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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Every so often a reader writes in and asks this question. And it's a pretty good one. So here goes: When was the last time there was a major terror alert? They were something like a regular occurence for the eighteen months or so before the 2004 election. And through 2004 the administration pushed the line that al Qaida was aiming to disrupt the elections themselves. But as near I can tell there hasn't been a single one since election day.

Through 2004, of course, critics of the administration routinely questioned whether the frequency and timing of the various terror alerts were not all or in part for political effect.

How do we explain what appears to be a night and day difference between the year prior to November 2004 and the year since in terms of terror alerts and scares?

Several readers have pointed my attention to the ruling that came down yesterday in the 4th Circuit barring the government from transferring Jose Padilla from military to civilian law enforcement custody. It's a harsh rebuke of the administration's legal tactics. And what caught my eye is that the author of the ruling is J. Michael Luttig, the darling of conservative jurisprudence and a top candidate for the Supreme Court.

As Jerry Markon puts it in the Washington Post, "In issuing its denial, the court cited the government's changing rationale for Padilla's detention, questioning why it used one set of arguments before federal judges deciding whether it was legal for the military to hold Padilla and another set before the Miami grand jury."

Reading over the reportage of what happened yesterday, it seems clear that Luttig and the other two members of the panel were less perturbed about civil liberties issues per se (Luttig wrote the decision that allowed the government to hold Padilla indefinitely as an 'enemy combatant') than the administration's cynical willingness to jump from legal argument to legal argument, from one set of facts to another, as the needs of the moment dictate.

With Jack Abramoff apparently ready to deal and kick his eponymous probe into high gear, it's worth clarifying a key point about criminality and campaign contributions. As you can see with all the politicians unburdening themselves of Abramoff-related campaign contributions, Abramoff and his clients spread money around pretty widely. And this has led to some misunderstandings -- some intentional -- about what this case is about.

A comparison to the Duke Cunningham case is instructive.

At the beginning of the Duke scandal it was clear that he'd gotten a lot of campaign contributions from the likes of Brent Wilkes and Mitchell Wade. When all the facts came out, though, those contributions were revealed as little more than window dressing, an early ante up for the real bribery and pay-offs. (There's actually a surreal comedy in some of the details of the Duke case since he was making mind-numbingly precise disclosure filings about travel and knick-knacks while pocketing 5-figure bribes.)

In any case, I doubt we'll see quite the cartoonish level of bribery that we saw in Cunningham's case. But the underlying pattern will be the same. Abramoff and his clients gave contributions to a lot of people; a substantially smaller subset of those people were actively on the take. And it's from those quarters that you hear the sound -- metaphoric if not real -- of muscles constricting with the news of Abramoff's impending cooperation.

The leaks to Anne Kornblut continue. Abramoff nears a deal to testify against "at least a dozen lawmakers and their former staff members."

Is this SurveyUSA poll borne out by other public opinion data? It says that 52% of residents of the New York area support the striking union workers while 40% support the MTA. Link courtesy of MYDD.

Jo-Ann Mort has more on the unfolding strike.

More policy cynicism and legislative authoritarianism from the Republican majority. Mark Schmitt has the details.

If the number of articles getting punched up is any measure, the folks close to the Abramoff case are talking, and Jack himself is about to deal. The immediate trigger is the SunCruz case down in Florida, which is set to get started on January 9th. But that is only the first of a nest of overlapping criminal investigations in which Abramoff figures as a or the central player.

All of this raises the question of just what cards Abramoff has left to play.

From one perspective, he's handled this whole saga pretty poorly, in the sense of how long he's let this thing drag out. A number of the other key players have already pled out -- most notably, Scanlon and Kidan. And more than a year of news coverage has made Abramoff enough of a household name that it's not like a prosecutor would really cut him much of a break for giving up other bit players. It's hard to see how Abramoff avoids spending a lot of time in prison without giving up actual politicians, not staffers or other lobbyists, but people who run for office. That is, after all, what this is all about.

Any of our DA or US Atty readers care to chime in?

People have been asking what it's like at the center of the 2005 New York City transit strike. But actually, for me, it's something like being in a bubble. With the new people we're hiring we're about to open our first TPM offices. But for the moment, I work mainly at home, which is downtown, actually in the teens.

When I was out in the neighborhood yesterday -- i.e., not during rush-hour -- there was nothing to see that would make you think things were anything but normal, other than the little 'closed' signs hanging from the subway entrances. If anything the streets seemed more empty than usual. As I said, though, in a bubble, or rather, in the center of the storm.

The craziness is getting in and out of the city or between the different boroughs or rather anywhere that's more than ten or twenty blocks and thus not an easy walk in sub-freezing temperatures (26 degrees right now). My wife, whose commute is only about thirty or forty blocks, asked me to wish her luck when she left this morning.

It was a surreal feeling since I knew I was in the center of a city whose civic metabolism had been turned upside down. Just not for me; I was lucky.

NYT: "Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist under criminal investigation, has been discussing with prosecutors a deal that would grant him a reduced sentence in exchange for testimony against former political and business associates, people with detailed knowledge of the case say."

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