Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I went back to look how I marked the end of 2004 and the beginning of 2005 a year ago. And it turns out that I didn't even mention it -- apparently because I was so deep into harassing and chronicling the slithers and wiggles of the 'Fainthearted Faction'. I'm sure it was a better use of my time.

The last post of 2004 was a teaser about a "leadership shake-up in the fainthearted faction" and I followed up with six posts, all on the same topic, on January 1st.

I'm not sure it would have occurred to me to do a year-ending post. But a number of other blogs I read have done so. So I'll give it a try.

First, I'd like to thank the readers of this site, and even more thank the core of regulars who visit every day, send tips, feedback, criticism, all of it. I've been doing this now for more than five years. And sometimes it's hard for familiarity not to lead to taking for granted the fact that something like a hundred thousand people show up to read this site on any given weekday.

So let me just say that I really appreciate your being a reader of this site. On top of that I want to say a special thanks to the few thousand of you who've contributed this year to the upkeep and now expansion of what we're doing. Thanks.

Now on to a more substantive issue.

For folks of my political persuasion, last year ended on a very bleak note. But things started going badly for the president from the beginning of 2005 and went down hill from there. Looking toward next year, a lot of stars seem to be in alignment for the Democrats. And history, scandal and the comeuppance of past mistakes and villainies all seem stacked against the president and his party.

A moment so pregnant with possibility has inevitably turned to speculation about how the Dems could blow it -- which is a possibility well worth considering. And that leads to all the questions of which issues should the Democrats pursue, which will position them better, should they have more new ideas -- those and a thousand other questions that, together, all amount to paralysis and a morbid self-indulgence and introspection.

I say let's forget about all of that. Far better to concentrate on two things.

First, attack!

Saying that amounts to a lightning rod in itself, hoisted up for battering from all sorts of scolds. But it's nothing to be ashamed of. The point of a political opposition is to oppose -- if there are no grounds for opposition, then there is no reason for such an opposition to exist. Better to join the president's party or go out of existence. And certainly, for those who share the perspective of this site, there is plenty to oppose. To say 'attack!' simply means to maintain the initiative in the debates of the day -- always. And when it's lost to get it back as soon as possible.

Second, you can't be an opposition without knowing what you oppose and what you're for.

Bad writing is usually imprecise writing -- and its badness usually stems from the bad writer not having taken the time to think through just what he or she means to say. The cobwebs and vagaries of their minds are revealed in bad prose.

Bad politics usually stems from people not having a clear idea of what they're trying to achieve, where they're trying to go. Once you know where you're trying to lead the country, strategy and tactics and optics and gutting the other side all tend to fall into place. If not perfectly, then a whole lot easier. Where do we want to take the country? Forget the rest and think about that. That's the guiding star.

Enough of my sermonizing. Happy New Year!

Another point on the excellent Abramoff piece in today's Post (discussed below).

Look at the sums of money involved and the what they were being used for -- off-the-books political activity and individual personal enrichment. A lot of attention has been focused on 'hard money' contributions from Abramoff and his associates and clients. But these hard money (i.e., federally regulated contributions) pale in comparison to the sums of money talked about here. They're not the real story or the heart of the money lubricating the cogs of this machine. They're more like the initial ante up. As in the case with Duke Cunningham, the above-board hard money contributions were more like a clue to the real action going on either out of the regulated money system or through straight out cash bribes.

Late edition? An interesting revision pointed out to me by TPM Reader SM. In last night's version of the AP story reporting Jack Abramoff's impending plea deal, AP writer Toni Locy wrote ...

Abramoff’s cooperation would be a boon to an ongoing Justice Department investigation of congressional corruption, possibly helping prosecutors build criminal cases against up to 20 lawmakers and their staff members.

Overnight versions were updated as follows (emphasis added) ...

Abramoff's cooperation would be a boon to an ongoing Justice Department investigation of congressional corruption, possibly helping prosecutors build criminal cases against up to 20 lawmakers of both parties and their staff members.

Noting the change of course leaves untouched the underlying question of the accuracy of the reporting. Will Abramoff finger Dem lawmakers and members of their staffs? I've heard scatterings of rumors that he'll try to tag at least a couple on his way down. Just to keep things fair and balanced. Of course, he can't do things unilaterally. Public Integrity lawyers at the Justice Department have to be convinced, either by Abramoff or other evidence they've collected, that they got cases.

AP: "Federal prosecutors and lawyers for Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff are putting the finishing touches on a plea deal that could be announced as early as Tuesday, according to people familiar with the negotiations. The plea agreement would secure the lobbyist's testimony against several members of Congress who received favors from him or his clients."

Buckle-up your seatbelts. Then go read this Post article on Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Russian arms-and-oil hustlers, a piggy bank called the U.S. Family Network and a whole lot more.

First off, this is a helluva piece of reporting. And the story the author, R. Jeffrey Smith, tells has so many moving parts that it's not easy to summarize. If you want all the details, just go read the thing. It'll be time well spent.

The key points, though, ran as follows, near as I can tell.

For five years in the late 1990s there was an outfit called the U.S. Family Network, a pretty classic astroturf operation and, like a number of them, pretty closely linked with Tom DeLay.

Only USFN did little or no public advocacy on behalf of conservative family issues or much of anything else. It seems to have been run pretty much as a piggy bank and money pass-through by and for a number of DeLay operators -- including Jack Abramoff and Ed Buckham.

The Marianas Island sweatshop folks chipped in half a million dollars; the Choctaws chipped in a quarter million; and some shadowy Russian oil and gas interests (also Abramoff clients) ponied up a cool million dollars for USFN -- money laundered through a now-defunct British law firm. (The Russians apparently wanted to give DeLay a fancy car; but DeLay's folks suggested that might cause problems.)

Basically everybody who gave was getting something from DeLay; and USFN was the coin machine. As Smith puts it, rather prosaically, "records, other documents and interviews call into question the very purpose of the U.S. Family Network, which functioned mostly by collecting funds from domestic and foreign businesses whose interests coincided with DeLay's activities while he was serving as House majority whip from 1995 to 2002, and as majority leader from 2002 until the end of September. (italics added)"

And what did the money from USFN go for? A ton of it seems to have been cycled back to Ed Buckham's firm, The Alexander Strategy Group -- one of key money gatekeepers in the DeLay machine. Some went for attack ads against Democrats and other political operations. A pretty sizeable chunk was ...

used to finance the cash purchase of a townhouse three blocks from DeLay's congressional office. DeLay's associates at the time called it "the Safe House."

DeLay made his own fundraising telephone pitches from the townhouse's second-floor master suite every few weeks, according to two former associates. Other rooms in the townhouse were used by Alexander Strategy Group, Buckham's newly formed lobbying firm, and Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC), DeLay's leadership committee.

They paid modest rent to the U.S. Family Network, which occupied a single small room in the back.

Like I said, you can read all the lurid details in the piece. But let's back up for a moment to get a look at the big picture.

What's going on here? Abramoff's involved in this one; but not just him -- one-time partner and (surprisingly dangerous to Abramoff) eventual rival Ed Buckham. Foreign and domestic corporations pay money in to front groups for favors. And what happens to the money? Lots certainly goes to personally enrich the chief lobbyists like Abramoff and Buckham. But look closely and you'll see that lots gets pumped back in to the machine -- the capitol hill 'safe house', political ads, money to the consultancies that no doubt underwrites other political operations, 'grassroots' and otherwise.

It's like we've been telling you for months. This is a slush fund. Lots of secret money, often from overseas, that can get spread around off the books in DC. That's how this sort of political machine works.

Here's a question some of our lawyer readers may be able to help with -- but software developers and others may have good suggestions too.

As regular readers know, we've spent a decent amount of time this last year putting together timelines of key events and stories, often with reader participation. As we build toward launching TPMmuckraker.com we're looking for ways to put these projects together in a more organized and graphically intuitive way.

Now, I know that there is software designed primarily for litigators who want to use graphically intuitive timelines in their courtroom presentations. So that's one source of software we might be able to use to put information together in a more user-friendly way than just a straight vertical list of events in chronological order. I know there are other niche software tools available that do similar sorts of things as well.

So if you've worked with any of these programs or tools of whatever sort, can you drop us a line? Let us know how well you think the tool worked, whether it produces timelines that might be useful for us as we create various scandal and event timelines at TPMmuckraker.com. Thanks in advance for your help.

TPM Reader JL thinks TPMmuckraker is only the beginning ...

TPM said

"Perhaps the new owners [of renamed Signatures] can turn it into the pol-nerd equivalent of a sports bar where aggreived Dems hang out and whip themselves up into a frenzy over the latest Abramoff story".

If TPM is going to branch out, rent office space, have a "world office" and hire beat reporters, it needs to invest and let its vast wealth do some work. I suggest TPM ask for donations so TPM can buy Signatures and make this stroke of genius idea happen ASAP. My check for your coming scamblog is on its way. I'll invest in the new TPM Signatures scam-bar tourist attraction too!

Once we've got reporters hired and some place to put the computers and phones we'll consider other strategic acquisitions.

Play to your strengths! says TPM Reader CD in this shrewd bit of business advice ...

in true abrahamoffian fashion, they really need to capitalize on whatever angle they possibly can for their own selfish profit. i say it has to be "the ethically compromised cafe." it's not as if the movers and shakers they once catered to would really ever get comfy there again, so they might as well exploit their notoriety to draw in the tourists

Sounds right to me. Perhaps the new owners can turn it into the pol-nerd equivalent of a sports bar where aggreived Dems hang out and whip themselves up into a frenzy over the latest Abramoff story.

Jack Flips Hot Cakes, DeLay's Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato sandwich, Mike Scanlon Chicken Wings.

Late Update: Still more from TPM Reader CD: "and of course they would serve milkshakedowns and scamburgers. possibilities are endless....."

Bush tumbles from 42% approval in last week's CNN/USAToday poll to 41% in new CNN poll out today!


Can't I make a big deal about meaningless statistical blips too?