Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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TPM Reader JP checks in ...


Thanks for the excerpt from the Nelson Report. Glad to see adult establishment types finally smelling the coffee.

One more thing: with all the disgusting details emerging about the administration's pro-torture policies, how do they now explain the prosecution of Lyndie England, et al? It's clear this goes all the way to the top. So why is she and her boyfriend rotting in Leavenworth while Dick and Don still roam free? I'd like to hear Scott McClellan answer that one.


What's the answer to that exactly?

Matt Yglesias has a good catch fact-checking Ahmad Chalabi's excuse and dodge of the day on why he fed a stream of liars and con-artists to US intelligence agencies. Actually, it's not even much a fact check. Matt just looked up the page from the Silbermann-Robb Report that Chalabi kept referring to today at AEI. Take a look.

A snippet out of this evening's Nelson Report ...

Scandals..on the torture scandal part of the ongoing psychodrama called America, the political theme is that the Republican Leadership continues to trip all over itself, contradicting each other, insulting each other, and generally looking like incompetent fools. This is almost too much for the Democrats, who can hardly believe what they see unfolding, and who thus, so far, remain in something of a comic stupor, pending an organized, coherent attack.

But things are happening, and Senate Dems are coalescing around efforts to force real hearings on the misuse of Iraq war intel, and the torture scandal...even as the Republicans flounder between trying to deny everything, while simultaneously excusing or explaining it away. Latest example...former Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, whom, you will recall, was forced to resign for insensitive racial remarks, is clearly revenging himself with comments that it was a fellow Republican who leaked the “CIA torture” story to the Washington Post last week.

On the larger topic, law and morality...the ethic of being an American leader, and its betrayal by the Bush Administration...the NY Times today details last year’s CIA Inspector General’s classified report that Bush Administration torture directives carried out by the Agency “might violate some provisions of the International Convention Against Torture...”and remember we warned last night that the CIA pros have it out for the White House, and will not rest until responsibility for torture, as Iraq WMD, is laid at the foot of the political bosses responsible, consequences come what may.

On the CIA IG’s report on violating international law, note the word “might”? We checked with a highly informed/involved former State Department source. His comments: “...in 1988 when John Whitehead signed the Convention in New York, and then later, when we ratified it, we enacted domestic laws where necessary to make it ‘the law of the land.’ When we made our report, for example, as required by the Convention we had this to say to the UN, copy to the Senate: ‘Torture is prohibited by law throughout the United States. It is categorically denounced as a matter of policy and as a tool of state authority. Every act constituting torture under the Convention constitutes a criminal offense under the law of the United States. No official of the government, federal, state or local, civilian or military, is authorized to commit or to instruct anyone else to commit torture. Nor may any official condone or tolerate torture in any form. No exceptional circumstances may be invoked as a justification of torture. US law contains no provision permitting otherwise prohibited acts of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment to be employed on grounds of exigent circumstances (for example, during a ‘state of public emergency’) or on orders from a superior officer or public authority, and the protective mechanisms of an independent judiciary are not subject to suspension.’ (Report of the United States to the UN Committee against Torture, October 15, 1999, UN Doc. CAT/C/28/Add.5, February 9, 2000, para. 6.) Note the language -- as is in the Convention's title -- about other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. It's not merely torture....” (End of comments by our source.)

Hummm....sounds like a pretty solid case for an impeachment proceeding, were there anything resembling either a sense or shame, or national ethics, in the Leadership of the House of Representatives and Senate. Something to be argued out in the 2006 Congressional campaigns?

They've brought us very, very low.

It ain't just in Virginia. Bush is poison in Arizona too. Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ) says he wouldn't want W. to campaign for him in Arizona.

Let me expand a bit on my earlier comments about redistricting reform.

For most of the time I've been actively interested in politics I've been at best skeptical about a lot of what you might call good government reformism. Part of that is just temperamental. To the extent there's substance behind it, I've always felt that there's a strain of 'goo-goo' reform which puts procedural cleanliness over substantive good results for ordinary citizens -- effective provision of services, real representation of different interests in society, and so forth.

Hovering behind these ideas is a recognition that there were strong anti-democratic tendencies in the original Progressive movement, though they did not define the entirety of it. And most important, I think if you look back over the history of the US, our most effective reforms have not come in complex regulatory regimes but in systems which effectively balance different powers and interests against each other. And that still makes me less than a total optimist about the potential of effective campaign finance reform.

All that said, though, sometimes the ship of state just gets too overrun with barnacles and the whole thing has to be scraped clean. And we're clearly at one of those points. One needn't indulge utopian fantasies about abolishing government corruption or dealing a death blow to the power of monied interests in politics. All that is necessary is a recognition that reform is a cyclical process needed to keep the government healthy and functioning. And we're overdue for real reform.

Gerrymandering has been around, literally, since the country began. But I'm persuaded by the argument that computers and data technologies have substantially increased the ability of those in power to shape districts to perpetuate their power.

The real proof though is the sclerotic House of Representatives. Set aside the fact that it's now controlled by a corrupt Republican machine. The House is designed to be the part of the federal government most responsive to the changing views of the public. But it's pretty clear that that role has now been taken over by the senate. I think there's probably a decent argument that more seats are in play in the senate in most cycles these days than in the House -- not just in percentage terms but in absolute terms too. And that's just crazy. The power of money in politics is more tied up with that of non-competitive districts than we might think.

Already this morning I've had a reader write in to tell me that the problem isn't gerrymandering but the increasing trend toward geo-communal self-segregation. Liberals move where there are lots of liberals; conservatives do the same, etc. I don't doubt that's part of it. But I don't think that explains it all either. And if it is a big part of the equation, perhaps we need to rejigger the redistricting calculus a bit to inject some more play into the system.

Tell me what you think.

Real life is harder to keep to the script. Arnold got waxed in California. All eight Arnold-powered initiatives went down to defeat last night.

When I last checked last night it looked like the anti-labor initiative might win. But that one went down too. (In this post at TPMCafe Jo-Ann Mort explains how it was a good night for organized labor all across the country.)

The one note of ambivalence for me was Prop. 77, Arnold's redistricting initiative. I'm not crazy about the idea of Republicans using redistricting reform to knock off Democrats while ramming through the most outlandish gerrymanders in the states they control (like Texas, for instance). But I'm more and more convinced that redistricting reform is a key plank in any serious reform agenda for this country. Not just a cudgel to loosen up entrenched GOP power in the House, but a genuine reform aimed at making politics more responsive to the popular will. In some ways I think it may prove more important than campaign finance reform, though I believe that is a key part of reform too.

Correction: There were eight initiatives in California. And they all went down. But only four of them were Arnold-backed.

We've already gotten a number of very promising applications for the job opening TPM is now hiring for. But I wanted to take a moment to explain a bit more about what we're doing -- partly for potential job applicants, but much more for readers of this site.

One of the most inspiring things about the blog phenomenon is the sheer multiplicity of differet forms created within the basic genre -- even within the relatively small niche of blogs devoted to politics. You've got a site like CrooksandLiars.com, for instance, which in addition to a lot of conventional text blogging, provides this amazing service of hosting more or less instantly available video snippets of most all the happenings on the day's political news shows that people on the web are talking about.

The blogging that I've done over the last five years -- TPM's Five Year Anniversary is coming up this Sunday, by the way -- has taken a number of different forms, several of which, over the last year especially, I really never would have expected. But two have always been the ones I've most gravitated toward.

First is blog as distiller of information. It's a cliche to say how we're all overloaded with information today with the proliferation of news outlets. But it's quite a thing to actually consider in some detail how true it actually is.

A dozen years ago, only an extremely small minority of people had access to any newspapers beside their local paper and perhaps the New York Times, USA Today or the Wall Street Journal, which have a national or quasi-national distribution.

Today anyone with an Internet connection has immediate access to every major paper in the country and the great majority of local papers which contain all manner of information flying beneath the radars of the big regional outlets. That of course doesn't even touch on international papers, native online news outlets, websites for the news networks and much else.

If you're trying to keep up on the Social Security fight or the Abramoff story, for instance, there's just a huge amount of information out there. And one of the things I've tried to do with this site is piece those stories together, put reporting in context or take disparate bits of information appearing in different pieces of reporting and fitting them together into some larger whole.

I still do a lot of original reporting. But not infrequently I have these sort of embarrassing conversations where someone will say, 'Hey, amazing reporting you did on such and such' when actually I didn't do any 'reporting' at all. It was just piecing material together from different news sources and working from tips and leads from readers.

Occasionally, I'll get interviewed about blogs. And I always make the point that 'the media' functions like an ecosystem with a heavy measure of interdependence. Without newspapers and, to a lesser extent, the electronic media, blogs would have very little raw material to feed on. They're heavily dependent on reporting by conventional journalists, either to criticize or to build on.

But blogs have eked out a niche too. Since they're not chained to particular formats of writing, the daily news cycle or the news 'peg', they can focus in on the progress of a particular story in a way that is very difficult to do within the conventions of newspaper reporting.

In any case, that's one focus of mine, one thing I like in blogs.

The other is original reporting.

Few blogs do a lot of original reporting. And that's mainly because it's time-consuming and expensive to support. I've always done quite a bit of it. But that's mainly because for most of the time I've been running TPM I was a freelance journalist trying to scrape together a living by writing constantly. And that left me with lots of material I could use for the site.

In any case, this post wasn't intended as a disquisition on blog theory. But that's the model of blogging that interests me.

And the stories that interest me right now are a) the interconnected web of corruption scandals bubbling up out the reining Washington political machine and b) the upcoming mid-term elections.

I cover a little of both. And I've particularly tried to give some overview of the Abramoff story. But I'm never able to dig deeply enough into the stories or for a sustained enough period of time or to keep track of how all the different ones fit together. That's a site I'd like to read every day -- one that pieced together these different threads of public corruption for me, showed me how the different ones fit together (Abramoff with DeLay with Rove with the shenanigans at PBS and crony-fied bureaucracies like the one Michael Brown was overseeing at FEMA) and kept tabs on how they're all playing in different congressional elections around the country.

That's a site I'd like to read because I'm never able to keep up with all of it myself. So we're going to try to create it.

I don't imagine it will be easy. But it will be an experiment with a new sort of journalism. And I think we'll be able to put something together that the readers of this site will enjoy and find useful. And we're going to try to do that by mobilizing the resources we've already built with TPM and TPMCafe. To start we're going to try to raise money from TPM Readers to jumpstart a salary or two for the person or persons who will do most of the work producing the site. Then we're hoping that over time we can support the effort through selling advertising, an ability we're already investing a good deal of time in building up to support the two sites we currently run.

Finally, we have you. Now, yes, I know that sounds like the most eye-roll-inspiring drivel or flattery. But it's quite true in a very concrete sense.

TPM has a monthly audience of about 3/4 of a million people. And on weekdays we get anywhere form a couple hundred to upwards of a thousand emails (the weekday average seems to be a bit over three hundred). And those messages together amount to a huge nationwide information gathering apparatus. Some emails are just pointers from people with expertise in some area I happen to be writing about. Others turn out to be 'sources' in the conventional journalistic sense. Many more, though, are just pointers to news stories bubbling up beneath the radar of the national political press.

I really can't overemphasize how essential those emails are to producing this site. Just by way of example, when I was focused in on the Social Security debate earlier this year, that was only remotely possible because I had people in almost every congressional district keeping me updated on what was being reported in their local papers, what their member of Congress was saying back in the district, what mailers they were sending out and so forth.

That's something that most reporters don't have access to. But, like a number of other high-traffic blogs, we do. We won't be trying to compete with conventional news outlets. Like I said above, sites like this wouldn't be able to survive without newspapers and news networks to cull information from. But we can produce our own unique sort of wall-to-wall, constantly updated coverage.

I hope the end result will be one you'll want to read and support. And I'm betting we'll be able to find one or two canny and hard-working reporter-bloggers to help us do it.

More on all of this very soon.