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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Say what you will about looted nuclear sites, ransacked government ministries, mullahs calling for an Islamic Republic, it's not like Hezbollah is setting up a branch office in Baghdad or anything, right?

Well, guess what ...

I'll be posting the link to the story tomorrow when it goes online.

There's clearly a lot more to say about this re-redistricting controversy. For the moment, a couple quick points.

First, Texas and Colorado may not be the only states where this happens. New Mexico, where the Dems are in charge, is considering doing more or less the same thing.

Second, this re-redistricting is every bit as unprecedented as it seems. As noted yesterday, states sometimes redistrict because of voting rights law suits. And there were a spate of court-ordered redistrictings during the middle 1960s, growing out of the so-called one-man-one-vote cases (see Baker v. Carr, 1962). But doing a second redistricting for partisan reasons during one census cycle hasn't been the norm since the 19th century. The last instance of it, according to a redistricting expert I spoke to today, was in Washington state in the 1950s -- and the tactic was unheard of even then.

This post will have to be a preliminary one, as I'm working on editing an article and haven't yet had time to track down all the details. But as nearly as I can tell, almost all the reporting about the legislative logjam in Texas is missing what I think is clearly the real story. It's a telling sign actually of the priorities of most commentators and journalists.

There is a longstanding tradition in this country --- amounting to a firm political precedent --- that redistricting happens once every ten years. There are exceptions in voting rights cases, where districts are changed. But outside of that specific case, the established norm is quite clear. There's a census, a redistricting, and then that's it until the next census.

Sometimes, the state legislature -- or the mix of the legislature and the executive -- can't come to a decision. In that case it falls to the courts, which devise a redistricting plan. This is quite common. And those court-imposed plans are similarly not revisited until the next census.

It wasn't always like this. In the 19th century, redistricting could happen every cycle,as party control shifted back and forth from election to election. But in the 20th century that became increasingly uncommon. And in the last half century or more the 'one redistricting per census' rule has become firmly established. It's not a matter of law, but of one of the many political norms upon which our system is based.

As I said, for the moment I have to leave these points above as preliminary, since I still need to do more reporting to nail down the details. But everything I've seen so far supports this basic history. And I think it's important to raise this issue now.

Now what we have are two states --- Colorado and Texas --- in which state governments newly-unified under Republican control are taking a second bite at the apple, after settled, court-imposed redistricting had taken place. In both cases, the new redistricting laws are being rushed through at the end of a legislative session. And in both cases there is clear evidence that the direction for the move comes from Washington. In one case from Karl Rove, in another from Tom Delay.

This deserves much more attention. And I'll be returning to it when I find out more.

Thankfully, a lower figure -- one in the high twenties or low thirties -- now seems a more probable death toll from the Saudi bombings than that nearing a hundred which was briefly announced today by US officials. But here's another question I have ...

Several days ago a friend who is renowned for his expertise on al-qaida and Islamist terrorism generally told me that there had been a wave of shootings of Westerners in Saudi Arabia recently. But the Saudis had dismissed them as simply criminal incidents arising out of disputes over the illicit trade in liquor. I don't know the precise numbers. I don't think we're talking about that many people. But it seemed to make him wonder whether these might actually be low-level terror attacks which the Saudis were simply covering up, by deceptively categorizing them. Perhaps they were a prelude to what happened yesterday?

Here's a question for you political scientists (or just hardcore political junkies) out there. Aside from cases where voting-rights cases mandated changes, how many times have state legislatures redistricted their federal congressional districts a second time within a single decade. That is to say, you have a census, the state legislature redistricts and then redistricts again before the next census?

What this country needs is a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage, and an AK in every backseat.

Or so says the GOP ... House Republicans are making sure the current ban on AK-47s and eighteen other types of semiautomatic weapons expires next year. And the president doesn't object.

Money quote from the Post ...

Congressional Republicans said Congress will renew the ban only if Bush publicly and firmly insists. "If the president demands we pass it, that would change the dynamics considerably," said a House GOP leadership aide. "The White House does not want us" to vote.
At a certain point you wonder whether the GOP will have to start executing family pets before the Dems find something they can mobilize on.

A quick look at the morning news reports confirms my fears of last night -- about the true scope of the attacks in Saudi Arabia and shoddy deceptiveness of the original reporting. (As I said last night, this isn't a comment on the journalists but the impossible conditions they must operate in there, the fact that so few are even in the country, and the implacable closedness of the country itself.) It's almost a pale shade of Chernobyl.

It was wildly improbable that four coordinated bombings accompanied by fire-fights to get the bombs closer in to their targets would cause no fatalities or just one or two. (Overnight reports had it that Colin Powell had been told by the Saudis that there were no US deaths.) At just after 11:00 EDT, CNN is reporting that the attackers killed 20 people in addition nine terrorists killed. But I suspect even this count will prove low. This report from London's Evening Standard says a "Danish doctor in Riyadh said there were 40-50 bodies in one hospital alone." (After noting the Evening Standard report I just saw this new report from Deutsche Welle that the State Department now says more than 90 people were killed.)

It says a lot that the anecdotal reports from anonymous bystanders are proving more accurate than the official government estimates. This of course is the close to the essence of the problem with Saudi Arabia -- the unwillingness or inability to confront or deal with the problem, the need to deny it, cover it up, pretend it doesn't exist.

Working on deadline this evening, so no time for a long post. But just a quick note on the bombings in Saudi Arabia. On the one hand, it's hard to know what to say at this point since, even hours after the bombings, we know very little about what seems to have happened. On the other hand, this strikes me as perhaps the most revealing, telling part of the story, in as much as it says a great deal about how Saudi Arabia operates, how closed it is, and how we -- the United States -- operate within Saudi Arabia.

As of just before midnight on the East Coast we know that there were apparently four separate, though coordinated, bombings. Three were aimed at heavily guarded residential compounds populated disproportionately by Westerners. Another hit a US-Saudi jointly owned business. The explosions are said to have been massive, yet the casualty figures being reported hover around 50 persons, with an improbably low estimate of one dead. Thus far, there are no pictures, video or otherwise, aside from some pictures of billowing smoke from a distance (decidedly less detailed than those from Baghdad in the early days of the war). And the low casualty estimates are belied by some eyewitness reports like one, for instance, from Britain's Sky News which speaks of "bodies everywhere and blood everywhere." And another: "We heard a huge noise and we saw many ambulances coming and gathering victims." Or this from a Saudi website: "According to Al-Arabiya television channel, security forces exchanged fire with the terrorists inside the compound. The network also reported that many charred bodies were seen being taken from ambulances at a local hospital ... Another resident said that he saw 'scores' of bodies on the ground following the explosion at Al-Hamra compound. 'I do not want to cause panic. The security and police said they will handle the situation,' he said."

I certainly haven't read every report. But I've skimmed around various news sources around the net. And I don't think I've seen any official comment from any Saudi government source on what happened, how many casualties there are, how many deaths, etc. The reports are anecdotal ones from unnamed sources at different hospitals in Riyadh. Another thing I've just noticed is where the stories in tomorrow's papers are datelined: The New York Times (Kuwait), The Washington Post (Amman), Los Angeles Times (Washington), Reuters (London), AP (Riyadh).

In other words, almost no Western reporters seem to be there.

A few notes on books. My copy of Sid Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars finally, finally, finally arrived today. So I'll be eagerly diving into it and reporting back on what I find. I've also just started Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, of which I'll be saying more shortly. (My stack of books to read grew quite tall while busy finishing up the dissertation. Finally, let me recommend The Iraq War Reader: History, Documents, Opinions, just out and compiled and edited by Micah Sifry and Christopher Cerf. I think those of a more hawkish disposition may find it ever-so-slightly tilted in the favor of skeptics -- in the sense of counting up selections from each side. But I'm not even sure about that and may change my opinion after further reading and leafing through the selections. It's extremely up-to-date, featuring a number of selections from the weeks just before the war, and probably the best single-volume introduction to the debate I've seen so far, with well-chosen selections from almost every shade of opinion out there. Even if you're an Iraq war aficionado, it's worth picking up a copy.

Just read this snippet from a new article in Newsweek ...

Some of the lapses are frightening. The well-known Al Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center, about 12 miles south of Baghdad, had nearly two tons of partially enriched uranium, along with significant quantities of highly radioactive medical and industrial isotopes, when International Atomic Energy Agency officials made their last visit in January. By the time U.S. troops arrived in early April, armed guards were holding off looters—but the Americans only disarmed the guards, Al Tuwaitha department heads told NEWSWEEK. “We told them, ‘This site is out of control. You have to take care of it’,” says Munther Ibrahim, Al Tuwaitha’s head of plasma physics. “The soldiers said, ‘We are a small group. We cannot take control of this site’.” As soon as the Americans left, looters broke in. The staff fled; when they returned, the containment vaults’ seals had been broken, and radioactive material was everywhere.

U.S. officers say the center had already been ransacked before their troops arrived. They didn’t try to stop the looting, says Colonel Madere, because “there was no directive that said do not allow anyone in and out of this place.” Last week American troops finally went back to secure the site. Al Tuwaitha’s scientists still can’t fully assess the damage; some areas are too badly contaminated to inspect. “I saw empty uranium-oxide barrels lying around, and children playing with them,” says Fadil Mohsen Abed, head of the medical-isotopes department. Stainless-steel uranium canisters had been stolen. Some were later found in local markets and in villagers’ homes. “We saw people using them for milking cows and carrying drinking water,” says Ibrahim. The looted materials could not make a nuclear bomb, but IAEA officials worry that terrorists could build plenty of dirty bombs with some of the isotopes that may have gone missing. Last week NEWSWEEK visited a total of eight sites on U.N. weapons-inspection lists. Two were guarded by U.S. troops. Armed looters were swarming through two others. Another was evidently destroyed many years ago. American forces had not yet searched the remaining three.

There are a lot of things happening in Iraq now, about which it's fair to say 'it's a complicated job, it's messy, but it's early, etc.' But I don't see how you can say this isn't pretty bad.

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