Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

With bad effects on policy, but some advantages for clarity, most of our political debates about North Korea are driven by screaming CNN headlines like "NORTH KOREA ADMITS TO MAKING MANY NUKE BOMBS" or "WHITE HOUSE: NORTH KOREA'S URANIUM PROGRAM ON VERGE OF COMPLETION."

But a new article (set to be released tomorrow, but linked here now) from Foreign Affairs argues that the evidence for a North Korean uranium enrichment program (in violation of the 1994 'Agreed Framework') is far more tenuous than the administration has led us to believe.

The piece is written by Korea-watcher Selig Harrison, Director of the Asia Program and Chairman of the Task Force on U.S. Korea Policy at the Center for International Policy.

Precisely what Harrison argues is difficult to summarize in 'they got'em' or 'they don't got'em' terms. But the essence of it is that in early 2002 the White House feared that the process of detente between South Korea, Japan and North Korea might be slipping from its control.

As he writes, the initial confrontation over the North Koreans' alleged uranium enrichment program "seems to have been inspired by the growing alarm felt in Washington in the preceding five months over the ever more conciliatory approach that Seoul and Tokyo had been taking toward Pyongyang; by raising the uranium issue, the Bush administration hoped to scare Japan and South Korea into reversing their policies."

Harrison doesn't say that there was no evidence of a program for producing highly-enriched uranium (HEU). There was some, and some of it dated back to the Clinton administration. But prompted by these geopolitical considerations, the White House portrayed ambiguous evidence as rock-solid proof in order to scuttle the Clinton-era Agreed Framework which had been the basis of rapprochement for the previous several years.

(This argument about political calculations is not novel; but it takes on a new dimension in light of Harrison's arguments about the weakness of the intelligence for an HEU program.)

So what do the North Koreans really have in terms of HEU? The analysis is technical and lengthy -- and if you're interested in this subject, I strongly recommend reading the piece. But, in brief, he argues that it is possible that the North Koreans never had a bomb-related uranium program, more probable that they made some attempts but didn't get very far, and very unlikely that they have or had a program anywhere near as advanced as the White House has led us to believe.

(Harrison's discussion of these various scenarios is inherently speculative, and may in some cases give the North Koreans too much of the benefit of the doubt. But, by my reading, the case Harrison makes for their not having any sort of advanced program -- intentions aside -- seems pretty strong.)

Now, he argues, that focus on an HEU program, which may not even exist, is making it impossible to come up with a deal or solution to the Plutonium-track production which certainly does exist and is the greatest danger that North Korea poses.

If you're interested in this issue, read this article.

Because I was busy spending time on planet earth I hadn't noticed that there are more than a few conservatives now claiming that Sen. Harry Reid must be a racist because he said on Meet The Press that he would consider voting for Justice Scalia for Chief Justice but not Justice Thomas since the latter had been an "embarrassment" as a member of the court.

To these folks, I suppose, both men are equally well-respected "conservatives," and thus favoring one over the other can only be a function of race prejudice.

(Tonight I even got one of the inevitable 'you're a hypocrite because you don't give Reid the treatment you gave Sen. Lott' emails.)

Perhaps someone can help me out here by sending in a clever witticism noting how those most eager to shape jurisprudence to demand proof of racist intent to justify remedial action are also the quickest to toss around the most risible accusations of racism to cover for their own mediocre Justices.

Ed Kilgore (aka New Donkey), Policy Director, Democratic Leadership Council: "I came to believe strongly that the real agenda of the people closest to Bush--including his political advisors and much of the Republican congressional leadership--was not only dishonest, but deeply cynical and irresponsible: a drive to simultaneously wreck the federal government and to perpetuate their control over the wreckage as long as possible through the exercise of the rawest sort of institutional power and corruption. And moreover, this belief made me angry at even those Republicans who did not share that agenda, because they were helping to promote it against their own best instincts ... I think today's Republican Party, and its leader, are built on a foundation of fundamental dishonesty about who they are, what they want, and where they are taking the country. As a Christian, I will endeavor not to hate them for that. As an American, I will endeavor to respect those who voted for Bush, because after all, they have as much right to the franchise as I do. But until they demonstrate the ability to walk, or perhaps I should say swagger, in a straight line, I will continue to hold the president, his advisors, and his allies in Congress in minimum high regard. That did not change on November 3."

Krugman to the rescue on the Social Security "crisis," explained simply and elegantly, as only he can.

Thank President Bush (from the FT...)

Oil exporters have sharply reduced their exposure to the US dollar over the past three years, according to data from the Bank for International Settlements.

Members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries have cut the proportion of deposits held in dollars from 75 per cent in the third quarter of 2001 to 61.5 per cent.

Middle Eastern central banks have reportedly switched reserves from dollars to euros and sterling to avoid incurring losses as the dollar has fallen and prepare for a shift away from pricing oil exports in dollars alone.

Private Middle East investors are believed to be worried about the prospect of US-held assets being frozen as part of the war on terror, leading to accelerated dollar-selling after the re-election of President George W. Bush.

Thank you, thank you, a <$NoAd$>thousand thank yous.

Some other points to follow up <$NoAd$>on (from the LAT on July 30th ...)

A comprehensive examination of the U.S.-led agency that oversaw the rebuilding of Iraq has triggered at least 27 criminal investigations and produced evidence of millions of dollars' worth of fraud, waste and abuse, according to a report by the Coalition Provisional Authority's inspector general.


The Times has reported on several cases in which a small circle of former Republican administration officials had drawn scrutiny for their actions in Iraq, including a deputy undersecretary of Defense under investigation by the FBI in connection with a telecommunications contract. In another case, officials have said, a former senior U.S. advisor conducted negotiations with a family connected to Saddam Hussein to form a new Iraqi airline.

Former CPA officials and contracting experts said they were surprised at the number of criminal investigations described in Bowen's report. They noted that criminal corruption charges in the U.S. involving federal contracting were rare.


The report cited several criminal cases under investigation, though it provided no names and few details.

In one case, a senior U.S. advisor "manipulated" the contracting system to award a $7.2-million security contract. The contract was later voided and the money returned.

In another incident, a contractor billed $3.3 million for nonexistent personnel working on an oil pipeline repair contract. A security contractor guarding the pipeline overcharged the CPA by $20,000. Both incidents are under criminal investigation.

In another example, a military assistant to a Pentagon employee gambled away part of a $40,000 grant issued to help coach an Iraqi sports team, the report found.

"In the early days, there was no record keeping. They were flushed with money and seized assets. People just didn't follow established procedures," said Charles Krohn, a former CPA official. "You were dealing with inexperienced people who didn't understand that there's always a day of reckoning."

Besides the more than two dozen criminal cases under investigation by the inspector general, about 35 other matters have been referred to other U.S. agencies for further investigation, said James Mitchell, an inspector general spokesman.

Perhaps Kerik left because he couldn't abide how much stuff wasn't being done by the book, how much cash was going into the wrong hands?

Another clue?

When last we left our story, we were trying to find out why Bernard Kerik left Iraq after three months in the country when he was originally slated to serve from between six and eighteen months building the new Iraqi police force.

The earliest word of Kerik's departure now seems to be in the second week of August in reports in the Newsweek website and in an interview on CNBC.

But perhaps this is another clue. On November 30th of last year Britain's Daily Telegraph reported that a bounty had been placed on the head of Douglas Brand, a South Yorkshire assistant chief constable, working in Iraq on building up the Iraqi police force. According to the article, Brand came to Iraq in July and is an "expert in conflict management [who] came out to Iraq to take over the task of reforming the Iraqi police begun in May by Bernard Kerik, the former New York police commissioner."

So perhaps the plan had changed as early as mid-July, about six weeks after Kerik arrived.

The White House is now putting the first dollar signs on its plan for gradually phasing out Social Security and replacing it with a system of government-regulated private investment accounts. A few examples are included in this article out this evening from Reuters.

But an odd parity is emerging in the numbers -- even the highly optimistic ones favored by the White House.

The proponents of phasing out Social Security say we have to get rid of it because the program is "unsustainable", as Scott McClellan said today. The reason it's "unsustainable" is that the program would need more funds to get through the demographic bulge created by the baby generation.

(This in itself is a highly debatable point; but let's leave that for a later discussion.)

Just how much extra funds would be needed and whether those funds would come from borrowing or benefit cuts or new taxes is a matter of debate. But precisely those choices which make Social Security "unsustainable" in a few decades are the ones the White House is happy to make now in order to speed the process of phasing out the Social Security program.

Simply financing the 'transition costs' of phasing out Social Security will cost a good trillion or two dollars, maybe more -- by the White House's own informal estimates. And where on earth are we going to get that money? Borrow it, says the White House. Notta problem. In other words, we have to start phasing out Social Security now because if we don't we're going to face some big borrowing in a few decades. But we can avoid that horror of horrors by doing some big time borrowing now to finance abolishing Social Security we won't have to face that terrible fate a few decades from now.

Makes perfect sense, right?

We'll return with more detailed numbers and explanations in future posts. But the new numbers out from the White House only underscore the basic fact that this debate isn't about funding or lack thereof. It's all about who's in favor of the Social Security phase-out and who isn't.