Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Convicted of embezzlement over the Petra Bank collapse? A politically-motivated attack by pro-Saddam forces in Jordan. Questioned over what happened to US taxpayer funds provided to the INC? A bureaucratic hit-job by wimpy Foggy-Bottomites. Accused of leaking classified intelligence to the Iranians? A political smear by Paul Bremer and George Tenet.

All the baseless accusations.

Some folks just can't catch a break ...

If this new piece in the Times has the Chalabi story right, someone -- and probably someone at the Pentagon -- is in a world of trouble. Actually, there's some other trouble coming down the pike in a few weeks. But then, sufficient to the day is the trouble thereof. So, to Chalabi. Here's the key passage ...

The F.B.I. has opened an espionage investigation seeking to determine exactly what information Mr. Chalabi turned over to the Iranians as well as who told Mr. Chalabi that the Iranian code had been broken, government officials said. The inquiry, still in an early phase, is focused on a very small number of people who were close to Mr. Chalabi and also had access to the highly restricted information about the Iran code.

Some of the people the F.B.I. expects to interview are civilians at the Pentagon who were among Mr. Chalabi's strongest supporters and served as his main point of contact with the government, the officials said. So far, no one has been accused of any wrongdoing.

Hmmm. People who were close to Chalabi and had access to the highly restricted information about the Iran code. Hmmm. Who would be caught in the sweet spot of that <$Ad$>Venn Diagram?

I'll try not to be too coy. There are a number of folks who could fit that bill. But for anyone who's followed this story, there's one guy who's just got to jump right to the top of the list: an expert on Iran who is extremely close to Chalabi, served as his civilian Pentagon handler for some time in Iraq after the war, and is known for comparing Chalabi to Mohammed and other equally august worthies.

Anyway, that's one pretty good possibility.

I could speculate about who else would have known this key piece of information. But the truth is that I just don't know how such information would be compartmented. So it's impossible for me to say. You'd figure that the folks at OSD involved in B-teaming the regular intelligence community's Middle East analyses would have learned this information. And many of them are close to Chalabi. But again, that's speculation.

The Chalabi virus was very widespread at the highest levels of this administration. So I'd say it's possible, though not likely, that the culprit or culprits could be very high-level administration figures, particularly if they turn out to hang their hats in the White House complex rather than at the Pentagon.

One point that is key to keep in mind here is that if you know the way a lot of these guys treated Chalabi, how they thought of him, it's really not at all surprising that they would have shared this sort of information with him. It would, frankly, be much more surprising if they hadn't. Remember, this was Ahmed Chalabi, the 'leader of Free Iraq', the man of destiny around whom the democratic transformation of the region would turn like a wheel on an axle.

Just before 1 AM EDT, the Herseth/Diedrich race is truly down to the wire. Fewer than 40 precincts left to report out of 798; Herseth's lead down to just over 2000 votes (out of about a quarter million), and falling, rapidly. The only bright spot I see is that a quick look at those few remaining precincts seems to show that at least half are in heavily Democratic areas.

As of 12:30 on the east coast, Herseth is ahead in the South Dakota special election. But it's awfully close: 51%-49% with about 10% of the precincts left to report.

With the margin that close, someone who has a good feel for the state could probably predict the winner based on which precincts are yet to report.

Here's the running tally from the Secretary of State's office.

Now that some of the dust has settled, we can see one thing pretty clearly: the IGC basically hijacked the process. The IGC essentially reconstituted as a caretaker government. The new President, Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar, was the current president of the IGC. Hoshiyar Zebari, who was the foreign minister in the IGC, is now the foreign minister under the interim government. Allawi was a member of and choice of the IGC, etc. And so on down the list. The only key issue is that Chalabi, if not his crew, has been purged. Brahimi agreed to a laying on of hands. But he didn't make the choices. He was sidelined.

In Tuesday morning's Times, David Brooks has a column summing up Bush administration fiscal policy. The gist of his argument is that the president's policies stack up pretty well in a short-term calculus, though not so well over the longer-term.

The key, however -- and here Brooks provides a crucial explanation -- is that the president's budget planners did a reasonably good job given the adverse circumstances they confronted after the president's inauguration.

The key two grafs are these ...

Their first answer, not surprisingly, is that you have to understand the reality that confronted them when they took office in 2001. Business leaders were calling in to say that economic activity was falling off a cliff. The dot-com bubble was over, manufacturing was getting hit, business confidence was plummeting. Before it became a general concern in the papers, administration folks were worrying that the U.S. might go through a Japanese-style stagnation. Deflation was an unlikely but scary possibility.

They decided to do what was necessary to head off any immediate catastrophe. As Stephen Friedman, director of the National Economic Council, sums it up, "We didn't want to err on the light side when it comes to stimulus." Hence, the large tax cuts.

Hence? Actually, not so hence?

Brooks' column breathes an air of fair-minded, even-handed perusal. But here in this short passage we <$Ad$>have the hinge of mendacity on which the whole column turns. To be fair, what Brooks is describing is the administration's response to criticisms of their economic stewardship. So let's give him the benefit of the doubt and call it their dishonesty rather than his, though he says not a thing in the piece to challenge this disingenuous argument and implicitly affirms it throughout.

In any case, to our point ...

Did the Bush White House face the sort of incipient economic catastrophe described above? The White House went to great lengths at the time to argue that it was. I'll leave it to people who actually have a solid grasp of macro-economics and statistical analysis to get to the bottom of that question. But we needn't get to the bottom of it to answer the question we're dealing with here.

The signs of economic downturn the country faced in the spring of 2001 weren't the reason the Bush White House pushed through such massive tax cuts. They were simply a convenient rationale the White House chose for a policy embraced for entirely different reasons.

The evidence for this claim is, I think, inescapable.

The Bush tax cut was passed in the spring of 2001. But the policy was promulgated more than a year earlier, at the beginning of December 1999 -- long before the warnings signs Brooks mentions appeared, and while the dot.com bubble had yet to burst.

For the first year after the president introduced his tax cut plan, he argued for it with two basic propositions.

One was equity -- people were simply paying too much in taxes, and cutting taxes would help people get into the middle class, etc.

The second argument was about the surplus. Then-candidate Bush argued that the federal government simply couldn't be trusted with the hundreds of billions of dollars which were then thought to be piling up in the federal treasury. The answer was to refund the sum back to individual taxpayers.

Those are the arguments the president focused on in the speech he gave introducing his plan on December 1st 1999. Only deep down into the speech did he add another argument -- that tax cuts would keep the boom going and protect the surplus ...

Yet I also believe in tax cuts for a another practical reason: because they provide insurance against economic recession. Sometimes economists are wrong. I can remember recoveries that were supposed to end, but didn't. And recessions that weren't supposed to happen, but did. I hope for continued growth – but it is not guaranteed. A president must work for the best case, and prepare for the worst. There is a great deal at stake. A recession would doom our balanced budget. It would leave far less money to strengthen Social Security and Medicare. But, if delayed until a downturn begins, tax cuts would come too late to prevent a recession. Putting more wealth in the hands of the earners and creators of wealth – now, before trouble comes – would give our current expansion a timely second wind. Our times allow a substantial tax cut. Integrity requires that it also be a realistic and responsible tax cut. My plan is realistic because it avoids meaningless 15-year budget projections. It is not based on inflated growth estimates.

We could go on about this at length. But the point, I think, is clear. The White House wasn't forced into deep tax cuts with destructive long-term consequences because of an economic emergency they found when they came into office. They came up with the plan when the economy was roaring.

The true reason and impetus for the Bush tax cut was not economic -- in the sense of reactions to cyclical developments in the economy -- but ideological. For the authors of the plan, the tax cut was a justification in itself; the White House simply grasped on to whatever explanation made most sense at the given moment to advance it. That's why a plan devised at the height of a boom -- to cull an oversized surplus -- made equally great sense when the economy was in free-fall. The policy was driving the rationale, not the other way around.

This new argument -- that the White House pushed through big tax cuts because of the economic slow-down of early 2001 -- is simply an effort to retrospectively exonerate reckless and dishonest behavior which was demonstrably reckless and dishonest at the time. Columnists should challenge that sort of mendacity, not abet it.

A real front in the war on terror, and virtually a one-sided battle ...

President Joseph Kabila ordered the zone <$NoAd$>closed three months ago amid growing concerns that unregulated nuclear materials could get into the hands of so-called rogue nations or terrorist groups. Yet 1,000 miles away from the capital, Kinshasa, thousands of diggers are still hacking away at a dark cavity of open earth in this southeastern village, filling thousands of burlap sacks a day with black soil rich in cobalt, copper and radioactive uranium.

The illegal mining provides stark evidence of how little control Africa's third-largest nation has over its own nuclear resources, highlighting the government's weak authority beyond the capital in the aftermath of Congo's devastating 1998-2002 war.

"They're digging as fast as they can dig, and everyone is buying it," John Skinner, a mining engineer in the nearby town of Likasi, said of the illegal freelance mining at Shinkolobwe. "The problem is that nobody knows where it's all going. There is no control."

See the rest here.

Up-is-downism <$NoAd$> ...

The Washington Post, May 30th 2004 ...

Scholars and political strategists say the ferocious Bush assault on Kerry this spring has been extraordinary, both for the volume of attacks and for the liberties the president and his campaign have taken with the facts. Though stretching the truth is hardly new in a political campaign, they say the volume of negative charges is unprecedented -- both in speeches and in advertising.

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt, May 31st, 2004 ...

John Kerry never misses an opportunity to deliver a political attack.

Two recommendations.

First, a book recommendation. I used to do a lot of these on the site. And then, late last year, I stopped. But here's another: Napoleon: A Political Life by Steven Englund, a near-exquisite work of popular history. It's a big book for a big subject, running just over five hundred pages with notes.

Two centuries later, Napoleon still generates sharp views for and against. Not a few biographies of Napoleon portray him as a megalomaniac (for which there is real evidence in the later years of the empire) and even a bumbler. But such a sour portrayal leaves it very hard to understand how this man held not only the states of Europe but also many of its greatest minds in his thrall for the better part of twenty years.

Englund, on the contrary, clearly loves (perhaps doesn't always like him, yet loves) his subject, but not in a way that compromises critical perspective. He starts with the man's improbable beginnings as the scion of the most threadbare near-to-non-noble nobility on the small Italian-speaking island of Corsica, his military victories in the service of the Revolution, the Consulate, the Empire, and finally his six years as an exile on a tiny island -- St. Helena -- almost literally on the other side of the planet.

If there's any criticism I have of the book -- and it's a minor one -- it is that it loses some of its force, crackle and verve toward the end. But that may be an accurate reflection of book's subject rather than a criticism of the book itself.

What really captivated me about this book is what I can only call its expansiveness, its sense of literary grace and play in the telling of history.

As some long-time readers know, my only formal training in anything is as an historian. And there are a host of reasons why I decided to leave the profession -- professional, intellectual, neurotic. But one of the many reasons was what increasingly struck me as the constrained nature of so much historical writing, the deeply grooved, patterned, conventionalized nature of the craft itself, as it is often practiced today. Academics talk about this endlessly. And this isn't meant as a criticism of the profession; it just wasn't for me. Yet I still read lots of non-academic history. In fact, that's about all I read. And I'm always looking for works of history which are both serious but also engaging and dipped in some bit of wonder -- which is not always a natural combination. And this is definitely one that fits that bill.

[ed.note: Rereading the paragraph above, I realize that what I wrote is probably open to some misinterpretation. And it's probably a subject I should return to. But suffice it to say that many of the discontents noted above stem from the hyper-specialization which is an all-but-inescapable feature of contemporary academic history.]

The writing is fresh, the analyses incisive -- all the things that are necessary for a good work of history. But Englund, in his writing, also lets you see into his engagement with the material. And that gives the book magic. There's nothing here of the author as an anonymous, omniscient voice -- a hidden presence who is both everywhere and nowhere.

He's right there; he's talking with you about his subject, not only telling you the facts, shaped as they must be by his interpretations, but looking at these major events and great personages with you, sifting different possible viewpoints, dipping into the magic of the moments he's describing, waters in which he's clearly long and happily immersed himself. This is history which not only captures the narrow facts of the matter, but the origins of the era's mythologies, what they meant in their time, and how they've echoed into the present. This is history, in the very best sense, as story-telling.

And now, for something completely different, a restaurant recommendation of all things. If you live in Manhattan, or are nearby, check out El Cocotero, a new Venezualan restaurant on 18th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues (228 West 18th).

The food is delicious but reasonably priced. With seven or eight tables, the place is only a little bigger than a hole-in-the-wall, but just enough to make it very much more than that. The atmosphere is casual, but intimate and somehow it manages to pull off a fresh and uncannily convincing Caribbean atmosphere, even though the gritty urbanity of Chelsea is right outside the front door.

Anyway, I'm not much when it comes to writing restaurant reviews so let's just say the food's great and the atmosphere's great. They've been open for about six weeks. And I recommend it highly.