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

As long as we're engaging in useless exercises, is it time for an Afghanistan Study Group?

The AP has obtained a list of 30 rules/directives handed down by the Taliban, the most troubling of which target teachers and those who cooperate with international aid organizations:

The Taliban gunmen who murdered two teachers in eastern Afghanistan early Saturday were only following their rules: Teachers receive a warning, then a beating, and if they continue to teach must be killed.

. . .

Taliban militants early Saturday broke into a house in the eastern province of Kunar, killing a family of five, including two sisters who were teachers.

The women had been warned in a letter to quit teaching, said Gulam Ullah Wekar, the provincial education director. Their mother, grandmother and a male relative were also slain in the attack.

The two sisters brought to 20 the number of teachers killed in Taliban attacks this year, said Education Ministry spokesman Zuhur Afghan. He said 198 schools have been burned down this year, up from about 150 last year.

The 30 Taliban rules also spell out opposition to development projects from aid organizations, including clinics, roads and schools.

Under our watch, the Taliban has burned down more than 300 schools in the past two years. Did anyone ask Robert Gates during his confirmation hearing whether we're winning the war in Afghanistan?

The federal investigation of political corruption in Alaska, centered on state Senate President Ben Stevens, son of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), appears broader than at first reported, according to today's Anchorage Daily News:

The director of a Juneau-based salmon fishing group said last week he has been ordered by a federal grand jury investigating Alaska corruption to turn over lobbying and consulting records involving state Senate President Ben Stevens and former congressional aide Trevor McCabe, an Anchorage lawyer.

The grand jury subpoena, issued last month, also seeks records on the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, a nonprofit federal-grant distribution corporation set up by Ben Stevens' father, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.

The executive director of the Juneau salmon group responding to the subpoena, Robert Thorstenson Jr., serves on the marketing board. Thorstenson said he and a partner, Juneau and Seattle lawyer Rob Zuanich, rent space to the board for its Juneau office.

In a telephone interview Thursday from Seattle, Thorstenson said the subpoena to Southeast Alaska Seiners Association arrived last month after he was contacted by agents from the FBI and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The subpoena said the grand jury was investigating felony crimes, Thorstenson said.

The subpoena appears to document a widening of the federal corruption investigation in Alaska, which burst into public view in August with dramatic raids of the offices of six legislators, including Ben Stevens. Agents returned to search Stevens' offices Sept. 18.

The article also suggests, without saying so explicitly, that the indictment this week of state Rep. Tom Anderson, an Anchorage Republican, for alleged extortion, bribery, conspiracy and money laundering, is connected to the Stevens investigation. Anderson has pleaded not guilty.

What will the House Democratic Caucus do about Rep. Bill Jefferson?

The subject of a federal criminal probe and a House Ethics Committee investigation, Jefferson overwhelming won re-relection yesterday, after being forced into a runoff against fellow Democrat Karen Carter.

Saying that Jefferson is the subject of a federal criminal probe hardly seems to do the man justice. By all appearances, the only thing standing between Jefferson and a multi-count federal grand jury indictment for bribery and related unsavory activities was the power-drunk GOP majority in Congress, which, perhaps fearful of investigations into its own corrupt activities, tried to turn the FBI's raid of Jefferson's Capitol Hill office into a constitutional crisis.

Had it not been for the howls of protest over the FBI raid and the legal wrangling that followed, it appears very likely that Jefferson would already be under indictment by now. But the GOP majority is gone. The Democrats, having vaulted into control of Congress in significant part due to voters' disgust with entrenched Republican corruption, have made ethics a top priority. And Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi has already staked out a strong and laudable position on Jefferson's conduct in removing him from the powerful Ways and Means Committee even before the mid-term elections.

So Jefferson will return to Washington as a living, breathing embodiment of political corruption at the very moment that Democrats are trying to implement ethics reform. Nice, uh?

So what to do? My own preferred solution would be a two-fer. The House should refuse to seat Jefferson and Rep.-elect Vern Buchanan (R-FL). Buchanan was elected to Katherine Harris' old seat thanks to 18,000 undervotes in the Sarasota area, without which his Democratic opponent Christine Jennings almost certainly wins.

Republicans are already gearing up for a partisan bloodbath if the Democratic-controlled House refuses to seat Buchanan, the certified winner of a flawed election. What better way to take some of the wind out of those arguments than by simultaneously refusing to seat Jefferson, the flawed winner of a certified election?

Undemocratic, you say? The people have spoken? Perhaps. But the people's elected representatives in the House can democratically say that a member is unfit to serve. Is anyone other than his most compromised defenders seriously arguing that Jefferson is fit to serve?

Refusing to seat Jefferson right off the bat would be as bold a stroke as the introduction of any reform package within the first 100 days, and it would dramatically distinguish this Congress from its sorry predecessor.

Feds unlikely to prosecute former Rep. Mark Foley for his behavior with congressional pages, ABC reports.

More on Jack Abramoff's HUD connection: HUD still maintains that Abramoff had no lobbying contacts with the department, but billing records from Abramoff's old firm tell a different story. Special cameo appearances by Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL), a former HUD secretary and the president's choice to chair the Republican National Committee, and current Secretary Alphonso Jackson. This angle to the Abramoff iinvestigation has been percolating for a while.

We should know later tonight whether Rep. "Dollar Bill" Jefferson (D-LA) is able to win re-election while the target of a federal bribery investigation. The polls close in his runoff at 9 p.m. EST.

Update: Jefferson ahead 56%-44%, with less than 25% reporting.

Late update: With 33% of precincts reporting, Jefferson leads Karen Carter 60%-40%.

Senate Majority Leader-elect Harry Reid (D-NV), following Friday's Oval Office meeting with the President on Iraq: "I just didn't feel there today, the president in his words or his demeanor, that he is going to do anything right away to change things drastically. He is tepid in what he talks about doing. Someone has to get the message to this man that there have to be significant changes."

More here, including the President's now standard fallback position when challenged: "I am the commander in chief." I doubt that is the sort of management technique he was taught at Harvard Business School. It's more like something Steve Carell's character in The Office would come up with.

Via Muckraker, here's a snippet of a Congressional Quarterly interview with incoming House intelligence committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX):

Reyes stumbled when I asked him a simple question about al Qaeda at the end of a 40-minute interview in his office last week. Members of the Intelligence Committee, mind you, are paid $165,200 a year to know more than basic facts about our foes in the Middle East.

We warmed up with a long discussion about intelligence issues and Iraq. And then we veered into terrorism’s major players.

To me, it’s like asking about Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland: Who’s on what side?

The dialogue went like this:

Al Qaeda is what, I asked, Sunni or Shia?

“Al Qaeda, they have both,” Reyes said. “You’re talking about predominately?”

“Sure,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“Predominantly — probably Shiite,” he ventured.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Al Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shiite showed up at an al Qaeda club house, they’d slice off his head and use it for a soccer ball.

Ladies and gentlemen, your new intel committee chairman.

Is there anything more self-serving than Don Rumsfeld saying his worst day as defense secretary was when he learned of the Abu Ghraib abuses? (And which day was that exactly?) Worse than the attacks on 9/11, which killed nearly 3,000 people, a day on which a jetliner crashed into the Pentagon while Rumsfeld was in his office there?

No secretary of defense would subordinate the worst attack on the U.S. homeland in modern times to what Rumsfeld himself has called isolated incidents of abuse by low-level soldiers. That is, unless that secretary of defense was legally or morally culpable for that abuse, or as I'm sure is the case here, he is convinced that Abu Ghraib will be the symbol of his legacy and of the great failure that the Iraq adventure has become.

In either case, it says all you need to know about Rumsfeld that he doesn't consider 9/11 his worst day as secretary of defense.