Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Yet another laugh-test failure ...

Nick Smith, the Republican congressman from Michigan's 7th district, says House GOP leaders threatened to support candidates running against his son if he didn't vote for the Medicare bill that just raced through the Congress.

(Smith's son, Brad, is running to replace his dad, who is retiring at the end of this term.)

Au contraire! says John Freehery, a spokesman for Speaker Denny Hastert. "What the speaker said," according to Freehery, "was that a vote on this would help him and help his son because it would be a popular vote."

Yeah ...

With so much happening in America and Iraq, I had only dimly noticed the crisis brewing and then finally coming to a seemingly happy conclusion in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. On Sunday night longtime Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze -- whose dominance in the country/republic stretched far back into the Soviet era -- resigned amid massive, but peaceful, popular protests. This article in Tuesday's Washington Post describes the way the Georgian opposition very consciously modeled its effort on the recent revolution in Serbia.

Interesting. In an earlier<$Ad$> post I said that I didn't put that much stock in polls by SurveyUSA because they don't use people to conduct their polls, but an automated response system.

A lot of people in the public opinion and poll business share my skepticism. But an academic public opinion researcher, Joel David Bloom, did a study of their results and found them about as reliable as the rest. Here's the key graf ...

Looking at SurveyUSA, they too stuck with Carnahan in Missouri, and had both Carolinas much tighter than they actually were. But they were right in Colorado, and had the margins closer elsewhere. Interestingly, they were not in as many close states as Zogby, so the fact that 85% of their polls had the correct winner should not be taken too far. Unlike Zogby, or nonpartisan pollsters in general, SurveyUSA did show a net pro-Democratic bias of around 2 points, but by every other measure they performed as well as or better than other nonpartisan firms. Thus, as much as academic survey researchers may have wished to see SurveyUSA under-perform the field, they clearly did not, and may have actually done better than average.

I remain skeptical. But those are interesting numbers.

An update on Khidhir Hamza.

A reader who is close to Hamza writes in to suggest that Hamza's lack of visibility of late <$Ad$>is due to concerns for his security rather any effort to duck questions from the media.

This seems reasonable to me. Clearly, all Iraqis who are working with the Americans are under threat. And I imagine that the threat is all the more severe for someone so prominently connected with the push for regime change.

So, point taken.

However, that doesn't change the very real need for some explanation from Hamza for why his pre-war claims about Iraq's nuclear program are so difficult to reconcile with the evidence we've found (or rather not found) on the ground in Iraq since April.

A slew of readers have written in to note that -- contrary to my post below -- there is a new poll out fron Iowa. And it has Howard Dean back out in front of Dick Gephardt by 5%.

As I noted earlier, the Des Moines Register poll showing Gephardt jumping ahead of Dean left me wanting more data to confirm that this wasn't simply an outlier. That poll seemed to showing a cresting of Dean's support in the state. And I haven't seen other signs of that.

However, the new poll by SurveysUSA doesn't change my opinion. Why? Because it is based on a methodology (no human poll-taker, just an automated phone system) I find suspect and the Des Moines Register survey has a long track-record and is highly respected.

So, it's another data-point. And it's more recent. But I'm still waiting for more data. Particularly, for another poll from the Des Moines Register.

Meanwhile, aside from Dean, the two Democratic candidates who seem to have some new life in them are Clark and, to my great surprise, Dick Gephardt.

When Gephardt threw his hat in the ring last November I mocked him rather mercilessly. But the biggest news I've seen of late was the early November Des Moines Register poll which showed Gephardt opening up a 7 point lead over Dean.

Since that poll ran, I've been waiting for a follow-up to see whether that sounding was an outlier or whether Gephardt really has turned a corner on Dean in Iowa. (Dean's campaign clearly sees Gephardt's momentum, as evidenced by their decision to run a round of anti-Gephardt ads in the state.) But I'm still waiting to see more poll data.

A few things are worth saying about these two candidates in Iowa. Iowa should be a Gephardt state. So, to an extent, his strength there only shows that his candidacy is holding on. On the other hand, as the frontrunner and with the kind of campaign he's running -- one geared to grassroots support -- Dean needs to win there too. Wearing the frontrunner crown changes all the expectations. A Gephardt win in Iowa would be a very big deal on a number of counts.

On Clark, a few weeks back I said that Clark had no campaign, no message, not no nuthin', but close. Now, he finally seems to have one. He's running ads, showing up on the shows -- the fundraising is decent. He gave a solid foreign policy speech and, in general, his operation is putting together a clear and consistent message.

How consistent this remains and how much traction he gains remains to be seen.

Wow. That's not a good sign -- if you're John Kerry, that is. A new Boston Herald poll has Howard Dean beating Kerry 33% to 24% in Massachusetts. That comes on the heels of a Boston Globe/WBZ-TV poll which had Dean beating Kerry 27% to 24%.

The only small silver lining for the Massachusetts senator is that I suspect it's been this way for some time. It's just that no one has done a public poll in the state on the Dem primary race in months.

Here's another important detail -- posted on TNR's blog -- on the scamliness of the Medicare bill careening through Congress. And yes I've already trademarked the word ("scamliness") for exclusive use on TPM.

The sort of myopic foolery of which Washington is made ...

In an otherwise half-sensible Washington Post editorial about the megaphone of wealth in our political discourse ("Mr. Soros's Millions"), the Post editorialists lets this sentence fly ...

For Democrats thrilled with the Soros millions, imagine conservative financier Richard Mellon Scaife opening his bank account on behalf of Mr. Bush.

Yes, imagine that.

Perhaps <$Ad$>whoever wrote this clunker needs to familiarize themselves with Mr. Scaife's giving to myriad conservative causes (think tanks, publications, pressure groups, etc.) throughout the 1990s, and before, and since.

Those of course contributed significantly to the Republican victories in 2002, and in other elections -- just as Democrats hope that Soros' largesse will contribute to hoped-for future triumphs.

The shoe momentarily finds itself on the other foot and suddenly the Post is gripped with the need to reform the non-existent disclosure requirements for giving to think-tanks and other forms of quasi-political giving. (Perhaps they should pick up a copy of John Judis' The Paradox of American Democracy: Elites, Special Interests, and the Betrayal of the Public Trust to get their footing.)

Read the editorial, let the fullness of the myopia roll over you, and you'll learn a lot about how elite opinion works in this city, and its essential corruption.

A Special Thanks to TPM reader DL for the tip.

Remember Khidhir Hamza? He was a rather famous figure in Washington a year ago. He was “Saddam’s Bombmaker” according to a book he co-wrote a few years back.

Hamza was the originator -- or at least the prime proponent -- of the theory that Saddam was enriching uranium through a highly unorthodox but devilishly concealable method --- with very small uranium enrichment facilities scattered and hidden throughout the country.

Here’s a graf from an article by Eli Lake last year in The New Republic …

Shortly after Wolfowitz took his post in February 2001, for example, Chalabi and Brooke brought 1994 defector Khidir Hamza, one of Saddam's most senior nuclear scientists, to meet the new deputy defense secretary. In the meeting, Hamza described how Saddam was trying to refine uranium for his nuclear program using a centrifuge technique in small labs scattered throughout the country. Initially, there had been skepticism within the intelligence community--and specifically the CIA--that Saddam could be refining uranium in this way. But Hamza was insistent, claiming that Baghdad was purchasing from abroad a specific kind of aluminum tube needed for the process. And ultimately, Hamza's intelligence seems to have been borne out. Just last week, The New York Times published an article reporting that "$(i$)n the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium."

People who actually make nuclear weapons never thought too highly of Hamza’s story (and that probably should have been a bit more of a warning sign). But, as <$Ad$>Lake implied, many at the CIA eventually came around.

Whether or not Saddam had procured yellowcake from Niger didn’t matter so much, reasoned many Iraq hawks, since he could just mine his own. Richard Perle told me in April of last year, for instance, that Saddam had already been “enriching the natural uranium that’s found in Iraq for some time.”

Not everyone bought Hamza’s story. Late last year, according to the Times of London, former weapons inspectors and proliferation specialist David Albright said Hamza's claims were “often inaccurate . . . He sculpts his message to get the message across . . . (He) wants regime change (in Iraq) and what interferes with that is just ignored." Many, however, found Hamza’s claim both compelling and chilling.

Here’s what Ken Pollack said about Hamza when TPM interviewed him in January of this year …

I will say flat out [that] I was under the same impression: that we had a very good grip on their nuclear program and there really wasn't much of a nuclear program well into the 1990s. I was constantly being assured that by the IAEA and by the intelligence community. And then all of a sudden we had a slew of defectors come out in the mid- and late 1990s and what they told us was that everything that we had thought was wrong. You know Khidhir Hamza is the only one who's gone public. So he's the only one I can really talk about. But in 1994 we really thought the IAEA had eradicated their nuclear program. And the IAEA really thought that they'd eradicated their nuclear program. And they were telling us they'd eradicated their nuclear program. And Khidhir Hamza comes out and says 'No, the nuclear program in 1994 was bigger than it had ever been before.'

The problem is that Hamza’s story now seems almost certain to have been false. Now, people get things wrong for many reasons. But given the minute detail of the highly unconventional methods Hamza alleged were being used and his own self-described central role in Saddam’s nuclear weapons program, it’s really hard to see how Hamza could have seen and done the things he told us he saw and did.

Really hard.

As I said above, in the couple years leading up to the Iraq War, Hamza was ubiquitous. And his story was endlessly mentioned. I saw him speak at a panel at the Council of Foreign Relations here in DC in the spring of 2002. And when I went up to try to ask him a few questions afterwards there were so many other folks trying to do the same that after a few pleasantries I got whisked aside to chat with his publicist.

Recently, he’s been a bit hard to come by. In fact, I did a nexis search on his name and I only got a couple dozen hits since the invasion last March.

I had figured that Hamza had just dropped off the radar screen --- which would be sort of understandable, given what I’ve noted above. But a memo prepared by a US government official after two stints working in post-war Iraq suggests that Hamza is still working with the US occupation authorities in Iraq, specifically in the new Ministry of Science and Technology. And the memo, written in late October, says Hamza will be coming to Washington in November.

So where is Khidhir Hamza? What’s his explanation? And if he doesn’t have a good one, why are we still working with him?