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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

Over at TPMmuckraker, Paul Kiel has a rundown on the latest documents from the Secret Service showing Jack Abramoff's White House visits.

The Secret Service has been less than forthcoming about Abramoff's White House contacts, despite a lawsuit seeking to enforce FOIA.

The first batch of records released showed just two Abramoff visits. The latest batch identifies six other times when Abramoff was scheduled to be at the White House.

Jack, we hardly knew ya.

Speaking of the Geneva Conventions, the Red Cross has consistently held to its position that it should have access to those captured by the United States and held at undisclosed locations around the world.

In light of the Hamdan decision, has the Red Cross again approached U.S. officials about gaining such access? What has been the U.S. response? I haven't seen any reporting on this issue. If any TPM readers have, send me the link and I'll post a follow up.

Style note to editors/producers:

Describing those held at Guantanamo as "detainees" or "enemy combatants" is not accurate.

The Supreme Court's Hamdan decision declared them to be prisoners of war, entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions, until such time as a properly constituted tribunal concludes otherwise. The thrust of the Court's decision was that the military commissions set up by the Administration did not include the basic procedural safeguards necessary to qualify as a properly constituted tribunal.

As a matter of law now, the United States is holding prisoners of war at Guantanamo Bay. That's a fact, which is obscured when journalists continue to use language first put forth by the Administration specifically to avoid the strictures of the Geneva Conventions.

Update: Nothing like giving style instructions, and being incorrect. A number of readers have correctly pointed out that the Supreme Court in Hamdan did not reach the issue of whether Hamdan was a prisoner of war. So I overstated the case when I wrote that the Supreme Court had declared his POW status. Rather, the District Court had made that determination, and the judgment of the District Court was affirmed by the Supreme Court, but on different grounds. It simply did not decide the POW issue one way or the other. I think it's fair to say that the District Court's opinion that Hamdan is a prisoner of war remains good law, but that decision does not have the imprimatur of the Supreme Court, as my post stated. My apologies for the error and thanks to the readers who caught it.

More on the latest New York terror case, from the WP:

There were conflicting assessments among U.S. counterterrorism officials about the significance of the plot.

Two U.S. counterterrorism officials, speaking on the condition that their names and agencies not be identified because the FBI is the government's lead agency, discounted the ability of the conspirators to carry out an attack.

One said the plot was "not as far along" as described and was "more aspirational in nature." The other described the threat as "jihadi bravado," adding "somebody talks about tunnels, it lights people up," but that there was little activity to back up the talk. . . . Like the plot announced yesterday, the Miami group's plans were described by investigators as "aspirational."


The Miami group had a leg up on this newest bunch; its members were actually in the country.

They always say everything is bigger in Texas, but this is too much even for the Lone Star State.

Reckoning that two U.S. senators and 32 congressmen were insufficient representation in Washington (not to mention that fella in the White House), Texas created an independent state agency to advance the state's interest in Washington, the only state with such an arrangement.

But that wasn't enough, not for Texas.

Even though the Office of State-Federal Relations has its own staff and an office in Washington, it decided to hire outside lobbyists to represent the agency, signing Drew Maloney, Tom Delay's former chief of staff, and Todd Boulanger, a former member of Team Abramoff, to contracts together worth more $1 million. Some of that money made it back into GOP campaign coffers, but that's a whole other story.

The next step would be for Maloney and Boulanger to hire their own lobbyists--because, really, with things like they are in Washington these days, how can the good people of Texas compete for federal dollars without their elected representatives' agency's lobbyists' lobbyists?

Showing some of the common sense Texas prides itself on, a state advisory commission has now recommended that the Office of State-Federal Relations be abolished. Republicans in the Texas Legislature oppose the idea.

Well, turns out the Holland Tunnel wasn't the target after all, according to the NYT. But what does that matter?

Representative Peter T. King, the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said today that even though the Holland Tunnel was not the target this time, the tunnel has been a target of terrorists before, including a plot against the Hudson River tunnels and other New York landmarks uncovered after the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.


By that logic, we'd better keep a close eye on, say, Pearl Harbor.

Think it's time to compare the number of announced terrorism cases in pre-election 2004, post-election 2005, and, now, pre-election 2006?

As Josh has rightly noted, the current wave of public corruption cases is largely the result of GOP machine politics.

It's easy to get distracted by the baubles and the booty. Scottish golf trips. Persian rugs. Limousines and hookers.

But personal aggrandizement is not the sum total of these various cases. That's just the carrying charge, the price of doing business.

The GOP machine is built on the nexus of earmarks, lobbying fees, government contracts, and laundered monies. Aboveboard campaign contributions (i.e., corporate cash) play a part, but the under-the-table money fuels the machine.

That's why a Jack Abramoff has access to the White House. It's why a Tom Delay rises to become House majority leader. It's why the revolving door keeps spinning.

Machine politics subordinates ideology to the exigencies of keeping the machine running. Thus you have out-of-control federal spending under professed small-government conservatives. You have conservative foreign policy elites wary of foreign entanglements suddenly proclaiming the good news of nation-building.

Independents and honest Republicans recognize the threat that machine politics poses to democratic institutions. It trumps party, ideology, and competent government. It also trumps God, flag, and country.

So, in the 2006 elections, are you with the machine or are you against it?

In a post last night I waded into the soup of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I figured, why not? I'm only guest posting. If I leave carnage in my wake, Josh will be the one who gets to clean it up.

For the most part, the email response was temperate and quite thoughtful, but by no means was there a consensus, as these two TPM readers demonstrate:

From TPM Reader SS:

I couldn't disagree more with your post regarding the so-called "disproportionate" Israeli response to the kidnapping of one of its soldiers.

First, to frame the debate as you did--a response over the kidnapping of a single soldier--is disingenuous. Israel's response is not over the kidnapping of a single soldier. It concerns the elevation of a terrorist organization into political power--in Israel's own backyard.

Hamas has vowed, and continues to vow, to destroy Israel. In the same incident in which a soldier was kidnapped, two others were murdered and one seriously injured. Qasam rockets rain into Israel regularly. I do not understand why Israel does not have the right to self-defense and self-preservation. Regardless of how you view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--and I for one believe in a negotiated two-state solution--it is impossible to negotiate with an entity that predicates its existence upon Israel's complete destruction.

The United States attacked and destroyed the Afganistan political establishment because it harbored terrorists. Everyone applauded. Israel has been living side-by-side with a people that harbored a substantial number of people who supported its destruction, and tacitly went-along with (or at a minimum refused to condemn or attempt to stop) these terrorists. Now they control the government. I think that Israel's response to having a people call for its destruction has been remarkably constrained. I don't think, in fact, we could find a more restrained response in history.


Then again, from TPM Reader JB:

The "kidnapping" of the Israeli soldier in a daring commando raid, an Israeli military disaster btw, was the pretext for this operation, which very likely was planned well-before the soldier was seized.

Discussing what the Israelis are doing as though it were really in reaction to this incident is to buy into Israeli propaganda. What they are really up to is simply to destroy the (democratically-elected) Hamas government and prevent the formation of a viable government in Palestine as part of PM Olmert's "Convergence Plan."

If anything, Israel's kidnapping of the eight Palestinian civilian cabinet members and the shelling of their civilian PM's offices is probably in reaction to the joint statement agreed to recently by both Fatah and Hamas pledging to reduce violence and by implication recognizing Israel's right to exist. Oops. The one thing Israel cannot countenance is peace.


Doesn't look like I'll be unleashing world peace during this guest posting stint. Maybe next time.

When exactly did the NSA start monitoring domestic telecommunications traffic, after September 11--or before?

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