post, "In issuing its denial, the court cited the government's changing rationale for Padilla's detention, questioning why it used one set of arguments before federal judges deciding whether it was legal for the military to hold Padilla and another set before the Miami grand jury."

Reading over the reportage of what happened yesterday, it seems clear that Luttig and the other two members of the panel were less perturbed about civil liberties issues per se (Luttig wrote the decision that allowed the government to hold Padilla indefinitely as an 'enemy combatant') than the administration's cynical willingness to jump from legal argument to legal argument, from one set of facts to another, as the needs of the moment dictate.

With Jack Abramoff apparently

With Jack Abramoff apparently ready to deal and kick his eponymous probe into high gear, it's worth clarifying a key point about criminality and campaign contributions. As you can see with all the politicians unburdening themselves of Abramoff-related campaign contributions, Abramoff and his clients spread money around pretty widely. And this has led to some misunderstandings -- some intentional -- about what this case is about.

A comparison to the Duke Cunningham case is instructive.

At the beginning of the Duke scandal it was clear that he'd gotten a lot of campaign contributions from the likes of Brent Wilkes and Mitchell Wade. When all the facts came out, though, those contributions were revealed as little more than window dressing, an early ante up for the real bribery and pay-offs. (There's actually a surreal comedy in some of the details of the Duke case since he was making mind-numbingly precise disclosure filings about travel and knick-knacks while pocketing 5-figure bribes.)

In any case, I doubt we'll see quite the cartoonish level of bribery that we saw in Cunningham's case. But the underlying pattern will be the same. Abramoff and his clients gave contributions to a lot of people; a substantially smaller subset of those people were actively on the take. And it's from those quarters that you hear the sound -- metaphoric if not real -- of muscles constricting with the news of Abramoff's impending cooperation.

The leaks to Anne

The leaks to Anne Kornblut continue. Abramoff nears a deal to testify against "at least a dozen lawmakers and their former staff members."