Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

There is a chilling, even terrifying story unfolding in Washington, DC, though I don't know how much play it's getting outside of this area.

Yesterday morning someone shot and killed five people in the Washington, DC suburbs of Montgomery County, Maryland. Unfortunately, shootouts and other flurries of violence happen not that infrequently. So that in itself might not sound so striking. The details tell the story ...

To all appearances none of the five had any connection to each other beside the fact that they were all out in the open Thursday morning in the area in question. Each was shot dead with a single shot. Police speculate that the killer used a high-powered rifle. And since police reports don't seem to contain any instances of people hearing gunshots or seeing the shooter, it would seem that the shooter was firing at some distance.

So you have someone on the loose who is apparently a very good marksman -- able to kill five people with single shots at seemingly great distances and not be seen. The mix of accuracy, stealth, and knowing where to shoot is unsettling, to put it mildly.

Police now believe that the shooting spree began Wednesday evening with a single shot through the window of an arts and crafts store in Washington. Less than an hour later a man walking across a crosswalk at the intersection of Randolph Road and Georgia Avenue was shot dead in a manner similar to that of those killed the next morning in Montgomery County.

From the facts at hand it really sounds like someone who has training as a sniper, though certainly anyone who was an accomplished marksman could probably pull it off.

The police are obviously taking this all extremely seriously. But they don't seem to have that much to go on. And as you can imagine, if someone can conceal themselves and shoot from a sufficient distance that no witnesses can connect the shooter and the victim, it can be really difficult to catch the guy or even know where to start. Suddenly I'm not feeling so bad that I'm going to be home working this weekend ...

Nothing sounds quite so tinny as self-righteous indignation. Until you come to Republican self-righteous indignation.

TPM continues to be inundated by a flurry of Republicans' emails howling about the outrage of New Jersey Supreme Court decision allowing a change in the election ballots. The normally sensible Senator Bill Frist -- who walked the Republicans' appeal over to the Supreme Court today -- was ridiculous enough to charge that Democrats were trying to "steal an election they could not otherwise win."

(Where these gun-slingers for the rule of law were when Mitt Romney got a pass, and rightly so, on his Massachusetts residency requirement I just don't know.)

Republicans have developed a lot of know-how in the last couple years at stealing elections. But I must confess to a certain confusion about how one steals an election by fielding a candidate. The idea seems to be that for Doug Forrester, Frank Lautenberg is an unfairly strong candidate. And that Forrester is somehow damaged by Lautenberg's electability.

Giving it some thought, and considering the Supreme Court's decisions in Bush v. Gore, it even seems possible that this might be the basis of an equal protection claim for Forrester. Forrester entered the race with the reasonable expectation that he would only face a candidate either equally lame or more lame than him, but not less lame. It's almost an implied contract he has with the state's electorate, right? Putting a new candidate on the ballot now violates this insufferable chump's right to coast into office without facing an actual opponent. But I digress ...

I looked at the NJ Supreme Court ruling and it struck me as a liberal, though not unreasonable, construction of the statute. The court "determined that N.J.S.A. 19:13-20 [the statute in question] does not preclude the possibility of a vacancy occurring within fifty-one days of the general election ..."

Now I'm not a lawyer (and lawyers -- though several are very dear to my heart -- rule the world and elections and so forth) so there's really no point in my giving you my opinion on whether the decision passes muster. But I'd say I feel pretty comfortable with the proposition stated here a couple days back, that election laws should be construed expansively in the interest of holding actual elections -- not just notional elections in which it's the Republican against the Green or Socialist candidate.

Most of the substantive arguments I've heard to the contrary strike me as pretty weak. One commentator says the whole switch is wrong because it deprives Jersey voters of the right to throw Torricelli out of office. But of course that's just a dumb throwaway comment which means nothing.

The other argument one hears is that this decision will set off a wave of candidates taking electoral hemlock days or weeks prior to an election they are destined to lose. Can anyone who makes this argument have ever spent any time around elected politicians? Not a chance. Especially these days with weak parties there's really no institutional force capable of knocking a candidate out of a race. And people who run for office just don't have egos that work that way. To put it mildly.

The real public good question, it seems to me, is just what harm anyone has suffered through this decision. I can't see one, save Doug Forrester being forced to run against an actual candidate. Unfortunately, the appeal the Forrester campaign has made to the United States Supreme Court turns on precisely the same principle which the Court's 5-4 majority created out of whole cloth in order to find a way to turn the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush. So consistency would dictate their intervention in this case too. Here consistency may be the handmaiden of travesty.

The money quote from the New Jersey Supreme Court ballot case came from Justice Peter G. Verniero, a former Chief Counsel, Chief of Staff and later Supreme Court appointee of former Governor Christie Whitman. "Didn't Mr. Forrester call for Mr. Torricelli to withdraw?" he said in response to a protesting Republican attorney during oral arguments. "Was he expecting to run unopposed?"

That about sums it up.

The Forrester campaign is now headed to the United States Supreme Court, the normal recourse of Republicans who can't win elections with majorities but aren't inclined to see that as the end of the story.

I've received a lot of emails in the last couple of days from people saying I'm ignoring the importance of the deadline which prescribes that in New Jersey candidates have to pull out 51 days before an election to have another name put on the ballot. There's certainly a good argument there. Just not the best argument. I'm reminded of earlier this year when Massachusetts Democrats tried to knock Mitt Romney out of contention for the governorship because there may have been some problem with his Massachusetts residency status. I thought that was wrong; just as I think this is wrong for Republicans to do. The unanimous decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court -- which is heavily stacked with Republican appointees -- I think gives a lot of credence to that view.

Some readers who have written in tell me that this is a recipe for electoral chaos, that every time a candidate looks like he's going down the tubes he can just pull out and bring in a ringer. There's a superficial logic to the argument. But such arguments toward practical effect must withstand some measure of logical scrutiny and this one really doesn't. When filing deadlines come down how many candidates do you usually see rushing to cash out their candidacies? Right, not many. The sort of people who run for elective office just don't do that sort of thing. And in how many of those cases is there another credible candidate waiting in the wings? Not often. If there were, that other candidate probably would have won the primary. Say what you will about what happened here, it's hardly likely to become a pattern.

And so after a long intermission we return to the case of Richard Perle, meddler.

As TPM noted, almost a year ago to the day, Perle is a long-time heavyweight in neo-conservative foreign policy circles. He is also the Chairman of something called the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board. The DPB used to be a rather out-of-the-way affair, but Perle's transformed it into an important advisory council within today's Pentagon. By any real measure, he's a member of this administration.

Yet around this time last year he was going on virtually every chat show there is and attacking Colin Powell for disloyalty to the president. And he was getting unwary chat show producers to identify him merely as an 'assistant secretary of defense' from the Reagan administration.

Point being, Perle was trying to have it both ways, being an administration player one day and an outside critic the next. And the administration was letting him get away with it.

Numerous embarrassments followed.

It was Perle who invited the off-kilter, former Lyndon LaRouche follower Laurent Murawiec to give a presentation at the Pentagon advising the US essentially to declare war against Saudi Arabia. As we noted at the time, the real crime of Murawiec' presentation -- which was later published by Jack Shafer in Slate -- wasn't so much the controversy it created as the fact that it had all the appearances of being written by a precocious nine-year-old. But, alas, I digress ...

Now Perle is at it again. According to the Iranian news agency IRNA, Perle just gave an interview to the German daily Handelsblatt in which he said Gerhard Schroeder, the recently re-elected German Chancellor, should resign because of the allegedly anti-American campaign he recently ran. A Pentagon official saying something like that is a big deal.

It's actually rather similar to the article he wrote about exactly one year ago in Britain's Daily Telegraph derisively attacking the British Foreign Secretary.

This is foreign policy freelancing -- irresponsible and often shameless behavior. Beside the behind-the-scenes mischief Perle cooks up, these comments of his are routinely reported in the foreign countries in question as comments of a 'senior Pentagon advisor' or some similar formulation and -- as Perle clearly intends -- the comments carry the impression that he is speaking in some capacity for the administration. It's shabby behavior and low intrigue. An administration of pros wouldn't tolerate it.

A couple months ago I told Nick Confessore that I doubted the Democrats would be in much danger of losing control of the Senate come early October. An article questioning why Democrats weren't making more of an issue of that danger or why they weren't trying to nationalize the election around fears of unfettered, one-party control of the federal government, I told him, might fall on deaf ears.

Well, chalk one up for Nick Confessore.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not pessimistic about Democrats chances of holding the Senate. But a number of factors -- the crisis over Iraq primarily, but also a number of curveballs from left-field -- have really thrown the contest wide-open.

And now Nick's new article -- which is the cover piece in the new issue of the Washington Monthly -- looks uncomfortably on target and relevant.

A few days back New Jersey Republican Senate candidate Douglas Forrester called on Bob Torricelli to resign. Now Torricelli's in effect done that and Forrester says it's not fair and that no new, clean Democrat should be allowed to take his place on the ballot. He's complaining. The heads of the Republican Senate committee are complaining. Everybody with a parenthetical 'R' after their name is complaining.

From what I can tell, the legalities of getting a new name on the ballot at this late stage are unsettled. But I was disappointed this morning when I saw some people who should know better claiming that it was somehow an outrage for the Democrats to try to field a candidate and give New Jersey voters an actual election next month.

Election law -- as we saw in Florida two years ago -- is the most vexed kind of law in a democratic society since it sets such powerful interests against each other -- the rule of law and democracy. In a democratic society, the presumption in favor of putting significant questions before voters should almost always prevail. If New Jersey law is crystal clear on this point, and it specifically bars any means of putting another name on the ballot, then so be it. But if there's a legal way to do it, then it should happen.

This is the advantage Democrats do have and should have in this case. In a democratic polity, the absence of black letter law to the contrary, the interests of democracy -- having real elections -- always trump procedural squabbling.

The rather shabby truth here is that Republicans understand that Forrester could only get elected in a state like New Jersey not simply if he were facing a bad candidate but essentially no candidate.

Democratic hopes for the United States Senate have taken a real hit. It's not so much Bob Torricelli's decision to drop out of the New Jersey Senate race today as the revelations last week which seem to have made the decision inevitable. Torch's decision to bail out may be a blessing for the Dems in as much as it at least creates the possibility that that seat -- which really should be a Dem seat -- can be salvaged.

As emails from friends have streamed in over the course of the morning, I keep thinking of the stabbing scene in Julius Caesar. Not a perfect analogy, mind you. But it's hard to exaggerate the sheer number of people who can't wait to slip their own private dagger into this guy now that they see the blood in the water or, perhaps better to say, the body on the ground. Former staffers, old opponents, old friends, old girlfriends, miscellaneous pols, campaign workers, donors, house pets, you name it. Torch always ran his show on fear, bravado and muscle. The denouement is going to be ugly. It already is.

Rumors are swirling in DC and New Jersey that Senator Bob "Torch" Torricelli is about to pull the plug on his embattled Senate reelection campaign.

If you're a new reader of TPM you may be surprised to know that in addition to regime change and Iraq and George Orwell and the South Dakota Senate Race, TPM also has a bizarre but abiding interest in the Chandra Levy case. He was sort of an early adopter, you might say.

(Don't criticize: everyone has their failings.)

Today the Washington Post published an article -- expected for some time -- reporting that DC police have refocused interest on an El Salvadoran immigrant named Ingmar A. Guandique.

Guandique attacked two women in Rock Creek Park not long after Levy disappeared. And he was later sentenced to ten years in prison under a plea bargain under which he pled guilty to attempted robbery. While awaiting trial a prison inmate told police that Guandique had confessed to the crime. But the snitch failed a polygraph and Guandique passed one. So in the absence of other evidence police scratched him from the list.

Now, according to the Post, police are considering Guandique again after questions were raised about whether the polygraph should have been administered by a bilingual examiner rather than through a translator. Perhaps imprecision in translation led to a bad test result. (Others who've followed this case speculate that questions were just getting asked about why the *#$% the DC cops never solved this case. And Guandique was convenient.)

But there are still a few pretty basic problems with the new theory. In fact, the Post article addresses some of them, even if it does sorta bury them.

In May, authorities played down Guandique as a suspect because Levy had been killed before his attacks on the joggers -- who fought back and escaped without serious injury. They theorized that someone who already had killed would have been more violent with the later victims. Also, the two joggers looked strikingly similar, tall and blond, while Levy was a petite brunet.

But investigators now believe that opportunity, not how the women looked, was a key factor in the attacks, according to law enforcement sources. They still are not sure why Levy was in the park, because family and friends say she was not a jogger and didn't like to go there alone. Some investigators have speculated that she went for a long walk, possibly to see the Nature Center, or was in the park to meet someone.


[D.C. Superior Court Judge Noel A.] Kramer said Guandique never stole anything from the women, not even their portable tape players, items he told police he was trying to take when he attacked them. "There is more here than a Walkman," the judge said.

In a similarity noted by law enforcement authorities, Levy's Walkman also was found with her remains.

Here we have two very basic problems which -- in the absence of any direct evidence inculpating Guandique -- still seem to me hard to overcome. It seems improbable -- though certainly not impossible -- that a serial killer would quickly dispatch his first victim and then flub the next two. As the Post piece says, one imagines you'd get better at it, not worse.

Still more problematic is just why Levy would have been in the park. Levy was not only not a jogger, she was not a jogger -- according to friends and family -- specifically because she didn't think it was safe to jog outside in a city like DC. If that's true, why on earth would she go to an isolated and sorta scary place like that to jog?

There are some other small details militating against the jogging hypothesis. But I'll spare you those.

Secondly, if you consider where she lived and where her body was found this would have been a very, very long jog on a hot summer day. At least it seems that way to a pitiful jogger like TPM. But we don't have to go into that.

This issue of the eerie similarity of no one having their Walkman stolen is really just too moronic to even comment on.

Now, there is always the Kafkaesque -- well, not exactly Kafkaesque, but work with me, I can't think of another word -- scenario in which Condit, or some rent-a-goon he hired, lured Levy into a secluded part of Rock Creek Park to tell her it was over, positively over, and she better not think of making any trouble. Then he leaves her there. Chandra is crushed and despondently drifts off into some wooded section of the park only to get whacked by Guandique.

It would be just Condit's luck.

Pardon the recent scantness of postings. Other matters had been keeping me busy. But now we should be returning to more or less the regular frequency.

There's a good piece today in Slate by Jake Weisberg making what he calls "The Case Against the Case Against War." In fact, there's a nice package of pieces at Slate hashing out many of the different strands of the hawkish and dovish arguments.

I found a lot I agreed with in Jake's piece. But what really grabbed my attention today was a comment from -- of all people -- Colin Powell.

Recently I've criticized what seemed to me to be the casual attitude toward untruth many in this administration have when it comes to discussing Iraq. Generally, this comes from the more hawkish types from the Pentagon and the Office of the Vice President and so forth.

Today the administration released new information showing purported ties between Saddam Hussein's regime and al Qaida. On balance, the information didn't seem that convincing. Or rather didn't seem to prove very much. There were overtures from al Qaida about whether Saddam would allow some members safe haven, but apparently no information about what the response had been. There are al Qaida in Iraq, but they're not in a part of Iraq that Saddam controls. Even different administration officials contradicted each other about what information the United States really had -- which doesn't inspire much confidence on a number of levels. The whole thing had the look of the old throwing whatever you can find up against the wall and seeing what sticks.

Again, what struck me though was a comment from Colin Powell.

Powell told a Senate Committee that while there was evidence of Iraqi-al Qaida cooperation there was still "no smoking gun" connecting Iraq to 9/11. I would hasten to note that there is also still no definitive proof that the author of Talking Points lives in a mansion in Georgetown or even that he owns that villa in Capri. But somehow stating this undeniable fact in such a fashion strikes me as a touch misleading.

Normally when you have a claim for which you have no evidence you characterize this as 'a claim for which you have no evidence.' Or one might even be bold and say 'it's not true, as far as we know.'

When you say there's no smoking gun, the obvious implication is that there is a lot of information, a lot of clues pointing in that direction, but no real slam-dunk evidence. But of course there simply isn't any evidence pointing to an Iraq-9/11 connection, and a lot of circumstantial evidence -- to the extent that one can ever prove a negative -- to the contrary.

So, as I asked several days back, why the endless attempts to fudge? Why the resistance to having this debate on the basis of the very serious facts and threats at hand? Though the rationale for liberating Kuwait was powerful in 1990 there was also testimony before Congress at the time about Iraqi atrocities in Kuwait which was later demonstrated to be entirely bogus. The immediate trigger for our involvement in Vietnam -- as opposed to the larger rationale for our involvement -- was later revealed to be based on exaggerations so great as to basically amount to lies. And one finds this sort of thing in the lead-ups to many other wars, in this country and in others. It's almost like these little bogus stories are the bon-bons of war, the little morsels and appetizers to chum up those who can't quite swallow the whole complicated rationale whole.

In this case, and from someone like Colin Powell, can't we do better?