Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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More information on what turned the Spanish election. <$NoAd$>This passage comes from an interview on Monday night's Newshour ...

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Checa, what is your reading of what was the number one thing behind the outcome? In other words, was it Aznar's support for the war against Bush or those people, or was it this public perception that he was trying to withhold information about who was behind the bombing?

NICOLAS CHECA: Margaret, I really think what the key issue here is the handling or mishandling of public information in the 48 hours after the tragic events of last Thursday. I think it bears mentioning that the election was a statistical dead heat, according to public polls the morning of the tragedy on Thursday morning well within the margin of error, one or two points. And it was really not until Saturday evening, as Keith in your set-up shared with us, that the government decided to come forward with information as to the arrest of these five suspects linked to al-Qaida.

As an example, it took a personal call from Prime Minister Elect Zapatero to the interior minister, the Spanish homeland security secretary, informing him that the Socialist Party was aware of the arrest and that he was prepared to move forward with that information. It took that kind of information to get the current government to come forward and announce to the country at large that in fact it was not the ETA lead that would generate success down the road in the investigation, but rather the al-Qaida route.

MARGARET WARNER: So you're saying it more than just a public suspicion that they were withholding information, in fact the Zapatero campaign had to essentially pressure the government to release this information?

NICOLAS CHECA: Precisely. Yet there was a report earlier in the afternoon on Saturday coming out of Spanish intelligence agency saying that they were 99 percent confident that ETA was not responsible for the attacks and that all the avenues of the investigation pointed into al-Qaida.

In the early afternoon after the arrests had already been made, the director of the Spanish CIA denied those reports and it was after that that the campaign manager for the Zapatero campaign had to come forward and basically inform public opinion that there was information that was not being shared with the population.


As we noted a few days ago, the vagaries of public opinion are simply too great to accurately measure the response to such a traumatic event as the Madrid bombings over such a short period of time as three days.

But this article in Wednesday's Washington Post makes a strong argument that much of the public tide against the Aznar government wasn't based on anger at him for putting the country in harm's way over Iraq but rather because he tried to deceive the country after the attacks themselves occurred.

(In practice, I suspect both melded together in the public mind.)

This story has been coming into focus slowly in the English-language press (though it was already roiling the Spanish press in the 24 hours just before the election). And the Post piece advances it substantially.

Aznar's government immediately blamed ETA for the bombings based on very little evidence and continued to insist on the ETA theory of the crime even as more and more evidence piled up pointing to an Islamist link.

Aznar himself personally and repeatedly called several major national dailies to press the point that ETA was responsible. As doubts were beginning to mount, Aznar twice called the editor of one Catalan daily El Periodico and "courteously cautioned [the editor] not to be mistaken. ETA was responsible."

Certainly, given Spain's history, a quick rush-to-judgment about ETA's culpability would neither be surprising nor evidence of bad faith. But the article makes a rather good case that there was a coordinated and cynical effort to misdirect public suspicion.

In other words, faced with a great national tragedy, the government tried to deceive the public in order to achieve a political end -- something that is paradoxically heartening since it suggests that, all the recent unpleasantness aside, we Americans and our European brethren seem to share quite a lot in common after all.

As you know, it's now been revealed that the White House threatened the top government Medicare actuary that he'd be fired if he revealed the true costs of the Medicare reform passed last year.

What struck me most about this story was how generally muted the reaction to it was.

I don't think this was because it wasn't reported widely or because people didn't take note. I think people just aren't that surprised that this administration would practice deceit in such a casual, even routine, manner.

It's just not surprising anymore. It's expected. (Pat Moynihan died too soon to see the most bracing example of defining -- governmental -- deviancy down.)

In any case, now we have another example from the latest Bush campaign ad.

This one uses last year's $87 billion Iraq supplemental, and the fact that Kerry voted against it, to accuse him of voting against each of the various line items for troop funding included in the bill.

Now, this is inherently misleading since I believe Kerry, like many other Dems, voted for an alternative bill which would have funded these needs by rescinding part of Bush tax cuts. So to say he voted against these particulars is really a distortion of the legislative process.

(Admittedly, it's not quite as bad as what they tried to pull last week, but still pretty bad. In that case, the President charged Kerry with a reckless plan to cut Intelligence spending in 1995, without mentioning that the agency targeted was was mismanaging the funds in question or, much more importantly, that the Congress, then under Republican control, voted a substantially larger cut than the one Kerry had proposed.)

What's more, the commercial highlights three budget items, each of which were ones the president opposed and had to be bullied into supporting -- by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

The text narration says: ""No body armor for troops in combat. No higher combat pay. No to better health care for reservists and their families. No -- wrong on defense."

What's most bracing about this narration is that this is actually a pretty factual statement if the target is the president, not Kerry.

Now, one claim really stands out here. The ad says Kerry voted no to "higher combat pay."

This is truly a milestone in the long bilious history of gall.

If you watched this debate at the time you'll remember that last summer the Bush administration went to great lengths to cut combat pay for troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to save money for other priorities. They only relented when Democrats, Republicans and most of all military-oriented publications like Army Times expressed so much outrage that they had no choice but abandon the effort.

Here's a snippet from an article which appeared on August 15th, 2003 in the San Francisco Chronicle which gives a brief glimpse of their ignominious retreat ...

The White House quickly backpedaled Thursday on Pentagon plans to cut the combat pay of the 157,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan after disclosure of the idea quickly became a political embarrassment.

The Pentagon's support for the idea of rolling back "imminent danger pay" by $75 a month and "family separation allowances" for the American forces by $150 a month collapsed after a story in The Chronicle Thursday generated intense criticism from military families, veterans groups and Democratic candidates seeking to unseat President Bush in 2004.

And so the White House which was pushing to save money by reducing combat pay for troops currently serving in two combat zones is now challenging Kerry's national security bona-fides by alleging that he opposed increases in combat pay.

Sometimes you try to dress it up or package it in some artful way. But the truth is irreducibly blunt: lying and indifference to a factual record often no further away than the google web site is the hallmark of this administration.

Up is down.

Please! No more challenges!

As you know, a couple days ago, Colin Powell challenged John Kerry to come forward with the names of some of the foreign leaders who he says want President Bush turned out of office.

"If he feels it is that important an assertion to make, he ought to list some names. If he can't list names, then perhaps he should find something else to talk about."

After that he apparently upped the ante, denying Kerry's claims that he, Powell, had been undermined or sidelined in administration foreign policy debates.

"Name a specific issue," said Powell, "where it looks like I have been marginalized."

Sorta sad, isn't it?

A brief note on this brouhaha over whether some foreign leaders want president Bush turned out of office in November.

This is the topic of my column tomorrow in The Hill. So I just want to touch on it briefly.

Clearly, the president and his surrogates are hammering John Kerry now over this claim and even accusing him of making the whole thing up to hurt the president.

"Either [Kerry] is straightforward and states who they are," said Scott McClellan, "or the only conclusion one can draw is that he is making it up to attack the president."

Now, I don't think there's any question this was an unwise thing for Kerry to say, not least because it's opened him up to all these attacks which are awkward to answer.

But the idea that he's making this up is laughable. The question isn't whether or which foreign leaders don't want to see George W. Bush get another term. A better question is whether there are any outside of perhaps a half-dozen capitals around the world who do.

(Powell knows this perhaps better than anyone.)

The reason it's unwise to say this -- or at least say it so bluntly -- is precisely because it's so undoubtedly true. And the fact that it's true is a difficult matter politically for both candidates.

A new dispatch from the department of telling delays.

You'll remember that the initial excuse which the White House and congressional Republicans used to oppose the 9/11 commission's request to extend its mandate for two months was the claim that the information was just too damned important to let another two months go by before getting it into policymakers' hands.

Along those lines, see this quote from a new article in Time about the president's new commission on the Iraqi intelligence failure. "Five weeks after being appointed, the group has not met, and it is unclear when it will."

One of the keys for Democrats this election season <$NoAd$>will not only be getting a lot of small donations to Democratic candidates but getting those funds where they can do the most good, where extra money could make the difference in a close race.

Along those lines, the following passage caught my eye.

In the new edition of Charlie Cook's 'Off to the Races' column which is generally positive about the Dems' improving chances in the Senate, there's this passage ...

Republicans might actually get a bit of a break in Illinois. Jack Ryan, an attractive and wealthy former investment banker who was teaching in an inner-city school until recently, is expected to win the GOP primary. The likely Democratic nominee, state Sen. Barack Obama, is equally, if not more, impressive, yet does not have the personal fortune Ryan has. Blair Hull, the fabulously wealthy Democrat, was expected to win the nomination until revelations about his messy divorce and cocaine use in the 1980s doomed his chances. National Democrats had counted on this seat to be the best of all possible worlds, an easy pickup by a self-funding candidate. Now it is likely to be very close and will have to be funded through more traditional -- read difficult -- means.

Here's Obama's website.

I should have a better handle on what's happening in the book world and what's coming down the pike. But too often I find that my knowledge of what new books are out is based on what happens to be on the front display at my local neighborhood bookstore when I come by on late night walks. (Luckily, it's a good bookstore.) Along those lines, this evening I saw that Zbigniew Brzezinski has a new book out, The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership.

Brzezinksi, of course, requires no introduction. But his speech back in October at the New American Strategies for Security and Peace conference was one of the most lucid and insightful discussions of the present state of the world and America's role in it that I've heard in some time. (To me it was the highlight of the conference.) So I eagerly purchased a copy.

I'll report back when I've read more.

The results of a very interesting poll (co-sponsored by ABC, the German broadcasting network ARD, the BBC and Japan's NHK) are available at the ABC News website and are really well worth reading. It's a broad survey of Iraqi public opinion one year after the war.

The results (and this is a case where you really want to dig into the details and specifics, not just the headlines) contain findings that will challenge both supporters and opponents of the war.

One detail, which is not surprising really, but still notable, is the stark divergence of views held by the three different ethno-regional groupings.

For instance, 48% of Iraqis say the US was right to invade, versus 39% who say it was wrong. But the breakdown shows that 40% of Arab Iraqis say it was right while 87% of Iraqi Kurds say it was the right thing to do.

There's a similar disparity on the related question of whether Iraq was 'liberated rather than humiliated.' A third of Iraqi Arabs say yes, while 82% of Kurds answered in the affirmative.

Again, not surprising given the history involved, but it's interesting to see in concrete form nonetheless. Many other interesting details are included.

A new CBS/NYT poll. This one with Bush over Kerry 46% to 43%. Other recent soundings include a American Research Group poll (March 9-11) of registered voters, Kerry over Bush 50% to 43%, and a Investor's Business Daily poll (March 8-11) also of registered voters, with Bush over Kerry 46% to 43%.