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 hard-to-understand story in tomorrow's New York Times on a secret U.S. report that finds Iraqi insurgent groups are self-financing. What makes the piece murky is no distinction is made between "insurgents," "terrorists," and other militant groups in Iraq. Maybe that's the approach of the secret report that the NYT piece is based on. But it would seem to me that lumping all of the various armed factions in Iraq into one category called "the insurgency" would be to miss many important differences in the goals and strategies--and the means of funding--of the many disparate groups currently operating in Iraq.

For instance, one of the secret report's more surprising conclusions, according to The Times, is "that terrorist and insurgent groups in Iraq may have surplus funds with which to support other terrorist organizations outside of Iraq.” It seems counterintuitive that the armed Shiite and Sunni militias battling for control of Iraq would be financing terrorists outside of Iraq while the battle inside of Iraq still hangs in the balance.

In fairness, The Times makes clear that the secret report may be flawed: "Some terrorism experts outside the government who were given an outline of the report by The Times, criticized it for a lack of precision and a reliance on speculation."

The overwhelming impression I'm left with from the piece is that more than three and half years after ostensibly seizing control of Iraq, the U.S. government is still largely ignorant of the armed groups arrayed against its efforts there.

One of the least commented upon aspects of the so-called debate on global warming is the extent to which the business community has for some time now been to the left of the Republican Party on the science of climate change and even, to a certain extent, on the potential political solutions to the problem.

GOP stalwarts like Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who is chairman of the Senate committee on the environment, are way out on the whacky right fringe but have managed to dominate their party's discussion of global warming, if not stifle the conversation outright. That's not to say that corporate America has suddenly turned green. Exxon Mobile, for example, has been a particularly vigorous sponsor of global warming deniers. But there has been in place a broader political consensus on the issue than one might be led to believe by looking at the leading voices of the GOP.

Today the WaPo surveys the current political landscape. Corporate America knows that the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions is coming. Now it's gearing up to maximize its influence on what that legislation will look like.

The Wall Street Journal has a rundown on the state of play of Democratic ethics reform proposals.

Warrantless wire-tapping, one year later:

For all the sound and fury in the last year, the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program continues uninterrupted, with no definitive action by either Congress or the courts on what, if anything, to do about it, and little chance of a breakthrough in the lame-duck Congress.

While the Democrats have vowed to press for more facts about the operation, they are of mixed minds about additional steps.

Some favor an aggressive strategy that would brand the program illegal and move to ban it even as the courts consider its legality. Others are more cautious, emphasizing the rule of law but not giving Republicans the chance to accuse them of depriving the government of important anti-terrorism tools.

Saudi and Israeli sources are sounding the alarm on stepped-up Iranian activity in Lebanon, according to Time:

Iran is smuggling weapons through Syria to re-arm Lebanese allies Hizballah, despite renewed efforts by United Nations peacekeepers and the Lebanese army to seal off the mountain borders with Syria in the wake of last summer's war between the Shi'ite militia and Israel, according to reports by Saudi and Israeli intelligence sources that have been confirmed by western diplomats in Beirut.

Israeli military officials in Tel Aviv say that Hizballah replenished nearly half of its pre-war stockpiles of short-range missiles and small arms. But western diplomats in Beirut say these calculations under-estimate the weapons flow and that Hizballah has now filled its war chest with over 20,000 short-range missiles -- a similar amount fo what they had at the start of the conflict, during which the group is believed to have fired over 3,000 rockets at Israel.

What I can't understand is why Nancy Pelosi is waiting so long before signaling her choice for chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

Here's what her drag-it-out approach has accomplished:

(1) It has generated numerous news reports (and blog posts) that Pelosi is considering selecting an impeached federal judge to head up such a sensitive committee. Even if she goes with someone other than Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), she will have absorbed the punishment for simply considering the move.

(2) It has unnecessarily ginned up a hot competition among important caucuses on the Democratic side of the House. The Blue Dog Democrats, the Congressional Black Caucus, and to a lesser degree the Hispanic caucus have all seized on the lack of direction from the Speaker-elect to tout their own preferred candidates. The longer the competing parties vie for the chairmanship, the more likely that the losers emerge disgruntled.

(3) By letting this play out in a public and contentious way, Pelosi will look beholden to one interest group or another regardless of whom she picks--unless she goes with a dark horse candidate like Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ). (David Corn and Joe Conason have touted Holt in recent days.) Even then, Pelosi will have antagonized not just one key bloc within the Democratic caucus, but several of them.

The only strategy I could imagine Pelosi may be using here is to let the political tempest itself eliminate the competing candidates rather than doing so herself. But I don't really have the sense that this is being managed so shrewdly. Rather, it feels like things are drifting without strong guidance from the top.

Perhaps even more alarming than the car bombings that killed more than 200 people yesterday in Baghdad was an attack earlier in the day on the Health Ministry building:

The attack on the ministry headquarters began around midday when three mortar shells hit the main building, Lt. Ali Muhsin of the Iraqi Police told The Associated Press. Gunmen positioned on the upper floors of surrounding buildings then opened fire on the main building, pinning down hundreds of workers inside, ministry officials said. Ministry security guards with assault rifles fired back and managed to keep the insurgents at bay until Iraqi and American troops responded two hours later, the officials said.

Think about that for a minute. It took two hours for American and Iraqi troops just to respond to the siege of a major governmental building in the capital.

E.J. Dionne on the voting problems in Sarasota:

Imagine if 18,000 votes had just disappeared in either of the key Senate races. Or imagine a presidential election in which the electoral votes of Florida were decisive and the state was hanging in the balance by -- to pick a number that comes to mind -- 537 votes. And, by the way, in 2000 we could at least see those hanging and dimpled chads. In this case the votes have -- poof! -- simply disappeared.

. . .

But there is good news here: This is a problem in just one congressional district. Control of the House does not depend on how this race turns out. It is therefore in the interest of both parties, not to mention the country, to be simultaneously aggressive and judicious in figuring out what went wrong in Sarasota and to use that knowledge to fix the nation's voting system before a major disaster strikes. Sarasota is the canary in the electronic coal mine.

Focus on the Family's James Dobson is too busy to help cure disgraced evangelical leader Ted Haggard's gayness because the process could take years.