Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of

Articles by Josh

Lots of people say they're revealing the darkest secrets of Washington DC. But here's one of the darkest, which you've maybe not heard: rats. And considerably worse than in other major cities.

Not small ones, mind you, but huge rats that roam the DC streets at night like marauding urban toughs keeping law-abiding folk off the streets. I go on walks in my neighborhood late at night and I'm often approached by members of this clan of crude urban rodentia, though thankfully I've never come to blows with one, or truly been accosted. (TPM is a bit imposing himself.)

There's a steady rain tonight in the capital. And it was around 4 AM when I walked into my bedroom to go to sleep. Or so I thought. I walked to my bedroom window and looked down the four stories to the brick-paved alleyway behind my apartment and there I saw two huge rats, in my clear sight for 30 or 40 seconds, chasing each other down the alley amidst the spattering rain. I live in a fairly nice part of the city and I'm not talking about mice but massive rats that it took me a few moments at a distance of 70 or 80 feet to distinguish from dogs or cats.

(I'd say their bodies alone had to be almost a foot long -- though this page says the kind of species we're getting overrun by, the Norway rat, averages a body length between 7 to 9 inches.)

For years the city government has been saying they're going to crack down on the problem. But, as the conservatives would probably want to say, this is a problem Washington just can't seem to solve.

A reader writes in to suggest that the Catholic cardinals' original not-quite-zero tolerance policy issued in Rome may have been intended to prevent the possibility of a single -- quite possibly false -- accusation being able to sink the career of a good priest -- a false accusation leveled in spite, revenge, or simple sickness on the part of the accuser.

False accusations of child sexual abuse are not simply a theoretical matter. It's a very serious issue; they're often abetted by over-zealous or uninformed prosecutors; and it does happen -- as the notorious McMartin case tragicomically demonstrated.

Still this doesn't seem to be the issue at play in the cardinals' original statement coming out of Rome. I think we all agree that when we say one instance of abuse and you're out we don't mean one accusation. Beyond a reasonable doubt is probably not the standard for the Church to apply when investigating accusations of abuse against priests, but presumably we mean a single accusation that by some fair, orderly and regular investigative process is found to be true.

Friday's Boston Herald reported that the Pope was searching for a position at the Vatican for Cardinal Bernard Law. What the article also mentioned was that it would happen quickly, before the Cardinal's scheduled deposition in early June -- the idea, as the article noted, was that the Cardinal would be out of the country and thus beyond the reach of the court by the time the deposition occurred.

I'm struck by the irony of this and how little apparent notice it's generated. Isn't the pattern of managing hasty reassignments and transfers for priests to keep them a step ahead of the law and accountability just what's gotten the Church into trouble?

That may sound snarky and snide. And I admit that to a degree it is. But not entirely or even mostly. It really is the same pattern -- though obviously Law's seeming lapses can't be compared to those of the priests he reportedly covered for.

But the whole thing does make me wonder whether this crisis doesn't point to some deeper issue about the way the Church views its relationship with the civil authority. It's not that the clergy thinks it's "above the law" -- though that seems a reasonable accusation in some cases. It's more that there seems to be a sense that it's separate from this law, the secular law. Given the long and complicated history of the Catholic Church and the Church's -- and particularly the clergy's -- relationship to civil authority perhaps this is not that surprising.

Did TPM really say that there were no Republicans at the Crossfire relaunch party on Wednesday night? And doesn't this conflict with TPM's earlier report identifying John McCain as an attendee?

Well, yes, John McCain was there and so was Chris Shays, for that matter. But like I said, no Republicans.

A little backstory is in order here.

Republicans, particularly GOP chair Marc Racicot, have been whining about the new Crossfire, saying Begala and Carville are too rough, too mean, whatever. And they've been hinting they might boycott the show. Now when one of the Crossfire flacks called me on Monday to check to see if I could come, she told me how busy she was with invites to a lot of White House people. But I didn't see any of them there.

Now let's start with a few qualifiers. Despite TPM's status as the ultimate DC uber-insider, he doesn't know what every player in DC looks like. What he disproportionately knows are the faces of Democrats -- particularly at the staffer level. So all of these factors make for a significant sample bias. No doubt there were other Republicans there who I a) don't remember, b) didn't recognize, or c) never saw. Still, I know a lot of faces. And here's who I saw.

John McCain (proves my point...), Chris Shays (proves my point...), David Drier (who knows?), Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing (Crossfire media hounds, don't count...), Mary Matalin (host's wife, doesn't count...), Cliff May (legitimate exception to my rule, but also a touch of a Crossfire hound)

I saw lots of Dems (Clinton administration officials, members of Congress, staffers, consultants, etc.), but beside Matalin no one who I recognized from the White House.

Were they afraid Jim and Paul would slap them around and that Mary wouldn't defend them?

What's wrong with this picture? New budget numbers out today point to a $100 billion dollar federal deficit this year. That's not quite in the neighborhood of the bad old days of the Bush I presidency. But it's getting pretty close.

At the same time, Congressional Democrats can mount no more than a languid and ineffectual fight against making the Bush tax cut and the estate tax repeal permanent -- something which will even further balloon these numbers.

At the Crossfire party night before last, one of the Democratic party's shrewdest strategists -- for my money, the shrewdest actually -- told me that he thought that the Democrats' inability to make a more effective argument against the estate tax repeal cuts to the heart of their current problems.

I couldn't agree more.

PS. More later on the Republicans' ridiculous and pitiful threats to boycott the new Crossfire and why there weren't any Republicans at the Crossfire party.

Well, I have just been to the belly of the beast of the Washington schmoozacracy. Tonight CNN -- or maybe it was AOLTimeWarner? -- threw a coming out bash for the new Crossfire starring Jim Carville, Paul Begala, Tucker Carlson and Bob Novak. The party was held at Carville's restaurant West Twentyfour, which as you can see actually has its own website. I know this because there were little Crossfire goody-bags for guests as they left and somehow in my then-state of semi-drunkenness it occurred to me that it was somehow a terribly good idea to take two goody-bags instead of just one. So now I have two Crossfire mugs, two Crossfire baseball hats, two CNN pens, two one-week memberships to some health club and two postcards for Carville's restaurant which have the restaurant's website.

Normally I wouldn't mention this or feel particularly guilty. But Walter Isaacson, the head of CNN, was there. And the parent company just reported today that it lost $54.2 billion last quarter so probably he didn't want to spend any more on the goody-bags than he absolutely needed to. And I don't want him to get called on the carpet by the bigs at AOL or anything. I mean, Isaacson's got enough to worry about getting slapped around by the likes of Tom DeLay and Trent Lott up on the Hill to have to worry about this sort of thing.

Anyway, what surprised me is that you'd at least think there would be some sort of bizarre cajun food served given the owner and so forth. But no dice! No crawdads, no spicy, slimy things in big bowls, no po'boys, nuthin! It was garden variety seemingly-catered lunch meats, so-so cheeses, and bottles of Budweiser, among other things.

Anyway, I tried to chat up Lloyd Grove, the gossip columnist for the Washington Post, to see if he'd give me any insights on how to write up this sort of event. But he was clearly keeping all the professional secrets pretty close to the vest. So that wasn't much help.

I also spent quality time people watching with my talk radio host friend Victoria Jones who somehow got left out in the cold in a recent schedule reshuffle by those idiots at WMAL radio in DC. And that was a lot of fun.

McCain was there, Chris Shays, John Dingell of all people, Walter Isaacson, a few White House folks, more than a few Clinton folks, a slew of other people and an array of late twenty- and early-thirty-something Washington types hitting on each other and chatting each other up. Your standard coven of press secretaries and TV producers.

The people who were most eager to talk to me were the ones trying to get me to spill the beans on who my sources were for the article on Al Gore that I wrote in Salon a couple weeks back. Just a note to my treasured sources: needless to say I did not rat you out, even in the face of various blandishments.

What was striking was how many Gore 2000 veterans there tonight told me the piece was right on the mark, which is telling on many levels.

(On the other hand, take a look at this new Zogby poll which shows that Gore's recent round of speeches and appearances has pushed him back into a commanding lead over his 2004 Dem rivals. This is both a sign of Gore's strength and the inherent slipperiness of these numbers at such an early point in the cycle.)

Beside that it's all a blur of cheap red wine, Budweiser and prosciutto.

I'm not a Catholic, but I have a great deal of respect for Catholicism and the Catholic church. Having said that, though, the news out of Rome is disappointing and more than a touch bizarre. I think the statement that said it all came when the cardinals said they were "considering a zero-tolerance policy" for priests who sexually abuse children. Doesn't this get at the problem the church is struggling with. Considering? We already have a zero-tolerance policy in this country for child sexual abuse -- i.e., state criminal statutes. There's just some basic disconnect here that is difficult to fathom. I think Andrew Sullivan has it right when he writes "Abuse of children or minors is not a peccadillo. It's horrifying in anyone, appalling in the priesthood."

Following up on the ineptly-handled coup against Hugo Chavez, here's an interesting posting on the The United States Agency for International Development website. It's a job posting from the Office of Transition of Initiatives, an office at USAID which specializes mainly in countries transitioning from dictatorships to democracy or emerging from wars. It's a job posting for a new OTI posting in Venezuela and the job opening was listed on April 12th, more or less what turned out to be the day of the coup. (It doesn't close until the 26th, so you can still actually get an application in if you're interested.)

Among other things, the posting describes how ...

Since his election as President of Venezuela in 1998, Hugo Chavez has demonstrated increasing disregard for democratic institutions and intolerance for dissent. He has been slowly hijacking the machinery of government and developing parallel non-democratic governance structures. Corruption, supposedly targeted for elimination by Chavez, is alleged to be rampant.

The USAID Office of Transition Initiatives will establish a flexible program to address the deteriorating democratic institutions in Venezuela. OTI's program would be part of a comprehensive assistance program to shore up the democratic voices and institutions in Venezuela. The program will be managed by an OTI field representative reporting to the U.S. Ambassador in Venezuela and implemented through one of OTI's contract or international organization intermediaries. OTI's field representative will maintain close collaboration with other Embassy offices in identifying opportunities and selecting partners.

Now I don't think this entertaining coincidence proves anything. But I do think it provides a pretty revealing window into the approach the US was taking to Venezuela during the lead-up to the coup.

Everyone who I've talked to today believes that Karen Hughes is leaving the White House for the reasons she said. And I guess I do too. The one thing that raises a touch of suspicion for me is that this is a helluva a time for her to leave. Even administration yes-men concede that Bush has hit a rough spot.

Whatever we make of that, though, Hughes' departure does open up an interesting possibility. Get out some graph paper or maybe a protractor because this may get complicated.

Here goes...

There's been a rumor circulating through the White House press corps for the last week or two that Ari Fleischer was on the way out as Press Secretary. Not immediately but maybe over the next few months sometime. Whether it's to greener pastures or ones that are slushy and brown isn't clear. But the word was that Fleischer would be moving on to make way for the Pentagon's Tori Clarke who is a) more proficient at handling foreign policy and b) more of a Bush loyalist.

(TPM might have added 'c) not a risible hack like Ari' but that would have been strictly a TPM embellishment, and not part of the official rumor.)

I spent a bit of time yesterday trying to find out whether there was anything to this rumor. But as a number of members of the White House press gang noted, it's difficult to get to the bottom of 'Ari's on the way out' rumors because there are always rumors to this effect. And these rumors find a receptive audience among the White House press corps because these folks so dislike and disrespect him.

Winston Churchill once called the Soviet Union a "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." Fleischer's evil genius produces a similar effect. He has cloaked himself with such an aura of incompetence and disagreeableness that true signs of his professional demise are hard to distinguish from the normal background noise of derision and wishful thinking emanating from those who must cover him.

(One of the big parlor games in DC and particularly amongst the White House press corps is this: could Ari really be as out of the loop and incompetent as he seems? Or is he maybe just crazy like a fox? Or maybe in this case, an idiot like a fox? Could the higher-ups at the White House want him to play this game and take all the hits for the prez? Or maybe he really is as incompetent as he seems, but it's the same difference. They like having him there anyway to take the hits and the jabs? Apparently Howie Kurtz is working on an Ari profile -- and he is no doubt talking with fellow Postie Dana Milbank who has a mutual loathing society with Fleischer. So maybe Kurtz will get to the bottom of this mystery.)

Anyway I persevered and here's what I found out. I can tonight confirm to you that this is a bona-fide rumor. Whether there's any truth to it, that I'm not sure of. But it is a rumor. No question about it.

However, on Monday another person who covers the White House told me that Tori Clarke was a no-go at the White House because she'd gotten cross-wise with Karen Hughes. (Over what I'm not sure, but I'm led to believe that may be a story in itself.)

Anyway, with Karen out of the picture, could Ari be on the way out too? Or might the skids at least be greased? Could the moment for Fleischer & Gheith have finally arrived? And might they too colocate with Shrum, Devine & Donilon? The questions are ... well, endless.