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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

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.

If you're into reading the tea leaves to determine if the rumors of OBL's death are true, this UPI report will give you plenty to play with, including the significance of the paper chosen to receive the leak.

Important bit of context on the detainee legislation and the associated debate in Congress, from the Boston Globe:

As lawmakers prepare to debate the CIA's special interrogation program for terrorism suspects, fewer than 10 percent of the members of Congress have been told which interrogation techniques have been used in the past, and none of them know which ones would be permissible under proposed changes to the War Crimes Act.


But that doesn't stop the esteemed gentleman from Alabama: "I don't know what the CIA has been doing, nor should I know," said Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican.

The piece points out that the Army Field Manual spells out in detail which interrogation techniques are acceptable and which are prohibited, which undermines the Administration's contention that the details of its interrogation techniques should remain classified.

It sort of fits that the same folks who let the Administration keep them constantly in the dark don't see anything wrong with keeping alleged terrorists in the dark about the evidence against them.

Wild Bill lets loose on Fox News and lets Chris Wallace have it.

CLINTON: You set this meeting up because you were going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers because Rupert Murdoch is going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers for supporting my work on climate change. And you came here under false pretenses and said that you’d spend half the time talking about…

WALLACE: [laughs]

CLINTON: You said you’d spend half the time talking about what we did out there to raise $7 billion dollars plus over three days from 215 different commitments. And you don’t care.


It's about time. But does this mean I have to watch Fox News Sunday?

Update: Just to be clear, the meat of the exchange and the catalyst for the sparring comes when Wallace mouths the spin of "The Path to 9/11," asserting that Clinton did not do enough to get al Qaeda.

Late update: Earlier, Fox was teasing the interview on its website with the headline, "Clinton Gets Crazed." They have now changed it to "Strong Reaction."

The reports on the possible death of Osama bin Laden are not surprisingly very contradictory at this point. Time is now reporting that, according to a Saudi source, bin Laden is ill and may have already died:

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, says that Saudi officials have received multiple credible reports over the last several weeks that Bin Laden has been suffering from a water-borne illness. The source believes that there is a "high probability" that Bin Laden has already died from the disease, but stressed that Saudi officials have thus far received no concrete evidence of Bin Laden's death.

"This is not a rumor," says the source. "He is very ill. He got a water-related sickness and it could be terminal. There are a lot of serious facts about things that have actually happened. There is a lot to it. But we don't have any concrete information to say that he is dead."


Given the number of times his death has been reported, there's no point in speculating on which reports are accurate. We'll just have to let this one play out. I will say that typhoid is not exactly my idea of a deserved death for the man.

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