Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Here's the headline and tease on <$NoAd$>the front of the CNN website as of 2:50 AM on Saturday morning ...

Retailers Seeing Holiday Sales Increase: Millions of people Friday got an early start to one of the busiest shopping days of the year, lining up outside stores long before the sun came up. Analysts expect stronger sales this holiday season but that discounts won't be as deep as last year's. There are reports that luxury retailers are even raising prices.

Here are the first few grafs of the lead story on the CNN Business news website ...

Rain and leaner discounts greeted shoppers across much of the nation on Black Friday, a day that marks the official start of the holiday sales season.

"Early indications show that store traffic and the promotional activity is at lower levels than last year at this time," said Kurt Barnard, an independent retail consultant. "I wouldn't be surprised if many retailers try to get away with selling merchandise at full price."

Barnard anticipates that same-store sales -- or sales at stores open at least a year -- will rise between 1 percent and 3 percent for the three days including Black Friday and the coming weekend.

"That's not fantastic by any means," Barnard said.

A bit of a disconnect?

If you're involved in all sorts of iffy financial transactions, don't get into a messy divorce.

Someone didn't mention this sage advice to Neil Bush.

Now it turns out that Bush is not-too-distantly connected to New Bridge Strategies, the outfit President Bush's right-hand-man Joe Allbaugh set up to play Iraqi contracts game.

Here's the run-down.

It turns out Neil is Co-Chairman of something called Crest Investment Corporation. Whatever it is Crest does, it pays 60 grand a year to get a few hours a week of advice from the President's ne'er-do-well brother on how to do it.

The other "co-chairman and principal of Crest," reports the Financial Times, "is Jamal Daniel, a Syrian-American who is an advisory board member of New Bridge Strategies ..."

The New Bridge website says that before Daniel started up Crest he was in the international real estate biz and also "has extensive experience in structuring investing in energy and oil and gas projects throughout the U.S., Europe and the Middle East."

Will the surprises never cease ...

For a few days I've been saving string, as the phrase goes, on what may turn out to be the most interesting, even the most important, phase of the Texas redistricting battle.

As all the parties have always known it would be, the whole issue is now the subject of a court case -- largely over claims that the new districting dilutes minority voting power.

Now, the plaintiffs in the case have subpoenaed Tom DeLay and fellow Texas Congressman Joe Barton to give sworn testimony in the case.

Lawyers for DeLay and Barton are trying to have the subpoenas quashed, arguing that no court has ever required the testimony of sitting congressmen in a redistricting case.

The lead attorney for the plaintiffs has responded that DeLay's testimony "is clearly legally significant to this case because, unlike any member of Congress in any prior redistricting process, he unquestionably played the central role in Texas redistricting in 2003."

The centrality of Delay's role is demonstrably true.

A three judge panel has set a hearing for Monday to decide whether DeLay gets to avoid discussing his role in what happened this summer.

You call Iraq an intelligence failure? Have I got an intelligence failure for you!

That's the explanation for the fall of France in Ernest May's fascinating revisionist study Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France.

Here's the TPM review from May 2002 ...

I really, really, really want to recommend a book to you. It's called Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France and it's by Ernest R. May, a highly respected diplomatic historian. There are two reasons why this book is so good. The first is that it is just a marvelously engrossing narrative of one of the most pivotal moments of the 20th Century: the lead-up to the Second World War and particularly Hitler's lightning victory over France in May and June of 1940. It's just a very polished, compelling World War Two book and a very good read. But it's much more than that.

May begins with a question that most of us would probably not imagine really was a question. That is, why did France lose?

From the newsreels, many histories, and the mythology of appeasement you'd get the impression that this was just a given, that Germany was strong and armed-to-the-teeth and France was unprepared and weak. But this just wasn't the case. May makes very clear that France (and especially France and Britain together) were both quantitatively and qualitatively stronger and better prepared for war. Simply put, on balance, they had more stuff and better stuff.

So then the question: why did they lose and lose so quickly?

May provides a complex series of answers to this question. But the key ones are easily stated.

One, the French intelligence services were inefficiently organized and intelligence gathering was not well wedded to policy-making. In other words, though France had better intelligence assets in Germany the French weren't particularly good at analyzing and making use of that information. Nor were they particularly good at crafting policy based on intelligence.

Two, the French military, though professional and well-equipped, was organized around a series of what one might call risk-averse doctrines which made it cumbersome, immobile and less agile and quick to react than it should have been.

May uses diplomatic, military and intelligence sources from the French and the German sides to assemble a very clear view of how the two diplomatic and war-fighting machines operated. May's readily apparent depth of familiarity with these sources is little short of breath-taking.

All of this combined to allow the weaker power, Germany, to defeat the stronger one, France.

What makes this book valuable to read today is that May makes a convincing case that our Western military and intelligence services are much more like that of the French circa 1940 than the Germans. And that's sobering.

Through Washington's Iraq debate of 2002, the recurring line from the Iraq-hawks and the right was the claim that the bureaucrats at the State Department were doing everything they could to keep democracy from coming to Iraq. It was ridiculous at the time. And looking back at it now it produces mainly confusion as you try to figure out whether to laugh or to cry and end up doing both.

(Actually, a bit more specificity is probably in order. It was one part valid, six parts ridiculousness, and three parts utter bad faith.)

Here's a choice clip from a piece Lawrence Kaplan wrote this March in The New Republic ("Federal Reserve: The State Department's anti-democracy plan for Iraq.")

What's more, the State Department has designated an outspoken foe of the Iraqi democracy movement from the Clinton years, NEA's Thomas Warrick, as its chief "vetter" of Iraqi officials. At a gathering of Iraqi democrats in December, Warrick, along with the CIA's Ben Miller, stood in the doorway of the meeting and literally tried to block leading pro-democracy dissidents from entering. INC representative Entifadh Qanbar, who was himself prevented from getting through the door, recounts, "Warrick said, 'You can't get in, and I'll have the guards help you out.'"

As a reader who reminded me of this passage aptly said, the INC's main probelm with the folks at the State Department and their Future of Iraq Project was that it stood in the way of their ability to take over Iraq in the wake of the American invasion -- a prize they were presumably entitled to on the basis of good media and think-tank contacts in Washington.

My God did Chalabi's crew play this town like a fiddle ...

Another interesting <$NoAd$>development.

There's no way to link to articles in the New York Sun. But an article yesterday by the Sun's Eli Lake noted the following ...

The person who this month is occupying the rotating presidency of the Iraqi Governing Council, Jalal Talabani, led an 18-person delegation to Iran last week, where he signed a raft of agreements with the government there on issues ranging from trade to counter terrorism. Iran regularly tops the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The architects of the war had hoped that a blossoming, democratic Iraq would quicken the pace of opposition to Iran's ruling mullahs. Now, however, the US and the Governing Council appear to be trying to stabilize Iraq with Tehran's assistance.

More on the firing of Tom Warrick, noted in the previous post ...

Last March, shortly after Warrick joined Garner's team, Don Rumsfeld met with Jay Garner in the Secretary’s office. During the meeting Rumsfeld walked over to his desk and asked Garner if he had someone on his team named Warrick. Garner said he did. Rumsfeld told him he had to go. Garner told Rumsfeld that he needed Warrick on his team. But Rumsfeld told him the answer was no --- end of story.

Garner then gave Warrick the word, but assured him that he’d be able to get him back on the team later.

In a subsequent meeting Garner told Rumsfeld that he needed Warrick back on his team. It was at this point that Rumsfeld made clear to Garner that the decision came from above and that there was nothing he, Rumsfeld, could do about it. Warrick had to go.

The big news today is the interview retired <$Ad$>Gen. Jay Garner (America's first civilian overseer in Iraq) gave to the BBC, and particularly his criticisms of various aspects of the reconstruction.

Of particular interest is Garner's discussion of the firing of State Department employee Tom Warrick, the author of the Future of Iraq Project, a multivolume collection of reports and documents put together by a series of working groups during the lead up to the war.

In retrospect, Warrick's groups' work -- though disparaged and warred with at the time by hawks at the Pentagon -- predicted much of what's transpired in the last six months.

Warrick's brief role in Garner's operation tells us something about the retired general. Though Garner was ideologically in sync with many of the Iraq-hawks assumptions about 'regime change', he was openminded enough -- sufficiently free of ideological blinders -- to see that Warrick just knew a lot about the country and that his contribution could be crucial.

Here's the passage from an AP article on the interview ...

"Tom was just beginning to get started with us when one day I was in the office with the secretary of defense, and he said 'Jay, have you got a guy named Warrick on your team?' I said, `yes, I do.' He said, 'well, I've got to ask you to remove him.' I said, `I don't want to remove him; he's too valuable.'

"But he said, 'This came to me from such a high level that I can't overturn it, and I've just got to ask you to remove Mr. Warrick.'"

Now, it probably goes without saying that the number of people who are that much higher than the Secretary of Defense in the hierarchy is pretty small.

In fact, a source intimately familiar with these conversations recently made clear to me that he believed the person applying the pressure in this case was none other than Vice President Dick Cheney.

That tracks with a lot else we're finding out about the lead-up to the war. Though the ideological poles were at State and the Pentagon, the decisive force, the one really tipping the scales in one direction or another, was the Office of the Vice President.

Caught red-handed. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch has placed one of his committee staffers on administrative leave for what the media reports are agreeing to call, with some delicacy, "improperly obtaining data from the secure computer networks of two Democratic senators."

(Reminds me of my pals who used to get kicks by improperly obtaining Snickers bars from the local drug store when we were in grade school.)

Keep in mind, Democratic Senators raised questions about how an unsent memo from the Democratic staff on the Intel Committee ended up in the hands of radio chatmeister Sean Hannity three weeks ago.

Now that it seems the Judiciary Committee memo was in fact stolen, the Democrats' demands that the other incident be investigated sounds a lot more compelling. Was that one 'improperly obtained' too?

Following is a selection of Hatch's press conference late Tuesday ...

Because of the serious nature of the concerns raised, I also initiated a preliminary inquiry to determine whether anyone on the majority full committee staff had information pertaining to this matter. That inquiry is almost completed. At my direction, two experienced federal prosecutors assigned to the committee conducted interviews of approximately 50 persons. I emphasized to them that their inquiry was to be full and impartial, letting the chips fall where they may, and that all information would be turned over to the sergeant at arms. It is with deep regret that I must report today that the interviews conducted to date have revealed that at least one current member of Judiciary Committee majority staff had improperly accessed some of the documents referenced in the media reports and which have been posted on the Internet. While this individual denies responsibility for releasing the documents to the press, it is now clear that some of the committee files, as Senators Durbin, Leahy and Kennedy feared, were compromised, and worse, by a member of the Senate Judiciary majority staff. In addition, preliminary interviews suggest that a former majority committee staff member may also have been involved. I was shocked to learn this may have occurred. I am mortified that this improper, unethical and simply unacceptable breach of confidential files may have occurred on my watch. Each senator has an expectation of receiving confidential, candid advice from his or her staff members. There is no excuse that can justify these improper actions. I have placed one individual on administrative leave with pay, pending the outcome of the full investigation being conducted by the Senate Sergeant at Arms William Pickle. It is my understanding that this individual is cooperating and providing information to the investigators. HATCH: I continue to urge each and every member of the Judiciary Committee, majority staff, to provide whatever information that will prove helpful in getting to the truth of this matter. Once this individual provided the information to the staff conducting the inquiry, I contacted the Senate sergeant at arms and Capitol Police in order to take immediate steps to seize that person's computer and safeguard any retrievable data. The sergeant at arms has been kept informed of each step we've taken. And we will continue to give whatever information we obtain immediately to Mr. Pickle and his investigators. To summarize, the data have been preserved. An independent forensic investigation is under way. One individual has expressed knowledge which indicates the security of the committee's computer system was compromised. That individual has been placed on an administrative leave with pay. The sergeant at arms investigation is under way, and we will continue to cooperate with that investigation in every way. And everybody on my staff has been directed to do so. I will be conferring with Senator Leahy -- I tried to call him before coming over here, but was unable to connect. But I will be conferring with Senator Leahy to take all appropriate measures to ensure the committee's computer system is secure and that its integrity, including development of training materials for all staff consistent with Senate rules and ethical standards, will be maintained. In closing, I am making available today copies of relevant correspondence. I will take a few questions, but as you can understand, due to the nature of this matter, I will not be able to comment on many further details. I think I've commented on all that really I can. So I'll take a few questions if you have any. Yes sir? QUESTION: Have any charges been made? Or is there any charges filed against this individual? HATCH: Well, accusations have been made, but no charges have been filed against anybody, to my knowledge. QUESTION: (Off-Mike) HATCH: I can't comment on that, because I don't know that a crime has been committed, nor do I know that there's any criminal law that has been breached. But I do feel that the ethics of this body have been breached. QUESTION: The person put on administrative leave and the former staff who may also have had knowledge of the incident, are they Republicans or Democrats? HATCH: I honestly don't know, but they're working for majority staff, or they did -- the one is on administrative leave, the other was a former staffer on our side. QUESTION: What are their names? HATCH: That, we're not going to -- that's not my prerogative to give. QUESTION: Generally speaking, can you explain how it was possible that they were able to gain access to those files? Did they have to do something that -- did they have to hack into the system or... HATCH: I honestly don't know. And that's one of the questions that the sergeant at arms and the independent forensic experts will have to answer. I have some comments on that, made by the one person. But I think the best thing I can say is I honestly don't know the answer. QUESTION: Current members, this year, of your staff? HATCH: Yes. On current administrative leave with pay. QUESTION: Are any other staffers of the United States Senate or Congress involved, as far as you can tell? HATCH: Not that I know of at this point, but that's, again, something that the sergeant at arms is going to have to look at. We've interviewed 50 staffers. And virtually all that I think should be interviewed, although there may be some others. So we're not quite complete with the inquiry that we're making. QUESTION: Are you looking at just who got the information from Democrats, or are you also looking at who then dispersed it to the media? HATCH: Well, we first want to find out if anybody on our staff had anything to do with this, and, like I say, I'm mortified to say that at least one member that I know of has compromised the computer system -- not the system, but has had access to these materials. I really can't comment much beyond that, other than the sergeant at arms is going to have to follow up. And I understand this staffer is cooperating with the sergeant at arms.

More to come, I'm sure ...

In my new column in The Hill: my thoughts on the RNC's new Bush-preemption TV spot -- and why the Dems should see it as the hanging curveball that it is.