Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

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?

Christopher Hitchens is finally leaving The Nation. He'll apparently make the announcement in a column in the magazine's next issue. Hitchens seems to no longer believe the Nation audience is a receptive or congenial one for him, given his hawkish stands on the war on terrorism and Iraq and -- I would imagine at least -- more or less everything he's written for the last half dozen years or so. The Nation released the following statement -- which will apparently also run in the next issue -- to TPM Wednesday afternoon ...

We note with keen regret that this week marks the final appearance of Christopher Hitchens's column, "Minority Report." We have been publishing Christopher for more than twenty years, and the relationship with him has been a rewarding one for this magazine and for our readers. That is testimony to the fact that Christopher has always been completely free to express his views, and differences he has had with the editors he has honorably ventilated. We will miss his eloquent and passionate voice and his elegantly crafted prose.
We'll be reporting more on this as it develops.

The normal writing energy for TPM entries was taken up by other late-night writing last evening. More posts to come later today. But if you have a moment read this new piece by Fareed Zakaria on Iraq. It's not the stance I would have thought to take, or would have taken on first blush, but it's challenging. And Zakaria continues to be one of the shrewdest, most consistently honest writers on the Iraq question.

Let me try to hash out a miscellany of unrelated little points I'd like to mention. The New Republic is not only a nearly-hundred-year-old institution fastened up with luminaries like Edmund Wilson and Walter Lippmann and Herbert Croly, and not only does the current management sometimes see it in its heart to publish my articles, but the magazine now has a blog. (I've given it a look; and it's really quite good.) It seems it'll be run on the Tapped model, with none of the entries signed, though most or at least many will be written by staffer Noam Scheiber. I think that's a good model for a magazine blog. Having a bunch of different people signing entries on a single blog makes for clutter and cacophony. Better to run them unsigned.

Whether they'll be running any items at four in the morning remains to be seen.

Regular readers know that I keep a close eye on the Thune-Johnson Senate contest in South Dakota. For some time I've been saying that Johnson would do much better than people were thinking. This is a close race certainly. But the very latest round of polls leaves no doubt that Johnson holds a small but steady lead. A new Zogby poll has Johnson up 46-43. Monday on CNN Robert Novak said that Republican insiders were telling him that their polls showed Thune down by four, though I've heard rumors of a GOP poll showing an even deeper deficit.

In his commentary Novak said this was a "close race. It's been going back and forth." It's definitely close. But what strikes me is that it really hasn't been going back and forth. Look at the polls on this race over the last six months or so and you see a slow but consistent trend bringing Johnson from running behind up to ten points or so until today when he is in every poll running at least a few points ahead of Thune. It's a tight race. And it'd be foolish to be complacent. But I'd be really surprised if Johnson doesn't win this one.

Also of interest, the latest St. Louis Post-Dispatch poll -- also done by Zogby -- has Senator Jean Carnahan up by seven points over Jim Talent. That's supposed to be one of the close races. So that's an important result.

Given TPM's editorial line, you may find it surprising that when I go out to a cafe in the morning to read papers and sip coffee I will often pick up a copy of The Washington Times along with the Post and The New York Times. I don't think a lot of their political coverage but when it comes to reporting on the Pentagon and defense issues they have stuff you just won't find in the other papers.

But every so often you get a glimpse of just what an odd operation the Times is. On Friday I was sitting in my usual cafe reading my papers when I came across a whole separate section in the day's Times, a "Special Report", with the headline: "Adjara, Georgia: Region is Model for Good Government, Vigorous Economy."

On the front was a man of destiny-looking type figure with the caption: "The dynamic President of the Autonomous Region of Adjara, Aslan Abashidze, is a Georgian patriot and widely respected at home and in Europe." Below that there's an article "Adjara – beautiful, successful & secure: A unique region of the globe." And then on the page's right side an interview: "President Aslan Abashidze, visionary leader of Adjara."

(I later found this all on the web too, and thus the supplied links.)

After a bit I figured there was something a bit funny here and I discovered the small line of text scrawled at the top corner of the front page: "A Special International Report Prepared by The Washington Times advertising Department."

But by now I was hooked and, before I knew it, on to the second page, which has "500 Years of Family Leadership" about the Abashidze family's exploits in Georgian history back to 1463; "President Abashidze: a biography"; and "The Political Testament of Aslan Abashidze."

The next page has President Abashidze's open letter to President Bush expressing condolences about 9/11, a note from the First Lady of Adjara, and then from there articles about various economic development projects in Adjara, President Abashidze's commitment to democracy and stuff about Adjarian culture. On the religious front, surprisingly enough, it turns out that St. Matthew, the guy who wrote the 'Gospel of' is buried in the capital of Adjara, Batumi.

The only article about anyone else beside President Abashidze is an article on the back page, page 12, about the newly-elected Mayor of Batumi, the President's twenty-six year old son George Abashidze. George "has long expressed his political credo as 'STRONG CITY, STRONG REGION, STRONG GEORGIA!'"

Among the more bizarre and troubling aspects of the 'regime change' debate is ... well, the phrase 'regime change.'

According to various neo-conservatives and Iraq-hawks, George Orwell is a dedicated Iraq-hawk and thoroughgoing supporter of regime change. This may well be the case. I'm never able to predict such things. But I would have imagined that were Orwell alive today the phrase 'regime change' itself would be one he would quickly set upon with a knife and a fork.

Everybody's favorite Orwell text is his 1946 essay 'Politics and the English Language.' I wouldn't be foolish enough to try to summarize it. But one key point of the essay is that vagueness, euphemism and abstraction abet muddled thinking, evasions of responsibility, and lies. Put it another way: There is a tight connection between clear thinking and clear language. And clear thinking and clear speech are the beginning of, or at least the handmaidens of, honest thinking and honest speech.

Here's one passage from the essay ...

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.
Which brings us back to 'regime change.' Like many phrases Orwell had at, 'regime change' is one that comes with the evasion and concealment prepackaged within it. We all know more or less what the phrase means: the violent otherthrow of one government and its replacemnet with another, chosen by the power which overthrew the first one, or, in other words, by us. So why not say so? Using an abstract and antiseptic phrase like 'regime change' for a process which is neither abstract nor antiseptic is corrupting.

You can imagine various instances where we might try the same stunt in our daily lives. The fifty-five year-old man who dumps his graying middle-aged wife for a busty, blonde, twenty-eight year-old ad-exec. This is 'spousal replacement.' And so forth.

In the Weekly Standard this week David Brooks has a review of Christopher Hitchens' new book Why Orwell Matters. The rather unhappy conclusion of Brooks' review is how relatively little Orwell really does matter today. And reading Brooks' review it's hard not to agree with his conclusion, at least in the sense in which he means it. That is, that the basic issues Orwell concerned himself with -- the Soviet Union, socialism, fascism, and so forth, the ones that were paramount in his day -- simply aren't the ones that are central to anything that's crucial in politics or global affairs today.

For language, politics, and truth, though, Orwell remains quite timely.

I don't pretend that the short-hand of 'regime change' is the end of the world in itself. But it is the exposed tip of an extremely dishonest public debate -- one in which assertions which are widely understood to be false are stated and not corrected, in which important distinctions are clouded with obscuring phrases, and in which discussion of the long-term consequences of specific actions are trumped by slogans. And that's a very big deal.

The lack of serious debate is not limited to the hawks. The opponents of deposing Saddam are often similarly muddled. Many Democrats have busied themselves with asking good questions rather than proposing a credible alternative policy. Meanwhile, many people in the peace camp are simply not willing to face seriously the belligerence, recklessness and brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime. They are not willing in most cases to consider the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iraq under Saddam Hussein's control. They often won't face the pressing nature of the issue, one in which time is not necessarily on our side. But mostly these are simply matters of evasion, an unwillingness to seriously consider the issue. There's little of the casual making up of stories that is the staple of this administration's arguments.

More notes from the annals of spin and war.

Last night I noted the part of the president's proposed use of force resolution which claimed there was a "the high risk that the current Iraqi regime will either employ those weapons to launch a surprise attack against the United States or its Armed Forces or provide them to international terrorists who would do so..."

Maybe the Iraqis would give WMD to terrorists. Maybe. But does anybody really think Saddam is going to launch a surprise attack against the United States?

It turns out that one White House correspondent also found that line questionable and asked an administration official about it. The administration official -- who was well-placed and in a position to know -- told the reporter that the resolution's original language was much more specific and made clear that the reference was to US interests in the Middle East or military installations in the region. However, late in the process of drafting the resolution that wording got swapped out in exchange for the current, more dramatic language.

The implication from the administration official seemed to be that of course everyone knows that Iraq isn't going to launch a surprise attack against the US but, you know, read between the lines, etc.

Isn't a charge like this -- that a foreign power is likely to launch a devastating surprise attack on the United States with weapons of mass destruction -- not the sort of thing you just toss off like a throwaway line?

But, of course, this is who we're dealing with.