Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Jury duty, at last, is over. And I’m now free to talk about it.

I sat on a jury in DC Superior Court.

The defendant was charged with one count of distributing PCP and one count of possession with intent to distribute. The alleged crime took place in an area in Southeast Washington which the prosecution and the defense called an open air drug market.

We heard three full days of testimony. And we deliberated for a bit more than half a day.

We convicted the defendant on count one and acquitted him on count two.

My recent weekdays have been given over to jury duty. So I’ve been a bit out of the news loop. But I’d heard murmurings about Sy Hersh’s new piece in The New Yorker. So I set aside some time tonight to read it.

My main reaction is: pitiful.

Not the article, mind you. That's great. But the story it tells is truly pitiful. It would be funny if it weren’t so serious and so sad.

As I’ve written many times before in TPM, I’ve always believed that this whole manipulated intelligence matter was at least as much a matter of self-deception as it was deception of others. There was plenty of mendacity, don’t get me wrong. But in most cases it was willful dishonesty meant to sell the public on falsehoods which the purveyors of those falsehoods had actually gotten themselves to believe.

At heart this was an issue of people who had something they were just dying to find, just dying to believe in. By cutting themselves off from anybody who was a dissenting voice --- which usually also meant anybody who knew what they were doing --- they managed to isolate themselves with their own credulity and walk their country into a profound embarrassment and a potential disaster.

More later this evening on this must-read article.

A graf to ponder from Sy Hersh's new piece in The New Yorker ...

By early March, 2002, a former White House official told me, it was understood by many in the White House that the President had decided, in his own mind, to go to war. The undeclared decision had a devastating impact on the continuing struggle against terrorism. The Bush Administration took many intelligence operations that had been aimed at Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups around the world and redirected them to the Persian Gulf. Linguists and special operatives were abruptly reassigned, and several ongoing anti-terrorism intelligence programs were curtailed.

Great call ...

Here's a good piece in Newsweek about the White House's new front in the war on terror -- the battle against the media. They note one question that I've wondered about a lot. We hear quite a bit about all the schools reopening. But how many of them ever closed? Certainly, there were schools before the war, right?

Says Newsweek ...

Yet reporters who covered the war say that some of the Coalition’s achievements are less impressive than they sound. Paul (Jerry) Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, proudly announced the reopening of Iraq’s schools this month, while White House officials point to the opening of Iraq’s 240 hospitals. In fact, many schools were already open in May, once major combat ended, and no major hospital closed during the war.

My own view of the reconstruction <$Ad$>question chalks up a lot to inertia, poor planning and drift. If you go back to last fall, or even the early months of this year, there was plenty of talk about reconstruction in Iraq. But if you look closely most of the talk was about social and political reconstruction: building a free press, purging the army of Baathists, creating the building blocks of a rule-of-law society, and so forth.

There was precious little talk about rebuilding their stuff, i.e., the physical infrastructure of the country -- bridges, schools, telephones, electrical grids, all up to western standards.

Certainly, there was a recognition that we'd need to rebuild stuff that we broke in the course of prosecuting the war. But the entire focus of reconstruction underwent a wholesale transformation in the months after the war.

The reason for this, I think, is that we very quickly found out, on entering the country, that the social and political reconstruction task was vastly harder than the planners of the war had anticipated, and that they were woefully underprepared for it. That left them scrambling for a new raison d'etre for the war, a new justification for what we were doing there. What we came up with was rebuilding their stuff. Of course, fat cats of all varieties were ready on hand to enable this drift in policy. And needless to say, most already had the president's ear.

Building bridges and schools can be terribly expensive. But it's something we know how to do and something that shows concrete results. Building civil society can be, to paraphrase Bolivar, like plowing the sea.

I grant you that this is a very broad brush analysis. But I think it captures much of what has gone on in our Iraq policy over the last six months.

I guess this is a sign of how tangled and jumbled up feelings about the Easterbrook matter are. About half the people who wrote in took my comments last night as foolishly exonerating of Easterbrook's alleged anti-Semitism, while just as many thought I was accusing him of being an anti-Semite. No point in my interpreting my own comments: the post itself is just below this one.

Meanwhile, Atrios says that people like me or those at TAP or TNR have a blind spot when it comes to “taking a harsh look at people like Easterbrook, or Jack Shafer, or Kaus, etc.”

As I said, I’ve never met Easterbrook. But most every one of my friends has. It’s probably just coincidence that I haven’t. I completely stand by what I said last night. But I also think this is a very reasonable point to make. Opinion journalism is an extremely small profession --- getting smaller everyday, it would seem. The people in the profession tend to know each other --- even to a great degree across ideological boundaries.

It’s not necessarily that people are unwilling to criticize each other or to malign each others’ characters, though there's certainly plenty of that. It’s more that it’s harder to malign someone or take a very dark view of them when you have some sense of the whole person --- or even that the person in question is a person. This is as much a caveat about DC opinion journalists as it is a defense of them. It's like part of the warning label that each of them should have plastered on them --- like cigarettes or booze.

I’ve lived in DC now for just over four years. And for my part, I’ve struggled to balance my acclimation to the place with an abiding recognition of its essential corruption and vapidity. I commented on this last May when I said that the reaction to Sid Blumenthal’s book, the Clinton Wars was an example of …

Washington's insider culture and its prestige press corps which is -- as a group, if not individually -- corrupt, rudderless and often insipid. (I'd say nasty, brutish and short, but many of them tower over me.) The coverage of the Clinton presidency is the ultimate example, with its whole swirl of babyboomer self-loathing, historical ignorance and nonsense, the willingness to be led around by black-minded reactionaries, politics as Society page, the whole lot of it. (Much of what I'm talking about here I discussed more clearly and crisply in a column on Maureen Dowd's Pulitzer Prize in the now-defunct online magazine Feed in April 1999.) This is difficult for me to say -- not least because I live and work and know many of these people, and consider many to be friends -- and even more because I'm not nearly established as most and must rely on these folks for my livelihood. But there's no getting around the truth of it. Blumenthal is disliked by many in DC because he is a critic -- and to my mind, a devastating one -- of their vapidity, ignorance and willingness to be used.

These thoughts were driven home to me this weekend when I watched the discussion panel on Meet the Press. With the exception of Robin Wright, who’s a real pro, the group has become as perfect an example of Washington’s geriatric and right-leaning insider culture as you’ll ever see.

Oh, the stories to tell …

I’ve made no comments yet on the still-unfolding flap about Gregg Easterbrook.

Partly, this is because the end of the week was just so hectic and I didn’t hear more than the bare outlines of what had happened. Then I wanted to take a day to mull over it before saying anything.

What Easterbrook said was weird and something a hair's breadth short of ugly. It seemed out of context not only for the writer, but even in the post itself. The anti-Semitic undertones of the sentences in question are obvious: it's the same old game of taking Jews to task for failings that all sorts of poeple share, but seeing their failings through the prism of their Jewishness -- an irrelevance behind which often hides a malign intent.

Try as I might to explain to myself how Easterbrook could have unwittingly walked into such an unfortunate formulation, I still find it a bit difficult. What was he thinking? I go back and forth. I’m not sure.

Jews have some license to engage in intra-communal polemic along these lines, just as blacks do within their own community. Gentiles don't.

But two points occur to me.

First, when something like this gets said, I think you have to look at the breadth of the writers’ work. Is there a pattern? Are there other signs of an anti-Semitic mindset or animus? To the best of my knowledge, there’s none. In fact, quite the opposite in this case. I take what he said in that context, as I think do his friends and colleagues.

(For what it’s worth, I’ve never met Easterbrook and didn’t agree with the overall thrust of the actual post, which was a rant against violence-saturated movies.)

One friend asked me how this was different from the Trent Lott situation. And that's certainly a reasonable question to pose of me. To me, though, the two situations seem quite different. The issue with Trent Lott was that his remarks about Strom Thurmond came after a decades long history of nostalgia for Jim Crow, hostility to civil rights, and cavorting with crypto-racist or not-so-crypto-racist groups like the Council of Conservative Citizens -- a track record the press shamelessly ignored for years. What happened in Lott's case was that the open secret of his unreconstructed views on race finally came up in a way that was just impossible to ignore.

Second, ESPN fired Easterbrook over this incident. He had a sports writing gig there. That’s one of his two jobs. So I’m sure it’s a major financial, not to mention professional, blow.

Why did this happen? Not because ESPN has a zero-tolerance policy for intolerance, to put it mildly. It happened because one of the guys Easterbrook criticized was Michael Eisner. Eisner runs Disney and Disney owns ESPN.

What happened here is old-fashioned payback, empowered by media concentration and hidden beneath a mantle of opposition to intolerance.

That’s wrong.

Perhaps I was too generous.

In the previous post, I noted <$Ad$> an article in Tuesday’s Financial Times about how U.S. sub-contractors in Iraq are importing cheap labor from South Asia rather than hiring locals. While noting how bad a sign this was, I credited some of the quotes from the article which said part of the reason for this was security concerns.

Then I got this email from a regular TPM correspondent who is an American expat living in the United Arab Emirates.

He's got a lot of experience with the contracting business in the Middle East. He’s been an urban planner / project manager for more than thirty years and about half that time has been in North Africa and the Arabian peninsula (Kuwait, Saudi, UAE, etc.) …

Josh: I just read your FT blog - to a certain extent I think this rationale of the "Iraqis can't be trusted" is a bunch of hoo ha.

UAE: 20% of the pop is local. Of the 80% of the expat pop, fully 75% are subcontinenters. Why? Dirt cheap, much cheaper than the Arabs (imported or otherwise).

Of the international construction firms here, they all use minimum of 80% subcontinenters (i.e. the Halliburton and Bechtel types take all the money).

Bottom line: wages are a function of the price of living in the home countries. The price of living for subcontinenters in the subcontinent is nothing. E.g. I pay my Indian maid USD 300 month of which she supports a family of 10 people in Bombay and still manages to save probably 50% of her salary here in Dubai.

When you prepare city plans you have to do population studies first, e.g. existing and forecasted pop, breakdown of population by M/F and ethnic mix, et al. Why? as an example - the low wage Indians are in construction camps w/o dependents- I need land for construction camps for them, not houses; they also do not own cars so I don't need to factor in their "trips" as car trips, I factor them in as bus trips since they are bused everywhere, etc.

Think about it: wouldn't you rather have Moslem Arabs that speak Arabic and know the culture (particularly the religious culture) than Hindus??

I don't buy this "Iraqis are dangerous" bull#$%@; its all about money.

None of this is pretty …

According to an article in Tuesday’s Financial Times, US sub-contractors in Iraq are importing cheap labor from South Asia rather than hiring Iraqis.

One key reason, according to the article, is security and force protection.

“We don't want to overlook Iraqis, but we want to protect ourselves," the US Army colonel who heads the Coalition Provisional Authority's procurement office told the paper. "From a force protection standpoint, Iraqis are more vulnerable to a bad guy influence."

Unfortunately, it’s not difficult to grasp the reality behind these concerns.

No getting around it: It’s a lot more likely that an Iraqi Muslim is going to be in league with some local resistance cell than a Hindu you bring in from southern India. But this also shows the ratchet-like cycle of unfortunateness that can develop when you’re occupying an intractable country like Iraq.

As violence has spiraled in Israel over the last two decades, the Israelis have brought in more and more foreign workers to fill jobs once held by Palestinians. This of course is terrible on a symbolic level. And it also deals a crushing blow to the Palestinian economy --- which itself creates a sort of low-term terrorist blowback because it creates a fertile breeding ground for groups like Hamas.

But what exactly are the Israelis supposed to do as long as a certain percentage of Palestinians from the West Bank who come to Israel to work are actually suicide bombers?

The first signs of such a pattern seem to be cropping up in Iraq.

Needless to say, importing foreign workers into Iraq doesn’t do a lot of good for the Iraqi unemployment rate, which is perilously high. And, not to put too fine a point on it, but you don’t have to spend too much time in Southeast Asia, Africa or the Caribbean to know there’s a bit of a precedent for importing South Asian workers into countries under, shall we say, foreign management.

Here are a couple uplifting grafs from the FT article …

"Iraqis are a security threat," says a Pakistani manager in Baghdad for the Tamimi Company, based in the Saudi city of Dammam, which is contracted to cater for 60,000 soldiers in Iraq. "We cannot depend on them."

The company, which has 12 years' experience feeding US troops in the Gulf, employs 1,800 Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis and Nepalese in its kitchens. It uses only a few dozen Iraqis for cleaning.

In the dusty backyard of the US administrators' Baghdad palace, south Asians, housed 12 to a Saudi-made temporary cabin, organise 180,000 meals a day for US troops and administrators.

A Tamimi manager says the company pays an average salary of one Saudi riyal (Dollars 3) a day and grants leave once every two years. The contracts are awarded by Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton, which in 2001 won its second Logistics Civil Augmentation Program, or Logcap, contract to sub-contract the supply of US military provisions. The Logcap is open-ended and its Iraqi share is worth "in excess of Dollars 2bn", according to officials of the Defence Contract Management Agency in Baghdad.

Ugh ...

A brief note on the recent lack of TPM postings.

I’ve gotten a lot of emails asking what’s up. Here’s the deal: As of Wednesday morning of this week I’ve been on jury duty. So, as you might imagine, that’s put a bit of a crimp in my time. Then, as of Thursday morning, the hard drive on my IBM think pad crashed. And, yes, I mean really crashed. As in, all gone.

Luckily, as I’ve ventured further into adulthood, I’ve gotten a little more responsible about backing up data. And even though I’d gotten a little sloppy, a bit lazy about it in the last month or two, I had still done a relatively recent back up – about three weeks ago.

(If you're wondering whether I'm going back to the twice a week back-up routine, well ... yes, you could say that.)

One thing I learned from this regrettable experience is that I’m simply too dependent on computers to have only one. For years, I’ve gotten by with only a laptop, which --- as those who know me could attest --- functions rather like a physical appendage. Actually, I liked only having one, very mobile, computer.

So tonight, after I got home from the courthouse, I ran out to the local mall to get a cheap desktop as a fall-back machine (for cases when my computer is off being repaired for a week) and another layer of data back-up for future technological disasters. An unexpected expense, but a necessary one --- I’m using it right now to write this post.

In any case, expect the regular schedule to resume from right now.