Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Here is the article on the Franklin investigation that I discussed earlier. This is a piece my colleagues and I at the Washington Monthly wrote. It discusses how the Franklin investigation relates to the Ghorbanifar back-channel run out of Doug Feith's office from 2001 to 2003.

I haven't yet been able to comment on the breaking news last night that the FBI is investigating whether an employee at the OSD, Larry Franklin, passed classified US government information to Israel. That is because my colleagues and I have a piece coming out on the subject which will, hopefully, be appearing later today in The Washington Monthly.

A few thoughts though about this story.

I'm told the evidence the FBI has on Franklin -- at least on the narrow facts of the case -- is quite strong and involves wire tap information, though why a career DIA analyst like Franklin would allow himself to get tripped up on a phone call mystifies me.

The main focus thus far has been on the highly sensitive and troubling allegation that an ally, Israel, was spying on the United States or the recipient of classified information from a US government official.

However, I strongly suspect that as this story develops the bigger deal will be less the alleged recipient of the information, Israel, than the country that is the subject of the information, Iran.

I don't mean to imply that it's an either/or. It can very much be both. But the reportage thus far has understated the degree to which this is an Iran story -- it grows out of the simmering and unresolved administration battle over policy toward Iran.

There's also a helpful compare and contrast with <$NoAd$>what Ben Barnes says on the tape noted below.

Jim Moore, the co-author of Bush's Brain, whom I also mention below, describes this exchange he had in the 1994 gubernatorial debate with Anne Richards. Moore was on the panel of journalists posing questions. This is from Moore's article in Salon back in July ...

The irony in all of this is that I am largely responsible for reducing access to those records. During the 1994 Texas gubernatorial race between Ann Richards and George W. Bush, I was a panelist on the only televised debate between the two candidates. The question I chose to ask Bush first was about the National Guard. I had lost friends in Vietnam, and many of them had tried to get into the Guard. We were all told that there was a waiting list of up to five years. The Guard was the best method for getting out of combat in Vietnam. You needed connections. George W. Bush had them.

"Mr. Bush," I said. "How did you get into the Guard so easily? One hundred thousand guys our age were on the waiting list, and you say you walked in and signed up to become a pilot. Did your congressman father exercise any influence on your behalf?"

"Not that I know of, Jim," the future president told me. "I certainly didn't ask for any. And I'm sure my father didn't either. They just had an opening for a pilot and I was there at the right time."

More soon ...

You'll want to link through to this one -- it's a video clip of Ben Barnes, the former Speaker of the House in Texas, the guy who got President Bush into the Texas Air National Guard.

I'm told the tape is from a recent Kerry rally <$NoAd$>and in it Barnes says the following ...

Let’s talk a minute about John Kerry and George Bush and I know them both. And I’m not name dropping to say I know ‘em both. I got a young man named George W. Bush in the National Guard when I was Lt. Gov. of Texas and I’m not necessarily proud of that. But I did it. And I got a lot of other people into the National Guard because I thought that was what people should do, when you're in office you helped a lot of rich people. And I walked through the Vietnam Memorial the other day and I looked at the names of the people that died in Vietnam and I became more ashamed of myself than I have ever been because it was the worst thing that I did was that I helped a lot of wealthy supporters and a lot of people who had family names of importance get into the National Guard and I’m very sorry about that and I’m very ashamed and I apologize to you as voters of Texas.

Now, I don't know what Ben Barnes looks like. And I do not independently know the provenance of the tape. But I've spoken to two sources who know Barnes. And they tell me that that is Barnes on the tape.

One of those two men is Jim Moore -- co-author of Bush's Brain. Moore told me this afternoon that the clip is from June 8th of this year, at a Kerry rally in Austin. Moore assures me that the tape is legitimate.

I placed a call to Barnes' office and left a message with one of his assistants; but the request for comment has not yet been returned.

Here's another question that occurs to me about Olasky's column. Is he saying that John Kerry fibs about his war record because he's a Catholic?

Here's a passage from later in the column ...

My point, having lived through the 1960s-1970s confusion, is that the era was not one of uncommon resolution, at least not of the patriotic variety. I relished my high draft lottery number. George W. Bush played it smart like John Kerry and found a soft gig. He and I took different rotten paths -- he drank heavily, I became a communist -- but both of us could say the same thing: "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible."

The other thing both of us can and do say is that we did not save ourselves: God alone saves sinners (and I can surely add, of whom I was the worst). Being born again, we don't have to justify ourselves. Being saved, we don't have to be saviors.

John Kerry, once-born, has no such spiritual support, nor do most of his top admirers in the heavily secularized Democratic Party. It would be great if he could say: "I was young and vainglorious and often self-absorbed. I exaggerated and lied at times, and since then have thought it necessary not to disavow the fantasies I wove. But I do deserve credit for being there and serving my country in a mixed-up era in which I at times was also mixed-up."

Kerry can't say that because he evidently does not believe that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. He and his handlers portray him as virtually perfect in the past and omniscient in the present. In and of itself, that's also not unusual: it's so hard for a presidential candidate not to get puffed up when laudatory remarks follow him as closely as Secret Service agents. But do we want a president who pretends that he can do no wrong and never has?

So George W. Bush and Olasky are "born again" and John Kerry is "once-born."

Now, what precisely does he mean <$Ad$>by that?

I'm no theologian. But I do know a bit about these things. The phrase 'born again' has a variety of meanings in Christianity -- but two principal ones that I think are in play here.

One is the very general meaning referred to in the New Testament. For instance, in John 3:1-4 when Jesus says (in the King James Version) "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." All Christians embrace this meaning, though they own it in very different ways -- the Reformation being a key dividing point in contrary interpretations.

Then there's a second, more restrictive meaning of the phrase -- one specifically associated with post-Calvinist evangelical Protestantism. (Calvinists believe in something like this too. But if you read Olasky's words, there's little evidence of a belief in limited atonement there.) That's much more what we mean in colloquial American English when we refer to someone as a "born again", i.e., an evangelical.

Let's also note that Olasky's discussion of salvation by faith alone tracks heavily with evangelical polemics against non-evangelical Christianity.

So which is it? Is Olasky referring to meaning A or B?

Clearly, Kerry is a Christian in the outward sense. He was born a Catholic and continues to receive communion. That doesn't tell us anything about the state of Kerry's soul. But then Olasky doesn't know anything about the state of Kerry's soul either. Nor am I familiar with any place where Kerry has stated that he "does not believe that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

So, if Olasky is talking about possibility A, he's either making stuff up or he's gained some insight into the state of Kerry's soul. The only part of what Olasky says that points in this direction is the part where he refers to Kerry's spiritual fate is shared "most of his top admirers in the heavily secularized Democratic Party."

The other possibility is that he's not looking into Kerry's soul but at his denominational status and noting that while he and President Bush have both had evengelical born-again experiences, Kerry is Catholic, and by this more restricted reasoning 'once-born.'

I don't think either of these possibilities puts him in a good light.

I have and will continue to defend Bob Novak's right to refuse to divulge the names of the sources who leaked to him the identity of Valerie Plame. But there's no defending Novak against the charge of being a first class hack.

Today he's got an interview with another Swift Boat fellow questioning the severity and nature of one of John Kerry's war wounds.

And at the end of the piece he writes: "Schachte said he never has been contacted by or talked to anybody in the Bush-Cheney campaign or any Republican organization. He said he has been a political independent who votes for candidates of both parties."

Apparently, he's the kind of independent who gave George W. Bush a thousand bucks in 2000 and in 2004. He's also the new law partner of one of the guys running the Republican National Convention.

This week I was talking to one of the few Republicans who hasn't lost his honor over this Swift Boat business and we were discussing with amazement and amusement all the middle-aged conservatives who ducked Vietnam who are now writing editorials and hitting the shows dissecting what John Kerry did on the Mekong Delta thirty-five years ago. (For laughs, check out stuffed-shirt Bill Bennett, who served his country in graduate school.)

But now I think I've found the best one so far.

Marvin Olasky coined the term 'compassionate conservatism' for the president and is one of his house intellectuals. And now he's got an OpEd out explaining that John Kerry joined the Navy to stay out of Vietnam. The premise of the piece is that Olasky (1971), Bush (1968) and Kerry (1966) each graduated from Yale ...

Neither Kerry nor Bush nor I wanted to fight in Vietnam, and we all did what we could in our situations: Naval Reserves (Kerry), Texas Air National Guard (Bush), draft lottery No. 278 (me), which meant immunity from having to serve. In his circumstances, Kerry's choice was smart: Navy or Coast Guard folks were much less likely to see combat service than their counterparts in the Army or Air Force, and the safest Navy spot may have been that of a Naval Reserve officer.

A combination of unlikely circumstances placed Kerry, despite his plans, in a combat situation for three months during 1968 and 1969. How he performed during that period is now a matter of intense dispute. I've gone through the claims and counter-claims, and suspect he was valiant in one incident and a whiner or exaggerator in others.

I spoke to two Navy officials today who told me Olasky's got the US Navy Reserve issue all wrong. (My understanding from them is that it was standard that you'd end up with a USNR designation at first if you went in through NROTC.) But his analysis also seems a bit belied by the fact that Kerry specifically requested service in-country (i.e., on a Swift Boat) rather than simply in-theater (on a blue water naval vessel).

Not only is Olasky's piece shameful. He's also seriously off-message. Doesn't he know Kerry made sure he could get into 'Nam to string together a few bogus injuries so he could head back to the states and crank up the political career?

I mean, doesn't he read the papers?

I dropped Olasky a line to ask him about the ducking service in Vietnam bit. I'll let you know if we hear back.

Late Update: Olasky responds ...


In 1986, in The Vietnam Experience: A War Remembered, Kerry wrote about his Swift Boat request: "At the time, the boats had very little to do with the war. They were engaged in coastal patrolling and that's what I thought I was going to be doing. Although I wanted to see for myself what was going on, I didn't really want to get involved in the war."

On the Navy Reserves, I'll see if I can find out more, but let me quote from a note I received from a 1960s naval recruiting officer: Kerr was in "the navy's cache or delayed entry program. The cache program was and is nothing more than an official, legally binding, informal holding pool for volunteers to delay entry into active duty for the mutual convenience of both the member and the service branch... For Kerry it allowed him to continue & finish college while holding the draft wolf at bay once he had lost his student deferment, and it allowed him to choose to a large degree how & for whom he would serve."

The key question, to me, is John Kerry's insistence upon being right in every situation. He's said that his language about atrocities was a little exaggerated, but let me know if he's said he was wrong about content. I messed up enormously in the early 70s, and George Bush has acknowledged his own difficulties. As I wrote, Kerry deserves credit for serving, but his emphasis on his own moral perfection is troubling. We're having lively debates on this at www.worldmagblog.com.

Cordially, Marvin Olasky

Here's something else to look into. As we've noted in recent posts, Republicans are arguing that they've been the victim of 527s (i.e., "shadowy groups") just as much as Sen. Kerry has been the victim of SBVT.

Now, my guiding assumption in this case is that Republicans are having difficulty -- willful or otherwise -- in distinguishing between negative and/or hard-hitting ads and ones that peddle demonstrable falsehoods -- i.e., smears. (You know, it's that old, hard distinction between 'mean' and 'untrue'.) And, frankly, everything I've seen thus far lends credence to my assumption.

If you look at the talking points out of the Bush campaign in the last few days one of the key slanders that Democratic 527s have made against the president is the claim that he has been "poisoning pregnant women"

On August 20th Bush campaign spokesman Taylor Griffin said that Democratic 527s had been "accusing President Bush of poisoning pregnant women."

The same day on Wolf Blitzer's show Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Joe Repya, a Bush surrogate debating Kerry surrogate Retired U.S. Air Force General Tony McPeak, said that Democratic "527 groups [had been] alleging that the president is poisoning pregnant women."

And to top it all off, the same night on Lou Dobbs show, Jill Dougherty decided simply to cut to the chase and repeat the claim on the Republicans' behalf, telling Dobbs: Republicans "say that groups funded by the Democrats have accused President Bush of everything from 'poisoning pregnant women' to complicity to with what happened at the Abu Ghraib prison."

(When you get to the end of this post you might consider contacting Dougherty at CNN and asking whether she made any effort to find out what was behind the charge she repeated.)

Now, I won't force upon you every time this has been said by a Bush campaign surrogate or employee in the last week. But I should add that Chairman Marc Racicot has been saying this repeatedly on shows across the dial all week.

So what's the story?

As nearly as I can figure the culprit here is an ad run in March by Moveon.org and the Environmental Working Group Action Fund. Here's a segment from CNN from March 26th, 2004 in which Karenna Gore Schiff -- Al Gore's daughter -- discusses the ad with CNN anchor Heidi Collins (it also includes the text of the ad) ...

Turning now to an important health issue. There's an ongoing debate about how safe it is to eat fish, especially for children and pregnant women. Karenna Gore Schiff, daughter of the former vice president says the Bush administration isn't doing enough to lower the level of dangerous pollutants. I spoke to Karenna Gore about her latest efforts.


COLLINS: Karenna, you paired up with Moveon.org in a campaign that includes an ad that's very critical about pollution and mercury and I want to go ahead and take a listen, for just a minute, to that ad.

AD ANNOUNCER: Mercury is a dangerous poison still be produced by coal-burning power plants. It gets into the air, the water, and then into the fish we eat, causing brain damage in children. President Bush has taken a lot of money from the people who own those power plants and now he wants the EPA to change the law to say that mercury isn't so dangerous. That means our children will go on eating mercury in their tuna, risking brain damage. Tell the EPA not to let this happen.

COLLINS: Are you really suggesting that the Bush administration is putting babies at risk?

KARENNA GORE SCHIFF, AL GORE'S DAUGHTER: I think that this policy does put babies at risk, because mercury is a very potent neuro toxin. We know that it comes from coal-burning power plants and we know that the emissions can be reduced dramatically with available technology. But the Bush administration is preventing the plan that was in place from going forward which would make our children safer.

(Here's some more information from a press conference held in conjunction with the launch of the commercial. Also, for what it's worth, it's not clear to me that the ad was funded by Moveon's 527 arm -- Moveon Voter Fund -- or its PAC. But frankly I'd just as soon not buy into the Bush campaign's argument that the legal structure of these different groups is the point at issue rather than the content of the ads.)

Now from there we have to make our way to a blurb put out by Senator Inhofe's staff on the Environment & Public Works Committee ...

The financially loaded liberal special interest group Moveon.org, the Sierra Club and many other liberal special interest groups well known for their “Anyone but Bush” smear campaign are reaching deep into their bag of dirty tricks to defeat President Bush this fall.

Their claim this time? President Bush is poisoning pregnant women and their unborn child with mercury found in fish.

The reference to the Sierra Club would appear to be a reference to ads they ran on the Mercury issue in April 2004, one of which refers to "birth defects and learning disabilities" which can be caused by mercury. You can find links to the text of those ads along with pro-mercury counter-points from the scientists at the Journal editorial page and the Washington Times on this RNC Adwatch site (scroll down to April).

So here we're from the ad about the mercury levels debate to the claim that "President Bush is poisoning pregnant women and their unborn child." Presumably this charge was going to get mixed in with similar charges that President Bush was cutting off the head's of the poor and sticking them on pikes surrounding the White House grounds.

(In any case, I put in a query to the folks at the Bush campaign and asked whether this was indeed the ad they were talking about. I received back word from Alison Harden at the Bush campaign who told me: "I believe that is the ad he is referring to - the ridiculous move on ad that has the pregnant woman drinking water w mercury.")

I'll let you be the judge of what this amounts to. But it seems pretty clear to me that the Bush camp is lying almost as much about the Democratic independent expenditure ads as they're lying in the smears they're running about John Kerry's military service. (For another like example see this.)

And, again, was it that Republicans seem to have such a hard time distinguishing between ads with a factual basis and ones that include malicious falsehoods. It's such a mystery. I have to assume it's another example of the GOP's embrace of epistemological relativism -- all truths are equal, there is no truth, only opinion masquerading as truth, etc.

From the AP: "Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said Friday that the country will face 'abrupt and painful' choices if Congress does not move quickly to trim the Social Security and Medicare benefits that have been promised to the baby boom generation."

This could use some elaboration.

To the degree there's urgency here, it is because of the mammoth deficits the president has run up. The president runs up a big deficit and now you've got to pay for it with cuts to your Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Where are the president's priorities?

Shouldn't the Kerry campaign be banging this drum? Especially since it's true (only an added benefit these days, I grant you.)