Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Can we get the straight story on these computer disks containing photos and layouts of schools in the United States?

According to reports that ran yesterday the disks came from an "Iraqi insurgent captured in Baghdad last summer [who] had allegedly downloaded floor plans of elementary and high schools in Florida, Oregon, Georgia, New Jersey, Michigan and California."

But this CNN report from late this morning says that Department of Homeland Security officials say "the material was associated with a person in Iraq, and it could not be established that this person had any ties to terrorism. He did have a connection to civic groups doing planning for schools in Iraq."

So the guy with the disks was involved in setting up schools in Iraq? Sounds a little less worrisome than finding them in Zarqawi's butler's knapsack, right?

Did everyone get scammed again on this one?

And what's with the school plans being mainly from swing states?

[ed.note: Special note of thanks to sharp-eyed TPM reader AK]

Will the canons of journalistic objectivity buckle under the weight of the president's lies?

That's the question raised, albeit implicitly, in an article in the Times today by Adam Nagourney and Richard Stevenson entitled "In His New Attacks, Bush Pushes Limit on the Facts."

The awkward generosity of that headline touches the essence of the problem. It's obvious to pretty much everyone watching these final weeks of the campaign that in response to the setback of the first debate the president's advisors decided that he would only be able to win by moving from harsh attacks and distortions of his opponent's record to straight out lies.

Yet by the rules of daily newspaper and television journalism it's not possible to quite say that -- a blind spot of the profession which Mike Kinsley has spoken about eloquently for many years.

So the Times frames the matter this way. After noting how the president dramatically ramped up his criticisms after last week's debate, the authors write: "in the process, several analysts say, Mr. Bush pushed the limits of subjective interpretation and offered exaggerated or what some Democrats said were distorted accounts of Mr. Kerry's positions on health care, tax cuts, the Iraq war and foreign policy."

'Several analysts say'.

They can't get themselves to say it, even though the authors of the piece, Nagourney and Stevenson, are seasoned political reporters who know the relevant facts perfectly well enough to make the judgment themselves.

This isn't an indictment of these two reporters. It's a recognition of the system they're working in, and the tactical advantages it gives to liars.

Give the piece a look and see the level of indirection they feel obliged to use in discussing the fact the Bush campaign has made a decision to completely toss aside any serious pretense of telling the truth. Like Sherman's Army cutting their supply lines in their March to the Sea, the Bush campaign is cutting itself free from any semblance of the truth with the expectation that they can live off the rhetorical fat of the land until November 3rd.

It ain't a pretty sight, Paul Bremer's OpEd in the Times Friday. And though it's a rough and grisly comparison, reading Bremer's column, and watching him try to gobble down his own words, I couldn't help thinking of the imagery of hostages, orange-jump-suited or not, reading out recantations or self-denunciations, on grainy film, on pain of their life.

The last couple days can't have been pleasant ones for Bremer. And the pressure to clean up his mess must have been withering. The point of Friday's column was to try to take his impolitic admissions about troop strength out of political circulation in time for Friday night's debate.

The key passage in Bremer's piece is the fourth graf ...

It's no secret that during my time in Iraq I had tactical disagreements with others, including military commanders on the ground. Such disagreements among individuals of good will happen all the time, particularly in war and postwar situations. I believe it would have been helpful to have had more troops early on to stop the looting that did so much damage to Iraq's already decrepit infrastructure. The military commanders believed we had enough American troops in Iraq and that having a larger American military presence would have been counterproductive because it would have alienated Iraqis. That was a reasonable point of view, and it may have been right. The truth is that we'll never know.

So it was a small tactical <$Ad$>disagreement, focused on the immediate post-war period of looting. And Bremer's not even sure whether he or those he disagreed with were right.

But look at what the Washington Post says he actually said: "The single most important change -- the one thing that would have improved the situation -- would have been having more troops in Iraq at the beginning and throughout."

In the Times today, Bremer's only response seems to be: Even though I said what I said, I wasn't really saying it when I said it.

From there the column is a lockstep recitation of the full Bush Regime Change catechism.

"Progress is being made ... The press has been curiously reluctant to report my constant public support for the president's strategy in Iraq ... The president was right when he concluded that Saddam Hussein was a menace who needed to be removed from power ... President Bush has said that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. He is right ... Our victory also depends on devoting the resources necessary to win this war ... These were vital resources that Senator John Kerry voted to deny our troops ...

A year and a half ago, President Bush asked me to come to the Oval Office to discuss my going to Iraq to head the coalition authority. He asked me bluntly, "Why would you want to leave private life and take on such a difficult, dangerous and probably thankless job?" Without hesitation, I answered, "Because I believe in your vision for Iraq and would be honored to help you make it a reality."

Viva Booosh!

Viva la Muerte!

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If it weren't so sad (and tragic), it would truly be funny to watch the White House scrounge around for even the most ridiculous retrospective rationales for war as the original ones collapse around them.

Today we have this line from the Associated Press: "This week marks the first time that the Bush administration has listed abuses in the oil-for-fuel (sic) program as an Iraq war rationale."

That's the new casus belli -- corruption in the oil-for-food program.

You can't make this stuff up.

Or, rather, I guess you can make this stuff. Since they are making it up.

In post-9/11 world, we can't stand idly by while third-world politicians take bribes and kickbacks!

The whole thing makes me feel not only sorry for my country but also sorry for the Kerry campaign's strategists and opposition researchers because what sort of supple and outside-box mind can possibly predict what arguments the president and his advisors will come up with next?

War was justified because not enough schools and hospitals were open before the invasion.

War was justified by back taxes owed to Kuwait by Iraqi occupation soldiers stationed in Kuwait during the second half of 1990.

War was justified by Iraqi mendacity in fooling Americans into thinking that they had WMD.

War was justified because the UN had to be freed up to work on East Timor and Sudan.

War was justified because Kuwait is still called Iraq's "19th province" in the Encyclopedia Iraqiana.

War was justified because Saddam was discriminating against faith-based organizations in handing out government contracts ...

Here's a question. Not a rhetorical question, but a real question.

Over the past several months we've several times discussed the charges that Iraq used oil-for-food money to bribe various international dignitaries and politicians, including Benon Sevan, the head of the UN office that administered the program.

The oil-for-food program was riddled with corruption, as was known long before the invasion. And if these charges are true as well, then heads should roll.

But, as I've noted repeatedly before, I remain skeptical since the documents incriminating these individuals came right out of the Chalabi operation in Baghdad. And, quite suspiciously, he and his assigns have repeatedly refused to hand those documents over to independent investigative authorities to authenticate them. Again and again, silly or nonsensical excuses were proferred for not doing so.

Needless to say, with Mr. Chalabi, ascertaining whether these documents are forgeries or not is hardly an academic exercise.

The story has again resurfaced now -- in large part because the charges are included in the Duelfer Report on Iraqi WMD. Not surprisingly, Vice President Cheney pounced on the story yesterday on the campaign trail. And in a virtual tour de force of inanity, President Bush today suggested that the invasion may well have been justified by Iraq's abuse of the oil-for-food program.

But has any independent observer -- most notably the Volcker Commission -- gotten access to those documents yet? As recently as August 10th, Judith Miller reported in the Times that Volcker still had not been allowed access to the original documents to ascertain whether or not they were forgeries.

This passage in an article in the AP suggests that hasn't happened ...

The lists, parts of which had been published previously, were compiled from 13 secret files maintained by former Iraqi vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan and the former oil minister, Amir Rashid.

But there was no independent verification. "We name those individuals and entities here in the interest of candor, clarity and thoroughness," the report said, adding that it did not "investigate or judge those non-Iraqi individuals."

Several U.S. firms were on the list but their names were not released because of privacy laws.

There's a separate question about why U.S. firms on the list aren't being identified, only foreigners. But, setting that aside, has any independent body yet reviewed those documents? And if not, why are they being given such credence considering Chalabi's record as a convicted criminal, forger of documents, producer of phony intelligence and, in all likelihood, someone who passed on American intelligence to Iran?

I think Media Matters has the Times dead-to-rights on this question of Catholic support for John Kerry. Very sloppy work.

On the other hand, Bill Keller isn't an "op-ed columnist and senior writer" as MMFA identifies him. He's the Executive Editor of the paper. He runs the place. Which, I'd say, makes it worse.

I touch on this subject with some hesitation because almost always there turns out not to be anything to this sort of thing. But the story just doesn't add up to me.

In 2001, 2002 and 2003 the president had his annual physical in early August. And after each he's gotten a clean bill of health. To all appearances the president is in excellent health.

But this year, according to AFP, he's decided to postpone his physical until after the election.

On its face, the explanation makes a certain amount of sense. "This has been a busier travel period for the president than the previous three years," Scott McClellan told the AFP.

But can the president really not afford one day?

And another thing occurs to me.

What was the president doing in early August this year? Right about then is when he was taking the traditional hiatus from campaigning during the Democratic convention. It seems like then of all times he had some time free.

It occurs to me that the president's campaign officials might not have wanted the contrast of Kerry's coronation with a doctor's visit for the president. And that may be a reasonable point.

But still it strikes me as odd.

I hunted around a bit on Nexis to see whether Clinton had postponed his physical in 1996. But I couldn't find anything. Whether or not he did would probably shed some helpful light on this question. If he did, then perhaps I'm just underestimating how disruptive it would be to the campaign.

Late Update: A reader sends in this link that shows that President Clinton did have his physical in 1996. But his annual visit was in May, rather than August. So it's not a perfect comparison.

Those of you who read with interest the recent, lengthy New York Times piece on the flawed intelligence on the Iraqi nuclear program, will remember this passage about the Energy Department's then chief of intelligence ...

Some laboratory officials blamed time pressure and inexperience. Thomas S. Ryder, the department's representative at the meetings, had been acting director of the department's intelligence unit for only five months. ''A heck of a nice guy but not savvy on technical issues,'' is the way one senior nuclear official described Mr. Ryder, who declined comment.

Mr. Ryder's position was more alarming than prior assessments from the Energy Department. In an August 2001 intelligence paper, department analysts warned of suspicious activities in Iraq that ''could be preliminary steps'' toward reviving a centrifuge program. In July 2002 an Energy Department report, ''Nuclear Reconstitution Efforts Underway?'', noted that several developments, including Iraq's suspected bid to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger, suggested Baghdad was ''seeking to reconstitute'' a nuclear weapons program.

According to intelligence officials who took part in the meetings, Mr. Ryder justified his department's now firm position on nuclear reconstitution in large part by citing the Niger reports. Many C.I.A. analysts considered that intelligence suspect, as did analysts at the State Department.

But perhaps that's not the whole <$Ad$>story.

Longtime readers of this site will remember that we discussed Ryder a year ago with respect to this same incident. And the information we discussed came from what may seem like an unlikely source, two columns by Paul Sperry in WorldNetDaily.

The Times refers to Ryder's 'inexperience' and quotes an Energy Department official saying he was "not savvy on technical issues."

But, according to Sperry's article from August 6th of last year, that understates the matter. He referred to Ryder as "a human resources manager with no intelligence experience" who was "close to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham."

More disturbing were revelations contained in an article Sperry wrote six days later.

Sperry notes that Ryder directly overruled his technical experts who wanted to dissent from the NIE findings on an Iraqi nuclear program.

Then after the NIE was published and just before the war began, Abraham awarded Ryder a $13,000 bonus for "exceeding performance expectations."

This was in addition to an earlier $7,500 bonus he awarded Ryder prior to the NIE's publication.

According to the last section of Sperry's second article ...

Bonuses that big are rare, and Energy insiders say they cannot recall previous intelligence chiefs receiving as much bonus money as Rider, who is said to be close to Abraham.


Yet despite Rider's alleged outstanding performance, Abraham didn't keep him in the top position. In February, he was replaced by CIA official John Russak. By July, Rider had been relocated to another department – energy assurance.

So Spencer Abraham taps a friend for a position for which he seems to have no qualifications whatsoever. Then that friend overrules his technical experts to greenlight a finding that Iraq is building nuclear weapons. Then Abraham gives him a big bonus for outstanding performance -- performance so outstanding that he doesn't keep him on in the job.