Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

There's a shocking -- really shocking -- and surreal video of the moment of the bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad at the CBSNews website. (The link is near the top of the CBSNews site. The caption reads: "CBS News camera captures explosion, aftermath.") The feed begins with a garden variety UN briefing. Suddenly, there's a terrible racket, everything goes black, and the racket is replaced by confused screams and shouts from someone trying to take control of the situation.

Slowly the smoke begins to thin and you see disoriented victims trying to make sense of the situation, an endless number of people shocked, caked in powder, and blood-spattered. And just confusion. The cameraman slowly makes his way out into the open through what seems to be a gaping hole in the building and out into the light which momentarily overwhelms the light sensor on the video camera and makes the entire screen white. Images then slowly come back into view and, again, walking wounded.

Through the feed -- which runs about five minutes -- there are occasional shouts from bystanders, apparently telling the cameraman to turn off his camera. And such tapes can easily become a sort of grisly pornography of violence. But this struck me as different, as close as you'd ever want to come to seeing what it's like to be at the center of such a horror, and yet not needlessly gory. Go see for yourself. It's difficult to watch, but worth watching.

Oh that's classic. Tom DeLay says those Texas state Senators, who are off in New Mexico to stymie his re-redistricting plan, are guilty of violating the federal constitution.

From Fox News Sunday this morning ...

TONY SNOW: All right. Let's switch to another topic. Texas -- there is an imbroglio about redistricting. Republicans want to change the map because their Republican majority is substantial in your home state.

But there's a question. These same Republicans, a couple of years ago, agreed to a redistricting, or at least, in courts, got involved. Why should Republicans get another bite at the apple?

TOM DELAY: Well, we haven't had the first bite. We're supposed to, by Constitution, apportion or redistrict every 10 years. The state legislature in Texas couldn't do it in the last legislature, and three judges did it and they did a very poor job, as evidenced that the fact that we have a minority of Republicans in our congressional delegation.

What -- you know, we in Texas, Tony, have prided ourselves on honor, duty and responsibility. Unfortunately, the Democrats in the state legislature don't understand honor because they're violating their oath of office to support the United States Constitution. They don't understand their duty, which the Constitution calls for in redistricting. And they don't want to accept responsibility for it, so they ran.

We're insisting that the Constitution be upheld, and we feel very confident that if the state legislature does its duty and redistricts, then we will end up with a majority of Republicans in the congressional delegation.

Now that's classic. DeLay is pushing an effort which is entirely unprecedented in the last half century and hasn't been commonplace in this country for well more than a hundred years. And his opponents, who are resisting his efforts, are guilty of violating the constitution.

Persistent, chronic up-is-downism ...

From today's Wolf Blitzer show, Wesley Clark on Tom DeLay ...

BLITZER: General, I want you to listen, during the war, when you were still working for CNN -- and just want to alert our viewers, you're no longer working for CNN as our military analyst.

CLARK: Right.

BLITZER: But during the war, early in April, Tom DeLay, the majority leader in the House, really hammered you directly. I want you to listen to what he told our Judy Woodruff then.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: Frankly, what irritates me the most are these blow-dried Napoleons that come on television and, in some cases, have their own agendas.

General Clark is one of them that is running for president, yet he's paid to be an expert on your network. And he's questioning the plan and raising doubts as he becomes this expert.

I think they would serve the nation better if they would just comment on what they see and what they know, rather than putting their own agenda forward as an expert.


BLITZER: Well, pretty strong words from Tom DeLay going after you. What do you say to that criticism?

CLARK: Well, first of all, I'd be happy to compare my hair with Tom DeLay's. We'll see who's got the blow-dried hair.

But beyond that, Wolf, he's got it exactly backward. It's upside down. I am saying what I believe. And I'm being drawn into the political process because of what I believe and what I've said about it.

So it's precisely the opposite of a man like Tom DeLay, who is only motivated by politics and says whatever he needs to say to get the political purpose. And so, you know, it couldn't be more diametrically opposed, and I couldn't be more opposed than I am to Tom DeLay.

You know, Wolf, when our airmen were flying over Kosovo, Tom DeLay led the House Republicans to vote not to support their activities, when American troops were in combat. To me, that's a real indicator of a man who is motivated not by patriotism or support for the troops, but for partisan political purposes.

Noted without comment, but nice dig on the hair!

My friend James Sparrow spent a couple years (with grant support from The Sloan Foundation, I think) setting up an archive on the history of the great New York City blackouts of 1965 and 1977. It's all put together in an amazing website (The Blackout History Project) which covers the social history of these events, what happened, people's reminiscences in written and recorded formats, and so forth. The site also has a great deal of information about just how blackouts happen, what these 'grids' are that folks are talking about, and how various forms of electricity deregulation which have taking place over recent years have made an event like we've seen today much more likely. Like, for instance, why did this become so systemic? If you're interested in knowing more, go check out the site. If you're a journalist or tv producer who wants to get a hold of someone who can really talk about this stuff, get a hold of Jim Sparrow.

This is a delicate topic. But Christopher Christie -- the very political US Attorney for District of New Jersey -- seems intent on saying stupid things about his shoulder-launched missile smuggling case against Hemant Lakhani. For me, it's quite enough that Lakhani was willing to sell terrorists weapons to shoot down civilian airliners. But Christie isn't quite willing to give up the al Qaida connection.

Christie says Lakhani may well himself have been an al Qaida sympathizer.

How do we know that?. Thus Christie: "There is no question that Mr. Lakhani was someone who was sympathetic to the beliefs of the terrorists who were trying to do damage to our country. He, on many occasions in recorded conversations, referred to Americans as bastards [and] Osama bin Laden as a hero who had done something right and set the Americans straight."

Now, as I've said, if Lakhani was trying to sell plane-downing weapons to terrorists, that's more than enough for me. He's a rat. Toss the key, and so forth. Maybe he is an al Qaida sympathizer. But this is pretty feeble evidence.

What exactly do we expect the guy to say when he's talking to our undercover agents posing as al Qaida? "I'm happy to sell you fellows these shoulder-fired missiles. But I do think that whole September 11th business was a bit much. I'm not telling you your business. It's a free country. But I'm just sayin'."

Why can't they just promote this as an effective sting operation against a certified rat , rather than making foolish statements like these.

This, quite literally, takes the cake. The Pentagon and the White House are pushing to cut the pay of American troops serving in Iraq.

Back in April Congress raised the extra allowances soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines get for being in combat zones and for family separation. The former got bumped to $225 from $150 a month; the latter to $250 from $100. The administration says this increase will cost $300 million per year. And that's too much. They want to go back to the old rates.

The administration says that amount can't be balanced with our other priorities.

What are our priorities?

For a month or more word has been leaking out of the Pentagon and some quarters of the State Department that David Kay would be coming out with a report in mid-September which would settle the WMD debate in the White House's favor.

Robert Novak put those whispers into print on August 10th when he wrote …

Former international weapons inspector David Kay, now seeking Iraqi weapons of mass destruction for the Pentagon, has privately reported successes that are planned to be revealed to the public in mid-September.

Kay has told his superiors he has found substantial evidence of biological weapons in Iraq, plus considerable missile development. He has been less successful in locating chemical weapons, and has not yet begun a substantial effort to locate progress toward nuclear arms.

So what is Kay going to report? Needless to say, I don't know. But let me set out a number of clues and possibilities gleaned from a mix of press accounts, my own reporting, and conjecture.

First, it's very important to note that even the weapons inspectors and arms control experts who are free of any ideological or partisan need to find WMD in Iraq still don't speak of certainty that there are no biological or chemical weapons there. When I spoke to former weapons inspector David Albright earlier this month he spoke of no 'significant' or 'substantial' caches of these weapons. It's still, he told me, "hard for me to believe they didn't have some" of these weapons.

The point is that the people who are really worth listening to aren't making absolute or maximalist statements or predictions. The White House would like the standard to be, any chemical or biological weapons and they're vindicated. And I fear some of the White House's critics have been complicit in setting this very low standard.

At this point it seems increasingly unlikely we're going to find anything. But it could happen.

Second, it does seem clear that the Iraqis were keeping scientists organized and ready and that they were prepared to reconstitute these programs when the opportunity arose. This probably involved keeping various dual-use infrastructures at hand. Indeed, as I noted last week, Mahdi Obeidi, the nuclear scientist currently cooling his heels in Kuwait, says that after the war he heard about some nuclear scientists doing some low-level theoretical R&D on possible ways to make progress on nuclear weapons.

The point is that if you want to adopt an expansive definition of 'programs' we probably already have at least some evidence that they had on-going 'programs' --- just ones that were considerably more dormant than we'd imagined before the war.

(Note that "substantial evidence of biological weapons" would seem to mean that they haven't found any actual weapons since that would presumably be conclusive evidence, not just substantial evidence.)

Third, timing. Look at Novak's words: "Kay has told his superiors he has found substantial evidence of biological weapons in Iraq, plus considerable missile development." This construction leaves the issue of chronology quite vague. And I suspect that vagueness is going to become a very important point.

We know that the Iraqis had a biological weapons program and that there were biological weapons in the country. That's wholly undisputed. If Kay produces substantial evidence of such weapons in 1995 or 1998, that's meaningless. What we're trying to figure out is whether he had them in the period when we were considering going to war.

What many suspect is that Kay is going to pull an intel version of a classic 1990s-era document dump. In other words, come forward with a mound of documents detailing the Iraqis' extensive programs, their histories, the means used to conceal them, whom they imported parts from, and so forth. And then conveniently leave as a footnote the fact that these program had gone pretty dormant by 2002. The idea will be to make up with paper poundage what the report lacks in relevance. Hit them with twenty reams of report about the Iraqi WMD programs and then figure that the follow-on reports about how little was actually happening in 2002 are buried in the back of the papers after no one is paying attention.

All of this is to say that we're probably set for an elaborate festival of goal post moving courtesy of Mr Kay -- the widely telegraphed switch from weapons to 'programs' being the key sign.

The point to keep in mind is that at the end of the day the standard isn't any WMD or any identifiable dormant program which might have made non-conventional weapons in the future. The standard is this: If you look at the totality of the White House's pre-war statements about Iraqi WMD, and then look at what's contained in the report, will you say: "Wow, you weren't kiddin!" or "Wow, you've gotta friggin be kiddin!"

That's the standard. Everything else is chatter.

Here's a short blurb from Bahrain's Gulf Daily News. Dateline Sydney ...

US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said yesterday US troops would not leave Iraq until they found weapons of mass destruction there.

"We will (find them). I have absolute confidence about that," he told an Asia Society lunch in Sydney - after talks with Australia's Prime Minister John Howard on Tuesday.

While the US did not want to remain in Iraq any longer than necessary, "we are not going to leave until we find and destroy Iraq's capability to launch biological, chemical and nuclear weapons," Armitage said.

He said the fact that no weapons had so far emerged was a "chilling" reminder that they were "far too easy to move and far too easy to hide."

Noted without comment ...

An interesting email from one of my favorite New Dem-leaning correspondents in Washington DC.

We'll call him Mr R ...

Hi Josh. Great string of posts this a.m.! Glad to see you're back in the swing.

I thought you might be interested in my recent experience as a Democratic contributor. In the last year I've given $100 each to (1) Joe Lieberman, since he's a New Dem from way back and his DLCish instincts generally match my own, and (2) more recently, Howard Dean, because he's interesting and smart and, while I don't much like his current lefty trendline, at bottom I think he's a moderate.

Well. I got a couple of half-hearted follow-ups from the Lieberman camp last year (I think I sent a brochure to you), but absolutely nothing in the last six months or more, even though now is when they're starting to need the money, and a candidate's prior contributors are the folks he should be putting the strongest touch on. But, from Joe, at least to me, silence. Reminds me strongly of the hapless Gore operation - I gave thousands of dollars to Gore, even going back to his Senate years, and it took his campaign forever even to get my name right and figure out I was a supporter. I wonder if Lieberman has inherited some of the not-too-swift Gore back-office operations.

But from the Doctor! I've gotten half a dozen (correctly addressed!) follow-up letters in the couple of months since I sent him a check, and I'm obviously on his main direct-mail list, all on the strength of one contribution. VERY impressive operation on the technical side, and it certainly makes me more likely to contribute again. Wonder where Dean's people came from? Are these the tech-savvy people who are also staffing his Internet operation?

Anyway, a telling contrast, and I though you should have this report from the political contributors' trenches.

Regards, (Mr R.)

Very revealing about each campaign.

Sheesh! WorldNetDaily isn't usually at the top of my reading list. But they're running a story which, if true, is pretty mind-blowing and, frankly, would answer a lot of questions.

Here are the first three grafs ...

A former Energy Department intelligence chief who agreed with the White House claim that Iraq had reconstituted its defunct nuclear-arms program was awarded a total of $20,500 in bonuses during the build-up to the war, WorldNetDaily has learned.

Thomas Rider, as acting director of Energy's intelligence office, overruled senior intelligence officers on his staff in voting for the position at a National Foreign Intelligence Board meeting at CIA headquarters last September.

His officers argued at a pre-briefing at Energy headquarters that there was no hard evidence to support the alarming Iraq nuclear charge, and asked to join State Department's dissenting opinion, Energy officials say.

Definitely read this piece. It appears well-sourced. And it definitely left me wanting to know more. I'd like to see one of the bigs get on this since they'd probably have the muscle to bust it open a bit more. Though, of course, the real question is, why didn't we hear this story from one of them in the first place?