Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I'm always on the look out for new literary forms cropping up in our daily press roundabouts. And the one I'm keyed into now is the most creative, the most outside-the-box disassociation with Jack Abramoff.

Today's prize may go to Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), aspirant to the Majority Leadership ...

"I've got 11 brothers and sisters, and my dad owned a bar," said Boehner, R-West Chester, who said he met Abramoff at a fund-raiser for then-Sen. Don Nickles. "It's great training for what I do every day. You stand behind a bar, and it doesn't take long to sort of size people up. Some you like, and some you don't, and he just wasn't someone I liked. I knew it the moment I met him."

Neighborhood bar, school of character and ethics.

Late Update: This final note probably left the impression that I don't think tending bar can give you a lot of insights into human nature. Quite the opposite. I just think it's a stretch for Boehner to hang his hat on this as a way of explaining his alleged aversion to Jack Abramoff.

More for the bonfire.

Former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) was one of the "principal authors" of the Medicare prescription drug bill, according to the Washington Post. And a mere two months after the bill passed, PhRMA (the drug industry trade association in Washington) offered to make him their chief lobbyist in a deal that "would [have been] the biggest deal given to anyone at a trade association," one source told the Post.

There was such an outcry over this that Tauzin did the right thing and delayed taking the gig until later in the year.

TPM Reader J on the Medicare prescription drug law debacle ...


I have been surprised by the amount of silence on Medicare Part D in the blogosphere. A fiasco of this magnitude deserves the same sort of deafening response that the FEMA response received. This has become a big, big story this month which has given many likely voters a significantly negative personal experience with Republican corruption.

Public health emergencies have now been declared in twelve states. There will be political consequences for the party responsible. There is already a wide popular conception among the affected portions of the public that the drug benefit was designed not in good faith, but to enrich insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry.

Arbitrary drug classes like benzodiazepenes and barbiturates are specifically excluded from coverage. Congress left no clue as to the legislative intent of the exclusion. Someone seems to have decided that these two drug classes are incompatible with some Biblical teaching. Or maybe the competing drug classes are much more profitable for someone's campaign contributors (as both benzodiazepines and barbiturates are cheap and produced as generics, unlike their likely treatment alternatives). As a result the nation's psychiatrists are going batshit right now, trying to figure out what to do with patients on drug regimens for things like seizures.

Just like Katrina, and Iraqi reconstruction difficulties, this is an unfolding disaster that could be seen approaching from a mile away beforehand. The government took little or no preparation before the deadline to make sure things would run smoothly. As usual, someone in charge seems to have assumed that the invisible hand of the markets would take care of everything, or something. As a result, phone lines are clogged, web sites are down or inaccessible, pharmacists and doctors have no idea what is going on after being kept out of the loop, and seniors themselves are panicked, confused, and freaking out.

Last year's Social Security discussion was abstract for most senior citizens. They were specifically told it "would not affect them" and yet they were instrumental in destroying the Bush privatization attempts.

Medicare Plan D isn't like that at all- it's right in their faces. Old people (and their adult children trying to help them) are getting hit with nasty surprises at pharmacies everywhere this month. And they are MAD. They are being snowed under by the confusing paperwork and tricky decisions they are being forced to make. Many have yet to find out that the plan they're in won't cover the drugs they're on, or that they were automatically and quietly disenrolled from superior private coverage. And later in the year, say around November, a significant portion of beneficiaries will have entered their Part-D "doughnut-holes" and will be paying a monthly premium to receive zero benefits! How do you think that will go over? Might a surprise jump in monthly expenses affect voting behavior around then, if it can easily be associated with the party that calls Medicare Part D their "signature domestic achievement"?

Yes, yes and I reserve the right to revise and extend my remarks later to say yes again.

I was away from any reliable connectivity over the weekend. So I'm just catching up now with my reading. And I note that Kevin Drum and Greg Sargent at The Prospect are both pushing the point that Democrats need to tie their arguments about Republican corruption to real world policy failures and costs to ordinary Americans.

Along those lines, what about the increasing signs that the implementation of the new Medicare prescription drug plan -- and probably the underlying program itself -- appears to be more or less an unmitigated disaster?

This clunker embodies the whole story. It was conceived in sleaze, midwifed with lies and saw its first light of day in a burst of incompetence and corporate handouts.

Remember Nick Smith getting bribed on the floor? It was to cast his vote for this new program. Remember how Thomas Scully, former director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (now Scott McClellan's brother has the job), threatened to fire chief Medicare actuary Richard Foster if he told Congress the actual estimated cost of the program?

These are not, admittedly, the choicest examples. The biggest is too broad and thorough to capture in a single nugget: the fact that the entire bill was written as a pay-off to big ticket campaign contributors from the pharmaceutical industry. But they make a start at desription why public corruption has a more direct effect on people's lives than whether Bob Ney gets to jet over to Scotland to play a game of golf.

Another thread of Iran story: North Korea.

In its policy on the Korean Peninsula, the White House came in talking tough and making threats, but then proceeded to do nothing over five years as the North Koreans proceeded to build a small nuclear arsenal (at least that seems to be the present consensus of where they are). The Bush administration policy on North Korea has been the worst sort of policy failure. Better to cower from the start than make threats and draw lines in the sand and then cower and make excuses later, which sums up what the administration has done.

Is it any different with Iran?

As many others have argued, we don't seem to have any good military options in Iran. The physical arrangement of the Iranian nuclear facilities does not appear to leave it vulnerable to the sort of program-decapitation the Israelis dealt the Iraqis back in 1981. Nor do we have the land resources to mount an invasion of Iran even if we were inclined to.

The White House may see this problem as a means to game the 2006 elections with a bunch of talk that will be conveniently forgotten after November. But where was the White House on this issue in 2002 or 2003 or 2004 or 2005?

To the post below, TPM Reader AB responds thus ...

Sorry -- completely disagree with your post on Iran policy. Democrats and the media were too scared/naive/stupid to put up any serious questions about going into Iraq before the war. (for bias interpretations, I was with Dean on this, but it didn't matter.) So there really was no substantial debate. But that was the point of Iraq.

The really important point here is that the neocons wanted into Iraq regardless of WMD. They wanted the inspectors out before it became obvious that the main rationale for the war was fictional. They never guarded any of the potential WMD sites (probably) because they were pretty sure that the WMD case was way overblown. This was about democracy dominos in the Gulf. Draining the swamp. With our troops there to protect our interests (oil, Israel) and put a massive stake in the aground against our enemies (terrorists, Iran, Syria...).

Remember this? 'One senior British official dryly told Newsweek before the invasion, “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran."'

But Iran is something completely different now. It's closer to N. Korea in its ability to defend itself. Very large army, WMD, and a president who just might be itching for a war.

More importantly (to your point) the neocons are out of power on foreign policy. We don't have the ability to confront Iran on the ground. We're talking sanctions or special forces/air strikes either by ourselves or Israel.

The public setting is so different now that the Bush admin does not have the free reign it had in 2003 with Iraq.

My point? An Iran policy in the abstract is exactly what we should be talking about because the choices are so limited and the administration is so hamstrung. With strong involvement by the democrats and the media (due in large part to the polls on Iraq -- backbone supplied by voters) we may actually force the administration's hand on how to deal with Iran. They're already doing the diplomacy thing even if Iran is unimpressed.

The starting point should not be the incompetents of the Bush administration. It should be level headed ideas on what would work.

Hope you can find someone who's got some of those ideas...



I wrote back: 'I'm really not sure how this contradicts anything I've said. Did you think I'm saying we just shouldn't discuss Iran at all?'

I'm printing this response because perhaps others are thinking the same and I wanted to address the point.

My point is certainly not that we should be digging our heads in the sands or refuse all discussion of the matter because President Bush is in office. My point is that the correct policy can't be arrived at without taking the implementer into account. Say you have a certain physical infirmity. The best thing to do is to have an operation. But what if there's no surgeon? What if the best you can do is round up someone who once took college anatomy? Maybe then surgery isn't such a good idea. Yes, this is a broad brush analogy. But this is the sort of calculus I'm getting at.

Meanwhile, another TPM Reader KB says ...

You know I'm one of your biggest fans, but I have to disagree with your early throat-clearing on the "Iran Question." Why? Because it really is not a question. That is how the GOP and the White House want it framed, and I'm afraid you are buying into that framing. The truth is much simpler: Iran will have the bomb if they want it. It's a done deal. There is no realistic military option. None. We're stretched too thin. There are no good sites to bomb that would insure we could deny them the bomb. Their program is too hidden and dispersed. It would be an endless campaign of bombing and lead to endless war and terror attacks on us. The question is not how to stop Iran. They will get it. The question is: Who lost Iran? How did it come to this? Who left us in the position? Who ignored the REAL threat? That's what the White House doesn't want you asking. Please don't become Joe Leiberman on this "Iran Question." There is no question. They will get the bomb and there's nothing we can do except learn to live with them and contain them, as we did the Soviets.

I'll leave this for another post.

So here we are again -- I'm speaking of course of the brewing crisis with Iran -- only this time with a country that pretty clearly does have a nuclear program, and a fairly ambitious one at that. For good measure, let's throw in the fact that Iran really does have genuine and meaningful ties to international terrorist groups, though more of the Hezbollah variety than al Qaida.

Regular readers of this site know I've been focusing on other issues. So I haven't yet taken the time to delve into the particulars of this question to the degree I plan to. But let me offer a few observations based on the lessons I think we've learned from the experience in Iraq and those I have myself.

Let me start with one: I'll call it the fallacy of foreign policy abstraction.

During the two years between 9/11 and March 2003, there was a group of commentators (I'd include myself among them) who bought into the basic argument about the danger posed by the Iraqi regime (though not the extremity of it), were willing, at a minimum, to put military force on the table as a means of resolving the problem, were perhaps willing to go as far as supporting an invasion, but were adamant critics of administration policy in the Middle East.

Looking back on that debate, what didn't make sense about 'my' position was that folks like myself were debating Iraq policy in the abstract. How would I deal with Iraq if I were president? What would be the sensible approach if we had a president and foreign policy team which we thought was acting in good faith and competent at handling the issue.

The problem was that there was no Iraq policy in the abstract. That was just a fantasy. There was Iraq in 2002 and 2003 with President Bush et al. calling the shots. Any discussion of the issue which didn't take those key facts into account was just a parlor game, no more than words. What's more, the existence of a cadre of commentators from the political opposition who espoused a policy that looked a lot like the president's actually gave him a great deal of cover. It made his policies look more reasonable. It greased the skids for its implementation.

So with Iran.

The prospect of a nuclearized Iran seems far more perilous to me than anything we faced or seemed likely to face with Iraq. But for those of us trying to think through how to deal with this situation, we have to start from the premise that there is no Iran Question, or whatever you want to call it. There's only how to deal with Iran with this administration in place.

Do you trust this White House's good faith, priorities or competence in dealing with this situation?

Based on everything I've seen in almost five years the answer is pretty clearly 'no' on each count. To my thinking that has to be the starting point of the discussion.

Learn Rep. Bob Ney's (R-OH) deep secret: he was a reform man before it was cool. That and other news of the day in today's Daily Muck.

Ahh Rep. Ney (R-OH), the lobbying for Iran, free trip courtesy of a thrice-convicted felon now doing business out of Cyprus edition. It just gets better and better.

Will Tom DeLay even serve in the next Congress. According to a new Houston Chronicle poll "Only half of those who cast ballots for DeLay in 2004 said they will do so again." Only 28% of voters in his district view him favorably.