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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

A couple days ago I mentioned I was following up my piece on anthrax with a piece on smallpox. Well, hey, you shouldn't have doubted me! Just released in the new issue of The New Republic is my article on why Donald A. Henderson, Tommy Thompson's new bioterrorism czar at HHS, maybe ain't all he's cracked up to be.

Henderson is justly acclaimed for directing the World Health Organization's successful smallpox eradication program in the 1960s and 1970s. But, as I explain in the article, he's spent the better part of the last decade lobbying for the destruction of the last lab stocks of the smallpox virus -- something which most experts think would have prevented the development of drugs which might save your life in the event of a bioterrorist smallpox attack.

For all the details, see the article, which is out today.

I'll also have a short ... well, what I can only think to call a short humor piece on terrorism experts coming out in the new issue of Talk, which I imagine will be out soon.

Talking Points Memo: piquant commentary, overclass humor, cutting edge epidemiology.

Who loves ya, baby?

Bill Safire is a man so prone to bouts of interpretive and polemical wackiness that you're well advised to take a deep breath and count to ten before deciding that you agree with something he's written. But he's also got a rich, redeeming streak of the more genuine, thoughtful variety of civil libertarianism. And this column seems like a choice example of that latter quality.

Safire takes aim squarely at President Bush's recent order authorizing military tribunals to try foreign terrorists.

What's on target about Safire's critique, I think, is his emphasis on necessity. Like him, I think a lot of the recent anti-terrorist moves have been troubling but, under the circumstances, warranted. Roving wiretaps, the effective dragnet we've seen used against many resident aliens with even tenuous links to radical Islamic groups. Not great, maybe. But under the circumstances, they're not causing me a lot of lost sleep. Quite the contrary actually.

When the issue is preventing catastrophic attacks on American civilians there are many things I'd be willing to countenance. On this count, I generally follow Lincoln's reasoning when he defended suspending habeas corpus by asking rhetorically: "shall all the laws go unenforced except this one?"

Again, though, the question is one of necessity. It's not the extremity of the innovation but what pressing need it's meant to answer. In this case, it's not clear to me what necessary functions these military courts can accomplish that civilian courts cannot. And, by definition almost, offenders who are in custody are not clear and present threats to innocent Americans. This is, after all, after they're caught.

Some of the constrictions of civil liberties we've seen recently seem warranted as the only possible way to defend ourselves against imminent threats. Others seem to grow from a discomfort with due process or a penchant for authoritarian measures. I think this order falls into the latter category.

P.S. Coming soon, how Talking Points can take such a high horse on military tribunals when he himself recently called for government-sponsored assassinations of Al Qaeda operatives who played a part in the September 11th attacks.

Wow! I mean, let's start with the following caveats: this remains a fluid situation, our allies are better than our enemies but rough players themselves, and our fundamental goal -- rolling up Al Qaeda -- remains to be accomplished. But having said that, it's hard to overstate the magnitude of our success in the last week. Not just in terms of achieving our objectives - or going a long way toward doing so - but also in the marriage of military force and diplomatic skill.

The president managed to be aggressive and resolute without giving in to the seductions of the Iraqoholics in his own administration. George W. Bush was on the line for this. And if it continues to go as well as it has in the last week, he - though I doubt his party - will certainly reap all sorts of credit.

The White House's domestic agenda has been pretty much downhill since 9/11. But, as far as the foreign equation goes, I'm more than happy to give credit where credit is due.

One of the more interesting reports I've heard (heard but can't confirm in any way) is that the Taliban retreat from Mazar-e Sharif really was a strategic retreat. That is to say, an intentional, considered move meant to strengthen their position, not a hasty necessity required by imminent defeat. But as students of military science well know, a strategic retreat is one of the most difficult maneuvers to pull off. Because they can easily turn into a routs, as this one clearly seems to have done.

It wasn't just western pundits who had underestimated the sort of beating the United States had inflicted on the Taliban. The Taliban themselves didn't quite seem to realize the extent of it either. It only became clear when they had to try to execute a coordinated maneuver. Then things began to fall apart.

True TPM regulars will remember that a week and a half ago I pointed out an intriguing pattern in the distribution of anthrax cases in the recent outbreak. In short, with a couple of exceptions, people over fifty were getting inhalation anthrax and people under fifty were getting skin anthrax. So far, only twenty-two Americans have come down with disease -- both types combined. But still, the pattern got me wondering. So I looked into it a bit further.

And as I wrote in this article in Salon on Monday (which unfortunately you need a subscription to read), it turns out that the pattern is real. Or, perhaps better to say, it's not random.

People middle-aged and older are substantially more susceptible to getting inhalation anthrax than young adults. And children and adolescents, in particular, seem to have some particular source of resistance - though no one believes it's absolute. This isn't just the familiar fact that immunity declines as we age either. It's something different -- though precisely what it is remains unclear.

Why haven't you heard about this? Good question! Because this information comes from a report that was published almost a decade ago - a study of that accidental release of weaponized anthrax back in Russia in 1979. One tidbit: though many young people were exposed in the outbreak no one under 24 contracted inhalation anthrax.

Isn't this the sort of info you'd think the public should know about? I would have thought so. But apparently the CDC doesn't.

As I said, if you want more details, check out in the article in Salon.

Next up, I take on smallpox! No, really. No kidding. It's coming out later this week.

For all the other stuff that's going on today (Kabul, Shnabul!), let's not fool ourselves about the real significance of November 13th. Right! EXACTLY! It's the first anniversary of Talking Points Memo.

TPM got the ball rolling with a whack in the eye of now-Solicitor General, then-right-wing fixer, Ted Olson back on November 13th, 2000 -- back when the Point was just a mere dot, or even a fleck.

For me, this is either a grand achievement or a sobering reminder that I've spent a year of my life writing free content. (I think I'm gonna go with the former.)

Festivities are still being planned to mark the occasion. But if you really can't contain yourself, you can relieve the nervous tension with a small donation to the TPM treasury (which you can do by clicking the graphic over on the left) or send a fulsome letter of congratulation to the TPM virtual mailroom (which, to date, remains anthrax free).

Any new signals traffic from Goreland? Intercepted reaction to the atrocious recount coverage? That would be a big 'YES.' But it'll have to wait till Tuesday morning, seeing as the TPM is writing on deadline tonight. Stay tuned.

Is it just me? Or is the media spin on the recount numbers oddly perverse? Most of the headlines run something like CNN's "Florida recount study: Bush still wins." One CNN story even said the study "showed George Bush winning even with a statewide recount," which is actually precisely what the study did not show.

This AP lede states the point accurately and does perhaps the best job of laying out the actual findings in a clear and balanced fashion: the study, said AP, showed "George W. Bush would have narrowly prevailed in the partial recounts sought by Al Gore, but Gore might have reversed the outcome – by the barest of margins – had he pursued and gained a complete statewide recount."

I'm going to comment in greater depth after I read all the articles and as much of the data as I can get hold of or endure. But for now, these comments ...

Almost all of the headlines and articles place the emphasis on the legal strategy the Gore team adopted relatively late in the game, one which -- in retrospect foolishly -- discounted the importance of overvotes. I think the Gore people have a decent argument to the effect that they tried from the beginning to get a full statewide recount. But Katherine Harris and the Bush legal team made that impossible. And having gotten argued into a position where they had to make a tactical decision about where they thought the most votes would be, they made the wrong call.

But at this point, who cares? We know who won the election in the sense of who's actually president. Nothing is going to undo that. We've also known for some time that the specific, limited recounts Gore lost in the United States Supreme Court wouldn't have put him over the top. Maybe this means that Ron Klain's a &#@$-up. But, again, for present purposes, who cares?

The only question that's still out there is who really got the most votes. For the historical record, if all the votes had been accurately counted under Florida law as it existed at the time, who would have gotten the most votes in the state? And the study seems to say pretty clearly that that 'who' was Al Gore.

To me, that seems like the story.

Does Talking Points hook you up or does Talking Points hook you up? Early pre-leaks of the recount consortium data seem to confirm the Friday noon TPM post about Gore winning with overvotes. Apparently the consortium member sites (the Times, the Post, the Trib, CNN, etc.) get to post the results on their sites tonight at 10 PM.

With regards to the last update about Gore winning Florida on overvotes, Mickey Kaus correctly notes that it all depends on what kind of overvotes. If tons of folks in Palm Beach voted for Gore and Pat Buchanan, we may know as a matter of logic that most of these were really Gore votes. But that surmise would be irrelevant in terms of those votes counting. On the other hand, if lots of people checked Gore's name and then also put down Gore in the 'write-in' section, then under Florida law those votes could have and should have counted.

Let me try to clarify this as much as I can.

As you certainly know, Talking Points has a powerful intelligence network with both HUMINT (human intelligence) and SIGINT (signals intelligence) capabilities. And through our aggressive tracking we've been able to monitor internal Gore mafia communications in advance of the Monday release of the data.

The word from Goreland is an aggressive push to rebut the argument that they did not ask for a count of overvotes. That tells me that the overvotes in question were countable overvotes. Otherwise the 'we did so want overvotes counted' spin would be irrelevant.

Here's one other tidbit: two prominent Gore field operatives are telling fellow Gore-ites that the debate within the New York Times at the moment is over how definitively to say that Gore would have won. Whether he definitely would have won or whether he probably would have won. There also seems to be a lot of intra-Gore camp spinning, with HQ folks like Tad Devine and Monica Dixon successfully putting the blame on the Florida field team for whatever screw-ups took place.

So, as we've seen with the FBI and CIA recently, intelligence intercepts are sometimes hard to interpret. But that's what I glean based on the information I have.

The word I'm getting from within the Gore campaign is that the recount results to be revealed Monday show ambiguous results for all possible ways of counting the ballots.

With one exception, and it's a big one. If you count overvotes, Gore would have won big.

That's the scoop.

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