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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Let the harassment begin!

It's an unlovely fact. But it's a key Republican strategy, in almost every closely-contested election, to deny as many people as possible the right to vote. True enough, it's not wholly an equal opportunity affair. Voting for Republicans is generally encouraged. But since high turn-out elections almost always favor Democrats, Republicans often use a mix of voter suppression tactics to nudge the totals back in the other direction. (NewDonkey had some choice comments on this from a few days ago, which I commend to you.)

This is an ugly topic we've been writing about at TPM for years. And in tomorrow's New York Times we find what can only be called a refershingly straightforward account of how this tactic will be used ten days from now in Ohio.

The state Republican party has recruited thousands of poll watchers, to be paid $100 each, to challenge as many newly registered voters as possible. Not surprisingly, they're concentrating the poll watchers in inner-city neighborhoods of Cleveland, Dayton and other cities.

To justify these tactics, the delightful James P. Trakas, party co-chair in Cuyahoga County, told the Times: "The organized left's efforts to, quote unquote, register voters - I call them ringers - have created these problems."

Definitely give this article a read.

This is a complicated topic that we'll be returning to repeatedly and elaborating on before election day. But what's afoot right now in Ohio isn't that complicated.

I was going to call this post, with a touch of drama, The Final Lie.

But who am I kidding? The Bush team has plenty of time to tell lots more lies between now and election day. And they no doubt will. And if, God forbid, the president wins, they'll have four more years of lie opportunities after that.

Still, this one is significant. So here goes.

In recent weeks John Kerry has been pressing the claim that the US had Osama bin Laden cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora in late 2001 but let him slip the noose in part because we 'outsourced' the job to local warlords who had little allegiance to the US and their militiamen who had little incentive to get themselves killed in a battle to the death with a bunch of hardened al Qaida terrorists.

That's a tough charge for the Bush team. And over the last week they've been claiming -- by various arguments -- that it simply isn't true.

We have no idea if bin Laden was there at all, they say. And nothing was outsourced.

On Tuesday Gen. Tommy Franks -- the former CENTCOM CINC who, remember, is now working as a Bush surrogate -- wrote a column in the Times in which he said ...

We don't know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. Some intelligence sources said he was; others indicated he was in Pakistan at the time; still others suggested he was in Kashmir. Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and Qaeda operatives, many of whom were killed or captured, but Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp.


As for 'outsourcing' Franks says that that's not true either. We were relying on locals because they knew the terrain so well and they worked in tandem with US special forces and precision air strikes.

Then on Tuesday afternoon Dick Cheney picked up the baton and said Kerry's claims were "absolute garbage. It's just not true." There was "speculation about where Osama bin Laden might have been" there. But no more.

So what's the story exactly?

I was pretty skeptical of the Bush team's revisionism on this count since the outlines of the Kerry critique have been a commonplace in national security and counter-terrorism circles for literally years.

Now al Qaida expert Peter Bergen has a new piece up on his site which makes it pretty clear that this new claim is about as factual as most things the Vice President says.

Bergen is CNN's terrorism analyst, one of the few western reporters ever to interview bin Laden in person, and he goes back to Afghanistan pretty frequently and has interviewed many of the folks who were there.

Bergen notes that at the time -- not now that the presidency is on the line, but at the time -- a Pentagon official gave a widely-quoted background briefing in which he said that there was a "reasonable certainty" that bin Laden was in fact there, a judgment based on contemporaneous radio intercepts. Bergen also discusses interviews with other witnesses and al Qaida associates that point strongly to the conclusion that he was there. "In short," says Bergen, "there is plenty of evidence that bin Laden was at Tora Bora, and no evidence indicating that he was anywhere else at the time."

Bergen also addresses the 'outsourcing' issue.

On the basic question of whether the US missed a key opportunity to bag bin Laden in Tora Bora, Bergen says Kerry's claim is not 'garbage' but "an accurate reflection of the historical record."

It's always going to be difficult to prove definitively that bin Laden was there at the time in question. But then that's part of the price of not having caught him. Most evidence points pretty clearly to the conclusion that he was there. And the consensus of experts seems to be that he was. But it's politically damaging. So the Bush campaign just says it's not true.

Last week we brought you the news that Larry Russell, head of the South Dakota GOP's get-out-the-vote operation (Republican Victory Program) had resigned along with several of his staffers amidst a burgeoning vote fraud scandal.

The Bush campaign promptly brought Russell and several of his newly-resigned staffers to Ohio to run the get-out-the-vote effort there.

Now South Dakota officials have charged six of Russell's South Dakota staffers, including at least three he brought with him to take care of business in Ohio.

Perhaps they can push extradition back past election day.

Leave no fraudster behind (LNFB)!

Let the Bush slime commence! Campaign Extra on the Bush campaign's hideous new ad.

Special Late-Breaking Bush Slime Update: After having watched this ad, as opposed to the still shots, I have to say that I didn't find it all that effective. I can't point to any one thing; it's just not that scary, not even that effective by the special standards used to evaluate lying right-wing slime and scare-mongering, a whole artform worthy of careful critical study.

In some ways actually, the piece typifies the administration. The entire ad is built around an entirely intentional and fairly transparent attempt to deceive viewers.

The centerpiece of the ad is the claim that "even after the first terrorist attack on America," John Kerry tried to gut spending on intelligence.

Everything about the statement and the context is meant to communicate the impression that they mean after 9/11. But they don't. They mean after the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. And even the alleged cuts they're talking about are basically a lie too, for reasons you can see here.

That really does capture the whole Bush administration right there: trying to scare people by tricking them into believing something they know isn't true.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not naive enough to believe that that kind of lie can't be effective. I just don't think it's used all that effectively in this ad. The forest motif isn't all that chilling -- though it may appeal to certain aspects of the Bush hunter-gatherer mindset. And even the wolves aren't as frightening as they might be. I'll bet even my dog Simon -- who's now bulked up to about 7 pounds -- could hold his own with these guys. At least for a while.

Another good candidate for Karl Rove Dirty Tricks Watch.

And here I think we may have a serious contender. Someone in Columbus Ohio seems to be calling voters, impersonating an employee from the local election board, and telling folks that the location of their precincts has been changed. The recipients of the calls seem to be disproportionately elderly.

This one's right out of the Karl Rove playbook. I'm making this the top contender so far, though I'm sure there'll be many more. Of course, maybe I'm not given enough credit to Rove's Sproul operation. Have to give it some thought.

I've always suspected that the stories about an al Qaida effort to disrupt the American election were, in a word, bogus. I even suspect that much of the heavily publicized efforts to put beefed up security and police patrols around polling stations has at least in part a political motive.

Now, you'll remember from the 9/11 commission hearings earlier this year that the National Security Advisor is, or should be, the quarterback when the country faces a heightened or imminent threat of terrorist attack. She's the one who pulls together all the various threat reports and makes sure all legs and arms of the national security apparatus are working in unison.

If this whole 'al Qaida disrupting the democratic process' is on the level then we're entering the red zone right about now. We're ten days out from the election.

So why is the National Security Advisor, Condi Rice, out hitting the campaign trail?

Think about that for a second. Is there any possible good answer? Either all the effort to hype an election day al Qaida threat is just another effort to use the White House's control over the intelligence community as a campaign asset or Rice is shirking her duties at a moment of acute national peril.

Some member of the travelling press should ask her which it is.

I want to show you a campaign ad that is about to go into heavy rotation in swing states around the country. It's called 'He Just Doesn't Get It'. I would appreciate it a great deal if you could take just a few moments to watch it and let me know what you think.

It's a rough, jarring ad. But that's <$NoAd$>appropriate because it portrays a rough reality.

The ad is built on a stark contrast. In late March, at the Radio and Television Correspondents' Association Dinner in Washington, President Bush did a pre-scripted comedy routine about looking for Weapons of Mass Destruction.

It had pictures of him looking under the furniture in the Oval Office, poking around the grounds, and so forth, with him saying over and over, 'Those WMDs have got to be around here somewhere', or something to that effect. He chuckled as did the assembled DC bigwigs of press and politics.

(Here's David Corn discussing this rancid spectacle at the time.)

About a month later, Brooke Campbell's brother, Sgt. Ryan Campbell was killed in Baghdad during the on-going search for weapons of mass destruction.

The ad starts with the president's yuck-yuck routine and finishes with Campbell talking about her brother. It's captures a lot. And I think it could be very effective.

Click here to watch it.

Let me know what you think.

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