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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

After a slew of bad news the latest round of polls point to optimism for Democratic chances in the Senate. Charlie Cook's new report out this morning says that Erskine Bowles is advancing on Liddy Dole in North Carolina -- a race most folks had pretty much written off. Jeanne Shaheen has also pulled even or marginally ahead in New Hampshire -- a race which looked close but definitely leaning toward John Sununu.

The latest round of Zogby polls also look positive for Dems. Zogby's latest has Paul Wellstone up 46-37 over Norm Coleman. And Jeb Bush is now in a statistical dead-heat with Bill McBride -- a result that's in line with other campaign tracking polls. (I wonder if Jeb gets forced into a really tight contest down the stretch whether Florida papers may take a renewed interest in the guy's business past, which is ugly as sin. He makes his brother look like a character out of a Horatio Alger novel.)

Less positively for Democrats Zogby now has John Thune up by two points over Tim Johnson in South Dakota. That race is still basically a tie. But there does seem to have been a very small tick back in Thune's direction.

The thing one hears about Zogby though is that his state by state statistical models aren't nearly as good as his national one. (He didn't do well at all calling Hillary/Lazio in 2000). So the Zogby polls may merit a measure of skepticism all around.

Just what I hear.

Those who whined most heartily about the Montana Democratic Party's ad targeting state Senator Mike Taylor are now hyping a story about alleged absentee voting irregularities in neighboring South Dakota.

Don't get snookered by this one.

The story first got picked up by local TV news reporter Jill Westbrook as a case of "massive voter registration fraud." That was followed by a piece in the Rapid City Journal which again ran with the "massive" voter fraud line.

That was, predictably, picked up by Fox News. And finally there was a pretty decent story written about it in the Argus Leader. David Kranz of the Argus Leader is sort of the Jack Germond or Dan Balz of South Dakota politics, from what I can tell.

Read the actual stories and you'll see the alleged fraud falls quite a bit short of 'massive'. The alleged fraud apparently involves a single contract employee working in a Democratic party voter registration drive. The woman in question registered a slew of voters and virtually all of those registrations checked out when later examined. The exact number of ones with problems is unclear from the articles but it seems to be a handful out of many at best. Perhaps as few as two. The Democratic party fired her.

Look at the article and you'll also notice virtually all the quotes are from the Republican state Attorney General Mark Barnett who called a press conference to discuss the matter, was apparently the source of the original "massive" voter fraud claim, and apparently can't stop talking to every reporter in the state about it. Though the investigation only involves this one woman, Barnett is quick to tell virtually everyone that "that could change at any time."

Clearly something like this should be investigated. And lawbreakers should be prosecuted. And I don't mean that as a throwaway line. They should. But the story here is that there are two very hotly contested races in the state -- one being the Senate race between Tim Johnson and John Thune. Democrats have been making a big push to register the Indian population in the state which tends to vote heavily Democratic but is under-registered and tends to vote in very low percentages. Those votes could prove crucial. The fraud claims are about the voter registration push on the Indian reservations.

Republicans frequently charge that voter registration drives are hotbeds of voter-fraud -- almost never with any real evidence. Absent more evidence of anything really widespread, this looks to me like a Republican effort to snuff out or throw a wet blanket over the Democrats' effort to register a lot of new voters. They have a long history of this.

I discuss my thoughts on the Mike Taylor ad run by the Montana Democratic party below. But before Republicans get too self-righteous about that ad, take a look at this one that Republican challenger Saxby Chambliss is running against Democrat Max Cleland in Georgia. The ad luridly hacks away at Cleland for being soft on defending America and says Cleland is lying when he says he has the "courage to lead" and defend the United States.

You may remember that Cleland lost three limbs on the battlefield while serving as an Army Captain in Vietnam in 1969. (The washed-out black and white images of Cleland in the ad are conveniently cropped around the face and upper body so as not to show any signs that Cleland is a triple-amputee.) Saxby Chambliss's House website bio contains no mention of any military service.

Lower than low.

I'm still trying to assemble my thoughts about the now notorious Mike Taylor ad run by the Montana Democratic party. On balance, I just don't think Taylor has as much ground for complaint as he seems to think he does. Part of this may be the fact that before I ever saw the ad I had read a number of reports decrying it as blatantly gay-baiting. So I was expecting to be really outraged. When I actually saw it I was expecting some zinger that never quite came.

Two points that are worth mentioning: No one who criticizes the ad seems to note that the creators of the ad have Taylor dead-to-rights on the fact that his hair-care school was apparently a scam. That gives at least some hook for the commercial to get into the whole hair-care school issue. Point two is that this was an infomercial that Taylor himself produced. It's a bit hard to get past that. How offensive can it be to him to show it if he himself produced it for public consumption?

I certainly don't mean to be willfully dense. And I'm not saying I'm crazy about the ad. It's just that when I saw the ad I felt it went right up to the line but never quite crossed it.

One point that comes close is the final tagline which, after going into the hair-care scam, finishes off with: "Not the way we do business here in Montana." After you're primed to get the gay references this can, I grant you, sort of read like "Not the way we *#$% each other in Montana." On the other hand, I showed the ad to one friend today who hadn't heard anything about the controversy and she didn't pick up the gay-baiting angle at all.

In some ways the real keys are more the music and the the font and graphics of his name used at the top of the ad. They're clearly right out of Boogie Nights or an Austin Powers flick. In a sense, the ad is less guilty of gay-baiting than Boogie-Nights-1970s-Cheesedom-baiting.

One thing that is very clear is that this ad was not why Taylor got out of the race. He was just losing and this was a way to leave on a note of righteous indignation. I think that's unquestionably true, though one can certainly believe that and believe that the ad gay-baited and thus believe that his righteous indignation was justified.

Interestingly in this October 4th article Taylor said it was outrageous for the Democrats even to bring up the charges about the improper use of federal money at the school. This was before any mention was made of the TV ad. And it's very hard to see where discussing Taylor's misuse of federal education money was somehow a low blow.

Another point. A number of people wrote in yesterday arguing that this development proved that I was wrong in believing the Torricelli drop-out would be a one time thing. Seemingly everybody was going to do it and Marc Racicot, former Governor of Montana, was going to jump into the race. Frankly, had this happened, I wouldn't have seen any problem with it, even though it would have made Max Baucus's (the Democratic incumbent) race harder. As I said earlier with regards to New Jersey, so long as there is some give in the legal procedures for late ballot changes I'd say make the call in favor of giving voters the best shot at a real vote.

Actually, though, this has turned out to be a pretty good example of why the Torricelli switch phenomenon won't become that common. It now looks like Racicot won't get in the race after all. And the reason is pretty clear. If he'd wanted to run for Senate, he'd have gotten in the race a year ago when he actually would have had a pretty decent shot at knocking Baucus out. He didn't get in then because he didn't want to do it or didn't have the gumption or whatever. And he still doesn't. Additionally, now he'd face the added hurdles of being accused of just being a last minute opportunist and so forth. The bottom line is that there are just a lot of forces weighted against the whole last minute switch phenomenon.

I was ready to slam this attack ad that Montana Democrats ran against Montana's Republican Senate candidate Mike Taylor. But I became a bit more equivocal when I actually saw it. TPM has acquired a downloadable version of the spot now included in the TPM Document Collection. Click here to view or download your own copy and see for yourself.

You've likely heard of the lock-out of longshoreman in port facilities on the West coast and how President Bush has now invoked the Taft-Hartley Act to force the workers to go back to work. There's been a lot of sloppy reporting on this case -- and we'll be saying more about that. But for the moment let me draw your attention to this.

Eugene Scalia (yes, son of Antonin) is the Solicitor of the Department of Labor. He's actually not quite an appointee. President Bush couldn't get enough votes to get him confirmed so he put Scalia in the job through a recess appointment this last January, as he did with Otto Reich at State. So Scalia is the head lawyer on the government's negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association and the longshoreman's union, the ILWU.

So far so good.

But it turns out that Scalia has a bit of a conflict. Before he became Solicitor one of his legal clients was -- you guessed it -- the Pacific Maritime Association. Click here to see the key page of Scalia's public disclosure statement, which has just been added to the TPM Document Collection.

On Monday, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard L. Trumka called on Scalia to recuse himself. So far though Scalia hasn't even responded to Trumka's request. And the press has simply failed to mention it. No one seems to think it's even important enough to report on. The AFL-CIO's Lane Windham told TPM today that Scalia "can't try to be impartial when he's represented one of the parties." And we find it sorta hard to disagree with her.

TPM made repeated efforts this afternoon to contact Mr. Scalia but he was not available for comment.

Scalia's recess appointment is only good through this session. And presumably they'll try to send him up again. Especially if the Republicans win back the Senate next month. Isn't this a pretty clear conflict? What does it say that Scalia doesn't seem to care? Doesn't it deserve more press attention? Doesn't it show that the Democrats may have been right in thinking he wasn't suited for the job? Can't we expect better?

Sometimes life faces you with vexing problems, insoluble quandaries, heartbreaking choices. But even in such rough moments there are some simple joys that never leave us. Like watching Larry King create twelve car pile-ups with logic and the English language.

Like tonight when Larry asked Colin Powell ...

KING: A few other things, Mr. Secretary: Israel supports the United States completely in [attacking Iraq] yet they face the most immediate danger. Is this a dichotomy?

POWELL: They do face a danger. I think Saddam Hussein and the weapons he's been developing are a danger to all the nations in the region, to include Israel. And so that's why Israel has been a strong supporter of the need for the international community or for nations who are inclined to act together if not under the umbrella of the international community to deal with this threat.

Isn't it weird how Israel's arch-enemy is Saddam and Israel sees Iraq as a strategic threat and yet Israel still supports our clobbering Iraq? Isn't that weird? Isn't that a dichotomy?

See this earlier post for a discussion of the fine art of fielding Larry's boneheaded questions (Larry: "That's like what happened when you discovered the cure for gravity, right?") See this post for a candid discussion of the no-goofing-on-Larry rule, which effectively bars people in the media from ever pointing out what a goofball Larry is. See this post to see the top three questions Larry almost got around to asking Dan Rather on June 4th, 2002. 1) "Dan, what was it like to travel to the Moon on Apollo 51? It changes your life, right?" ...

Let me recommend a book to you in very strong terms. It's called The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq by Ken Pollack. I can't do an extensive review of the book here since I've just completed a formal magazine review of it which will be appearing in a few weeks. And I don't want to step, as it were, on my own toes. Or more to the point, the magazine's toes -- if magazines have toes.

As the title states, the book argues that there is no other good solution to the Iraq problem save a military one. Pollack is an ardent critic of the slapdash and petulantly unilateralist way the Bush administration seems inclined to go about it. (This actually is the new TPM catch-phrase for Bush administration foreign policy: petulant unilateralism) But at the end of the day he thinks that the only real option is to topple Saddam's regime and that the only real way to do that is by force.

Now, I know many regular TPM readers don't agree at all with that proposition. It's one I find both deeply troubling and, I think, inescapable. But even if you don't agree -- perhaps especially if you don't -- I think you'll get a lot out of this book.

This is the most honest, candid, and intelligent discussion I've read of this topic. Pollack explains very clearly why serious people -- and not just yahoos -- believe that the current Iraqi regime represents a serious threat. Pollack, who spent most of the last decade formulating Iraq policy for the US government, also makes a compelling case that the policy we pursued toward Iraq in recent years was and is just a losing game.

Whether you're for 'regime change' or against it, if you want to really understand this issue in detail and have your beliefs and preconceptions seriously challenged, buy this book.

Regrettably, through a tragic technical error, the first week of October's TPMs have slipped into cyber-oblivion. We're trying to recover a copy. And if and when the gods smile on us in this endeavor we shall post them in the TPM archives promptly.

This passage stood out to me in Fareed Zakaria's excellent article ("Our Way") in the new New Yorker ...

Perhaps most important, Roosevelt and Truman, having lived through the nineteen-thirties, knew how fragile the international system was and believed that it needed support. Having reaped the fruits of this system—upheld by all successive Presidents of both parties—we have come to believe that stability is natural. But the world order put into place by the United States in the past half century—an order based on alliances, organizations, and norms — functions largely because of the respect paid to it by its superpower creator. Without that support, it will crumble into chaos.
It's worth pondering. Also check out this brief Talk of the Town piece on George Kennan, the now-98 year old conceptualizer of 'containment', and the passing of his doctrine. It's good, really good.

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