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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

A nod to TPM alum Matt Yglesias:

Bush, Cheney, and those around them remind me of Nietzsche's line about staring too long into the abyss. They've become transfixed, hypnotized almost, by the evils they believe themselves to be fighting. Obsessed to the point where they've clearly developed an admiration for the brutal methods, ruthless dishonesty, and utter secrecy with which the enemies of liberalism conduct themselves.

Liberal democracy isn't a fluke occurrence that just so happens to have survived despite its drawbacks. It's actually a superior method of organizing a state. The idea that the country is being run by people who don't understand that is sad and frightening. The idea that the very same people claim to be embarked upon a grand mission to spread our system of government around the world is like a horrible tawdry joke . . .

Poor Mike Wallace. His son gets handed his hat by an ex-President, and 60 Minutes goes peppy (or is it "perky"?), all on the same day.

I don't know if it's because maybe fewer journalists these days are ex-military or what the reason, but not nearly enough attention has been paid to the degree to which our torture policy runs counter to decades of U.S. military doctrine and training.

So go read this piece about the views of retired brass on Bush's torture program, based in part on their first-hand combat experiences.

The Montana Senate race is obviously a key seat for both parties, but it's turning out to be a pretty colorful race to boot. Last night, Conrad Burns debated his Democratic challenger, state Senate President Jon Tester, who has been pounding on Burns for his connections to Jack Abramoff. Burns was repeatedly interrupted by catcalls at the last debate, so the Republicans were prepared this time. Well, sort of, according to the Great Falls Tribune:

The Abramoff issue, along with that of Iraq, has been raised in previous debates. But Saturday's confrontation covered new ground, including a who's-been-better-to-Butte discussion, and clear delineations on the Patriot Act.

Burns highlighted his history of bringing federal money to Butte; indeed, the debate was co-sponsored by the Resodyn Corp., the beneficiary of some of that federal largesse. When Burns was introduced, those in the roughly 60 seats reserved for Resodyn employees comprised the majority of those who stood and applauded him. Despite Republican appeals for Burns' supporters within 100 miles to attend the debate, the crowd seemed largely made up of Tester's backers, many of them wearing yellow "Fire Burns" T-shirts.


The incumbent U.S. Senator gets embarrassed in the prior debate, his party puts out the call for supporters, and they still get outnumbered this time around, despite stacking the audience with employees from a company beholden to Burns? I'd say Burns is in trouble.

There's a pretty good rundown on last night's debate and the race generally here, though the part about Burns helping to create the blogosphere is, well, a bit of a stretch.

News junkies will well remember former Congressman Bill McCollum, the Florida Republican who was a leader of the drive to impeach President Clinton. In what may be a sign of the trouble facing Republicans, the 10-term congressman and two-time U.S. Senate candidate is now struggling to separate himself from a relatively obscure Democrat in the race for Florida Attorney General.

I've been going back and forth in recent weeks with a good friend of mine over whether military action against Iran before the election is in the cards. I think it is a very real possibility. My friend says that despite the Administration's well-documented bad ideas, as played out in the Iraq invasion, for example, it doesn't act irrationally, and that military action against Iran now is not rational.

He points, among other things, to the lack of troops, the fact that the Administration itself would view limiting the action to airstrikes as a demonstration of its own weakeness, and the absence of political support for the move even among Republicans compared with the support for the Iraq invasion.

All good points, but I don't have the same degree of confidence in the Administration's rationality. And even if I grant the rationality argument, it strikes me that attacking Iran might be "rational" if it means the difference between the GOP winning or losing Congress. Gary Hart lays out what seems to me like a plausible scenario for pre-election military action.

Unfortunately, my friend and I agree that if the GOP retains control of Congress, all bets are off and everything up to and including a ground invasion will be on the table.

On the American Gulag, by Soviet history scholar Kate Brown:

Whether or not one agrees that American detention centers and secret prisons are the “Gulag of our time,” the comparison deserves serious consideration. It might help us shine a torch into the dark corners of repression, where the totalitarian qualities of our own society lurk, before the scale of violence ascends to Gulag dimensions.


See the complete interview with Brown at Harper's.

Thanks to crooksandliars.com, you don't have to watch Fox News Sunday to see the Wild Bill smackdown.

Update: You really ought to go watch this clip. Clinton is simply the most gifted politician of our times. I have my issues with Clinton, but I sometimes forget not just what a tremendously effective communicator he is but how much he just plain gets it. He understands politics at a level no one else does. He intuitively knows the subtext to questions and so not only answers the expressed question but in a very analytical way picks apart the subtext and answers the implied question, too. If you're a little younger and missed most of the Clinton years, it's something to watch.

Mike Lupica:

The government of George Bush, which will leak the name of a CIA operative named Valerie Plame when it suits its purposes, now wants Fainaru-Wada and Williams in jail because they won't reveal the names of the person or persons the government says leaked them grand jury testimony. It is always worth pointing out that if you ran the country the way Bush and his people do, you wouldn't want to encourage whistleblowers, either.

Once George Bush told baseball to get rid of steroids in a State of the Union address. Fainaru-Wada and Williams, through their reporting and later their book "Game of Shadows," did their part. They took the President at his word, obviously unaware that this President will say anything in a State of the Union, about weapons of mass destruction or anything else.

. . .

So now the reporters are the bad guys, not the ballplayers who used drugs and then, most likely, lied about that in front of the grand jury. Get the reporters, not them. It's a variation of starting a war against somebody who didn't blow up two of your buildings and kill 3000 of your people.


Pretty sad when some of the hardest hitting political commentary is found on the sports page.

As was noted yesterday, we're engaged in this utterly surreal dance where the morally blind are leading the ignorant. We still don't know what has been done in our names. Were it up to them, we would never know. But trust us, they say, we did what we had to protect you. We won't tell you what. And, oh, by the way, please pardon us for our misdeeds, if any.

So many layers to the torture debate, but for me this is the icing. In an op-ed piece, former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman writes:

Under cover of the controversy involving the military tribunals and whether they could use hearsay or coerced evidence, the administration is trying to pardon itself, hoping that no one will notice. The urgent timetable has to do more than anything with the possibility that the next Congress may be controlled by Democrats, who will not permit such a provision to be adopted.

Creating immunity retroactively for violating the law sets a terrible precedent. The president takes an oath of office to uphold the Constitution; that document requires him to obey the laws, not violate them. A president who knowingly and deliberately violates U.S. criminal laws should not be able to use stealth tactics to immunize himself from liability, and Congress should not go along.


The President would have us believe that he would do anything, bear any burden, to protect this country, even strap on the flight suit himself and land on an aircraft carrier. But in a day and age when the Commander in Chief is not required to literally stand in harm's way, the only burden he must actually bear is to uphold the Constitution and see that the laws are faithfully executed.

It is a significant burden--not the burden of a soldier in Anbar, to be sure--yet a real burden nonetheless. But much as he did in the National Guard as a callow young man, the President, having failed in his duty, is trying to wriggle out of any accountability for his failure.

We will prosecute the lowly reservist at Abu Ghraib, who when outmanned and under regular mortar attack, snaps and commits depravities that are strikingly similar to the "interrogation techniques" authorized by the President. But for the President and his entourage, we offer the equivalent of a tax break for the rich, a pardon for all their sins.

The sinner, in most Christian tradition, must first acknowledge his sins before he may atone for them. This President, I expect, will never regain the moral high ground, if he ever held it. And if he insists on and is given a pardon for himself, then this country will miss its best opportunity for a complete accounting of what we did and to whom. The longer we put off that accounting, the longer it will take to regain the moral high ground.

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