David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, speaking in March about the Iraq debate in Congress:

I believe that the debate here on the Hill and the issues that have been raised have been helpful in bringing pressure to bear on the Maliki government and on the Iraqis in knowing that there is a very real limit to American patience in this entire enterprise.

Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman, in a July 16 letter to Sen. Hillary Clinton:

Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia.

We received such a well-considered email last night from TPM Reader MA that I'm going to post the whole thing:

Your post . . . about the slowdown in cases in San Francisco got me thinking about the larger bureaucratic issue associated with more than half a dozen years under Bush.

This is a relatively trivial incident, but a while back I attempted to get my passport renewed and discovered the wait times had doubled (partly because of the new rule requiring travelers to Canada to have passports) -- trivial, yes, but it also highlights some of the more mundane effects of an administration run by people who have a fundamental antipathy toward government service and government programs.

This gets writ large in the case of incidents like Hurricane Katrina, the prosecution of the Iraq war and so on...but it also gets writ small in thousands of details of everyday bureaucratic life -- especially as the Bush influence trickles down through the bureaucracy from political appointees to career employees.

If the governing Bush/Cheney philosophy is that the public sector doesn't work, that it is inherently not just inefficient and corrupt, but antagonistic to citizens and individuals, this philosophy has a way of slithering its way into the workings of the system itself -- not just in the case of high profile corruption scandals, but also, again on a more mundane level, in the day-to-day operation of government bureaucracies.

And here's the weird thing, even though that sounds so unexciting, there's something almost stifling about imagining a bureaucracy that really is antagonistic to individuals -- one that not only slows down, but finds some vindication in throwing up road blocks, thwarting citizen requests, and, in the end, not serving the public. I have family members who lived in former communist countries -- and that's really how the bureaucracy was there, and life under those circumstances was made much more difficult, bureaucratic responsibilities increasingly cumbersome, much of the time the system just didn't work, and had to be gamed (or bribed).

Although I have large scale concerns about Bush's handling of the war, the economy, and so on, I also have some more micro scale concerns about what his philosophy of governance means for everyday life and our everyday interactions with the bureaucracy. Indeed, this scale, though more mundane, is also the one that in some ways affects the majority of the population more directly, even if much less dramatically. I've lived in places where the bureaucracy functions quite well, and where citizens take a certain pride in the fact that the government serves them.

The idea of living in a country where the administration's goal is to demonstrate just how bad government is/can be scares me at this very prosaic level -- I want my schools and courts and inspection agencies and passport agencies and so on to be run by people who really believe in government service and in the fact that the government can work effectively to serve the populace. Bush seems to be doing everything he can to dismantle such a world -- and he risks fueling a vicious circle in so doing.

The Financial Times reports that some cases in the San Francisco U.S. Attorney's office are moving so slowly that the Securities and Exchange Commission is considering moving forward with its civil cases alone rather than waiting on the Justice Department, with whom the SEC usually jointly files cases:

The San Francisco slowdown is the most dramatic example of larger problems that have surfaced at the DoJ since the mass sackings of eight US attorneys, including Mr [Kevin] Ryan, caused a furore in February. Six top posts at the DoJ in Washington are empty or filled with temporary appointees, and 23 of the 93 US Attorney’s offices around the country lack permanent political leadership.

Frankly, I wouldn't call this the "most dramatic example" of the problems at DOJ. The politicization at all levels that has emerged since the USAs purge is far more dramatic and more serious. But the FT report does show how even the routine work of the department is being disrupted by the dreadful leadership of Alberto Gonzales.

There's no use trying to debunk each and every lie or half truth that comes out of Tony Snow, but this one has been gnawing at me all day. It comes from a Snow op-ed in this morning's USA Today. Here he is referring to Saddam Hussein: "We never argued that he played a role [in] 9/11; political opponents manufactured the claim to question the president's integrity."

Now it can gnaw on you, too. I feel better already.

Lots of readers have emailed about the Executive Order issued by the President on Tuesday, which broadly empowers the federal government to freeze the assets of Iraqi insurgents and those seeking to destabilize the Iraqi government, including U.S. citizens. Spencer Ackerman has looked into the implications of this new order and has two reports (here and here).

Things continue to look gloomy for Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA). The governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Benigno R. Fitial, announced today that he is cooperating with the federal investigation related to Jack Abramoff:

The Justice Department's interest in Doolittle appears to focus on payments Doolittle's wife, Julie, received from Abramoff for fundraising work unrelated to the Marianas. But Doolittle was also heavily involved in Abramoff's advocacy for the Marianas, endorsing Fitial for governor and pushing federal funding on his behalf.

Doolittle was lobbied on the issue by his own former legislative director, Kevin Ring, who went on to work with Abramoff and now is himself under investigation.

"Doolittle, he's also a friend," said Fitial.

Fitial spoke to reporters after testifying against a Senate bill that would impose U.S. immigration laws on the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a chain of 14 islands just north of Guam in the Pacific. A similar bill passed the Senate in 2000 but Abramoff helped block it from advancing in the House.

I suppose Doolittle will cheer this latest development, too.

No enemy of the U.S. in the last 40 years has had as dim a view of American willpower as neo-conservatives do. To hear them tell the tale, U.S. foreign policy has been one long series of impotent withdrawals.

Here, for example, is Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman, in a letter, obtained by the AP, responding to questions from Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) about Pentagon contingency planning for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq:

Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia.

Haunted by this dark narrative of failure, the neo-cons are bound and determined not to repeat the weak-willed mistakes of the recent past. Why, even the very discussion of how to get out of this mess will embolden our enemies and undermine our own resolve. Instead, we must march in lockstep forward, chins jutting ahead, ignoring all of the distractions which could so easily turn us into quivering Jello.

How thankful we should be to have brave men like Eric Edelman to stifle debate, to lash us in our moments of weakness, and to encourage us to be oblivious to the reality all around us. Then and only then can we achieve America's true greatness.

If, god forbid, we were to fail, it will not be on account of such noble examples as Eric Edleman. No, it will be the fault of the weak-minded among us, besotted by our culture of tolerance and permissiveness. Men like Eric Edelman can lead, but they cannot make us follow (at least not quite yet--they're working on that). In this, we must do our duty, following without question or reason, without reflection or pause.

Ultimately, as Eric Edelman knows all too well, our own worst enemy is ourselves.

Update: Here's a copy of the letter.

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) is still the Southern regional chairman of the Giuliani for President camapign, and the DC Madam still wants to call Vitter as a witness at her trial.

If Vitter is forced to testify, he would have three options, the Times-Picayune observes:

A subpoena would present Vitter with an awkward choice, legal experts said. He could say he hired a prostitute. He could assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and say nothing. Or he could acknowledge that he hired an escort but that nothing illegal happened.

Fun choices.

Late update: CREW has filed an complaint against Vitter with the Senate Ethics Committee.

Sidney Blumenthal previews the next scene of the Iraq debacle:

Gen. Petraeus is promised as the dramatic hero who will stride to triumph in the last act. The author of a recent study of counterinsurgency who has not previously fought such a war, he has been thrust into the spotlight partly because his halo is yet untarnished. Bush's unpopularity disqualifies him from the "Mission Accomplished" moment. So he pushes out his handpicked general and walks behind his chariot, hoping the cheering of the crowd will be also for him. In his July 12 press conference, Bush mentioned Petraeus 11 times, his name flourished as a talisman for "victory." The generals with the greatest experience with the Iraq insurgency, who opposed Bush's surge, such as Gen. John Abizaid, an Arabic speaker, have been discharged or reassigned. The burden on the ambitious general to produce a military solution is unbearable and his breaking inevitable. But for now, Petraeus' tragedy foretold is being cast as the first dawn of a happy ending.

As Josh mentioned a few days ago, Bush still wants his parade.

Laura McGann has the rundown on the breaking news from Alaska regarding the sweetheart land deal for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

Short version: Murkowski bought riverfront property on the Kenai River from a politically connected developer for $179,400, which just happened to be the assessed value of the property for property tax purposes. There are indications that the fair market value of the property may be nearly twice what Murkowski paid.

If only I could pick up real estate for the assessed value. Guess you have to be a U.S. senator for that kind of score.

Update: I've gotten a couple of emails--from readers in Massachusetts and Virginia, respectively--who would be happy to sell me property at the assessed value, saying that FMV is actually lower than their assessments. I'd be curious to know where else in the country this is the case.

In any event, our reporting shows that assessed value does trail FMV in the area where Murkowski's property is located.