Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

It's the small hypocrisies that make life sweet. The president accepts public money for his campaigns, but doesn't check off the box. This from yesterday's Ari-thon ...

Q And also in the last, 2000 and coming up, the President will accept federal funds in the general election.


Q Is there any dash of hypocrisy in that he doesn't contribute to that fund when he files his tax returns?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, interestingly, we talked before about taxpayer-financed elections, and while for the congressional races, Senate races and House races, and for overwhelming majority of the funds that go to presidential races is voluntary, there is that check on the tax reforms. And the best I remember this from IRS data is something like only 12 percent, or down to 8 percent of the American people check that box. So I think the President is in pretty good company with a number of American people who do not check that box.

Q Why would he take the money, then?

MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, he's not taking the money for the primary campaign; he will take it for the general.

Good company ...

Interesting timing. We know from depositions from down in Texas that Gov. Rick Perry got personally involved in pushing the manhunt for the Texas Dems -- he's the one who told the cops to go to the neo-natal intensive care unit. Monday, the Department of Homeland Security's investigation of itself gave everybody a clean bill of health -- while making no apparent attempt to find out which politicians authorized misusing its resources. Today, Gov. Rick Perry will announce a special session to take another shot at redistricting in two weeks -- a sort of redistricting the Washington Post said states do 'regularly', and had to have an alert letter to the editor writer point out hadn't happened in half a century.

Now back to the last few days of the vacation.

See Gov. Perry's letter calling the special session, with the no-federal-judges canard included.

Finally, something on the WMD front. No, not actual WMD. But some actual information on something I've been wondering a lot about. Just what are we offering the regime leaders and top scientists in exchange for spilling the beans about the regime's weapons programs?

I definitely thought the Iraqis still had some chemical and biological weapons capacity. The one thing that has made me seriously question whether they did has been the number of regime leaders and scientists in custody. Administration leaders talk a lot about the size of Iraq and how long it would take to search a country of that size. But this has always struck me as a bogus argument. When cops do a murder investigation they don't make a grid line of their entire municipal jurisdiction, mark it off with string, and search every foot of the city. They do an investigation to find the body and the perp. They talk to people and they follow leads.

However large Iraq may be, the fact is that we have lots of folks in custody who should know plenty about the WMD program. And apparently not one of them has squealed. My governing assumption has always been that there's a get-out-of-jail-free card, a harem, a Riviera Chateau and a lifetime supply of jelly beans (and that's just for day one) for whomever sings first. Frankly, I still think that assumption is almost certainly accurate. But this new article from the Times of London says it's not true. Or at least officials from Tony Blair's government seem to be telling the Times it's not true.

According to the article, the Brits are practically begging the Americans to start cutting some deals. But we're standing firm. Here's the key graf from the piece ...

“We have been trying for ages to persuade the Americans but they have come up with all kinds of legal arguments,” one government official said. US authorities have been happy to offer plea bargains to some of America’s most notorious criminals, but apparently draw the line at members of a regime that they have denounced as evil.
Now, one pretty straightforward explanation for this is simply that the folks in the Blair government are getting desperate. The Brits are in full scandal mode over the failure to find WMD (a British government report recently made a finding that those trailers were not mobile weapons labs after all ...) both at the public, press and governmental levels. So perhaps the Blairites are just grasping for straws and want to offer still more, hoping someone will crack. Or, more cynically, they want to float a plausible explanation for the failure to find the goods.

In any case, it makes you wonder.

More to come later today on Texas Homeland Security ridiculousness. The DHS Inspector General's report is out. And, boy, is it thorough!

Damn. Damn. Damn. In this business timing is everything. I was just polishing up the prose on one of my weekly columns -- this one about former NSC official Rand Beers. And now the Washington Post has beat me to it. So it's back to the drawing board.

Here's the deal with Beers.

With all that's coming out now about the lead-up to the Iraq War and the questionable statements about terrorism links and WMD, you'd have to figure that the administration's top anti-terrorism operatives would know where the bodies were buried, if there were any to be unearthed, right? You'd also have to figure that that someone would be someone any ambitious Democrat would really want to talk to, right? Especially if that someone seemed a touch disgruntled with his boss's policies.

Well, Beers served as the National Security Council's senior director for counterterrorism from August 2002 until he resigned just days before the beginning of the Iraq war for what Ari Fleischer then called "personal reasons." Two months later he signed on as John Kerry's lead foreign policy advisor.

See his first salvo in the Post.

Seldom, I think, has a country undergone such a subtle, textured, distinction-granting debate about lying and truth-telling.

"I don't believe that the president deliberately lied to the public in an attempt to scare Americans into supporting his war. But it does look as if ideologues in the administration deceived themselves about Iraq's nuclear programs — and then deceived the American public as well."

That's the final paragraph of Nick Kristof's devastating column on just when the White House knew the Niger/Iraq uranium purchase story was bogus.

In Saturday's Times, Bill Keller says: "What the Bush administration did was gild the lily — disseminating information that ranged from selective to preposterous."

That is a description that is perhaps most artfully described as generous.

Washington's newfound appreciation of the 'subtleties' of truth-telling and lies is, well ... what shall we call it?, a revealing contrast to the common-sense definitions bandied about through 1998. But Kristof at least is on to something. There was an element of self-deception. A strong one.

If you simply insist on believing white is black, even when you can see it's white, then when you tell people it's black then, well, maybe you're sort of not really lying, right?

Certainly, in some cases, the truth was more muddy. Folks in the administration put the most ominous interpretation on fragmentary information that was admittedly ambiguous.

Here's another clip from Kristof ...

Still, Mr. Tenet and the intelligence agencies were under intense pressure to come up with evidence against Iraq. Ambiguities were lost, and doubters were discouraged from speaking up.

"It was a foregone conclusion that every photo of a trailer truck would be a `mobile bioweapons lab' and every tanker truck would be `filled with weaponized anthrax,' " a former military intelligence officer said. "None of the analysts in military uniform had the option to debate the vice president, secretary of defense and the secretary of state."

So I'm not simply being critical of this 'subtlety.' Mass psychology and individual psychology are more apt tools than lie detector tests for much of this. Maybe we're not talking about lying but only saying things you have no reason to believe are true, which I guess is not really a lie, right?

Or saying things you have good reasons to believe are false but don't know for a fact to be false?

I'm not in the camp of people who think the administration's falsehoods and distortions about WMD change that fact of the deadly significance of WMD, or the significance of Iraq's long history of non-compliance. But there is still, at the end of the day, an odd unwillingness to state the simple fact that in many cases the White House lied to the American public, repeatedly and unashamedly, to pave the way for war. Sure, sure, they thought they were doing it for a good cause. But if they'd lie about this, well you know the rest ...

Everything changes. Everything. Especially in Southern California.

Part of America's special nature --- good and bad --- is its manner of chewing itself up and building itself up again. Unused land gets laid out and built up and then the new buildings get demolished and the land is built up again. All of this seems to happen in an accelerated fashion in Southern California. It's a sliver of the nation where something like the frontier still exists. Land to be developed. Lots of it. And once they develop it, they develop it again.

Today I drove out to what Southern Californians call the "inland empire" - an area starting maybe 40 miles east of Los Angeles. The towns have names like Upland and Pomona and Ontario and Montclair. It's where I grew up -- or at least where I grew up from the time that I was six until I left for college when I was eighteen.

As must always be the case, the towns and streets and shopping malls look nothing like they did when I was a child. But in this case it's something more than the standard differences that occur over a decade or two. Nothing looks the same. These towns, this region, was and is the bleeding edge of the Los Angeles sprawl, which has been spreading like lava eastward from the coast for decades.

When my family moved to Upland, California in 1975, large sections of the town were still lemon groves. (In a sense this area was still very much like the area east of Los Angeles where Philip Marlowe usually ended up at the end of Raymond Chandler detective novels. Those old shacks where the bad guys were holed up. I think it's in The Big Sleep where Chandler describes Marlowe driving down a road lined with these groves, noting how the rows look like spokes from a rushing car.) One square block would be lemon groves and the next would be tract homes. Other blocks in the grid were just fields with nothing at all but rocks and dirt.

By the mid-late 1970s I don't think any of the lemon groves were actually being farmed. They were derelicts. They'd already been marked off for future development. They were just growing and producing their crops on nature's autopilot because there was no point in chopping them down until some developer was actually ready to build a new subdivision. Back then, at least in my memory, the better part of the town was still in lemon groves. Certainly a lot of it. And to the east the lemons were still king.

Today, the edge of the sprawl is dozens of miles to the east, with towns and towns of bedroom communities which, thirty years ago, only existed on paper.

So old buildings and stores were gone and replaced with new ones. And the open fields where me and friends would go build forts and stalk and capture lizards when we were little kids were built over for the first time, or perhaps the second.

But none of these were my main interest today. I wanted to see something very specific.

Twenty-two years ago, late in the evening one night in March of 1981, to be specific, my mother was killed in an auto accident on Foothill Boulevard in a town called Claremont. This was one town over from ours. She was on her way home. She was killed instantly --- at least in every meaningful sense of the word. And the impact of her car left a softball-sized dent in the foot-thick metal pole that held up the street lights at the intersection where she died.

The street, Foothill Boulevard, is the main drag in the region. It's actually the westernmost part of the legendary, cross-country Highway 66 and for years after I'd see that dent --- hard to notice for most people, but hard for me to miss. First as a passenger in other people's cars I'd see it and then as a driver myself cruising over the same path countless times.

For a very long time afterwards the gash still had etches of the maroon paint from her car -- for years I would guess, though I don't know precisely how long. Then eventually those chipped or washed away. And finally it was just a dent.

These things don't work quite the way they do on TV or in novels. I didn't fixate on it. Hundreds of times I passed that intersection and didn't look or even think about it. But it was always there, always there ready for me to notice, an occasional reminder.

In one of those weird, impersonal cruelties by which bureaucracies operate, there was apparently some thought at first that the city would sue my father or, I guess, my mother's estate --- such as it was, which wasn't much --- for the price of fixing or buying a new street light pole. Someone had to pay for repairing this small part of the city's infrastructure. And why should it be the taxpayers? Or so the reasoning went.

In any case, for whatever reason, this bizarre indignity never occurred. And the dent remained for years. The last time I saw it, it had been there for almost two decades.

Later, my father moved away from the area. But when I was in my twenties I'd visit the area to see old friends and I'd inevitably drive by and see the dent. I probably saw it last in the middle 1990s - still the same dent, unchanged, with a few flecks of the paint ripped deep into the metal.

But coming back to California this time I realized that through all those years I'd never touched it. I'd driven by it countless times and very rarely I'd feel some rush of the impact of her death as my car swept past the point in space where hers stopped in its tracks. But I'd never gotten out of the car and walked up to the spot or touched the dent. There must have been grooves cut into the metal -- perceptible only by touch. But I'd never stopped to feel the metal against my fingers or find its contours. I guess it had never occurred to me. Or maybe it occured to me today because I'm only three years younger than she was when she died. Who knows? One could go on about what the kinetics of that dent represented and what feeling its latent effects might conjure up in me --- but it probably goes without saying.

In any case, I wanted to rub it with my hand, maybe kiss my fingers and touch it.

I hadn't been to the area in at least five or six years and I didn't even remember the cross street name anymore. But I wouldn't forget the shape of the dent or the look of the intersection. I knew what it all looked like. So I drove to it knowing I'd recognize it when I saw it but not knowing quite which intersection it would be out of three or four in a row. My memory had grown hazy.

So I passed one and then another and then the intersection that I knew must be it. But no dent. I could make out a few scratches a couple feet off the ground as I drove by, but no dents. I circled back and drove by again thinking maybe I'd missed it. But nothing. Each was that unscarred blotchy metal that all the light poles there are made of. Then I gave a good long look at the pole I knew was the one. And then I extended the search a couple blocks in each direction. Nothing.

Eventually I realized it was gone. I knew where it was but it wasn't there. I stopped by the corner where the new, unbent pole was and looked at it. I wondered what had finally prompted the change. Was it just time to install new poles? Or maybe that old pole had finally got knocked down by some more formidable vehicle. Maybe an eighteen-wheeler had ripped it out of the ground. It wouldn't have been a match for something so large and heavy. Or maybe a new higher tech streetlight was installed. I mulled the possibilities and wondered if it mattered to me and rubbed my thumb a few times over my fingers and drove away.

Maybe what they say about California is true. I did grow up here. But since I got here on Tuesday afternoon, the tempo of my thinking has slowed dramatically. Not the quality, I hope not at least, but the tempo. Maybe it's the sun, or the beach, or the jacuzzi in my dad's backyard which, for once, I didn't have to fix before using when I came to visit. In any case, this probably explains some of the slow pace of posts.

Do read Krugman's column today. As usual a very nice column. But it also captures an important reason why I've given the Texas/redistricting Homeland Security story a lot of attention. Tom DeLay is a genuinely dangerous guy. This incident was a particularly egregious example. But I mean he's dangerous not so much in the sense that he's going to commit one particularly egregious act as the way he is transforming not only the government itself but what we consider acceptable in government. He is, to paraphrase the late Pat Moynihan's old phrasing, defining political deviance down. Krugman hits on several of the key examples in his column today.

Happily, the New York Times finally gave a full editorial to the Homeland Security scandal back on Tuesday. "The new Department of Homeland Security was called in on the case as if it were the patronage police and the dissenting Democrats were terrorists." Take a look at the editorial before the evil Times business gods snatch it out of public view and make you pay to read it. (It ain't that good.)

One point they allude to at the end of the piece, and one of the good things to come out of the affair is the way that it has exposed the laughable hypocrisy of many on the right. It's one thing to say, well, if this were Clinton they'd be saying this that and the other. And they would, of course. But it's nice just to have on record that my conservative friends really don't care very much about the abuse of federal law enforcement authorities for the crudest of political purposes. Just not their bag, not their concern.

Also, do read the piece by Fareed Zakaria which I linked to in the earlier column. It's on the deeper story behind the overstatements about WMD. He really has them right.

Finally, TPM has made arrangements to start accepting advertisements on a limited basis. Till now, the site has depended entirely on the much-appreciated generosity of readers who send in contributions -- that and a pretty big subsidy from my freelance writing. But we're trying to open up a new revenue stream which should help us expand the site in various ways. We're not expecting any major ad buys from Nike or Coke or anything like that. TPM attracts between twenty and thirty thousand individual readers on an average weekday. But it's a fairly choice demographic, including lots of people on Capitol Hill, many in the executive branch, lots of DC lawyers and lobbyists, and a lot of folks in the national media who advertisers generally are itching to get access to. So we'll see how it goes. More soon.

A special thanks to a number of readers who caught and alerted me to several typos in the previous post. Alas, the wages of writing a thousand words at four in the morning -- with jet lag no less!

I must confess to a mounting impatience with the advocates of the president's war policy who now seem zealously intent on short-circuiting any serious debate about the rationale for the war by denying, obfuscating or simply lying about the premises of the very debate itself.

There are two basic ways this is being done. One is to toss around words like 'conspiracies' and 'plots' in order to discredit their opponents without seriously engaging their ideas. The second is to utterly distort what the WMD debate was all about.

I've been traveling for the last few days (out-of-pocket, 38,000 feet in the air, etc.) and am only now catching up on my reading. So perhaps I've missed some better examples. But certainly one of the best is the sneering OpEd Robert Kagan wrote in the Post on Saturday.

It's starts with the familiar rhetoric ("There is something surreal about the charges flying that President Bush lied when he claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction") and ends with it too ("So if you like a good conspiracy, this one's a doozy. And the best thing about it is that if all these people are lying, there's only one person who ever told the truth: Saddam Hussein.")

Along the way, we get the heart of the argument: It's false, dishonest or just ridiculous to charge President Bush with deceiving the American people about Saddam's WMD because so many other worthies said just the same thing. Who? Hans Blix, John Deutsch, Tony Blair, German intelligence, Bill Cohen, Bill Clinton, everyone. In other words, just about everybody who could credibly be called part of the foreign policy establishment.

Each of these guys -- and Kagan could have mentioned many others -- said at one point or another that Saddam continued to maintain a serious stockpile of chemical and likely also biological weapons. This is all true, of course, so far as it goes. But it doesn't go very far if you start off by being disingenuous about what the debate even involves.

The president's defenders want to frame the argument like this: the president said there was WMD; his critics said there was WMD. If he's wrong, everybody was wrong. If there was a 'plot' to deceive the American people, as Kagan would have it, even the president's critics were in on the plot. So what kind of plot would that be?

This is just a head-fake with an advanced degree and it's deeply dishonest.

The public didn't get sold on this war because Saddam had nerve gas, or botulinum or even anthrax. True or not, a lot of people believed that. (I believed it -- and I still have a very hard time believing Saddam doesn't have chemical munitions stored somewhere.) The public got sold on the war because the administration argued consistently and vociferously that Saddam was on the brink of amassing far more fearsome weapons -- particularly nuclear weapons ("We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud") and that he had growing operational ties to terrorists to whom he might give these weapons or even some of his less threatening chemical agents.

It was fairly clear before the war that neither of those claims were true. Since the war it has become clearer by the day that they were almost certainly not true.

Those were the imminent threats that made the war necessary in March. No waiting for inspections, no building up of alliances, nothing. There was an imminent threat and countries respond militarily to imminent threats.

The only thing that's pretty clear is that there was no imminent threat. And there is a growing body of evidence -- much of which was known, frankly, before the war -- that the administration did everything it could to push the claim that there was an imminent threat using what was often very, very weak evidence. I don't think 'lie' is necessarily the best word for it. I think a more apropos analogy is a lawyer's brief. You pull together every piece of evidence you can find -- good, bad, flimsy, obviously bogus, uncertain, it doesn't matter, just throw it all in -- and you make the best case you can with what you have. You put in everything that helps your case and forget about everything that hurts it. And the case was that there was an imminent threat that required war against Iraq. I repeat, imminent.

In many cases I think the folks who pushed these arguments knew they weren't true. But to them, the ends justified the means.

In other cases, though -- and these are the more important and intriguing ones -- I think they believed that Saddam was such a bad guy that these things must be true. Or if they weren't true now, they would be soon enough. So, same difference.

Fareed Zakaria has an excellent column in this week's Newsweek in which he discusses the roots of this tendency. Many of the same folks who played key roles in the build up to the Iraq war make similar overestimations about the Late Soviet Union and later China. (You'll find some similar, if less elegant and erudite, ideas on these folks and this tendency in my earlier article "Practice to Deceive.")

We now need a serious congressional inquiry that will explain what was conscious deception, what was willful blindness tinged by a deep-seated ideological zeal, and what was simply an unwillingness to credit the reports of Intelligence Community analysts with whom the folks in the administration had deep-seated policy disagreements.

It does Kagan no credit to tar critics as conspiracy theorists or muddy up the water enough so that the debate can't be had. (If he wants to have it out with that minority of yahoos who claim that the US cooked up all the claims about WMD to get into Iraq and snatch away the country's oil, that's his choice.)

The fact is that the administration and its advocates are now doing everything they can to run away from a year's worth of arguments about the imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Quoting one of their patron saints, conservatives are often fond of saying that 'ideas have consequences.'

Lies do too.