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

Last week we mentioned

Last week we mentioned that in a 'scandal scorecard' on his new Washington Post blog The Fix, Chris Cillizza included a reference to a former Democratic congressman who resigned from Congress for crimes committed before he was even elected, in an apparent effort to make the scorecard look less overwhelmingly weighted toward Republicans.

This morning a TPM Reader asked Cillizza about it in a reader chat.

Here's the exchange with emphasis added ...

New York, N.Y.: In your recent corruption roundup, you set up some ground rules that you'll only deal with current members of Congress or governors. Yet, you broke your own rules by including Rep Frank Ballance (D) who resigned in June, 2004. You omitted Connecticut Governor John Rowland (R) who also resigned in June, 2004. Why break your own rules for one but not the other?

The only thing I can think of is that you made a list and found that there are a lot more Republicans than Democrats on the list. So in an effort to appeared unbiased, you had to find another Democrat.

Cillizza: This was an editorial mixup. In my original post, Ballance was not included since, as you rightly point out, he is not a sitting member of Congress. After an edit, Ballance was unnecessarily included for, frankly, balance. I did not read the final edit and therefore was unaware that Ballance had been added to the list. I apologize for my editor's error (he's been flogged). And let no man (or woman) say The Fix opposes full disclosure.


Kudos to Chris for being candid and transparent about what happened. But this does give some insight into what's going on behind the scenes in the reporting on many of these scandals. In this case, reality apparently wasn't balanced enough. So an editor at the Post tipped the scales.

One of the many

One of the many unfortunate things about the current debate over Iraq is how divorced it seems from the particulars of what actually appears to be happening on the ground. Many of you will already have read them, but let me point out two articles in the current Atlantic that get into some of that nitty-gritty.

One is the already much-discussed piece by James Fallows, "Why Iraq Has No Army". Unfortunately, at the moment, it's locked behind their subscription wall. But it's worth picking up a copy of the hardcopy to read. It's one of those masterful Fallows' pieces, just at the level of execution. As one who's tried, it's terribly difficult to keep one of these articles aloft page after page, especially when there's no conventional narrative arc to give form to the effort.

The topic is as the title suggests: why doesn't Iraq have its own security forces, despite more than two years of efforts to build them up. My one slight criticism of Fallows piece (though he's certainly aware of the issue) is that I didn't feel he gave quite enough emphasis to the political dimension of the question rather than the training dimension. Again, not that he ignores the point, I just would have made the emphasis a touch different.

Building a modern professional army is a really tough enterprise, one that involves far more than just having a bunch of men who know how to fire weapons and are willing to risk their lives. But an effective army grows from an effective state, or rather a government which commands loyalty and can exercise power. At some fundamental level, I wonder if we haven't been working this state/army calculus backwards from the beginning.

In any case, Fallows' article is one of that deserves the endlessly overused description of must-read. And the picture he paints is extremely bleak.

Less noticed has been another shorter piece in the same issue by Nir Rosen. He makes the positive case for withdrawal. Not just that things aren't going well and that we should leave, but that our best chance of securing at least some of our aims is to remove our troops.

In his effort to make his case, I have the sense that Rosen slightly overstates his case, sometimes appearing to imply that the natural center of gravity in Iraq -- absent our presence -- is one where the parties themselves would be able to work things out on their own. But the basic strategic insight to his piece sounds right -- that the extended presence of American troops in Iraq is the cause of the insurgency rather than the solution to it.

The word I got

The word I got yesterday from folks close to the Tobin case up in New Hampshire was that it didn't go all that well for the prosecution. Basically, the current team -- which has its heart in the case -- may be paying a price for laggard pursuit of the case by the original team DOJ had working the case -- which didn't. Tobin's coconspirators who copped pleas some time ago are now acting more like defense witnesses than government witnesses. Yesterday it was former New Hampshire GOP Executive Director Chuck McGee.

Nothing disastrous, mind you. Just the defense got off to a decent start.

We'll have more on the developments in the case shortly.

But for now check out blogger Betsy Devine's site. She's up in Concord covering the case from inside the courtroom.

Was that a shoe

Was that a shoe falling? Susan Ralston is the woman who has managed to be at the center of both the Abramoff and the CIA leak investigations. She was Abramoff's executive assistant back in the day; then she took the same job with Karl Rove.

But maybe no more.

The Philippine News (Ralston is of Filipino descent) reports (link courtesy of The Plank) that she's moved on to the Commerce Department because she's been under "too much pressure" at the White House.

A TPM Reader gave

A TPM Reader gave me a heads-up on this a couple days ago. And it turns out he was right.

Recently I told you that any chance Tom DeLay has of regaining the Majority Leader's post was to have his case in Texas close to some resolution in January -- before dissidents in the House GOP caucus could force new leadership elections.

That seemed very likely to happen when lawmakers came back to DC mid-January.

Of course one way to give The Hammer a bit more time is just not to let members of the House come back.

And that appears to be what they've decided to do.

According to Roll Call (sub.req.), Hastert and Blunt plan to keep the doors to the people's House closed until January 31st, the day the president is scheduled to give his State of the Union address -- which of course is given in the House chamber.

Who else did Brent

Who else did Brent Wilkes (Cunningham's sugar daddy) give money to? Ellen Miller has a list. Go check it twice.

Duke Cunninghams booty does

Duke Cunningham's booty does a perp walk!

Actually, let me make sure I'm not misunderstood. Duke may going to the big house. But his booty -- his ill-gotten gains, all the antique furniture, rugs, candelabra, the antique commode, everything -- have been seized by the IRS and placed on public display in a warehouse in San Diego.

Click here to the local TV segment of the display (look on the right of the story for the video link).

The story also notes that the stuff is going to be auctioned off to the public. So you too you could get some Duke booty.

(ed.note: Thanks to TPM Reader BS for letting us know about this new instance of Duke being on the block for the highest bidder.)

Eh small world small

Eh, small world, small conspiracy.

This news has been out for a few weeks and I just hadn't noticed. But the Scooter Libby Legal Defense Fund is being headed up by none other than Mel Sembler, the Cheney-fan and the big-ticket GOP fundraiser from Florida who was the US Ambassador to Italy when all the secret meetings took place and when the forged uranium papers showed up at the US Embassy in October 2002.

Since I've reported on this story for almost two years and am still writing a series on it, I need to say explicitly that I've never seen any evidence tying Sembler to any bad acts related to the forgeries. So the 'conspiracy' crack is mainly a jest. But there's a lot that's still really murky about what was happening at the US Embassy in Rome after 9/11 with the forgeries and other matters. That was on Sembler's watch. And Libby's bad acts stem from the whole forgeries bamboozlement. (Whacking Wilson was part of the larger White House effort to keep the forgeries scam covered up -- a cover up that's still underway.)

So Sembler just seems like a pretty big part of this story to be collecting money for the one person under indictment for their role in it.

Let me follow up

Let me follow up on the post below about those "hospitality suite[s] with several bedrooms" that arch-contracts-hustler Brent Wilkes was running around downtown Washington. I probably should have been a bit more explicit about this last evening but the wording the reporters for the Union-Tribune used was almost certainly code for some sort of legislative love shack Wilkes used to lubricate the pay-for-play operation that made him and his pals so much cash before Duke brought the whole movable feast down on their heads. It may match up with reports about fast times down at the marina on the various Dukeboats.

LiveWire