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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

George C. Deutsch, the young Bush campaign flack who was telling NASA personnel that they shouldn't discuss the Big Bang without considering the topic from its religious perspective, has been forced to resign. As reported first earlier today by the Scientific Activist blog, Deutsch claimed on his resume on file at NASA that he was a graduate of Texas A&M.

Only he never graduated.

So he lied on his resume, and presumably his job application too. Always a bad move if you're planning to become embroiled in a major media firestorm.

Just to keep the recollection fresh, Deutsch was an intern in the Bush-Cheney 2004 'war room'. That qualified him for his next assignment screening scientific information NASA personnel could communicate to the public.

When reviewing NASA documents Deutsch became concerned at references to the 'Big Bang'.

The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," he instructed one person working at NASA. "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator ... This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most."

Deutsch's directive was that every reference to the 'big bang' be preceded by the words 'theory of'. And a number of you wrote in to say that whatever Deutsch's foolery, it is correct to refer to the Big Bang as a 'theory'. Indeed, the big bang is much closer to being a 'theory' in the colloquial sense of the word (as opposed to the scientific sense) than evolution is.

That is quite true. But Deutsch's comments above show that a narrow scientific reading, absent the political context, misses the point.

Deutsch told the NASA guy that the Big Bang was not a "proven fact", which is certainly true. But in no meaningful sense is it mere "opinion."

It's not just some idea someone thought up which stands on an equal footing with any other idea anyone else could cook up. Among cosmologists today, it's the dominant theory about how the universe began. It is based on various theoretical work (which I won't try to understand or explain) and supported by a lot of astrophysical data.

The theory could turn out to be wrong. And it will almost certainly end up being revised in one or more ways. But it is not 'opinion'.

It's worth taking note of the word choice because it captures the mix of obscurantism and relativism which has characterized all the Bush administration's attitude about science and, really, pretty much all empirically based knowledge -- something we discussed at length here.

The rub here is the failure to see that knowledge which has been subjected to and survived -- indeed been strengthened by -- empirical and theoretical scrutiny stands on a higher footing than information that hasn't. This isn't pedantry. Nor is this some obscure alcove in the science curriculum.

This mindset -- obscurantism and relativism duking it out to be of most use in the pursuit of power -- suffuses the Bush administration: a lack of respect for facts and the set of tools we use to discern factual information from chatter and bombast.

I just noticed this at Atrios' site. And he's right. This is a significant development. This from Wednesday's Times ...

A House Republican whose subcommittee oversees the National Security Agency broke ranks with the White House on Tuesday and called for a full Congressional inquiry into the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping program.

The lawmaker, Representative Heather A. Wilson of New Mexico, chairwoman of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence, said in an interview that she had "serious concerns" about the surveillance program. By withholding information about its operations from many lawmakers, she said, the administration has deepened her apprehension about whom the agency is monitoring and why.


There are multiple layers of potential concern about the NSA wiretap program. One is simply that it breaks the law -- regardless of whether it serves a useful anti-terrorism purpose or whether the administration is using the tool in good faith (i.e., not using it to snoop on political enemies or something like that). That seems to me to be close to an open and shut case. And to me at least it's the most important issue since it goes to the heart of our republican system of government.

But if the Times characterization of Wilson's position is accurate, she's saying more than that. She seems to suspect that the administration may be using the program for nefarious or inappropriate purposes.

Why would she be doing this? You can't read these tea leaves without knowing about Wilson's political situation.

Heather Wilson is a Republican from a tenuous swing district centered around Albuquerque. (Today her opponent released a poll showing her tied in the low-40s in her race for reelection.) Every position Wilson takes is finely calibrated to keep her politically well-positioned since she'll probably never have a truly easy race in her district. You may remember that early last year we had some fun trying to get her to actually come clean on whether she would reveal her position on phasing out Social Security.

Is this just a decision on the merits in her role as subcommittee chair? Or does she have s read on the politics going into November?

He gets around.

Newsweek: "Over the years, [John Boehner] has made the most of controversial rules allowing members to accept free trips to luxury retreats around the world. Since 2000, Boehner has taken more than $150,000 worth of junkets paid for by private interests—ranking him in the top 10 of all members of Congress."

A bit more on the Obama-McCain back and forth. You have to dig into the actual correspondence between the two men to get a feel for how off the mark McCain is in his criticism of Obama (see links in today's Daily Muck).

But the key here to note is what's behind this dust-up. Obama is a rising star among the Democrats. Republicans want to lay a backstory for feature criticisms and character attacks against him. So, for instance, if Obama is the vice presidential candidate in 2008, they want to have a history of attacks on him banked, ones that allege he's a liar, or too partisan, or untrustworthy, whatever. It doesn't even really matter. What matters is that there already be an established history of them. Point being, that in early 2008, they want to be able to simply refer back to Obama's 'character issue', the questions about his honesty, etc. rather than have to make the case on its merits.

That's not surprising. One only needs to think back to the Gore story, etc.

What shouldn't be missed here, though, is that Sen. McCain is quite consciously and deliberately making himself a part of this. Why? Simple. Because he needs to get right with the GOP establishment in DC. (Indeed, he probably also wants to be the future beneficiary of the sliming.) Being loved by moderates and progressives doesn't cut it for getting the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

Don't miss why he's doing this. It's the roll-out of the slime Obama campaign. And he's leading the charge.

We'll learn a lot from how Obama responds.

Quote of the day: "This administration reacts to anyone who questions this illegal program by saying that those of us who demand the truth and stand up for our rights and freedoms somehow has a pre-9/11 world view. In fact, the President has a pre-1776 world view. Our government has three branches, not one. And no one, not even the President, is above the law."

That's from Sen. Feingold's post on the Gonzales' testimony that just went up on TPMCafe.

Stay tuned. A little later this morning, Sen. Feingold is going to stop by TPMCafe and tell us what he thought of AG Alberto Gonzales's testimony yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the president's warrantless surveillance program.

Here's the link to a story on John McCain bashing Barack Obama in a particularly vicious way. "I'm embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics, I failed to interpret your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss routinely used in politics to make self-interested partisan posturing appear more noble," said McCain. "I understand how important the opportunity to lead your party's efforts to exploit this issue must seem to a freshman senator, and I hold no hard feelings over your earlier disingenuousness."

What about McCain making sure his Jack Abramoff hearings didn't touch any Republican politicians (he did give blanket assurances to them, remember) or key GOP powerbrokers?

Glass houses.

Wantin' to be president can go to a guy's head.

(ed.note: There's more on the Obama-McCain fracas in today's Daily Muck.)

A reader adds a point about FISA ...

The constant invocation of the practices of pre-FISA presidents is an incredibly important legal and constitutional point. If the president has the inherent authority to conduct surveillance, FISA might be unconstitutional. The main issue is whether Congress was able to limit this supposedly inherent authority with its enactment of FISA. Thus, the pre-FISA presidential precedent becomes an important issue.

Alberto Gonzales says that the president's warrantless wiretapping program is constitutional, necessary and legal.

I can see where it may be constitutional, though that seems debateable. It might conceiveably also be 'necessary', though that's a malleable term and it's a difficult one to judge as long as the president won't allow any oversight of what he's doing. But it does seem to be clearly illegal. There simply does not appear to be any real question about that. The FISA law appears to speak directly to the facts at hand.

The law might be a bad one. Perhaps it should be revised or repealed. But it's not voluntary.

And in this post Kevin Drum hits on a key point ...

I'm also more tired than you can imagine of his constant invocation of presidents from Washington to Roosevelt who authorized warrantless surveillance in wartime. All of that happened before FISA was passed in 1978 and is completely meaningless. And he knows it.


Kevin doesn't fully unpack what I suspect he's getting at here. The argument to history that Gonzales is attempting isn't just off point. It's typical of the administration's basic way of operating with the public -- conscious misdirection and flimflam. You can't make this argument unless your intent is to confuse the issue and avoid the issue of whether the president has to follow the law.

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