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.

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Laura Rozen has a piece in the current Washington Monthly titled "Cheney's Dead-Enders" that is worth a read. But I wanted to home in on this parenthetical:

(When I inquired about a staffer’s rumored move to the Veep’s office, a Cheney press officer answered sweetly, “If we have a personnel announcement we’d like you to know about, we’ll tell you.”)

This is not the first time I've seen a reporter denied information about who even works in the Office of the Vice President (I can't find where I've seen this refusal reported before, although I think it was about the time Cheney shot that Texas lawyer in the face; if anyone recalls, please forward me the link).

Think about that. The Vice President of the United States refuses to divulge who works in his office. Rozen's article provides an estimate of 88 persons on the VP's staff, which I take to mean that the OVP won't even say how many people are on staff. These are people on the public payroll. Wouldn't you say the public is entitled to know?

Most of the debate over the nexus between national security and official secrecy is about where to draw the line. That is, how to balance the necessity of openness and transparency in a democratic society with the need to protect important operational details of the nation's defense. I lean heavily toward transparency, but I will acknowledge that there is a legitimate question of where to draw that line.

But Cheney's policy of refusing to reveal who works for him--for us, actually--isn't about balance. It's about a perverse sense of entitlement and a deep aversion to scrutiny and accountability. It is anti-democratic.

Perhaps a committee chair should consider requesting a roster of employees in the OVP. Just on principle.

Update: TPM reader PG comes through in a pinch with a link to the story I alluded to above but couldn't put my finger on. It was in The American Prospect last May. Here's the key passage:

His press people seem shocked that a reporter would even ask for an interview with the staff. The blanket answer is no -- nobody is available. Amazingly, the vice president’s office flatly refuses to even disclose who works there, or what their titles are. “We just don’t give out that kind of information,” says Jennifer Mayfield, another of Cheney’s “angels.” She won’t say who is on staff, or what they do? No, she insists. “It’s just not something we talk about.” The notoriously silent OVP staff rebuffs not just pesky reporters but even innocuous database researchers from companies like Carroll Publishing, which puts out the quarterly Federal Directory. “They’re tight-lipped about the kind of information they put out,” says Albert Ruffin, senior editor at Carroll, who fumes that Cheney’s office doesn’t bother returning his calls when he’s updating the limited information he manages to collect.

Time to shine some light on the OVP.


At least 250 militants were killed and an American helicopter was shot down in violent clashes near the southern city of Najaf on Sunday, Iraqi officials said.

For 15 hours, Iraqi forces backed by American helicopters and tanks battled hundreds of gunmen hiding in a date palm orchard near the village of Zarqaa, about 120 miles south of Baghdad, by a river and a large grain silo that is surrounded by orchards, the officials said.

It appeared to be one of Iraq’s deadliest battles since the American-led invasion four years ago and was the first major fight for Iraqi forces in Najaf Province since they took over control of security from the Americans in December.

I'll be interested in learning the extent to which Iraqi forces truly took the lead in this battle.

So how serious is the Bush Administration about its newfound commitment to addressing global climate change? Never mind. We all know the answer to that.

The better question is: To what lengths will the Bush Administration go to avoid cutting greenhouse gas emissions?

How about physically blocking sunlight?

From the Sydney Morning Herald (via Balkinization):

The US response says the idea of interfering with sunlight should be included in the summary for policymakers, the prominent chapter at the front of each panel report. It says: "Modifying solar radiance may be an important strategy if mitigation of emissions fails. Doing the R&D to estimate the consequences of applying such a strategy is important insurance that should be taken out. This is a very important possibility that should be considered."

. . .

The US submission complains the draft report is "Kyoto-centric" and it wants to include the work of economists who have reported "the degree to which the Kyoto framework is found wanting".

It also complains that overall "the report tends to overstate or focus on the negative effects of climate change". It also wants more emphasis on responsibilities of the developing world.

Basically it's the same old song and dance, with the added twist of using additional dramatic manmade alterations of the Earth's climate to solve the problem of manmade alterations to the Earth's climate.

So here's a good story for an enterprising environmental reporter. Which U.S. companies or industries are most likely to benefit from an official policy of creating "sunglasses" for the planet itself? Of the various technologies considered potentially feasible (if that's not giving the idea too much credence), who stands to benefit financially? And how much money have they contributed to the GOP?

Seriously. You expect the Administration to go to great lengths to avoid the regulation of emissions. But this policy alternative doesn't just bubble to the surface without someone outside of government pushing it. So who's the culprit?

Update: I may have set myself up for a slew of emails about why this idea is or is not technically viable. For more on that separate issue, you might check out this BBC report on "global dimming" and this blog post on geo-engineering.

Joe Lieberman tells Chris Wallace he's not sure he'll support a Democrat for President in 2008:

WALLACE: Let's look ahead to 2008. Are there any Democrats who appear to be running at this point that you could support for president?

LIEBERMAN: Are there any Democrats who don't appear to be running at this point? Look, I've had a very political couple of years in Connecticut, and I'm stepping back for a while to concentrate on being the best senator I can be for my state and my country.

I'm also an Independent-Democrat now, and I'm going to do what most Independents and a lot of Democrats and Republicans in America do, which is to take a look at all the candidates and then in the end, regardless of party, decide who I think will be best for the future of our country.

So I'm open to supporting a Democrat, Republican or even an Independent, if there's a strong one. Stay tuned.

. . .

WALLACE: . . . You're saying you might vote Republican in 2008.

LIEBERMAN: I am, because we have so much on the line both in terms of the Islamist terrorists, who are an enemy as brutal as the fascists and communists we faced in the last century, and we have great challenges here at home to make our economy continue to produce good jobs, to deal with our crises in health care, education, immigration, energy.

I want to choose the person that I believe is best for the future of our country. What I'm saying is what I said last year and what I think the voters said in November. Party is important, but more important is the national interest. And that's the basis that I will decide who to support for president.

Implied in Lieberman's comments is that he's new to this whole idea of putting the national interest first. I guess in elections past he just checked the name of the Democrat. Wonder what he really thought of Al Gore.

On This Week, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) had this to say: "I don't believe that it's helpful right now to show there's disarray around the world as well as in our body at home. We really need, at this point, to get on the same page."

To which TPM Reader DC replies: "I guess he hasn't figured out yet that most of us are on the same page: we are done in Iraq, and the disaster there was brought to us by the failed policies of the administration."

Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE): "It's not the American people or the U.S. Congress who are emboldening the enemy. It's the failed policy of this president going to war without a strategy, going to war prematurely."

See, that wasn't so hard to say.

Worth watching:

Dutch authorities say an Iraqi-born Dutch citizen, suspected of plotting attacks on American forces in Iraq, has been extradited to the United States.

Wesam al-Delaema was put on a plane and flown to an undisclosed location in the US after losing his final appeal against extradition in December.

He is set to become the first suspect tried in a US court for allegedly plotting attacks on US forces in Iraq.

Update: A Dutch reader emailed to point out this passage from the BBC story: "[A] Dutch judge said there was 'no reason to believe that the US authorities will not abide by the commitments they have given or... deprive the suspect of his fundamental rights.'" The reader asks, "Probably the Dutch judge (and minister Hirs Balin) had no time to read about recent developments in the US?"

The Observer, on the status of Iran's nuclear program and U.S./Israeli saber-rattling:

Despite Iran being presented as an urgent threat to nuclear non-proliferation and regional and world peace - in particular by an increasingly bellicose Israel and its closest ally, the US - a number of Western diplomats and technical experts close to the Iranian programme have told The Observer it is archaic, prone to breakdown and lacks the materials for industrial-scale production.

. . .

The detailed descriptions of Iran's problems in enriching more than a few grams of uranium using high-speed centrifuges - 50kg is required for two nuclear devices - comes in stark contrast to the apocalyptic picture being painted of Iran's imminent acquisition of a nuclear weapon with which to attack Israel. Instead, say experts, the break-up of the nuclear smuggling organisation of the Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadheer Khan has massively set back an Iran heavily dependent on his network.

. . .

Yet some involved in the increasingly aggressive standoff over Iran fear tensions will reach snapping point between March and June this year, with a likely scenario being Israeli air strikes on symbolic Iranian nuclear plants.

The sense of imminent crisis has been driven by statements from Israel, not least from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has insisted that 2007 is make-or-break time over Iran's nuclear programme.

. . .

It also emerged last week in the Israeli media that the country's private diplomatic efforts to convince the world of the need for tough action on Iran were being co-ordinated by Meir Dagan, the head of Israel's foreign intelligence service, Mossad.

The escalating sense of crisis is being driven by two imminent events, the 'installation' of 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz and the scheduled delivery of fuel from Russia for Iran's Busheyr civil nuclear reactor, due to start up this autumn. Both are regarded as potential trigger points for an Israeli attack.

Hawkish elements of the Israeli government working in tandem with hawkish elements of the U.S. government to spread the chaos outward.

Garry Wills has a good op-ed in the NYT today on the overuse of the term "commander in chief" as a sign of the militarization of our politics:

When Abraham Lincoln took actions based on military considerations, he gave himself the proper title, “commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.” That title is rarely — more like never — heard today. It is just “commander in chief,” or even “commander in chief of the United States.” This reflects the increasing militarization of our politics. The citizenry at large is now thought of as under military discipline. In wartime, it is true, people submit to the national leadership more than in peacetime. The executive branch takes actions in secret, unaccountable to the electorate, to hide its moves from the enemy and protect national secrets. Constitutional shortcuts are taken “for the duration.” But those impositions are removed when normal life returns.

But we have not seen normal life in 66 years. The wartime discipline imposed in 1941 has never been lifted, and “the duration” has become the norm. World War II melded into the cold war, with greater secrecy than ever — more classified information, tougher security clearances. And now the cold war has modulated into the war on terrorism.

Exactly. A case in point was revealed in yesterday's New York Times in a piece on the extraordinary steps the Justice Department is taking to control legal proceedings with national security implications. As reported by Adam Liptak:

The Bush administration has employed extraordinary secrecy in defending the National Security Agency’s highly classified domestic surveillance program from civil lawsuits. Plaintiffs and judges’ clerks cannot see its secret filings. Judges have to make appointments to review them and are not allowed to keep copies.

Judges have even been instructed to use computers provided by the Justice Department to compose their decisions.

Instructed by whom? DOJ? The article suggests judges are only now beginning to resist these "instructions."

But here's the most chilling part:

In ordinary civil suits, the parties’ submissions are sent to their adversaries and are available to the public in open court files. But in several cases challenging the eavesdropping, Justice Department lawyers have been submitting legal papers not by filing them in court but by placing them in a room at the department. They have filed papers, in other words, with themselves.

Congress and the Judiciary have allowed themselves to be steamrolled by the Executive. The mid-term elections forced Congress to change. There is no such external corrective mechanism for the Judiciary, which is at it should be. So judges and justices will have to stand up to defend an independent judiciary. Will they? The record so far is mixed, at best.

Newsweek poll:

The president’s approval ratings are at their lowest point in the poll’s history—30 percent—and more than half the country (58 percent) say they wish the Bush presidency were simply over . . .

Public fatigue over the war in the Iraq is not reflected solely in the president’s numbers, however. Congress is criticized by nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Americans for not being assertive enough in challenging the Bush administration’s conduct of the war. Even a third (31 percent) of rank-and-file Republicans say the previous Congress, controlled by their party, didn’t do enough to challenge the administration on the war.

The poll also found that 67 percent of respondents believe Bush’s decisions about policy in Iraq and other major areas are influenced more by his personal beliefs regardless of the facts.