Editors’ Blog

Is Labour selling out

Is Labour selling out the plane-spotters?

(Yo Talking Points! What the &#$% is a plane-spotter? See this earlier post. And why the @#$% should I care? There I can’t help ya.)

When last we left these sad-sack Brits they were facing at least another ten days in a Greek slammer on suspicion of espionage. Now, according to this article from the BBC, the British government has said that the luckless plane-spotters “must face justice” and that the “the judicial process should be allowed to take its course.” So basically Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the Foreign Office aren’t going to try to muscle the Greeks.

But Shadow (i.e., Conservative wannabe) Foreign Secretary Michael Ancram is accusing the government of not doing enough to spring the plane-spotters from their Greek captivity.

Actually, Ancram sort of has a point, I guess. Back in the day, Great Britain used to make and unmake small-time countries like Greece with one hand tied behind its back. (Note: I said small time countries, not cultures, peoples, nations, etc. So don’t give me any grief!) But these days the Greeks won’t even give any respect to Britain’s plane-spotters!

Ancram is actually like an Earl, I think. (And not the bogus kind, like the way Maggie Thatcher is now a Baroness. But the real thing.) So obviously, given his lineage, this sort of lese majesté is going to be a particular bummer for him.

Oh Britannia!

Heres a nice short

Here’s a nice, short piece – with a ‘what-goes around-comes-around’ angle – about why Otto Reich’s nomination to be under secretary of state for the western hemisphere is almost certainly toast, done-for, kaput. Short run-down: support for anti-Castro terrorism no longer flies in the post-9/11 world.

Well its official were

Well, it’s official: we’re in a recession and the recession began in March 2001.

That’s the headline in today’s New York Times (“Economists Make It Official: U.S. Is in Recession“) and many other papers around the country. “The group of economists that tracks business cycles,” writes Richard Stevenson in the Times, “made official today what has been apparent to laid-off workers and struggling businesses for months: the longest economic expansion on record gave way earlier this year to the first recession in a decade and the 10th since World War II.”

Only it’s not official. The report is the product of a standing committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research, a quite well-respected but also quite private organization of academic and private sector economists – facts which are readily available on the NBER’s website.

The Washington Post managed this one a bit better. “The U.S. economy has been in recession since March,” says the Post’s article, “the last month of a 10-year expansion that was the longest in U.S. history, a committee of academic economists announced yesterday.”

Guys, how ’bout some fact-checking on this stuff?

This is a touchy

This is a touchy topic. But I think it’s gotta be broached. If you’ve seen Beneath the Veil, Saira Shah’s riveting and courageous documentary about women under Taliban rule (running on CNN in the United States) you certainly remember the horrific images of a burqa-clad woman being publicly executed in a soccer stadium in Kabul. A reference to the video even made it into President Bush’s recent speech at the United Nations.

In the context of the documentary you get the impression that the woman was being executed for going burqa-less, or schooling young women, or perhaps some sexual infraction the Taliban would have no patience for. You also get the impression this is a common occurrence.

But it turns out she was being executed for braining her husband with a hammer while he slept. And the execution, which took place in November 1999 (three years after the Taliban took power), was also the first time a woman had been executed under Taliban rule.

Don’t get me wrong. The images are horrific. And the reality no less so: a crude, public death by gunfire – a gruesome spectacle after what I’m sure was a rather inadequate trial. I’m an ambivalent opponent of capital punishment. So I don’t think people should be executed at all. But I couldn’t help thinking at least a little differently about this one incident after I learned a bit more about the case.

The Taliban are such a rotten, barbaric crew that there’s no shortage of reasons to despise them and root them out. And I’m not going to lose a lot of sleep thinking they got a bad rap for this woman’s execution. But a little more context in this case was really in order.

I thought the last

I thought the last post was pretty clear about whether I agreed with using military tribunals to mete out punishment to people who might well be ‘terrorists’ but who couldn’t be accused of any specific and definable crime. But I’ve gotten a few emails asking. So apparently it wasn’t as clear as I thought.

The short answer is, ‘no’ I don’t agree with it.

But if readers noted a tinge of ambivalence in what I wrote, it’s because I think the problem is a serious one. What do we do if hundreds of hardened, bin Laden-worshipping Al Qaeda fighters fall into our hands? And what if we don’t have any evidence of specific crimes they’ve committed? What do we do? Just send them on their way? That hardly seems wise. Especially given all the trouble, carnage and expense we’ve undertaken to destroy Al Qaeda.

But it’s a question we may soon have to confront.

That’s a real dilemma and I’m not sure what the solution is. I just don’t think hiding whatever we decide to do with them behind the cloak of non-rule of law, drumhead courts is the way to proceed. But since this is the only situation in which military tribunals would seem to be highly useful, I speculated that this exigency might be precisely what they’re intended for.

And by the way, here’s another rock-solid column by Bill Safire on the military tribunal question. It turns out the trial of those Nazi saboteurs so frequently mentioned in defense of the Bush order may actually be an object lesson in why military tribunals are not such a hot idea. And by the way, if my recollection serves, the Nazi saboteur Safire mentions – the one who turned the crew in – was one of the two who escaped the chair. I think he got life. Which under the circumstances actually seems a bit harsh.

As noted before I

As noted before, I find it hard to sustain the argument that military tribunals are necessary to try terrorists who might under normal circumstances have been tried in civilian courts. But there is another possibility, another scenario, in which I can imagine the government might find them quite useful …

Let’s start with a question. Does anyone know what law it would be that the military tribunals would administer? As in, the US Code administered in the federal courts? The Uniform Code of Military Justice? I’m not a lawyer. But my layman’s reading of the order tells me that this is left pretty vague and probably for the Secretary of Defense or the tribunals themselves to devise.

Section 1, subsection E says those called before military tribunals will be “tried for violations of the laws of war and other applicable laws…” The next subsection (F) says it is “not practicable to apply … the principles of law and the rules of evidence generally recognized in the trial of criminal cases in the United States district courts.”

Again, it sounds to me like these military tribunals are designed not just to give the government tons of leeway on the procedure end but on the law end as well.

And perhaps here’s why.

We’ve heard a lot recently about these non-Afghan fighters (Pakistanis, Chechens, Saudis, etc.) holding out in places like Kunduz – many of whom are actually linked to Al Qaeda. For present heuristic purposes at least, let’s assume these are hardcore, well-trained, well-indoctrinated terrorists – which indeed many of them are. In many cases we won’t have any evidence of specific terrorist acts these guys (for once, I think we can say ‘guys’ with some confidence) have committed. In many instances, they may well not even have committed any particular terrorist act or crime – yet.

So what to do with them? Under American law, maybe not much. One can easily imagine a situation in which it wouldn’t so much be hard to convict them in our courts, but impossible even to prosecute them, because they couldn’t be shown to have committed any definable or specific crime which our law recognizes.

This is a problem which, for better or worse, military tribunals might be quite well-equipped to handle. American law – in fact the rule of law generally – looks not at what you are but what you’ve done. Military tribunals might be useful for doing the opposite.

It now seems increasingly

It now seems increasingly clear, with a little reflection and after some more voices have chimed in, that President Bush’s executive order creating military tribunals is profoundly ill-conceived. What damns it now is not so much the essence of the matter – the actual tribunals, which damn themselves sufficiently – but the outlying facts.

Consider a few …

First, the fact that the order is wildly and recklessly overdrawn, when this is precisely the sort of order you’d want to draw quite narrowly. Anyone who is not a United States citizen can be bumped out of the civilian courts and into the ersatz military tribunal system on the simple say-so of the president. That is, almost by definition, arbitrary.

Second, not only did the president not call upon the Congress to enact legislation creating the tribunals, he also didn’t announce his intention to issue the order (even if informally) ahead of time – something that would have allowed some de facto consultation and comment.

The best argument for the tribunals is the need to safeguard intelligence assets. But upon examination, the federal courts seem to have ample protections already in place to achieve that end.

The more irascible sort of conservative will likely see this sort of argument as liberal carping or out-of-touch civil libertarian fastidiousnes that disqualifies the arguer as someone not up to the challenge of facing the terrorist threat. But as we noted a week or so back, the issue is necessity. And there looks to be little here.

Coming up next, what military tribunals might really be for.

I just finished Robert

I just finished Robert Kaplan’s Soldiers of God, his book of reportage of the Afghan mujahidin’s fight against the Soviets in the 1980s, and I really recommend it. The read is engrossing. The prose is disciplined yet colorful. And reading the book, the Afghan people and place-names you’re seeing on CNN will slowly break out of two-dimensions into three.

It surprises me that I’d have such a positive reaction because I’ve always had very mixed feelings about Kaplan’s work, particularly based on his Balkan reportage, much of which is in Balkan Ghosts.

Kaplan’s writing is about foreign cultures and geopolitics; but it’s essentially travel writing, if of the very highest sort. And good travel writing is an inherently and deeply subjective genre.

Yet I always felt Kaplan had a tendency to go too native. A good writer has to understand the prejudices of the people he writes about. But in Balkan Ghosts, with respect to the Serbs, he seemed to adopt them. His view of the Serbs’ self-explaining myths was such an internal one that they seemed to become his governing, if not wholly uncritical, vision of what was happening in Yugoslavia and Kosovo in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

This caught my attention in Balkan Ghosts because I knew a bit about the topic. And so I had my eye out for it in Soldiers of God, which is about a subject I know much, much less about. And certainly sometimes it’s there. As in this passage, in the chapter on Kandahar, where Kaplan describes the southern city’s culture as “pure Afghan, untouched by the culturally corrupting influences of Iran that had bastardized Herat or those of the Indian subcontinent that had bastardized Kabul.” (p.192)

But this fault, if it is a fault – and I’m not certain of it – is more than outweighed by the quality of the reportage and the wealth of very internal knowledge Kaplan is able to convey.

A few other small points. The book was first published in 1990 and this republication has a new chapter, ‘The Lawless Frontier’, which I think is based on a recent essay in The Atlantic. It’s more rushed and overview-like than the rest of the book. And there’s little editing to make it flow from the rest of the book – a shortcoming I’d have imagined could have been easily rectified, even in the rush to get it out quickly after 9/11 . But this new final chapter does give a chilling and Kaplanesque view of present-day Pakistan which makes you think that getting things in order in Afghanistan may only be a prelude to getting a handle on this wrecked and disintegrating country.

Todays Paul Krugmans column

Today’s Paul Krugman’s column discusses a clear and damning truth. If anything, he underplays it. After 9/11 George W. Bush promised $20 billion to help rebuild New York — the one part of the United States to suffer widespread damage from the attacks. (The attack on the Pentagon was a grievous wound to national prestige and honor and there was a terrible loss of life – but the physical destruction at least was contained and there’s no reason to think there will be fall-out for the local economy.) That promise has now been broken. Instead of $20 billion, it’s now going to be a bit more than $10 billion with some vague promises about a few bucks in the future … maybe.

Of course, this ain’t quite as serious as saying you didn’t inhale when you did. But surely this sort of broken promise must count for something, right? Maybe the aid would have been more forthcoming if the attacks had centered on some ‘bama catfish farms rather than lower Manhattan?

Sound like I’m reverting to pre-9/11 form? Well, just trying to get with the program. Everybody’s doing it.

In response to yesterdays

In response to yesterday’s post on books about the Ottoman empire, a number of readers wrote in to recommend Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire by Lord Kinross. I’ve read the Kinross book and it’s currently published in a big pulpy volume clearly intended to be a mainstay on bookstore shelves for decades to come. I will say that it is the best of the single volume histories on the subject that I’ve read. I just thought it was a bit heavy on political doings, recitations of Sultans (the achilles heel of Ottoman history writing), and just generally grade B history writing. But if you’re hunting around for a full-length single-volume history of Ottoman Turkey that’d probably be your best bet, though I still think the slender Itzokowitz book mentioned in the post below is a tour de force and the best place to start.

Here is a very

Here is a very good piece by Anne Applebaum in Slate about Turkey and the prospect of the Turks leading a peace-keeping force in Afghanistan. The piece is really a paean to Turkish secularism — or rather Kemalism, Turkey’s state ideology, originated by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state.

Talking Points is an ardent Turkophile, for a number of reasons, several of which are touched upon in Applebaum’s piece. I hope to be talking more about this. But for the moment let me just mention a few of what I’ve found to be some of the better books on the topic.

Though I’ve read many, I still haven’t read a really good full-length, single-volume history of Ottoman Turkey — that is, before the fall of the Sultanate and the end of the empire after World War I. Many of the ones I’ve read either treat the topic with a fanciful exoticism or just end up rattling off Sultans in a less than edifying or satisfying way.

But let me recommend one truly excellent book on the Ottoman Empire, Ottoman Empire and Islamic Tradition by Norman Itzkowitz. At a bit more than one hundred pages, you can easily dash it off in one sitting. But it’s elegantly written, marvelously concise, and provides an excellent overview of a whole epoch of Islamic history, as well as some crucial history of Turkey. Another good read is Andrew Mango’s recent biography of Ataturk, entitled, appropriately enough Ataturk.

Hopefully, more on this soon.

Happily we seem to

Happily, we seem to be on the brink of an intelligent and fruitful debate about military tribunals and the war on terrorism. Mainly because the debate has not shaken out along conventional ideological lines. Not only is there no conventional right vs. left split. We’re also not seeing the sometimes familiar extremes-against -the-middle breakdown.

Let’s take one example of the pro-tribunal argument.

Andrew Sullivan makes the increasingly-convetional but quite apt point that bin Laden and other Al Qaeda terrorists don’t deserve to be tried in civilian courts because they are not ‘criminals’ in the common sense of the word; they’re soldiers at war with us.

But this complicates the question as much as it clarifies it, because ‘war’ also involves a slew of protections. When you beat another country at war, you don’t try their leaders and soldiers for murder. War-killing is different from murder and it is, in some sense, permissible.

Now obviously the sort of violence Al Qaeda has used against the United States is so totally beyond the laws of war that you can make a pretty straightforward argument that bin Laden, et.al. are war-criminals. But then we’ve got a precedent for how we deal with war criminals too. And at least during this century it hasn’t been with military tribunals.

The problem here, I think, is a much broader one than military tribunals. It’s a meta-question that we’ll likely be dealing with for decades to come, and one that’s being ignored. That is, the world-wide rise of non-state actors and organizations and how they interact with states.

This isn’t meant as cheekiness or to diminish the seriousness of the situation. But what is Al Qaeda, really, but the world’s first terrorist NGO? None of our existing institutions or metaphors equips us for dealing with an outfit like Al Qaeda. And every effort to shoehorn it into one or the other of the existing ones is bound to produce an awkward fit.

With events on the

With events on the ground in Afghanistan today, it’s hard to figure that Osama bin Laden is going to be heading to the studio any time soon to cut another video. But if he does, here’s my take (in the New York Post) about why we should let him talk just as much as he wants.

Well thats odd. In

Well, that’s odd. In today’s New York Times, Judith Miller reports that “reversing a course set two decades ago, [the Bush administration] has decided that the world’s remaining stocks of smallpox should be retained until scientists develop new vaccines and treatments for the disease.”

As I noted yesterday, my new article in The New Republic addresses this question — specifically, Tommy Thompson’s new bioterrorism czar’s strident opposition to precisely this policy and his repeated denials that new vaccines or treatments can or need be developed.

The quickly-assembled Times article characterizes the change of policy like this:

A succession of administrations have endorsed the goal of destroying the virus, which was eradicated as a disease in the 1970’s. But some American scientists and Pentagon officials have argued for retaining smallpox stocks, and in 1999 President Bill Clinton declared that they should be maintained, at least temporarily, while more research was conducted.

The Clinton administration privately assured other nations that it would support a move to kill off smallpox in 2002 when the issue was considered by the World Health Organization, which has long advocated destruction of the virus …

“The issue was straightforward,” said a senior official. “Are we going to do what we can to be prepared for what is one of the most consequential threats we face, or are we going to engage in feel-good measures that mask the real danger?”

From my understanding, this significantly misstates the situation. The Clinton administration actually made this decision in 1999. They may not have enunciated the plan with the same self-serving badass-ery as the Bush folks. But no one whom I’ve ever spoken to believes the decision made in 1999 was meant to be anything but permanent. In fact, if you look back at Miller’s own articles in the Times from April 22nd, April 23rd, and May 22nd 1999 I think it pretty much bears me out.

The World Health Organization still planned, and still plans, to revisit the issue in 2002. But that’s the WHO, not the US government. This is at best a more definitive statement of a key policy change Bill Clinton made in 1999.

Be that as it may, the Miller article only underscores a pretty basic question: If the Bush administration believes that smallpox should not be destroyed, that keeping the stocks will make possible the development of new medicines and vaccines, and that all of this is critical to national security, how is it that its new chief of bioterrorism preparedness at HHS adamantly believes that each of these propositions is misguided and false?

Note to White House press corps: TPM is giving you a gimme question for Ari.

I was walking out

I was walking out of a friend’s office today and toward the elevator when I looked up and saw a sign that read “Ein Communications.”

And I’m thinking Ein Communications, Ein Communications … Marina Ein!!! Wait a second! Didn’t I almost end her career a few months ago when she was working as Gary Condit’s spokeswoman and I exposed her inexplicable decision to call Chandra Levy a woman with “a history of one night stands”? DOUBLE WAIT A SECOND!! Didn’t she almost end my career when she accused me of lying about it!! … Ok, wait. Deep breaths, deep breaths …

Well, you can imagine it was a pretty fraught moment. But look, I’m over that. And, as I told Bill O’Reilly at the time, I’m not going to say she lied. Let’s just say she knowingly, premeditatedly, and repeatedly made statements she knew to be false.

Anyway, here’s the deal, though. It turns out these things are karmic. Because no sooner do I get home than I see this: Gary Condit has received a grand jury subpoena for “undisclosed documents” relating to the disappearance of Chandra Levy.

Maybe he just couldn’t take being out of the limelight? I’ll tell you: one of the funny things I’ve heard is that just after 9/11 when one of the staples of late night comedy shows became jokes like ‘haven’t heard much about Gary Condit lately’ etc., his lackeys and flacks were actually calling up Leno and Letterman and trying to jawbone the writers into laying off. Always a sure fire way to deal with comedians.

Ahhh … those were the days.

Now that we seem

Now that we seem to be moving into the post-Taliban phase of the war on terrorism, let’s consider five key questions we’ll now be facing.

1. Will we be able to ensure, devise (pick your verb) a post-Taliban Afghan government which preserves a modicum of human rights, is at least more democratic than the last one, does not support terror, AND is not inimical to the geopolitical interests of Pakistan?

2. If Osama bin Laden is captured, taken alive, what should the United States do with him? What sort of trial or punishment best fits both the interests of justice and the broader aims of the war on terrorism.

(See this morning’s night owl TPM post on this question.)

3. If the situation in Afghanistan continues on in what appears to be its current course, how much and in what way will the United States bring the war against Al Qaeda to Southeast Asia? To countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines?

This is a very tricky question.

4. Will the Iraqoholics in the administration be able to push successfully for taking the war to Iraq? Or will the Powell-ites try to leverage the image of rapid victory (if that’s what it turns out to be) to reshape the geopolitics of the Mideast through aggressive diplomacy?

5. Will White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and al Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Gheith open a rainmaking, odd-couple DC public relations firm once Ari gets fired for being a risible hack?

Don’t laugh. That kinda *$#& happens in DC all the time!

A couple days ago

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

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 lets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Im getting

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.

As a matter of

As a matter of principle I don’t think Democratic consultants — ones who make their bread and butter from the Democratic party and its various committees — should work for Republicans, period.

So I’m not at all happy about the fact that Doug Schoen, of Penn, Schoen & Berland made a tidy sum helping Mike Bloomberg become the next mayor of New York.

DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe is pulling no punches about his displeasure, especially since Bill Clinton’s Democratic party made Penn & Schoen stars.

But let’s reel back the huffing and puffing a bit, especially from the Green campaign. Green’s campaign ads were done by Trippi, McMahon & Squier. But their noses aren’t exactly clean either. Earlier this year they worked for Republican Steve Soboroff in his losing campaign to become mayor of Los Angeles!

(There is a slight technicality here: Los Angeles municipal elections are officially non-partisan. So technically, you don’t run with a party label. But everyone knew that Tom Bradley was a Democrat and that Dick Riordan was a Republican. And if you wanna get technical about it, Mike Bloomberg actually is a Democrat. Really it’s basically a wash.)

So it’s not so much that Trippi, McMahon & Squier always rep Democrats. It’s more like they just always rep losers. Maybe they should have done better oppo research on themselves before they started giving grief to Doug Schoen?

Reading over the tea

Reading over the tea leaves of Tuesday’s elections, the one thing that drives me crazy or perhaps just makes me laugh are the pundits who say, “Well, sure Mark Warner won the Virginia governor’s race. But only because he didn’t run as a traditional liberal Democrat!”

Well, no &$#*! And more to the point, who cares? That’s like saying George Pataki could never have won reelection in New York state if he ran on Tom DeLay’s legislative program. Yeah, no kidding. And, again, who cares? If he did that he’d be … well, he’d be Bret Shundler, the affable and appealing right-winger who got bulldozed by the anemic but able Jim McGreevey in the New Jersey governor’s race.

The larger point here is that these pundits buy in to the fallacious notion — propagated on the right and the left (and particularly by some unreconstructed liberals) — that the Democratic party was born immaculate and liberal, and that any deviation from that course is just so much betrayal, backsliding, hedging and so forth.

The key to a party’s strength is seldom its purity. The Schundler debacle is revealing about New Jersey precisely because it’s not an anomaly. It’s not enough to say that if a more moderate Republican had gotten the nod, he or she would have done better. The reason Schundler got the nomination in the first place is that New Jersey Republicans have become so mangled and eviscerated that regulars and the moderates couldn’t get it together enough to nominate someone. And that left it to the freaks with the intensity to push through Schundler.

If you want the real run-down on the election results see John Judis’ characteristically magisterial squib in the New Republic.

Okay I think I

Okay, I think I was right to be suspicious. It turns out that anthrax-laced letter to the US Consulate in Lahore, Pakistan did not contain anthrax. So says a follow-up and apparently definitive test.

Now it’s true that there have apparently been other cases of anthrax-tainted letters in Pakistan in recent days. But to be frank, this is the only instance of anthrax contamination from Pakistan in which a follow-up test has been done in the United States. And the initial tests were wrong. So for those other cases, I think we need more definitive evidence.

Again, I’m not doctrinaire on either question. Maybe there is anthrax in Pakistan. And maybe it all comes from Al Qaeda. But let’s keep our eyes on the data and take this one step at a time.

Un-in believable What else

Un-#$%#in’ believable! What else to call it? I’m watching Mike Bloomberg about to give his acceptance speech after winning the New York mayor’s race. Even though there were all the signs of a possible Bloomberg win for the last few days, I kept telling a friend of mine that I thought Green would pull it out.

Why? Just figured. Republicans don’t win New York mayor’s races, except once in a generation as a sort of ideological spring cleaning. So much for hunches.

Like my friend Mickey Kaus, I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Mark Green, even though all my young Dem friends just hate the guy. But what’s really got to be devastating about this defeat for Green is that this clearly wasn’t an ideological win. And it wasn’t a personality or ability win for Bloomberg. Mike Bloomberg won because people really don’t seem to like Mark Green.


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