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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

There's a rather problematic article in Tuesday's Times on the subject of Robert Novak's new column about the Plame matter.

It's by Anne Kornblut.

The question the article seeks to answer is the mystery of why Novak referred to Joe Wilson's wife as Valerie Plame when she had already for several years been going to by Valerie Wilson. The question has never had any legal significance per se. But it does have evidentiary significance, as Kornblut notes, in as much as the use of the name may shed light on Novak's sources and, as Kornblut doesn't note, on their motives.

Along the way, Kornblut appears to buy into Novak's absurd argument that the need to keep Plame/Wilson's identity secret was in any way related to which name she went by.

Writes Kornblut ...

Any request that he withhold Ms. Wilson's name from his column of July 14, 2003, would have been "meaningless" once he had been told she was married to Mr. Wilson, Mr. Novak wrote on Monday, because she was openly listed in the directory. But Mr. Novak also wrote that he would never have used Ms. Wilson's name had anyone from the C.I.A. told him that doing so would endanger her or anyone else.


Again, this is nonsense.

The disclosure was identifying Wilson's wife as a CIA operative, not that he had a wife, which needless to say was not a state secret.

On these points my only criticism of the article is that Kornblut seems to go along with Novak's diversion, making the issue of the name appear to have more legal consequence than it has.

The real problem, though, is that Kornblut doesn't examine another series of potential motives and the abundant evidence of Novak's mendacity on this subject.

Novak's use of Plame's name has been used to try to narrow down who his sources may have been -- something that Novak has a strong interest in concealing. Many have also speculated that Plame/Wilson was identified by the name 'Plame' precisely to cause the most damage to her career and the clandestine networks she had been involved in, since this was name she'd used through most of her career.

In other words, there's a very clear potential motive for referring to her by her maiden name. It's not a meaningless distinction.

In his column yesterday, Novak suggests that anyone could have figured out Wilson's wife's name by looking him up in Who's Who. And Kornblut, perhaps not unreasonably, takes this as a suggestion that this may well have been what Novak did.

That may be true. Someone could have done that.

But why should we believe Novak?

There is very strong evidence that Novak has been lying about his exposure of Plame from the start.

As I've noted here on a number of occasions, Novak's claim that he used the word 'operative' either accidentally or through sloppiness is simply not credible -- on the basis of simple logic and a review of his previous columns. Novak only came up with his 'accidental operative' story after a legal inquiry got underway.

And the same seems to be the case with his dust-kicking claims about discovering Plame's name from Who's Who.

Timothy Phelps and Knut Royce got to Novak a week after his original column ran. And he said nothing about having to track down Plame's name himself or any second-guessing about the word 'operative'.

He was quite clear. When Phelps and Royce asked him about his exposure of Plame he told them: "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me. They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it."

Bear in mind that he made that statement in the context of an article that was all about how he came up with Plame's name and why he had revealed her identity as a covert agent.

The bottom line here is that Novak is simply not a reliable source. By all indications he has already lied publicly in an effort to protect both himself and his sources. There's simply no reason to take what he says at face value when he comes up with new and improbable stories which again have the clear effect of reducing the legal vulnerability of his sources and further damage to his own professional reputation.

In response to the post below about Denny Hastert's new-found desire to weaken the rules governing privately-funded congressional travel, I got a note from one of my more right-leaning readers harping on about all the Democrats who have also had to revise or refile traveling disclosure forms.

For the most part, this is a bogus point. There's a reason all the attention is being heaped on DeLay, Ney, etc.: in short, their infractions are part of a very large system of organized influence-peddling, of which the Abramoff scandal is simply one part.

But this does present an opportunity for a post I've been mulling for the last few days. I'll frame it as a question.

Can we be sure we're pushing for a sufficiently robust reform agenda so long as a significant portion of the Democratic leadership on the Hill doesn't have to be dragged to it kicking and screaming?

Think about that for a moment.

This has always been a concern to me. The DeLay machine has made the House of Representatives (and at a secondary level, all of capitol hill) as corrupt as it's been for upwards of a century, perhaps more than a century if the true analogue is to be found in the 1880s and 1890s. But a lot of the current Democratic leadership still remembers the days before 1994. And though they may want to clean things up a bit, and certainly want to drive the Republicans from power, I think a lot of them don't want to change things that much. Because it'd be nice to have the perks from the old days back again. That's not surprising. That's human nature.

But for those of us not sitting up there. It's something to think about.

I'm opening up a thread to discuss this. Drop by to share your thoughts, disagreements, agreements, suggestions, etc.

GOP goofball buzzword alert!

According to a story just out from Roll Call (sub.req.), Speaker Denny Hastert has placed congressional "private travel reform" on the agenda in the House.

What is congressional "private travel reform"? Well, according to Republicans, the current rules for regulating when private interests can pay for junkets for members of Congress are themselves responsible for the likes of Ney, DeLay, et al. getting in trouble for taking fancy trips on the dime of cronies and fixers like Abramoff.

Rep. Alan Mollohan (W.Va.), Democratic ranking member on the Ethics Committee, has rebuffed Speaker Hastert's request for a rule change.

In particular, he told Hastert, "It is also important to note that in proceeding on the matter of privately funded travel, the Committee must take care to ensure that there is no suggestion that the rules themselves are to blame for any problems that have occurred — i.e., there can be no suggestion whatsoever that this is an effort to scapegoat the rules for improper Member conduct. I believe we can all agree that Members who are sophisticated enough to pass the laws of the land are sophisticated enough to understand the straightforward House rules on privately funded travel."

No word from Hastert on how it feels to be a wholly owned subsidiary of Tom DeLay.

Late Update: We've posted a copy of the Mollohan letter here.

Bob Novak has another column up today defending himself with regard to the Plame matter. Read it and see if you can catalog the untruths and distortions.

Michael Barone has been doing more than the usual water-carrying. But TPM Reader MC just pointed me to this new article on the decades-long effort by the powers of darkness to undermine Republican presidencies in which Barone describes Watergate thusly: "Richard Nixon, by obstructing investigation of the Watergate burglary, unwittingly colluded in the successful attempt to besmirch his administration. Less than two years after carrying 49 states, he was compelled to resign."

In the post just below, I linked to an article about Charles Kernaghan, a man who spends his life shaming big corporations over their use of child labor and sweat shop labor in the products they have made overseas. Over at his site, Matt Yglesias responded with the standard, but quite powerful, argument that we in the West (or the developed world) often project unrealistic and even harmful expectations on to wages and labor practices in developing countries.

So for instance, rotten working conditions for far under a dollar an hour may be bad. But the conditions <$Ad$> may be less onerous and the pay at least marginally more generous than what some of these people would otherwise be making in the agricultural sectors of their national economies. And maybe that's why the company owners are able to get people to work at what seem to us to be inhumane conditions. (As a general matter, people in the West underestimate the sheer wretchedness of agricultural labor and the endemic nature of rural poverty.)

In any case, that's the argument. And while I think it somewhat discounts the related issues of rural overpopulation and mechanization, on balance it's a strong argument.

There is one thing, however, that this line of reasoning misses: political violence. Which is, after all, the grand-daddy of extra-economic inputs.

You can't make a solid argument that wages in other countries have found their natural level if one of the major 'inputs' is organized political violence to keep wages low and labor activism inert.

To put it more concretely, one part of a real market in labor is the ability for people to protest conditions, either actively (through organizing) or passively (through quitting or refusing to work). But if people who try to form labor unions are murdered then that whole theory falls apart.

This certainly doesn't solve the thicket of questions about globalization and third-world economic development. Nor does it invalidate the broader argument Matt is making. But on this particular point I think it makes clear that we're dealing with more than invisible hands.

"If we were doing penguins or whales, we'd probably be raising millions" -- a quote from Charles Kernaghan, a guy who runs a group that exposes American companies that have their products made by sweatshops and/or child labor overseas. He's talking about the shoe-string budget his outfit runs on. The Post has an article about him.

Well, John Bolton didn't tell the truth on his senate disclosure form. But that won't stop President Bush from sending him to the UN. AP has the story: Bush to make the recess appointment next week.

Click here to see the letter senate Dems sent the president today arguing that Bolton's apparent dishonesty during his confirmation should disqualify him for the job.

It never ends.

Another boondoogle Duke Cunningham (R) set up for some generous contributors, before the company they owned failed to provide the government the promised services and went belly up.

On the other hand, things could be worse. This one only cost the taxpayers $3.5 million.

The Union-Tribune's Marcus Stern, who broke the story that began Duke's downfall, has the details.

PS. Special thanks to TPM Reader MQ for bringing us the shocking, shocking news.

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