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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Like many who share my politics I think there are more than a few reasons to oppose Alberto Gonzales's appointment as Attorney General: his role in the Abu Ghraib scandal being the chief among them.

Having said that, there is less than no chance that he won't be approved. And presidents deserve much more latitude with cabinet appointments than appointments to the bench.

But with all the discussion of why the president chose him and why he may or may not be qualified, I'm surprised one issue seems to go largely unmentioned.

Despite the fact they weren't resolved before the election, high level administration officials are still the targets of or implicated in a number of potentially damaging criminal investigations.

Whether or not he's conservative enough, tolerant or intolerant enough of torture, or anything else, Mr. Gonzales is one thing for President Bush: reliable.

Democrats won't be able to prevent his appointment. But they should take the opportunity of his confirmation hearings to put him on the record about how he will handle these various on-going investigations, at least one of which directly involves the White House and thus also involves him.

Many of you will already have noticed the article in Friday's Post about Robert D. Blackwill, President Bush's recently resigned Iraq policy director at the NSC. The article discusses new allegations that Blackwill berated and manhandled a female staffer from the US Embassy in Kuwait over a ticketing mix-up at Kuwait International Airport last September.

The description of the incident contained in the article speaks for itself; and the piece seems revealingly ambiguous about whether the dust-up played a role in Blackwill's decision to resign his post as Iraq point-man three months before the critical elections in the country scheduled next January.

Something else in the piece caught my eye, however -- a point the authors mention only in passing.

Blackwill has taken a job with the lobbying firm of Barbour Griffith & Rogers.

As you'll recall from our reporting on this matter from September of last year, this is an excellent fit, since BG&R has spent the last couple years making a specialty of the Iraq contracting and logrolling racket.

Last year when President Bush's right-hand-man Joe Allbaugh resigned as FEMA chief and wanted to get into the Iraq business, he went to BG&R, where his wife then worked. They set Allbaugh up as New Bridge Strategies ("your bridge to success in Iraq").

In reality, New Bridge is just the Iraqi money-chase subdivision of BG&R.

New Bridge has four directors -- Allbaugh, John Howland, Ed Rogers and Lanny Griffith. The latter two are Chairman and CEO of BG&R, respectively. When Allbaugh put out the New Bridge shingle, it happened to be at the same address at BG&R, etc., etc.

If you go down the list of principals at New Bridge you'll find most of them work at BG&R.

Admittedly, not all of them: Jamal Daniel is Neil Bush's business partner.

Whatever misunderstanding there was back in Kuwait, I'm sure Blackwill will be in good hands.

Veterans <$NoAd$>Day (from the AP)...

Marine Cpl. David Antonio Garcia stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier Thursday and was sworn in as an American citizen - after already serving under the U.S. flag in Iraq.

The native of Mexico was among 80 sailors and Marines from 25 countries - from Canada to Syria - who became citizens in a Veterans Day ceremony aboard the USS Midway, a reward for putting their lives on the line for their adopted country.

The ceremony, watched by more than 100 cheering relatives, came as the nation observed Veterans Day with about 160,000 troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan - some of them locked in fierce house-to-house fighting in Fallujah.

"I wouldn't want to compare myself to World War veterans or Vietnam veterans," said Garcia, 21, who was with combat engineers who cleared the path for tanks to roll into Iraq. "But I feel some of what they must feel today. I know what it's like to leave loved ones and not to know if you will come back."


Marine Corps League

Association of the US Army

Navy Mutual Aid Association

Air Force Association

United Service Organizations

And more from Mullah Dobson,<$NoAd$> from The Daily Oklahoman, Oct. 23rd, 2004 ...

Dobson warned those attending the Friday afternoon rally at Oklahoma Christian University that the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman must be protected.

He cited examples of countries such as Norway that have allowed same-sex couples to marry as proof that fewer men and women get married. Dobson said 80 percent of children are born out of wedlock in Norway.

“Homosexuals are not monogamous. They want to destroy the institution of marriage,” Dobson said.

“It will destroy marriage. It will destroy the Earth.”

Dobson urged rally attendees to reach out to homosexuals and “bring them to Jesus.”

He also urged supporters in attendance to fast and pray on the Thursday and weekend before the Nov. 2 election and to go to the polls to elect Coburn to the Senate.

Dobson said a vote for Carson, “even if you think he’s right,” would be a vote for U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D.; Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.; and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.

“Patrick Leahy is a ‘God’s people’ hater,” Dobson said.

“I don’t know if he hates God, but he hates God’s people.”

Dobson said Coburn was exactly the kind of senator Oklahoma needs.

“I am passionate in my support of Dr. Tom Coburn,” Dobson said.

“This man absolutely has to be sent back to Washington.”

Also on hand to support Coburn, U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Warr Acres, said more lawmakers who believe in “the divine origins of the country” are needed.


Mullah James Dobson, as Andrew Sullivan described him, "the social policy director of the Bush administration."

And as for this 'mullah' issue, most folks who wrote in didn't seem to catch that I had already tipped my hand when I wrote that I was "mulling" the question. But everyone who wrote in seemed to agree that it wasn't a problem. One interesting suggestion though was that we might prefer the more precise and non-sectarian phrases sometimes used in the media to describe the sundry Dobsonites and Dobsonians of the Middle East.

So for instance, we might say "radical cleric James Dobson." Or since, Dobson is not himself a man of the cloth, we might say 'radical cleric Pat Robertson.'

"It is not necessary to beat the child into submission; a little bit of pain goes a long way for a young child. However, the spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely ... Two or three stinging strokes on the legs or buttocks with a switch are usually sufficient to emphasize the point, 'You must obey me.'" -- Mullah (James) Dobson, from Dare to Discipline and The Strong-Willed Child.

I know not everyone who reads these pages will find those words troubling. And I also realize that social mores on this question have changed greatly over the last half-century.

But -- and this isn't a criticism so much as a point of genuine curiosity -- I would be very curious to know the correlation between Blue/Red voting patterns and those who do or do not find those sorts of attitudes towards corporal punishment of children troubling or acceptable.

I suspect the correlation is pronounced.

Recently I suggested that the key strength for the Republicans (and weakness for the Dems) is the elasticity of their coalition. By that I meant the GOP's ability to field winning candidates in the Blue states, notwithstanding the unpopularity of Republicans from other parts of the country. The same doesn't seem true for Democrats, as the very poor results for a series of Red State Senate candidates last Tuesday showed.

But perhaps I haven't looked at the roll call enough recently.

Of the ten biggest states in the country, 6 are Blue (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Jersey). Four are Red, but two of those are the main swing states (Texas, Florida, Ohio and Georgia).

Of the twelve senators from those six states, only two are Republicans (Specter and Santorum). And that makes a certain amount of sense since Pennsylvania is the most contested Blue State on that list.

This would seem to suggest that the North, or rather the Blue States, are going through a similar process to what we're seeing in the South.

But there are two problems in this for the Dems. Actually, more than two. But let's focus on two.

All through its history, the South has tended towards one-party-dom. So I doubt senate seats in the Blue states will ever be as free of contest as some are in the South.

Secondly, that list above dramatizes an important problem for the Democrats. Of the ten largest states, five are clearly Blue, three are Purple swing states, and only two are clearly Red. And one of those two Red states, Georgia, is number ten. In other words, if Blue and Red states vote to form in Senate races, that's not good news for Dems, since the Blue states tend to be larger* than the Red ones.

* [ed.note: Here we are using 'larger' in the secular, Blue State sense of the word to refer to people rather than acres.]

From the mailbag ...

Subject: Mullah Dobson

Why is it so acceptable to use Muslim religious titles and institutions as a slur against religious conservatives? This clearly conveys an anti-Islamic message as well as an anti-Dobson one.

Brian U.


I'm mulling it.

[ed. note: At Brian U.'s ex post facto request, I've linked his name to his blog.]

A Specter is haunting the 'Wingerdom ...

Actually, speaking of Sen. Specter, I want to make one point clear. Nothing I've written here should give anyone the impression that I feel any particular sympathy or concern for him in this brouhaha. He's very much made his bed. And I'm happy to see him sleep in it or, as the case may be, lose the privilege of sleeping in it, seniority notwithstanding.

I would even say that I would prefer to see him removed from his (entitled) post as Judiciary Committee Chair rather than see him accede to it.

Allow me to explain why.

First, this is not a case where I'm hoping for things to get worse ("heighten the contradictions", so to speak) so that they can get better. Not at all.

If I thought he would provide any moderating influence over the choice of Judicial Nominees in the next two or four years I would very much want him there. But everything that has happened over the last week (his public round of begging to be allowed to keep his post) suggests that he has been so thoroughly gelded that he will be a push-over for any and all nominees the White House might send up.

(If the White House is smart -- as I suspect they are but hope they're not -- they'll keep him right where he is since they have him right where they want him.)

I've heard it suggested that all he needs to do is get the gavel in his hand and then he can start to exert his own more moderate judicial philosophy, given that it would be much harder to strip a chairman of his post than deny it to him in the first instance. But little in Specter's background suggests to me that that is likely. And, to be frank, the current Bush-Frist axis doesn't seem like a team that is particularly hung up on procedure. Since they're already threatening to end the filibuster rules, I don't see why they would hesitate to strip Specter of the gavel the first time he tried to derail a particularly right-wing nominee.

In other words, I think Specter has already lost the job, whether he takes up the position nominally or not. If he becomes Chairman he'll hold the post at the sufferance of Mullah Dobson and the rest of the shura.

Given all that, better to have him stripped of the position since it would send a clear signal to the rest of the GOP moderates that their own power is equally contingent and their own status equally endangered.

I've always been a rather staunch small-'c' conservative when it comes to the federal constitution. The fact that we now have a 27th amendment covering the weighty and statecraft-worthy issue of how congress can raise its salary strikes me as close to a secular sacrilege. But I'm starting to warm to the idea of abolishing the electoral college.

My problem with it isn't that it's undemocratic, at least not in the sense that the winner of the popular vote can lose the election. That's a very big problem, certainly; but I think it will continue to be a relatively rare occurrence. The problem is that it makes the votes of too many Americans into an irrelevancy or a mere exercise in symbolism.

Folks in DC experience this reality more than anyone. But if you're living in Texas or New York or California or Alabama, national elections are really just a spectator sport. It's all about a half dozen or so swing-states and recently it all comes down to Florida and Ohio. If you really want to get involved you travel to a swing state to knock on the doors of those privileged few whose votes actually matter.

That's a bad state of affairs for all sorts of reasons. So maybe it's time to change it.

I know arguments for the electoral college. And though I'm constitutionally averse to mucking around with the pillars and cross-beams of the state, they don't seem to amount to much in comparison to its shortcomings.

The antique rationale of giving added weight to the votes of Americans who live in tiny states seems wholly unjustifiable today -- especially since the ratio of population difference between the largest and the smallest states is vastly greater than it was when the system was created. Besides, isn't it enough that they're already so overrpresented in the Senate?

The best contemporary argument for maintaining the EC is that it forces a lot of retail politicking and compels candidates to mount campaigns that do justice to the country's state and regional particularism. Without the EC, there'd never be any reason to go to the smaller states or even get out and do any barnstorming at all. National elections could become a vaster version of elections in California (my home state) where campaigns are waged entirely by 30 second ad.

The small state argument is obviously defunct since most of the small states aren't swing states and no candidates ever go to them. Did you see the candidates a lot in Wyoming? Idaho? Were you at that big rally in Alaska? I didn't think so.

New Hampshire is the exception. But no one goes there because it's small. They go there because it's teetering on the edge of Blue-state-dom. And as it continues to trend Blue, as I believe it will, candidates won't show up there anymore either.

The other argument -- that it forces candidates to focus in on individual political communities like South Florida or Wisconsin or Western Pennsylvania -- doesn't really hold up either, I don't think. Why do they get all the attention? What about California and Chicago or Upstate New York? Why do they get cut out of the action?

Had this last election been a truly national election, both candidates would have spent a good deal of their time trying to churn up enthusiasm and turnout in their core regions, not just begging and pleading in regions where their support is marginal.

Why is it, for instance, that Bush supporters in Upstate New York or Southern Illinois can't make their voices heard? Or Kerry supporters in New Orleans or South Texas?

I'm not doctrinaire on this issue. In fact, I'd say I've only recently come to this position. So I'd be eager to hear what others think and perhaps I'll change my mind. I'm sure there would be various unimagined consequences to the change, for good or ill, that are difficult to foresee. So I'm putting this out less in the mode of advocacy than to generate a discussion.

But for the moment why should there not be a movement to place the electoral college on the ballot in states that allow referenda? This couldn't be done directly, of course. But in most states that allow initiatives and referenda there could at least be ballot measures instructing their state legislatures to go on the record endorsing the abolition of the electoral college.

It would have no direct effect. An amendment to the constitution must first be approved by two-thirds majorities in the both the House and the Senate before states can ratify the amendment and write it into the constitution. But it would put states on record, informally at least, as supporting the change. And doing so would inject the question into the national political debate.

"The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved."

That and other delicious morsels from John Ashcroft's handwritten letter of resignation.

Why handwritten? "I have handwritten this letter so its confidentiality can be maintained until the appropriate arrangements mentioned above can be made."

I guess things haven't gone so well since Richard Clarke left the cybersecurity post ...

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