David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

An October surprise? From Time:

The first message was routine enough: A "Prepare to Deploy" order sent through naval communications channels to a submarine, an Aegis-class cruiser, two minesweepers and two mine hunters. The orders didn't actually command the ships out of port; they just said to be ready to move by Oct. 1. But inside the Navy those messages generated more buzz than usual last week when a second request, from the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), asked for fresh eyes on long-standing U.S. plans to blockade two Iranian oil ports on the Persian Gulf. The CNO had asked for a rundown on how a blockade of those strategic targets might work. When he didn't like the analysis he received, he ordered his troops to work the lash up once again.

What's going on? The two orders offered tantalizing clues. There are only a few places in the world where minesweepers top the list of U.S. naval requirements. And every sailor, petroleum engineer and hedge-fund manager knows the name of the most important: the Strait of Hormuz, the 20-mile-wide bottleneck in the Persian Gulf through which roughly 40% of the world's oil needs to pass each day. Coupled with the CNO's request for a blockade review, a deployment of minesweepers to the west coast of Iran would seem to suggest that a much discussed—but until now largely theoretical—prospect has become real: that the U.S. may be preparing for war with Iran.

Exporting democracy to Iraq: 13,000 people in U.S. custody inhabiting the netherworld between criminal defendant and POW.

Robert Novak, on never having watched Jon Stewart: “I don’t see any reason for it. It’s a comedian, self-righteous comedian taking on airs of grandeur and I really don’t need that.”

So, Jon Stewart is Bob Novak--except funny?

The Australian ran a piece yesterday using the Dusty Foggo-Brent Wilkes story as the peg for a look at the broader mess within the U.S. intelligence community:

Revelations via The New York Times and The Washington Post in the past 12 months have included reports that the CIA was operating secret prisons offshore to detain high-level terrorists and that Bush was authorising surveillance through wiretaps on US citizens without a court warrant, as laws demand. Bush has confirmed the existence of both programs.

The disclosures have helped frame the debate in the US on the war on terror this year and promoted an increasing disquiet among Americans about the direction of their country. The intelligence leaks play into the fears of many an American that there's a sneaky federal Government up to no good behind the scenes and always looking for a way to control their lives, a kind of conspiracy that appears embedded in the cultural DNA of the place.

And it means that rather than a unified front against terrorism, the US has become as polarised as ever about where it's headed.

It's a good read, and has an interesting perspective that perhaps comes with being more detached than domestic American media.

It became clear sometime in early 2006--I can't recall pinpointing exactly when--that President Bush's call to "stay the course" in Iraq meant he and the GOP would dance with who they brought through the 2006 elections. It is the only way they can retain Congress.

But it has also been increasingly clear that the decision has already been made--has been made for some time--to change course after the elections. James Baker's group is designed and intended to be the cover for declaring victory and getting out of Iraq. If for no other reason, the pressure from within the GOP to fix this mess before the 2008 election will be enormous. So my question is, how many American troops will have died between the time the decision was made to get out of Iraq and the time we actually do get out of Iraq? How many American lives will it cost to give the GOP a chance to retain control of Congress?

Straight from the horse's mouth:

Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) noted that the unfavorable political landscape leaves GOP leaders little choice but to fight it out on defense and terrorism.

"People aren't paying attention to the economy. We've given up on immigration. We need to send people home with some significant accomplishments, and we have no other choice," LaHood said. "We have no other issue."

One aspect to the outsourcing of the nation's defense that has gone largely overlooked is the hidden costs associated with long-term mental and physical health care for the tens of thousands of contract workers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Incidentally, the outsourcing isn't limited to the Department of Defense. Today, the LA Times reports that the number of CIA contract workers has "nearly doubled" in the last five years and now exceeds the full-time permanent workforce of 17,500 employees.

Outsourcing has a number of advantages for the Administration. In addition to awarding donors and supporters with lucrative contracts, it allows the Administration to push costs that would otherwise be incurred by Veterans Affairs, for example, not just off the books but out of government altogether, at least for now. But while those costs may be hidden in the short-term and deferred in the middle-term, they will have to be borne eventually. But instead of being able to address the problems in a comprehensive, cost-effective way, it will be diffused and the burdens carried by individual families and communities. Think of the long-term social costs associated with the veterans returning from Vietnam, but without the government and social service available to veterans. Those services have rarely been as generous as veterans deserve, but at least we had a framework and means for providing such services.

Some will say that contract workers, motivated perhaps by profit, deserve less than our troops. But had it not been for the contract workers, we would have needed more troops. So we would have had to pay the price one way or the other. (Except that in the case of Iraq part of the reason for using contract workers was to avoid the political ramifications of calling up and paying for the number of troops that were actually needed. Had the Administration been straightforward, the political consequence would likely have been no invasion of Iraq to begin with.)

It is another instance where the Administration's budget gimmickry converges with its political corruption to produce a long-term public policy problem. And as in other similar instances, they simply count on being long gone by the time the reckoning is due.

I'm reading through the Post's front-pager on how the Bush Administration screened political appointees for jobs in post-invasion Iraq based on loyalty to Bush and the conservative agenda. It's another one of a string of reports in recent months that fall into a strange category of news-gathering: stories already known to be true but for which the specific facts weren't yet available.

I know that sounds flip, but there really is something going on here worth noting. For instance, any reasonable person's reaction to the Post story will be a variation on, "Duh!" Bush placed a premium on political fealty rather than competence and effectiveness? Who is surprised by that? No one. So you read the piece for the anecdotes, like the fact that the Pentagon official responsible for screening political appointees is Jim O'Beirne, husband of conservative commentator Kate O'Beirne.

Isn't it usually the other way around? Reporters, and their readers, look for the facts in order to construct a larger picture. Ideally the facts are pieced together into a mosaic in which discrete bits of information that may otherwise be meaningless standing alone now contribute to a greater level of understanding.

Not so with many Bush era stories. The President's modus operandi is so well established, but the cloak of secrecy so tightly closed, that the broad outlines of a story may be known months or years before the particular facts are uncovered to flesh out the details. The closest thing I can compare it to is reading the next day's sports story after watching the game. You read not to learn who won, but for colorful anecdotes, and at some level to confirm what you have already seen and know to be true.

Of course this Administration's record--or, more precisely, the recording of that record--is a far more serious undertaking than a ballgame. The effort is similar in some respects to what people grappled with in the 1990s in post-communist Eastern Europe and post-Apartheid South Africa. There is something fundamental about knowing the details. I'm not sure that journalism as we now know and practice it is particularly suited to filling in the details well after the fact, but I don't think we can afford to wait for the historians.