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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Earlier in the history of this site, I used to periodically recommend books -- usually works of popular history. So here's another: The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians by Peter Heather. I'm only about half way through it. But I've read more than enough to recommend it.

This topic is a perennial. But it's also one that is almost hopelessly encrusted with myth and overworn interpretations which make the period very hard to get a hold of or approach in any fresh way. Heather's book is crisply and engagingly written. And it's quite accessible even for someone with no background or knowledge of the period. He manages to bring together both the high history of emperors and battles with the longer-term changes in the societies and economies of the German and other 'barbarian' peoples from central and eastern Europe who dismantled the western Empire in the 5th century.

If you're the sort who likes finding a thick book about some distant period in the past that you can lose yourself in for a spell, try this one out.

You've probably heard the name Jim Marcinkowski. He has been one of a handful of retired CIA officers who've stood up publicly over the last couple years to take on those in and out of the administration who say that outing Valerie Plame was no big deal. Now he's running for Congress in Michigan's 8th District against incumbent Mike Rogers (R).

My recollection is that Rogers was a Social Security phase-out wobbler, last time we checked.

There are so many complicated details of what is happening today in Iraq, as various factions and sectarian groupings vie for position in the aftermath of this month's national election. But one clear and bright spot does stand out -- the utter and seemingly limitless humiliation of Ahmad Chalabi.

Last week we noted Chalabi's feebler-than-feeble election results, which showed him coming in well under 1% of the national vote and facing a complete shut-out from the new national assembly.

Apparently, though, Chalabi was hoping for something of a rebound from ballots cast by Iraqis living overseas.

Seems that didn't pan out, though.

The Washington Post reports that preliminary results of the "special vote" -- which includes Iraqis living abraod, in hospitals, the army and in prisons -- showed Chalabi bagged a mere 0.89 percent of the vote.

The Post also notes that without seat in the Assembly, Chalabi would presumably also not be able to join the government, thus perhaps limiting at least to some degree his ability to preen, pose and posture in the western press.

TPM Reader CS checks in ...

That Post story was a great example of bogus even-handedness in action. And Sunstein's statement that Yoo doesn't deserve vilification is an example of the over-clubbiness of the legal profession.

Set aside Yoo's book on presidential powers, which is tendentious and unconvincing but well-written. His "torture memo" is inarguably a horrific piece of legal reasoning, which uses lawyerly cleverness to evade the plain sense of words and endorse the policies his superiors wanted endorsed. It's an utter embarrassment, by any measure.

Atrios has a good catch here about Trent Lott, whether he'll retire next year, whether that will hand the Senate to the Dems and what it all might mean.

The Post has a profile of John Yoo out today. Cass Sunstein, while disagreeing with Yoo, calls him "a very interesting and provocative scholar" who "doesn't deserve the demonization to which he has been subject." And Yoo himself makes the fair point that he himself was hardly in a position, as DOJ lawyer, to make policy.

All that aside, there's something deeply pernicious about this man's work. The Post gives some sense of the cadre of lawyers and ideological incubators he comes out of. Provocative as Yoo's ideas may be, they are deeply authoritarian. And his claim that there is any historical basis for such absolute presidential authority is laughable. I try not to get too deep into legal arguments because I lack the necessary expertise. But on the historical points I'm on my own professional ground.

Democracy can be lost in a lot of ways. This is one of them. These theories of executive power deserve a thorough airing and discussion quite apart from the particular abuses they may have been used to justify.

John Yoo stepped back in the debate over presidential power recently with this opinion column which appeared first in the Los Angeles Times.

But read it and tell if me if I'm not right to think that he has taken the opportunity not to engage this debate he's helped spawn but to duck it.

Yoo, you'll remember, was the author of several key Justice Department memos from Bush's first term that, taken together, claim that the president's war powers give him a virtually untrammeled power to act as he believes in the best interests of the security of the nation, even if in doing so he breaks the laws of the country itself.

Yet in Yoo's column he doesn't even explore the complicated issue of how and where Congress might constrain the president's war-making power, particularly in areas that are not clearly or traditionally in the military realm. Instead, he chooses to attack a claim no one is making -- that the president cannot use the military until the Congress makes a formal declaration of war.

This is an argument that has no significant following in political or legal-constitutional circles. Simply stated, no one believes anything like that. It's just phony. And he builds from this phony argument to a lengthier straw man version of that which the president's critics make against him.

As in this passage ...

Liberal intellectuals believe that Bush's exercise of his commander-in-chief power has exceeded his constitutional authority and led to a quagmire in Iraq. If only Congress had undertaken the solemn process of declaring war, they have argued, faulty intelligence would have been smoked out, the debate would have produced consensus, and the American people would have been firmly committed to the ordeal ahead.


This is no more than a nonsense proceduralism version of the debate we're now having in this country.

Who has said that a declaration of war against Iraq would have made any difference to anything? No one says that. No one says anything like that.

With respect to war powers, the debate we're having is not about where they begin, as Yoo disingenuously suggests, but where they end.

With faulty intelligence and national consensus, the disputes are not procedural but substantive -- whether the president and his chief aides were simply dishonest with the public and the Congress in presenting information about Iraq, its war fighting potential and its ambitions, whether they gamed the country into war to create a fait accompli that would make the debate moot. These aren't issues of proceduralism and box-checking but tough substance -- whether President Bush betrayed his oath and whether he can be held accountable.

Yoo's diversionary OpEd suggests he's not eager to confront either of these questions. You'd think he'd use the moment to show his stuff; but Yoo doesn't.

Late Update: TPM Reader BF says Yoo was likely responding to this article in the Atlantic by Les Gelb and TPMCafe's Anne-Marie Slaughter. Seems likely he was. But I stick with my critique. If Yoo is willing to talk now he should talk about what's at issue. Courage is a good quality for those who talk a lot about war.

Department of article ledes you wish weren't so ironic, Xmas edition (courtesy of the NYT) ...

The commander of American-run prisons in Iraq says the military will not turn over any detainees or detention centers to Iraqi jailers until American officials are satisfied that the Iraqis are meeting United States standards for the care and custody of detainees.


To a new year with our national honor cleansed and restored.

I'm not sure whether or not I'll be posting again today. But in case not, I wanted to wish those who are celebrating a Merry Christmas, both to those for whom it is a central religious celebration and to those for whom it is a secular holiday of giving and togetherness. To each of you, our best.

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