Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

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.

Don't miss this piece in today's Washington Post on the survey Stars and Stripes -- not exactly the liberal media -- did of soldiers in Iraq, and what they found.

What's surreal about the White House's new claims that the press is keeping all the good news from Iraq (reopening schools and so forth) hidden -- faithfully parroted by the usual suspects -- is that it's really hard to find anyone who's been in the country recently or for any significant period of time who thinks that's true.

It seems to be an insight vouchsafed mainly to conservative newspaper columnists.

The Stars and Stripes survey -- though non-scientific -- seems to lend credence to that perception. Despite not being from a randomized cross-section of those serving in Iraq, says Stars and Stripes editor David Mazzarella, "We still think the findings are significant and make clear that the troops have a different idea of things than what their leaders have been saying."

Every time I hear some conservative wag trumpeting "the schools, the schools!" I have to admit it gives me flashbacks to Herve Villechaize and the intro to Fantasy Island ("de plane, de plane!").

The schools are great. But we're not there to reopen schools. More to come soon on this issue of the schools.

In the end I don’t think it <$Ad$> will really matter much. But it was a little painful yesterday watching various media outlets bend over backwards to give credence to the White House’s complaints that the media is conspiring to hide all the good news coming out of Iraq.

CNN was in full grovel mode.

One of the most unintentionally comedic moments came from Bill Hemmer who was filling in on Paula Zahn’s show.

After New Republic Editor Peter Beinart pointed out that the media might actually be understating the problems in the country by underreporting the number of wounded soldiers (as opposed to fatalities), Hemmer shot back with this gem …

I think there's (sic) to sides of that coin. … If you're saying it's actually worse than being reported, could it also be better than what's being reported also, if you consider that these reporters, many of them tell us they want to go cover the new school opening, but they can't because there's another bombing or shooting and that prevents them from sending that story?

I love this logic.

It’s not just the reporters who are keeping a lid on all the good things going on in Iraq. It’s the darned terrorists who are keeping everyone from hearing how good things are by constantly setting off bombs and shooting people.

Mr. Nethercutt, would you like to revise and extend your remarks?

I think he might.

George Nethercutt is a congressman from Washington. And he’s running against the incumbent senator, Patty Murray. In a speech Monday, he got a little carried away with his ‘we’re building new schools right and left in Iraq’ enthusiasm.

"The story of what we've done in the postwar period is remarkable. It is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day.”

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, where the quote appeared, went on to note that Nethercutt made clear that he did not want any more soldiers to be killed. Which is nice to know.

In his column today Nick Kristof argues that for all the mistakes President Bush made getting us into Iraq --- mistakes both of omission and commission, incompetence and bad-faith --- that now we have no choice but to stay, and to pay what it takes to get the job done right. “I believe that President Bush was wrong to go into Iraq,” Kristof writes in conclusion, “but he's right about staying there.”

I agree, so far as it goes. But I think the sentiment expressed misses the point.

I certainly don’t think we should pull out of Iraq. More importantly, I don’t know many of what I’d call mainstream foreign policy voices who think we should pull out of Iraq any time in the near future. (No, Dennis Kucinich doesn’t count.) I know the president would like to conjure up opponents who favor an immediate pull-out from Iraq because shadow-boxing with them would make for good politics. But I really don’t know quite who Kristof is arguing against.

As I said, I think Kristof has it a bit wrong.

The question is not whether we should pull out immediately, nor is it precisely how long we’ll need to stay, nor even the precise sums of money we should be willing to expend. The question is how to make a success --- or at least not a failure --- of the situation we’re currently in.

And if our task is to figure out how to find our way to success, then it makes a lot of sense to look skeptically at the roadmap to success being charted by those who got us into the mess in the first place.