Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Just where is the administration getting all that new money to prevent and treat AIDS in Africa?

There's certainly some new money. But a closer examination seems to show that there's also a lot of robbing from Peter to pay Paul.

There's a new policy analysis up on the Brookings website and it seems to show that a substantial amount of the new money is coming out of money we're already spending to wipe out other diseases in Africa. Here's a key passage (see the italicized section) which comes toward the end of the paper ...

Table 1 clarifies that for the combined total of the Global AIDs Initiative and the Child Survival and Health account (which includes the bulk of HIV/AIDs assistance in H.J.RES.2), the Administration’s request for fiscal 2004 shows no net increase relative to the fiscal 2003 funding in H.J.RES.2. This is because the Administration’s increase of $450 million for the Global AIDs initiative is offset by a $470 million shortfall in its Child Survival and Health request relative to the fiscal 2003 appropriations bill.
What's going on here? I give the administration its due. As the rest of the paper makes clear, there is some new money. But a lot of it seems to be coming out of money we're using to fight malaria, malnutrition and various diseases that can be prevented by vaccination. Why isn't more being made out of this?

A good friend of mine who is terribly shrewd about foreign policy, and opposes an Iraq war from a foreign policy realist perspective, tells me that the problems in North Korea could be one of the consequences. The idea is that our hyperfocus on Iraq distracted us from our responsibilities in Asia, got us into this jam, and now keeps us floundering in it. Somehow though that just doesn't quite add up. I mean, I know it's supposed to be hard to fight two, simultaneous regional wars, as our war-fighting doctrine still envisions. But should it really be so hard to fight two simultaneous diplomatic offenses?

It seems there's some question whether Colin Powell will try to link Iraq to al Qaida in his presentation at the UN. Let's hope not. Why? Because it's just not true. You only find anything to talk about if you set the bar for al Qaida connections so ridiculously low that you'd end up pulling in most of our allies in the region too.

I think there are a number of good reasons for seeking a military solution to the threat posed by Iraq. But some dingbat link to al Qaida isn't one of them. One might say that it's a bad idea to make such arguments because they weaken the credibility of the case against Saddam. But how about just not doing it because the stories are bogus?

Isn't that enough of a reason.

If you're wondering about the second half of the Ken Pollack interview, you didn't miss it. The plan was to run it over last weekend. But after the Shuttle break-up, we chose to hold it back for a few days so it didn't get lost in the shuffle. We'll be running the second half -- which actually has the juiciest stuff -- later this week. Stay tuned.

Here's my second column for The Hill. The topic: the sad consequences of trying to run a manned space flight program on the cheap. Here's a snippet.

Critics contend that NASA is bloated and inefficient. And, to an extent, they’re right. Cost overruns are commonplace, and compared to old-fashioned rockets, the shuttle is very expensive to fly. But it’s possible for an agency to be bloated, inefficient and underfunded. In fact, the latter can sometimes lead to the former. The problem is like that of an under-capitalized business or a falling-apart old car that costs more money in upkeep than it would to buy a newer model.
As I am on Iraq, I'm probably a bit off the reservation in wanting big budgets for the manned space program. But there you have it. Click here to read the whole thing.

You may have seen that in the Times today Fox Butterfield has an article about how a former gun company executive and lobbyist, Robert A. Ricker, has basically seen the light and admitted in an affidavit that, in the Times's words, "gun manufacturers had long known that some of their dealers corruptly sold guns to criminals but pressured one another into remaining silent for fear of legal liability."

Here's the key passage at the end of the article ...

Mr. Ricker said in the affidavit that the idea that all dealers operate legally because they have a license is a "fiction." He added that "the firearms industry has long known that A.T.F. is hampered" by its shortage of personnel and loopholes in the gun laws. For example, he said, the bureau can inspect a dealer only once a year as a result of a law supported by the rifle association.
This month's issue of The Washington Monthly has a dynamite article about how the gun industry helped keep those ATF inspection limits in place.

If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? Or, in our case, if there's a crisis on the Korean Peninsula and the White House doesn't pay any attention, does it even really matter? That is a proposition the Bush administration seems increasingly determined to put to the test.

Watch very closely what's happening.

According to American satellite intelligence, North Korea is now more or less openly hauling those 8000 spent nuclear fuel rods off to be reprocessed into weapons grade plutonium and then, presumably, into nuclear warheads.

Let's be clear, this is exactly the act we were prepared to go to war in 1994 to prevent.

Now, why are they doing this? There are essentially two theories. One says that they want a deal, which would likely mean diplomatic normalization, various forms of economic aid, and some sort of non-aggression pact with the United States. Under this theory, they're upping the ante because they want to force us to bargain and bargain on their terms. In that case, making a big show of cranking up the nukes makes a lot of sense.

Then there's theory two: the North Koreans wouldn't mind having all those things too. But what they're really set on is getting the bomb, thinking -- not unreasonably -- that it's the one true guarantee against the military overthrow of their regime (and not a bad export crop either). They're using America's temporary distraction with Iraq to 'break out' of the nuclear box so that they can present the Americans with a fait accompli once we're done dealing with Iraq.

Actually, there's a subset of theory two. Some say the North Koreans were always determined to get nukes no matter what. Others point to the Bush administration's 'regime change' and preemption rhetoric as the trigger.

The truth is that we don't really know which of these possibilities is the case. In fact, the North Koreans probably don't either. We tend to over-determine the intentions of our adversaries. Most Korea experts think the North Korean leadership is divided between ardent militarists and others more eager for rapprochement, even at the expense of dumping the nukes. In truth, most think Kim Jong-Il probably tends toward that latter camp.

All of this is perhaps a long way of saying that this is a hell of a complicated situation.

But what are we doing about it? In a word, nothing.

The Bush administration has ruled out force as a means of solving the problem and pretty much ruled out talking too. And that leaves you pretty much with nothing. And that's what we're doing.

It would be one thing if this were a stand off and we could just wait them out. But it's hardly that. They are walking the ball down field in our direction. Each day we do nothing brings those nukes and plutonium one step closer. So again, what are we doing?


It's like that really, really uncomfortable phone call that you so don't want to make. So you just ... well, you just don't make it and you pretend the problem will go away.

The truth is that the administration has blustered its way into a box, ruling out its two basic options -- talking or fighting -- and giving the North Koreans time to strengthen their hand by advancing their plutonium production. They're putting on a cool demeanor like they've got a master plan, but by not admitting that what's happening is a crisis, they're simply letting the situation drift until a nuclear North Korea becomes a fait accompli.

At which point they'll blame it on Bill Clinton.

It's a pitiful situation.

Meanwhile, in a Saturday article which was quickly overwhelmed by the Shuttle catastrophe, the Washington Post reported pretty much exactly what TPM and The Nelson Report were reporting three weeks ago: that the Bush administration had known about the North Koreans' uranium enrichment program for two years before raising the matter with them.

Washington is all abuzz over the nomination of Miguel Estrada to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The intensity of interest stems, in part, from the fact that many believe he is on the fast track to a Supreme Court nomination. The DC Circuit would be a stepping stone, as it often is, to a such a later appointment. In any case, there's a lot being said about Estrada's appointment both pro and con. On Crossfire Estrada's friend Ann Coulter told Paul Begala that, "the second [Estrada] gets in there, he'll overrule everything you love." But I'm not sure he's designated her an official spokesperson. In any case, what surprises me is that no one has raised the fact that Estrada was one of the lead lawyers on President Bush's legal team arguing the Florida recount cases. According to this article in The American Lawyer (helpfully reproduced on the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher website), Estrada was one of four other "lead partners" on the team Ted Olson put together to make now-President Bush's arguments about why to shut down the vote-counting in Florida. That's certainly something I'd want to know more about.

An important point for me to add regarding the Easterbrook piece mentioned below. Definitely read it. It's important. But I don't share the lack of enthusiasm about manned space flight which comes through in his new piece today in Time.com. Nor do I agree with all the particulars in the exhaustive earlier Monthly article. Just wanted to make that clear. More soon.

I was just flipping through the must-read Easterbrook article mentioned below when I came across this passage ...

The external fuel tank, for instance, is full of oxygen and hydrogen cooled to -400ƒ F. to make the gases flow as liquids. Ice will form on the tank. When Columbia's tiles started popping off in a stiff breeze, it occurred to engineers that ice chunks from the tank would crash into the tiles during the sonic chaos of launch: Goodbye, Columbia. So insulation was added to the tank. But while thermal cladding solves the ice problem, it adds weight. The entire vehicle, loaded, weighs 4.5 million pounds. Say you add one percent. Doesn't sound like much. One percent comes to 45,000 pounds. That's almost all of the payload.
Ugh ...