Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of

Articles by Josh

If you wanted to write the script for next year's election to ensure the closest possible result, you'd write it pretty much exactly as it's shaping up. If the economy remained persistently sluggish, the fiscal situation remained so awash in red ink, and things remained so bleak in Iraq, I think President Bush would have great difficulty getting reelected.

But it now seems clear that there is new job growth in the economy --- as signaled by today's down-tick in the unemployment rate to 6%. Growth in itself is comparatively insignificant in political terms. The key political metric is jobs. And there are signs of improvement there too.

(See this article at CNN/Money to get a feel for how much job growth is necessary just to keep up with population growth and productivity gains. Says the CNN article: "Most economists believe payrolls need to grow by at least 150,000 jobs a month in order to keep up with the natural growth of the labor force and keep the unemployment rate down, and that is generally expected to happen only slowly in the next year.")

We've had a couple false-start recoveries in the last couple years. But it seems hard to figure that president Bush won't enter the home stretch of the campaign next year without at least an improving economy to point to. But how quickly will it come? Where will the pick-up be concentrated? And how will the economic news meld in voters' minds with what's happening abroad?

Since I was going to appear on another show on CNN later that evening, I only heard parts of the Rock The Vote presidential debate that CNN broadcast Tuesday night. When I was listening from the other room, though, I heard parts of the lambasting Howard Dean got from the rest of the candidates about the confederate flag remarks.

On first blush, I thought that Dean was really getting unfairly pummeled and that the other candidates were just grandstanding. I think everyone knew the point Dean meant to convey. And that's a point that's hard to disagree with: namely, that Democrats need to seek the votes of working class Southern white voters who've been basically lost to the Democratic party for two generations.

As I listened to hullabaloo unfold, however, something else occurred to me. Dean's stubbornness and arrogance can be a big liability for him. When he got asked about the comment at the Rock The Vote debate there was a really straightforward way to answer ...

A) I stand by the point I was trying to make. B) If the way I phrased it offended you, I'm really sorry about that. C) You know, you speak a lot on the campaign trail. And sometimes you don't phrase something just the right way. But I'll try to be more careful about how I choose my words.

End of story. That would have been it, though his opponents would certainly have tried to milk it a bit longer. No big production of an apology would have been necessary.

But he couldn't bring himself to do it. And it was the headline out of the debate. And the headline yesterday with the semi-apology. And today when I brought up the CNN page the story about the full apology is practically breaking news.

One of Dean's selling points is the straight-talk thing, sorta like John McCain. So I don't think it would be a good idea for him to muzzle himself. But part of the straight-talk thing is being willing to quickly say "yeah, that was lame" when you put your foot in your mouth and then move on.

If he can't learn to do that, he'll have a lot of trouble ahead.

Senator Pot in need of a kettle to call black ...

It is a disgusting possibility that members of the Senate would actually try to politicize intelligence, especially at a time of war, even apparently reaching conclusions before investigations have been performed ...

Senator John Kyl (R-AZ) Wednesday on the Senate floor.

Newspaper stories see the light of day for all sorts of strange and inscrutable reasons. Often the nominal 'story' is like the calm or slightly rippled surface of a lake in which all sorts of hidden business is taking place beneath.

Why are you hearing about a given story now? Who dropped a dime on who? The surface story is often at least as important as the backstory. But the backstory is something you want to know too.

Here's one of those cases.

You've likely already seen or will soon see the story running in several major news outlets this evening about apparent last minute overtures that Iraq made to the US, looking for a deal just before the outbreak of the war.

The story centers on an apparent back channel (or attempted back channel) using a Lebanese-American businessman who had a relationship with an analyst in Doug Feith's shop at the Pentagon, Michael Maloof. (Richard Perle was part of the potential back channel too.)

In aftermath of 9/11, Maloof and David Wurmser were each part of a two-man team tasked by the Pentagon with finding links between Shi'a and Sunni extremist groups as well as between Islamist terrorists and secular Arab regimes. They reported finding lots of evidence. But the folks at the CIA never bought it.

Down deep in the New York Times article, there's this line contained in a parantheses: "In May, Mr. Maloof, who has lost his security clearances, was placed on paid administrative leave by the Pentagon."

There's your ripple.

And that's where I think you'll find a lot of the backstory for why we're hearing now about this business with the last-minute overture.

To start getting a feel for that backstory, see this piece from Knight Ridder's Warren Strobel from August 1st ("U.S. revokes security clearance for Pentagon employee.")

This issue of security clearances and the revocation of security clearances and investigations in the depths of the bureaucracy is an important story of which we're only getting the vaguest hints.

Late Update: Let me be a bit more clear about what I'm getting at here.

Let's say I'm a career defense bureaucrat struggling to get my security clearances restored because it's very hard for me to be a defense bureaucrat without them. And let's say one of the reasons I can't get them restored is because of some unauthorized contacts I had with a Lebanese-American businessman under investigation for running guns to Liberia. And let's further add to the mix that my whole mess with the security clearances is part of a larger struggle between different factions in the national intelligence bureaucracy. Oh, and one last thing: let's say I'm a protégé of Richard Perle.


Now, if I'm on the line for these unauthorized contacts with the gun-running businessman, wouldn't it be a lot harder to punish me for it if it looked like that contact almost allowed me to secure a deal that would have averted the need for war?

And if that's the case, wouldn't it be cool if my buddies and mentors went to the press with the story of how I almost saved the day?

(And as long as we're on the subject, look at all the contradictions between the Times' piece and Strobel's piece.)

Word was spread about today that the president would be giving a major speech tomorrow about democracy in the Middle East. It turns out that it'll be at a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Everybody's for democracy in the Middle East these days, so far as it goes. But the question isn't what you're for so much as what and who you're against. And the word that was being bandied about was that the president would say that the longstanding US policy of supporting the region's autocracies had failed and would be ended.

That's the kernel of the neocon faith (or rather what we might call the Neocon Faith 3.0 or 3.2 or something like that) and there's more than a little to be said for it.

But who would the president call out? The Saudis? The Egyptians? We've always been against the anti-American autocracies. How about the pro-American ones? At the current moment, in a tough battle in Iraq, that would certainly be the all-or-nothing approach.

The AP has a run-down out now. And it seems it's going to be a rather more tepid affair.

Still, I think this speech will be worth reading, if only to get a glimpse into the factional in-fighting in the White House today.

See this interesting post on Muqtada al-Sadr on Juan Cole's site. An example of some seemingly successful carrots and sticks applied by the CPA. Cole's site is one of the few places online -- in English at least -- where you can find good sustained reporting on these nitty-gritty details of what's going on over in Iraq. Invaluable.

We've made our way through all the entries for the TPM 'imminent threat' contest. And we'll be announcing the winner on Friday. (So if you entered the contest a lustrous, new TPM T-shirt may be in your future!)

But to get things started, here's my new column in The Hill on the effort to convince us that all those administration leaders didn't say what everyone remembers them saying less than a year ago.

In other words, the 'imminent threat' mumbo-jumbo.

TPM tonight on the Aaron Brown show on CNN at 10 PM -- talking about the Reagan miniseries ridiculousness.

As promised in the previous post, here's a copy of the letter about possible voting irregularities in Mississippi today which Secretary of State Eric Clark sent today to Attorney General Mike Moore and the state's two US Attorneys.

The irregularities include reports that poll watchers are videotaping voters in predominantly black neighborhoods.

The Kentucky governor's race is down to the wire, with Republican candidate Ernie Fletcher having a clear, though not insurmountable, advantage going into today's voting. Says uber-election-maven Charlie Cook ...

In Kentucky, Republican Rep. Ernie Fletcher appears to have a low single-digit lead over Democratic state Attorney General Ben Chandler. While a win for Chandler is still possible, the odds are higher that Fletcher, who has been the favorite, will win.

Meanwhile, in Mississippi, the other state holding a gubernatorial election today, there are reports of voting irregularities, including poll watchers videotaping voters in predominantly black neighborhoods, in direct violation of the law.

More on this in a moment.