Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Now that's a catch!

From the presidency of Woodrow Wilson -- who, despite being admirable in other capacities, was an ardent segregationist -- until 1990, US presidents sent a wreath to the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day to honor Jefferson Davis. The first President Bush stopped the practice in 1990. But, according to Time.com, this President Bush restarted that tradition when he became president in 2001.

Why this renewed affection for a failed leader of a failed rebellion against the government of the United States?

The Time.com story points to a logical suspect: Richard T. Hines.

Who's Richard T. Hines? Hines is a big-time DC lobbyist whose website says he "has an active voice in the current Bush Administration." But don't take his word for it. He played a key role in helping President Bush rescue his presidential campaign by whacking John McCain in the South Carolina primary in 2000. More to the point, Hines is a leading neo-Confederate and the former Managing Editor of the Southern Partisan, the crypto-racist magazine which is the venue of choice for Republican politicians looking to cater to the neo-confederate yahoo vote.

Hines is also a leader of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, one of the groups involved in organizing the annual event to which the White House sent the wreath. According to this article by one-time TPM advisor Sean Wilentz ...

Hines first gained national media attention in 1996 when, in a public protest over the unveiling of a monument to the black tennis great Arthur Ashe in Richmond, Va., he unfurled the battle flag of his great-grandfather's regiment and denounced the statue as "a sharp stick in the eye of those who honor the Confederate heritage."
Now at this point I was going to continue on with the post and explain how this is the White House -- probably Karl Rove, actually -- talking out of both sides of its mouth. First they denounce Trent Lott for his nostalgia for the segregationist past. Here they're pandering to these neo-Confederate yahoos. But you know how that post would unfold, right? So let's just pretend I wrapped the post up like that and get on to the fun stuff. Deal? Great. Here goes ...

If you go to the Sons of Confederate Veterans website you'll find these instructions for how to report a 'Heritage Violation.' What's a 'Heritage Violation'? "Any attack upon our Confederate Heritage, or the flags, monuments, and symbols which represent it, can be termed a Heritage Violation," says the SCV website.

"Any disrespect shown to our Confederate Heritage should be considered as serious," continues the SCV. But it's important not to let the emotion of the moment get the better of you!

SCV members are reminded, however, to remain calm and to respond in a manner befitting the dignity of the heritage we seek to preserve. Those persons or groups who cause a heritage violation often do so in a manner deliberately intended to provoke us into intemperate response. Do not play into their hands by over-reacting. We should always handle ourselves as the responsible Southern gentlemen that we are.
One of the best ways to stifle your Southern fury, it seems, is to follow the SCV's ridiculous and arcane procedures for reporting a 'heritage violation' -- procedures which may well have been secretly devised by some right-minded group like the NAACP in order to get heritage-sensitive, neo-Confederate whack-jobs running around in circles and thus not acting out in some more unfortunate fashion ...
Whom do you report it to? Your first contact should be your Camp Commander or Heritage Officer. They should in turn report the heritage violation to the Heritage Chairman in your Brigade. The Brigade Heritage Chairman should then contact his Brigade Commander and the Division Heritage Chairman. Heritage violation responses are best handled at the local level, in cooperation with Brigade and Division level officers. A plan of action to deal with the heritage violation should be developed by these Brigade and Division officers, acting in concert with the local camp and member (or other person) that initially reported the violation.

The Division Heritage Chairman should report the violation to the Division Commander, and the SCV’s Chief of Heritage Defense. The Chief of Heritage Defense can call upon the national organization to respond to the violation, if such action is required. The Chief of Heritage Defense is assisted by a members of a Heritage Defense Committee, appointed by the Commander-in-Chief.

For the Chief of Heritage Defense to have a heritage situation officially deemed as a violation by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, he must have consent from the Commander-in-Chief and such other members of the General Executive Council as the Commander-in-Chief may designate, as well as a consensus of the Heritage Defense Committee.

Did Trent Lott call in a 'heritage violation' on W? Is that why we haven't heard from him in a while? He's trying to master the reporting requirements?

Here's a key passage from a Sunday Times article on US and Russian intelligence gathering in North Korea.

The latest crisis over the North Korean nuclear program erupted last year, when United States intelligence obtained strong evidence that North Korea had secretly developed a uranium enrichment program, which would represent a second track toward the development and production of nuclear weapons. American officials said there was fragmentary evidence of a uranium enrichment effort as far back as the late 1990's, but much more compelling evidence of such a program came last year, officials said.
This squares with my own reporting, as far it goes. But it begs the question: How much was known about the program? And when?

Last week I spoke to a Clinton administration official who told me that in 1999 and 2000 the US didn't know the North Koreans had a uranium-enrichment program, per se. But they did have evidence that they were purchasing centrifuge equipment and other hardware that you would use to put such a program together. That would square with this subsequent, unclassified CIA report from 2001 which said North Korea had "been seeking centrifuge-related materials in large quantities to support a uranium enrichment program. It also obtained equipment suitable for use in uranium feed and withdrawal systems."

The relevant point is this: we didn't know they had a program, as such. But we knew they were buying all the stuff you'd use to create such a program. Which is to say, we pretty much knew they had a program.

(I was also told that the North Koreans made "an all-out push" to actually get the program started about two years ago, though it wasn't clear, from what my source told me, whether this acceleration was tied to the turnover in the US administration or for other reasons.)

In any case, what seems very clear is that the US knew of the existence of North Korea's uranium enrichment program long before October 2002. As The Nelson Report disclosed a couple weeks ago, former members of the Clinton administration say they briefed the incoming administration on this in January 2001. Clearly, over time, more and more information became available. A Post article from last week says administration officials "received conclusive evidence" about the program in July 2002. But given how hardcore the administration is on such issues, presumably they wouldn't need to get Kim Jong Il's embossed Uranium-Enrichment Open House invitation in the mail before kicking things into gear.

And thus the question: If it's been known about for so long, why did it take two years to bring it up with the North Koreans?

I suspect a significant part of the answer is that for a year and a half the White House couldn't decide whether to engage or confront North Korea. And without resolving that basic question, nothing much could be done at all.

We need to know what the administration knew and when they knew it.

William Perry and Ashton Carter have an OpEd in the Times today which provides a good overview of Clinton administration policy toward North Korea. To my lights, Perry and Carter leave too implicit the ridiculousness and amatuerism of much of the Bush administration's subsequent policy. But they're technocrats and defense intellectuals, not polemicists. So what can you can do?

In any case, their piece does a good job fleshing out many of the complexities we face in Northeast Asia. It's particularly good at making clear that there is a history to our dealings with the North Koreans between 1994 and 2002 -- a point often missed in the cookie-cutter renderings of the situation one sees argued on the chat shows and in the press, which have a deal cut in 1994 and a sudden discovery of North Korean shenanigans in 2002.

See, in particular, their discussion of the 1998 review.

If nothing else, I give Charles Krauthammer credit for candor. He's willing to admit that in a matter of mere weeks the administration has jettisoned all its bellicose puffery toward North Korea and embraced a policy which is at least as accomodationist as that pursued by the previous administration. That, you'll remember would be the feckless, appeasing, undisciplined Clinton administration that the new crew pillories and slanders at every opportunity.

Krauthammer of course sees this as terrible. I and others see it merely as a confirmation that playing 1930s-dress-up is much easier in the conference room at AEI than it is on the actual international stage. One only wishes the Cheney-ites in the administration had realized this before they started shooting their mouths off.

As I say, most conservative commentators refuse to recognize what is obvious to everyone with their eyes open -- that the Bush administration is now looking for a deal pretty much just like the one the Clintonites were working on. Failing that, some administration supporters insist that this whole embarrassing spectacle is actually part of some grand master-plan. (This would be one of those classic diplomatic masterstrokes in which you put forth a maximalist position, cave shamelessly, have a lifeline thrown to you by second- and third-tier powers, and then emerge in a miraculously strengthened position.)

Meanwhile, in-coming South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun today says that "some high-level U.S. officials last month discussed the possibility of attacking North Korea because of its nuclear activities, but later decided to seek a peaceful solution." (That's the AP's paraphrase.) If nothing else, he's advertising the inconstancy and uncertainty of US policy.

P.S. I'm now reading Don Oberdorfer's excellent and newly-revised The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History. If you want a solid primer on what we're dealing with on the Korean Peninsula, by all means order a copy.

Republicans like taking problems out of Washington, DC and devolving them to the states. And damned if they don't practice what they preach!

Like the problem of GOP hokum-peddlers and their comically and offensively retrograde views on race, for instance.

Now that Trent Lott's out of the way, or at least out of the GOP Senate leadership, this 'problem' seems to be devolving to the several states in a big way. On Wednesday night we spotlighted the estimable Doug White, Republican President of the Ohio Senate, who has a tendency to use the word 'jew' as a verb and, apparently, rubs the heads of black people for good luck.

Now we're on to Randy Ridgel, a member of the Board of Directors of the California GOP, who just fired off a letter to GOP activists about Shannon Reeves, a black member of the Board, who recently said the GOP has treated blacks like "window dressing." (Reeves' comments were in response to the last California race imbroglio in which a candidate vying to head the state party, Bill Back, had to apologize for republishing an article which was a touch soft on slavery.) Ridgel, whom the Times calls "a retired white rancher from rural Lake County," might also be a future candidate for the 'cracker defense.' But, alas, we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Ridgel is mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore. According to today's LA Times Ridgel's letter read, in part ...

"I, for one, am getting bored with that kind of garbage. Let me offer this suggestion to Mr. Reeves: 'Get over it, bucko. You don't know squat about hardship.' ... I personally don't give a damn about your color ... so stop parading it around. We need human beings of all human colors in our party to pull their weight, so get in without the whining or get out."
Never one to go on the defensive, Ridgel also endorsed the earlier pro-confederate, sorta-kinda pro-slavery article. "Most of the poor devils [i.e., newly-emancipated slaves] had no experience fending for themselves, so they fared worse than before the war and during the war," Ridgel opined in his letter. Ridgel says he might even republish the original article. "You sure as hell won't see me apologize to these turkeys," he insisted.

No doubt, we'll soon be hearing more from the D.W. Griffith wing of the Republican party.

This morning's Times Op-Ed page has one of those examples of just how important a voice Paul Krugman's is. Don't miss it. The Bush administration promised their fiscal policy wouldn't lead to deficits. When it did they made excuses and said it wouldn't be for long. Now that the deficits are huge and there as far as the eye can see, they say deficits never really mattered in the first place. Bad policy, bad character, and eventually -- one has to assume and hope -- bad politics.

The Cracker Defense! Why didn't Trent Lott think of that?

Ohio Senate President Doug White recently got into trouble for using the phrase "Jew them down" at a fundraising event just before last November's election. When called on the remark, White said he wasn't aware the phrase was considered offensive and pled his rural upbringing as a defense. "Hillbillies use certain ways, briar-hoppers use certain ways. I'm a hillbilly." The phrase, White said, only meant "to be a sound bargainer, to be an effective bargainer - I wish I were a better bargainer."

White later saw the error of his ways and apologized. "I said, 'Look guys, I'm as sorry as I can be. Call me ignorant, but don't call me anti-Semitic. That's just not me.' I'm rural."

But White's other rural ways may now be catching up with him too. It seems the aptly-named Mr. White has the rather archaic habit of rubbing the heads of nearby African-Americans in order to put himself on the right side of the fates. Dayton Mayor, and former state senator, Rhine McLin told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that White had now and again rubbed her head or shoulder for good luck when she served in the senate. "McLin, who is black, said the conduct dates back to a superstition that rubbing a black person brings good fortune," says the article in today's edition. "Although offended by the conduct, McLin said she never complained to White or asked him to stop. Instead, she said she tried to stay out of his way."

White is now disputing the head-rubbing charge. And his fellow senate Republicans are rallying to his defense.

Special thanks to TPM reader JDW for bringing this to TPM's attention.

Just how much evidence do we need? How much evidence that pretty much every miscue and goof that comes out of the Bush White House will sooner or later be found to have Dick Cheney's fingerprints all over it? The White House is now taking hits on two fronts -- hits which, by most accounts, are the driving factors behind the president's slipping job approval numbers. One of those hits is over the North Korea crisis, the other is tied to the increasingly negative reaction to president's stimulus package.

As we've noted earlier, the policy of confrontation on the Korean Peninsula, which the administration is now running away from and which has gotten the US into such a jam, was most forcefully backed by Cheney.

There is also a growing consensus that the president's new stimulus/tax cut plan is a loser both politically and in policy terms. Democratic opposition is to be expected, certainly, though perhaps not unanimous opposition. But the president's real problem is deteriorating support among Senate Republicans. Public support is tepid at best. Out of the gate with a quick gallop, the plan has been getting iffy to bad press ever since. (David Broder: "It Reeks of Politics," Jan. 12, 03 ... ) True, the 'dividend tax cut' doesn't have quite the sound of the 'yacht basin wet slip rental fee tax credit' but it still just doesn't seem to sell all that well.

Not surprisingly, the prime mover, as Major Garrett reports in the current issue of the Weekly Standard, was none other than Dick Cheney.

In spite of all the evidence most beltway chatterers still insist on seeing Cheney as the White House's shrewdest political hand. But they don't know Dick. Someday someone is going to put together an article cataloging just how many screw-ups Dick Cheney has been responsible for in the last two years. Or wait a minute ...

Some of the most sensible things said so far about the Korea situation and 1994 agreement are to be found in former Assistant Secretary of State Jamie Rubin's comments this morning on CNN (transcript to come later) and Colin Powell's comments to the Wall Street Journal in this morning's paper. The 1994 agreement was a stopgap, an agreement meant to address the immediate threat posed by North Korea's plutonium production facilities. It accomplished that and was followed by subsequent negotiations on ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons and other issues. (Conservatives, hawks, and yahoos who criticize the 1994 agreement or call it appeasement do so by comparing it to their imagined resolution of the 1994 crisis -- one brought about by force and/or their indomitable will and uncompromising moral clarity. The failure of that approach today is but one indication of its almost inevitable result back then.) The bright idea of the hawks, led by Dick Cheney, was to abandon that process or any effort to improve on the 1994 accords (Powell's approach) in favor of isolating the North Koreans into either submission or implosion (what Fareed Zakaria recently called "a policy of cheap rhetoric and cheap shots.") Powell and company are now trying to walk that policy back and replace it with one brought about by a mix of threats and inducements, which will build on and improve the 1994 Agreed Framework. If we're lucky we'll get the standard story: mess created by the Cheney and company, cleaned up by Powell, with the upshot of the detour being a lot of (hopefully remediable) collateral damage to our alliances and standing in the world.

Okay, I admit it. Even I'm a bit North Korea-ed out at this point. But let's run down a few quick points.

War may not be likely on the Korean Peninsula and not even a certainty in Iraq, but the White House's war against the English language is already into its second or third major engagement. Yesterday at the White House just about every reporter in the press corps, it seems, took a stab at getting Fleischer to explain why Jim Kelly's suggestion that energy aid might come in response to North Korean nuclear cooperation wasn't what it sounded like, i.e., a possible quid pro quo. It's an entertaining performance. Even some of the more adminstration-helpful members of the press couldn't help calling Fleischer out on this ridiculousness.

Meanwhile, we have another example of the administration's incompetence and disorganization which played a major role in getting us to this point in the first place. Yesterday, as we just noted, Jim Kelly laid out the possibility of a new aid-for-nuclear-cooperation agreement with the North. In this morning's Washington Post, however, an unnamed administration official from the hawk camp says "Kelly went off the reservation" and that "he should not have planted that seed."

Here's the point: if your chosen Korea point man (Kelly) goes to the region and makes a major announcement and is then undercut or repudiated by other officials back home, by definition, that's a screw up. Whoever's right, whoever's got the right policy, it's a screw up. One hand doesn't know what the other's doing. The administration can't negotiate effectively with its allies or 'talk' with the North Koreans because it hasn't even gotten to the bottom of its negotiations with itself.

And the game seems to be commenced on this issue of when the administration found out about the North Koreans uranium-enrichment program. In his comments yesterday Fleischer seemed to say that the administration was readying a new package, a new overture to the North Koreans last Fall, before it found out about their violation of the 1994 agreement ...

Q Ari, on North Korea, are you saying it is now okay for American officials to talk about what North Korea could expect from good behavior after it comes back into compliance?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's nothing new. American officials have said that since Jim Kelly went to Korea and met with Korean officials and said we are prepared to offer a bold package for North Korea, until it was clear that you had violated the existing agreements that you made.

However, as we've noted, former Clinton administration officials are saying this was known about in 1999 and 2000 and that they briefed the incoming Bush administration officials on this in January 2001. That raises the question of why the administration chose to press the matter when they did and, more importantly, why they failed to press it earlier. (We'll say more on what we think the answer to that question is in a subsequent post.) The administration's claim seems even more strained given the fact that this unclassified (i.e., public) CIA report to Congress, covering the second half of 2001, states...
"During this time frame, P'yongyang has continued attempts to procure technology worldwide that could have applications in its nuclear program. The North has been seeking centrifuge-related materials in large quantities to support a uranium enrichment program. It also obtained equipment suitable for use in uranium feed and withdrawal systems."
Perhaps it's possible that this report was retrospectively revised to cover information discovered later? But I find that unlikely. In any case, there's still that matter of Clinton's waiver, which seems to tell the story. If the CIA was saying in public reports back then that the North Koreans had embarked on a uranium enrichment program you have to figure that they had much more extensive information which they were not publicly disclosing. If that's the case, is it all credible that the administration didn't know about it until just a few months ago?