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

As Josh has rightly noted, the current wave of public corruption cases is largely the result of GOP machine politics.

It's easy to get distracted by the baubles and the booty. Scottish golf trips. Persian rugs. Limousines and hookers.

But personal aggrandizement is not the sum total of these various cases. That's just the carrying charge, the price of doing business.

The GOP machine is built on the nexus of earmarks, lobbying fees, government contracts, and laundered monies. Aboveboard campaign contributions (i.e., corporate cash) play a part, but the under-the-table money fuels the machine.

That's why a Jack Abramoff has access to the White House. It's why a Tom Delay rises to become House majority leader. It's why the revolving door keeps spinning.

Machine politics subordinates ideology to the exigencies of keeping the machine running. Thus you have out-of-control federal spending under professed small-government conservatives. You have conservative foreign policy elites wary of foreign entanglements suddenly proclaiming the good news of nation-building.

Independents and honest Republicans recognize the threat that machine politics poses to democratic institutions. It trumps party, ideology, and competent government. It also trumps God, flag, and country.

So, in the 2006 elections, are you with the machine or are you against it?

In a post last night I waded into the soup of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I figured, why not? I'm only guest posting. If I leave carnage in my wake, Josh will be the one who gets to clean it up.

For the most part, the email response was temperate and quite thoughtful, but by no means was there a consensus, as these two TPM readers demonstrate:

From TPM Reader SS:

I couldn't disagree more with your post regarding the so-called "disproportionate" Israeli response to the kidnapping of one of its soldiers.

First, to frame the debate as you did--a response over the kidnapping of a single soldier--is disingenuous. Israel's response is not over the kidnapping of a single soldier. It concerns the elevation of a terrorist organization into political power--in Israel's own backyard.

Hamas has vowed, and continues to vow, to destroy Israel. In the same incident in which a soldier was kidnapped, two others were murdered and one seriously injured. Qasam rockets rain into Israel regularly. I do not understand why Israel does not have the right to self-defense and self-preservation. Regardless of how you view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--and I for one believe in a negotiated two-state solution--it is impossible to negotiate with an entity that predicates its existence upon Israel's complete destruction.

The United States attacked and destroyed the Afganistan political establishment because it harbored terrorists. Everyone applauded. Israel has been living side-by-side with a people that harbored a substantial number of people who supported its destruction, and tacitly went-along with (or at a minimum refused to condemn or attempt to stop) these terrorists. Now they control the government. I think that Israel's response to having a people call for its destruction has been remarkably constrained. I don't think, in fact, we could find a more restrained response in history.

Then again, from TPM Reader JB:

The "kidnapping" of the Israeli soldier in a daring commando raid, an Israeli military disaster btw, was the pretext for this operation, which very likely was planned well-before the soldier was seized.

Discussing what the Israelis are doing as though it were really in reaction to this incident is to buy into Israeli propaganda. What they are really up to is simply to destroy the (democratically-elected) Hamas government and prevent the formation of a viable government in Palestine as part of PM Olmert's "Convergence Plan."

If anything, Israel's kidnapping of the eight Palestinian civilian cabinet members and the shelling of their civilian PM's offices is probably in reaction to the joint statement agreed to recently by both Fatah and Hamas pledging to reduce violence and by implication recognizing Israel's right to exist. Oops. The one thing Israel cannot countenance is peace.

Doesn't look like I'll be unleashing world peace during this guest posting stint. Maybe next time.

When exactly did the NSA start monitoring domestic telecommunications traffic, after September 11--or before?

Are the Russians calling our bluff?

At the Thursday meeting of G8 foreign ministers in Moscow, someone forgot to turn off the audio feed from what was supposed to be a private luncheon. Reporters were able to listen in on what turned out to be, in diplo-speak, "frank discussions" between Condi Rice and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

Toward the end of the back and forth, came this pointed jab from Lavrov, as described by Glenn Kessler in the WP:

The two continued to squabble when Lavrov threw out a new concept -- that the new Iraqi government had to answer questions about former president Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction because last week Republican lawmakers in the United States had said there was evidence of chemical munitions.

"I think it's serious," he said. "While we want to support this government, we also believe that this government has something to do to finalize the leftovers of the past, which is basically nonproliferation concerns."

This line of conversation riled Rice, but once again other ministers suggested a compromise that mentioned the idea without endorsing it.

I'll confess I had missed this exchange until an astute TPM reader pointed it out to me. But it appears that the Russians, as skeptical as the rest of us of claims from some in Congress that WMD really was found in Iraq after all, is telling the Bush Administraton to put up or shut up.

If what members of the President's party are saying is true, then it logically follows that the international community will need certain assurances, such as guarantees that all such weapons and weapons capabilities are destroyed and commitments by the new Iraqi government that it will not pursue any such capabilities.

It's not clear from the WP piece exactly what a "riled" Rice said in response, but as Laura Rozen put it:

The Russian government anyhow seems to be taking Hoekstra/Santorum/Weldon's Iraq WMD concerns seriously. The Bush administration, not so much. What's wrong with this picture?

(Thanks to TPM Reader GP)

The Air Force is venturing forth into the virtual blue yonder with $450,000 in funding for a three-year project entitled “Automated Ontologically-Based Link Analysis of International Web Logs for the Timely Discovery of Relevant and Credible Information.”

That's right. The Air Force is studying blogs. All part of Rumsfeld's military transformation, I suppose. Here's some of what the Air Force has deduced so far:

“It can be challenging for information analysts to tell what’s important in blogs unless you analyze patterns,” [senior scientist Brian] Ulicny said.

He must be talking about these guys.

One of the problems analysts may have with blog monitoring, Ulicny noted, is there is too much actionable information for the analyst to properly analyze.

I've always said that about Wolcott's blog--too much actionable information.

“Blog entries have a different structure,” Ulicny said. “They are typically short and are about something external to the blog posting itself , such as a news event. It’s not uncommon for a blogger to simply state, ‘I can’t believe this happened,’ and then link to a news story.”


“The fact that the web is a vast source of information is sometimes overlooked by military analysts,” Kokar said. “Our research goal is to provide the warfighter with a kind of information radar to better understand the information battlespace."

I could not agree more.

In a remarkable piece of enterprise journalism, trumpeted above the Sunday fold, the LA Times reports:

Now, in the face of increasing violence in Iraq and eroding public support for the war at home, Republicans are turning again to the theme of toughness — with gloves off.

. . .

But the Democrats' response so far has been less unified, less pointed and less memorable than the Republicans' attacks.

As if on cue, the article goes on to offer tough-talking quotes from Republicans and insipid, navel-gazing quotes from Democrats.

And so begins another campaign season of trail-blazing political reporting.

In response to the post below, TPM reader DS correctly notes, among other points, the chicken/egg conundrum:

I see your point . . . and will go you one further.

First, the US has pretty much said that our allies can do virtually anything when it comes to fighting terrorism. Wiretapping, check. Library and Bank records, check. Detention without charges our trials, check. Torture, check. Bombing and war without provocation, check.

As usual, the US is setting the tone for what is acceptable world-wide.

On the other hand, while it may be inflammatory for Israel to go over-the-top here, this situation was likely caused by Palestinians being inflamed by the war.

Bush has put Israel in a no-win situation. Terror attacks will increase because of the War in Iraq, yet an Israeli response to the terror attacks will feed the insurgents in Iraq as well as attacks on Israel.

Damned if they do and damned if they don't. And with a US president who thinks they are all damned anyway!

Tony Blair: "What sustains a government at this point is self-belief."

Not much to go on, but if it's all you got . . .

What U.S. strategic interest is served by Israel's seizing of elected Palestinian officials and bombing of the offices of the Palestinian prime minister?

Others have aptly noted the disproportionate Israeli response to the capture of one of its soldiers. When measured not just against the incident that precipated the current escalation of violence but also against international norms, Israel's conduct has been disproportionate--and self-defeating. (If this report is true, then Israel's conduct is beyond disproportionate.)

But with the United States bogged down in Iraq, another important measuring stick, at least for us, is U.S. strategic interest. By that measure, Israel's actions this past week have been a disaster.

There seems to be a tendency for the United States to continue to view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the old perspective, when we often served the role of a benevolent uncle who didn't hesitate to knock his nephews heads together to enforce good behavior. But thanks to our excursion into Iraq, we now have a greater stake in the region than at any time since the end of the Cold War, and perhaps since the creation of Israel. Although President Bush is loath to admit it, our heightened level of involvement may very well continue for decades to come.

Caught between warring factions and the target of insurgents, we are in a virtually untenable situation in Iraq, tactically and strategically. One of the few things that could possibly worsen the dire circumstances in Iraq is for Israel to inflame Iraqis and the region further with the sort of conduct it has exhibited this past week.

If you are one of the few people who takes seriously the President's stated strategic objective of bringing democracy to the Middle East, then you won't cheer Israeli military strikes on the fledgling institutions of a tenuous democracy (if that's not being too charitable toward the Palestinian government).

In fairness to Israel, it is not clear to anyone, including the President, what our strategic objectives in Iraq are. We can hardly expect our allies to closely coordinate their policies with ours, which, as the President himself has declared, consists of waiting around for his successor to take office so the next guy (or gal) can figure out what to do. It's a hapless situation that we've gotten ourselves into, and for that Israel is not to blame.

The Duke Cunningham investigation has generated as many spinoffs as All in the Family.

Much of the focus lately has been on the links among U.S. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), the Copeland Lowery lobbying firm, and congressional earmarks. Remember that the Duke is connected to the unfolding Lewis investigation in a number of ways, most notably through alleged briber Brent Wilkes, who was a Copeland Lowery client.

On Friday came a reminder that the Duke investigation began as a defense contracting scandal and that investigators are still pursuing the Pentagon angle. Federal prosecutors in the District of Columbia filed a bill of information against Richard A. Berglund, a retired lieutenant colonel who worked for defense contractor MZM. Berglund stands accused of making illegal contributions in early 2005 to the re-election campaign of U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA).

As the Washington Post suggests, the filing of a bill of information signals that Berglund has probably worked out a plea deal with prosecutors that will include his agreement to cooperate with investigators.

Why should that worry some folks in the Pentagon? Well, remember that MZM founder Mitchell Wade has already pleaded guilty in connection with his bribing of Duke Cunningham. In fact, as alleged in Wade's plea agreement and Friday's bill of information, it was Wade who was orchestrating the illegal campaign contributions. (Katherine Harris (R-FL) was one of the recipients of those contributions; neither she nor Goode has been charged with any wrongdoing and both have denied having any knowledge of the illegal nature of the contributions.) Wade has been cooperating with investigators, apparently extensively.

So flipping Berglund doesn't get the feds any closer to Wade. They already have Wade. But Berglund, a former military officer, could help point the way into the Pentagon. He was the program manager for MZM's Martinsville, Va., facility (in Goode's district), which handled defense-related work. Stay tuned.