Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Even back home they're starting to <$NoAd$>wonder. This from an editorial in yesterday's Houston Chronicle ...

The United States' moral authority to call for the rule of law and respect for human rights has been undermined by legal machinations the Bush administration undertook to justify torturing prisoners taken in the war on terror.

Administration officials have attempted to downplay the significance of a March 6, 2003, Justice Department memorandum that concluded that, as commander in chief in time of war, President George W. Bush is bound neither by federal law nor the tenets of the Geneva Conventions that ban torture as a means of extracting information from detainees.


The March memo asserts that interrogators could inflict severe pain on a detainee with impunity as long as the intent was something other than to torture. An interrogator would be culpable only if he knew his actions would inflict suffering that is severe enough to induce "prolonged" physical or mental effects. An interrogator would be immune from punishment if he believed he acted to prevent a larger harm, the lawyers determined.

The memos were obviously concocted to defend acts that are clearly beyond the bounds of a civilized nation.

The memos support the view that the prisoner abuses uncovered at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were not merely the grave mistakes of a few soldiers, but resulted from policies formed at the highest levels of government. They strengthen concerns about how detainees at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan are being treated.

As I suggest today in The Hill, I think we're actually pretty far past that point.

We're like contestants on Wheel of Fortune with a long phrase spelled out in front of us with maybe one or two letters missing. We know what the letters spell. It's obvious. We just don't have the heart to say it out loud.

Don't miss Fred Kaplan's piece in Slate on the interplay between Reagan and Gorbachev, how Reagan did play a key role in triggering, though not causing, the end of the Cold War -- though not in precisely the way his hagiographers imply. It's a good piece, with illustrative quotes from declassified documents. Also take a look at this piece by Sid Blumenthal in Salon, which looks at this dimension of Reagan's presidency from a distinct though complementary perspective.

A few days ago I noted a divergence between the websites of the two presidential candidates. John Kerry's website showed lots of pictures of John Kerry in all the expected poses of authority, empathy and so forth. Meanwhile, President Bush's website also showed lots of pictures of John Kerry caught, as you might imagine, in poses suggesting buffoonery, arrogance, indecision and the like. What the GWB website didn't have any of was pictures of George W. Bush.

Now, earlier today I noted how the Bush campaign has replaced the front page of their website with a Reagan tribute, with a huge picture of the late president backgrounded with flags, accompanied by links to a Reagan tribute video, links to President Reagan's most famous speeches and statement of his praise for President Reagan by President Bush.

That's the Bush website now. (You really need to see it to get the picture.)

Now, how many days of leaving the site that way will it take before people start to see the obvious: that President Bush's campaign staffers believe that pushing their own guy isn't a particularly good political strategy and that bashing Kerry or grasping on to Reagan nostalgia is far preferable?

Now to a related point. I've got a number of notes from people (few of them Bush supporters in the first case, of course) who are outraged by the Bush campaign's unabashed exploitation of Reagan's passing as part of their reelection campaign effort --- the morphing of the Bush website into the Reagan tribute website being a key example.

Yes, it's crass and cynical. But it's also a tad desperate. And that's the more important point, I think. Having watched the Bush White House for some time and seen them try all manner of crude and crass political gambits, very few of them, in my recollection, haven't ended up biting them in the behind.

I suspect this case will be the same.

A note to TPM internship applicants: First, thanks for your patience and the really excellent applications. Second, we'll be making our decision shortly. So expect to hear from us soon.

From the Associated Press ...<$NoAd$>

Reversing itself, the Army said Tuesday that a G.I. was discharged partly because of a head injury he suffered while posing as an uncooperative detainee during a training exercise at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The Army had previously said Specialist Sean Baker's medical discharge in April was unrelated to the injury he received last year at the detention center, where the United States holds suspected terrorists.

Mr. Baker, 37, a former member of the 438th Military Police Company, said he played the role of an uncooperative prisoner and was beaten so badly by four American soldiers that he suffered a traumatic brain injury and seizures. He said the soldiers only stopped beating him when they realized he might be American.

Bruce Simpson, Mr. Baker's lawyer, said his client is considering a lawsuit.

What can you say about this stuff?

From today's Saint Petersburg Times ... <$NoAd$>

Two days after the Sept. 11 attacks, with most of the nation's air traffic still grounded, a small jet landed at Tampa International Airport, picked up three young Saudi men and left.

The men, one of them thought to be a member of the Saudi royal family, were accompanied by a former FBI agent and a former Tampa police officer on the flight to Lexington, Ky.

The Saudis then took another flight out of the country. The two ex-officers returned to TIA a few hours later on the same plane.

For nearly three years, White House, aviation and law enforcement officials have insisted the flight never took place and have denied published reports and widespread Internet speculation about its purpose.

But now, at the request of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, TIA officials have confirmed that the flight did take place and have supplied details.

See the rest here.

From today's Washington Post ... <$NoAd$>

House Republican leaders have tacked on to a major jobs bill a provision that would give religious leaders more freedom to engage in partisan politics without endangering the tax-exempt status of their churches.

Conservative Christian groups have been pushing for such legislation for years, while civil liberties organizations and religious minorities have opposed it. But unlike past proposals, which were stand-alone bills, the current provision is attached to a huge tax bill that House leaders have placed on a fast track for consideration.


Under current tax rules, clergy members are allowed to speak out on political issues and to lead nonpartisan voter registration drives. But the IRS can revoke a congregation's 501(c)3 tax-exempt status if it endorses candidates or engages in partisan politics.

The American Jobs Creation Act, introduced Friday by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), is scheduled for markup Thursday and a vote on the House floor next week. The bill's main purpose is to cut the top corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 32 percent and provide other tax relief to businesses, in return for repealing subsidies that have triggered European sanctions on U.S. farmers and manufacturers.

But on page 378 of the bill is a provision entitled "Safe Harbor for Churches." It would allow clergy members to engage in political activity, including endorsing candidates, as long as they make clear that they are acting as private citizens and not on behalf of their religious organizations. They could not make partisan political statements in church publications, at church functions or using church funds.

The provision also would allow clergy members to commit three "unintentional violations" of the tax rules on political activity each year without risking the loss of tax-exempt status. After the first violation, the church, synagogue or mosque would have to pay corporate taxes on one week's worth of its annual revenue. For the second violation, the penalty would be taxation of 50 percent of the organization's annual revenue. The penalty for the third violation would be taxation of a year's revenue, but not permanent loss of its tax exemption.

See the rest here.

Separate of church and state, sic transit ...

From the Boston Globe: "After three days of suspended political activity, the Bush campaign began openly incorporating Ronald Reagan's death into its reelection message yesterday, revamping its website to give Reagan a dominant role and distributing official campaign letters that invoke the former president ... Visitors to the official campaign site were automatically redirected to the Reagan tribute, paid for by the Bush/Cheney committee. It replaced the spot usually occupied by the campaign home page."

Click here to visit the front page of the Bush campaign website to see what they mean.

Several days ago I wrote this post about the odd habit which many people have of talking about Democratic 'dependence' on the votes of various racial minorities. As I argued in that post, this frequent framing of the issue often contains within it an unspoken (or perhaps even unconsidered) assumption that the votes of racial minorities aren't quite real votes somehow -- second class votes, you might say.

In any case, that was my argument. And one can dispute it or not.

The Wall Street Journal's 'Best of the Web' chose to dispute it. And you can read their whole run-down here. But in the course of that response, the author, James Taranto, said the following ...

Marshall has a small point, inasmuch as the idea of black voters being "suddenly struck from the rolls" sounds like a racist fantasy. So imagine instead if black voters suddenly started dividing their votes between the parties in the same proportion as nonblack voters do. This would yield an identical electoral outcome without disfranchising anyone. As it is, though, blacks are extreme outliers in their voting behavior: They vote overwhelmingly Democratic, while nonblacks tend to vote Republican, though less overwhelmingly.

The obvious point is that if Republicans ever find a way of attracting significant numbers of black voters, the Democrats will be in big trouble. Forty years' experience has shown this is easier said than done, but surely it's possible. To say otherwise would be to claim the Democrats can take black voters for granted in perpetuity.

Taranto's point echoes another assumption in the Bill <$Ad$>Schneider report we linked last week. Narrowly speaking, this point is of course true. If blacks started splitting their votes in the way non-hispanic whites do and nothing else changed, yes, the Democrats would be in something of a bind. But that would only be so if you imagine that voting blocs exist in a vacuum, with no dynamic relationship to the rest of the electorate.

Let me be more concrete: Why do blacks vote so disproportionately for Democrats? And if the GOP changed the policies and attitudes which demonstrably alienate or fail to attract black voters now, would that in turn alienate other voters who are now reliably Republican? It probably won't surprise you terribly to hear that I think the answer is, yes!

Pick apart what Taranto is saying and it's rather like some Democratic strategist saying, "Hey guys, here's the plan: We now have the secular humanists and the gays. If we can just get the Christian fundamentalists too, then ... then, my friends, then we'll be cookin' with gas."

Or perhaps, "We've got the abortion-rights crowd locked up. Now, if we can just cleave away half the pro-life constituency, then we'll never lose another election again!"

Again, true. But rather easier said than done. And for pretty fundamental reasons.

In most parts of the country I don't pretend that the cleavage is quite so stark as it would be in these examples I've provided above. But the logic of Taranto's suggestion does stem from the assumption that the GOP's difficulties with blacks are just some misunderstanding, a failure to communicate or 'reach out,' as the endlessly annoying phrase has it. But surely something so enduring isn't so incidental.

I touched on this point in an article I wrote at my old magazine The American Prospect, using the lamentable case of Jack Kemp ...

Consider the example of Jack Kemp, who has spent much of his career since leaving Congress arguing for a more inclusive Republican Party that could build beyond its base of economic and social conservatives and reach out to traditionally Democratic constituencies. Kemp is, of course, an extreme supply-side conservative on economic issues. But his repeated political failures and his increasing estrangement from powerful segments of the party have been rooted in his seeming inability to appreciate the deep gusts of racial animosity that fill the sails of so many Republican public policy crusades. Most Republicans know that enterprise zones and other nostrums presented as alternatives to "failed" liberal social policy are window dressing. Kemp's problem is that he takes the window dressing seriously, but none of his GOP colleagues have the heart to tell him.

The Republican Party has not, as Kemp would have it, ignored blacks and other minorities. In the last 30 years the Republican Party has increasingly relied on the support of constituencies that feel embittered and resentful toward minorities and the poor. The party's mounting strength in the 1970s and 1980s was based on making inroads among conservative southern whites and appealing to the resentments that Democratic northern, working-class ethnic voters felt against school busing and affirmative action. Thus, the GOP's problem with minorities isn't incidental; it's fundamental. Any genuine effort to aid minorities or the poor would instantly alienate a substantial portion of the Republican base. It's an electoral bind, inexorable and fixed. The Republicans can't be the party of both black opportunity and anti-black resentment, no matter how big the tent. The Democrats tried it; it didn't work.

I think the same continues to apply, though the racial edge in American politics -- always in flux -- is somewhat less overt today than it was in the 1990s.

I just got back online for the first time since early in the day. And I haven't had a chance to read it yet myself. But the Wall Street Journal now has a lengthy portion of the "torture memo" online and available to non-subscribers.