David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

From TPM Reader VM:

I'm surprised that you didn't link your thoughts about the Incumbent Party with your thoughts about a challenge to Pelosi if the Democrats failed to win the House.

After all, you're right that the political climate is right for a major sweep. The biggest challenge, though, is that the 2000 redistricting was controlled by the Incumbent Party. There are, simply put, too few competitive seats to allow for a sea-change in control of the House.

And Pelosi (who I like on many other fronts) is one of the key leaders in preserving safe districts for incumbents. Redistricting in California alone could have created enough competitive seats to switch partisan control. But Pelosi went all-out trying to prevent reforms in her home state that would have created competitive districts.

If the Democrats fail to win the House in November, a fair amount of blame should go to Pelosi's yeoman support of the Incumbent Party's redistricting strategy.

Late Update: Another reader responds:

Very important fact you left out in blaming Pelosi for a go-along approach to California redistricting - it takes 2/3 approval to get redistricting through the state legislature - the GOP had 35% of one house, 40% of the other - there was no way a Texas-like redo was possible. You need to include this if you are going to analyze what happened here.

Ken Silverstein has posted an interview with Wayne White, Deputy Director of the State Department's Office of Middle East and South Asia Analysis until March 2005, on the crisis in the Middle East. Some excerpts:

I believe [Condi's] activities have been tailored to give the impression of action while not designed to make any real progress toward the urgent ceasefire that should be everyone's highest priority.

. . .

[N]ot learning from the American experience in Iraq that trying to crush a guerrilla movement with conventional military force involving significant—and in this case, even deliberate—collateral casualties and damage might only generate thousands of other potential fighters bearing various grievances, the IDF could find itself mired in the same sort of seemingly open-ended confrontation.

. . .

With respect to another extremely serious consequence of not working to bring this carnage to an early end, Lebanon already has absorbed billions of dollars of damage. By the end of the crisis, the cost of rebuilding Lebanon will be incredibly high and the rebuilding effort quite prolonged, leaving most Lebanese, aside perhaps from the hard-core Christian right, considerably more hostile to Israel—and the United States—than ever before. In this respect, I find scenes of devastated Lebanese urban areas not only appalling, but frightening.

Yes, that about sums it up. Feeling depressed yet? What if I reminded you that as of last Thursday, we're still 2 1/2 years away from a new Administration?

A new Human Rights Watch report out today collects accounts from soldiers in Iraq who participated in and witnessed detainee abuse.

You won't be surprised by the findings, which Human Rights Watch says show that the abuse was not merely conducted by a few aberrants but was sanctioned up the chain of commnd. I was struck, however, by the existence of written documentation authorizing the abuse:

In March 2004, when Lagouranis and another interrogator voiced concerns about the techniques, their supervising MI officer provided them with an Interrogation Rules of Engagement card, authorizing the use of dogs, exposure to hot and cold temperatures, sleep deprivation, forced exercises and use of painful stress positions, and environmental manipulation (allowing strobe lights and loud music):

When we were doing that stuff it was under the direction of Chief Warrant Officer [name withheld]; he was telling us, this is what he wants. But when he told us this, you know, of course, we got a little worried. So we asked for IROE [Interrogation Rules of Engagement] and he gave us the IROE that his unit was supposedly using.

I think it was sort of an outdated IROE now that I think about it, because I felt—because I saw others later that were different. I think he was using one from Afghanistan or something like that. But everything that he said, as far as I could tell, was it was legal on the IROE [i.e., the techniques were detailed in the IROE:] that we could use dogs, we could use environmental manipulation, sleep deprivation, sort of stress positions. But who knows—I don't know if it was legal or not, what we were doing.
Then there's this account:
There was an authorization template on a computer, a sheet that you would print out, or actually just type it in. And it was a checklist. And it was all already typed out for you, environmental controls, hot and cold, you know, strobe lights, music, so forth. Working dogs, which, when I was there, wasn’t being used. But you would just check what you want to use off, and if you planned on using a harsh interrogation you’d just get it signed off.

I never saw a sheet that wasn’t signed. It would be signed off by the commander, whoever that was, whether it was 03 [captain] or 06 [colonel], whoever was in charge at the time. . . . When the 06 was there, yeah, he would sign off on that. . . . He would sign off on that every time it was done.

The bureaucracy of torture.

The deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan continues:

Taliban militants warned Afghans on Sunday to keep away from foreign troops as they planned more attacks, a day after a twin suicide strike against a Canadian patrol killed at least five locals.

The threat of more such attacks, made by a Taliban spokesman in a phone call to Reuters, comes a week before the 26-nation NATO alliance takes on security from a U.S.-led force in southern Afghanistan, its most dangerous assignment in its history.

When I posted about Floyd Landis and the Tour de France earlier today, I never dreamed I'd be able to tie in politics. But TPM Reader EM directed me to video of Landis at a press conference after his historic ride Thursday. We pick it up as Landis' cell phone begins ringing:

Reporter: Is that Bush?

Landis (laughing): I doubt it. I'll hang up.

At TPM, we cover politics from every angle.

John Murtha has already touted himself for House Majority Leader should the Democrats re-take the House (12 years into Republican control it's probably a little quaint to call it "re-taking" the House). But what if the Democrats lose again? Is anyone quietly angling to replace Nancy Pelosi? The rest of the House Democratic leadership? It's a fair question. If you can't bring it home for the Dems in this political environment, then you should probably go home.

Another thought to follow up on my post below regarding what I called the Incumbent Party. One of the things that unites the Incumbent Party is, of course, the desire to preserve incumbency. And it has done a marvelous job of that. The Incumbent Party has reduced the risk of defeat faced by incumbents to about as close to zero as you can get while still maintaining a democratic system. Perhaps never before in our history have the structural underpinnings of American politics been so heavily tilted in favor of incumbency. Campaign finance, redistricting, the budget process--there are an abundance of ways the Incumbent Party has built its own perpetuation into the system.

My point is this: rather than being angry and indigant about the Lamont challenge, as Joe Lieberman reportedly is, shouldn't he be sheepish? I mean here is a guy with all of the built-in advantages of incumbency, and he still can't pull it off? No one has ever been particularly sympathetic to Goliath's plight, such as it was. To be angry about a stiff challenge is really to say that you don't want to have to the play the game at all. And that's precisely what the Incumbent Party is all about.

There are three parties in American politics. The third is the Incumbent Party. By that, I mean the peculiar (though certainly not inexplicable) tendency of the interests of incumbent elected officials to merge or align in a way that starts to erase the traditional partisan divide between them and creates a different kind of divide between them and their respective Republican and Democratic constituencies. (I’m by no means the first to observe this, but I’m not sure who gets the credit for first doing so.)

Much ink as been spilled in the last 30 years about the possible rise of a true third party in America. One of the reasons, and there are many others, that no third party has materialized out of the numerous third party candidacies during that period, I think, is that most independent candidates were running against the Incumbent Party rather than taking affirmative steps to unify voters around an identifiable set of beliefs. Opposing the Incumbent Party is the thread that links Perot, Nader, and the outsider candidacies by the likes of Jesse Ventura.

Sad to say but Joe Lieberman has become a member of the Incumbent Party. Ned Lamont’s candidacy is as much about opposing an Incumbent Party candidate, as it is a litmus test on the Iraq War. Others have run under the traditional party banners while campaigning against the Incumbent Party, and enjoyed some degree of success: Pat Buchanan, Howard Dean, and Arnold Schwarzenegger (to an extent) come to mind.

But off the top of my head I can’t think of anyone who has epitomized the Incumbent Party dynamic to quite the extent that Lieberman has. His decision to run as an independent in the general election if he loses the Democratic primary is the perfect microcosm of the Incumbent Party phenomenon. It’s one thing to abandon your party when you have lost election, like Buchanan did (twice). It’s quite another for an incumbent to lose his party primary and then try to mount a general election challenge. To announce it before the primary, well, there can’t be much precedent for that. Can anyone think of any?

My ambivalence about Lamont, like most of those conflicted about the race, comes from wanting the energies and resources of Democrats to be focused on defeating Republicans in a year where there is a real possibility of wresting control of one or both chambers of Congress away from the GOP. A Democratic Congress with Joe Lieberman in it is a whole lot better than a Republican Congress sans Lieberman. But it’s difficult now to see how a Lieberman victory, in either the primary or the general, is anything other than a victory for the Incumbent Party.

The WP today offers a broad overview of the role of Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar in the ongoing investigation of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La). Most of what is in Allan Lengel's piece has been reported before, but it's nice to step back and remind ourselves how outrageous this whole thing is:

[A] chauffeur drove Jefferson and his Northern Virginia business partner, Lori Mody, in a Lincoln Town Car down the winding pavement on Sorrel Avenue in Potomac to Abubakar's 2.3-acre property, partially shrouded by trees and protected by a six-foot-high black wrought-iron fence with gold tips.

Unbeknownst to Jefferson, Mody was wearing an FBI wire, and the chauffeur was an undercover FBI agent.

Jefferson met privately with Abubakar, without Mody, to discuss iGate Inc.'s involvement with a Nigerian partner in a high-tech venture to market Internet and cable television in Nigeria, according to the FBI affidavit.

Mody had invested $3.5 million, and Jefferson had a secret share of her business and of iGate.

Following the meeting on Sorrel Avenue, Jefferson told Mody that the vice president had demanded a cut of the profits. He said they also needed to give him a $500,000 payment "as a motivating factor," the affidavit said.

On July 30, Mody gave Jefferson a $100,000 bribe to pass on to Abubakar, and shortly after, Jefferson assured her that it had been delivered.

On Aug. 3, FBI agents found $90,000 of the marked FBI bills in Jefferson's freezer at his Capitol Hill apartment. None of cash had gone to Abubakar, according to the FBI affidavit.

If this were in a movie script, you would roll your eyes.

This is off topic, but congratulations to Floyd Landis, who today sealed a dramatic victory in the Tour de France. I mention it only because if you haven't read about Landis' ride in Thursday's stage, you really should, regardless of whether you know anything about cycling.

In making up nearly 8 minutes on the race leader in a grueling mountain stage, the day after bonking and losing the yellow jersey, Landis turned in one of the great performances in sports history. It ranks up there with Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game, Tiger Woods' 1997 Masters victory, and Bob Beamon's 1968 long jump, performances that simply defied what was believed to be possible.

Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled programming . . .