Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

A few quick points to start the day and then I really gotta cut back on the posts. First, today is Winston Churchill's birthday, which is cool since Churchill rocks, even if many members of the Churchill cult mistake key aspects of his personality. Here's a reprint of Churchill's obit from the New York Times, which turns out to have been written by Tony Lewis.

Here's the AP obit for George Harrison, who - very sadly - died yesterday in L.A.

Also, a brief update on yesterday's post about the odious Enron corporation. I had meant to include something to this effect in the original post, but didn't manage to work it in. Whatever glee I might have about the demise of Enron certainly doesn't take away from the deep misfortune this is for the outfit's many employees, for whom this is obviously an unmitigated disaster. As the article hints at, though, that's really just another indictment of what a racket the outfit was.

Finally, let's all get ready for a slew of stories which will make clear what should have already been obvious for all those who have eyes to see: that Social Security privatization is about to make the GOP sink like a stone.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave when at first we do plane-spot!

According to this article in the Daily Telegraph, the leader of the imprisoned plane-spotters, Paul Coppin, was detained in August in Romania for similarly aggressive plane-spotting. And he may even have been nabbed earlier in the year in a similar incident in Poland.

Meanwhile, with the lull in new news about the plane-spotters, reportage has given way to commentary. This article from the BBC speculates on why the Greeks don't seem to give a *#$% about the plane-spotters or their predicament. And none of them seem able to grasp what the attraction is to plane-spotting.

More ominously, the piece demonstrates that the plane-spotting crisis is dashing whatever might have been left of British philhellenism .

"Though less than 20 years old," writes BBC correspondent Ryan Dilley, "the courthouse in the coastal town of Kalamata [where the plane-spotters are held] is already as mangy as the stray dogs that sun themselves on the scrubby grass outside. With a family of pigeons noisily nested in the ceiling of the main hall, graffiti covering many walls and every clock in the building stopped at 10 to seven, Kalamata's court has the air of a shopping arcade fallen on the hardest of times."

Finally, this article ("Nerdism with just a dash of risk") from the Daily Telegraph and this one from the Independent ("Plane-spotting: Harmless hobby that can become a dangerous and costly obsession") shed new light on the seductive but sometimes dangerous craft of plane-spotting and the pitiful nimrods who practice it.

"Most plane spotters lead stable lives," an editor of one aviation magazine told the Telegraph, "Plane spotting is their fix. Some people get off on drugs and some on taking down tail numbers."

Meanwhile, here's the plane-spotting quote of the day, from Alex Standish, editor of Jane's Intelligence Digest. "It seems very, very unlikely that [one] Nato country would be interested in spying on another by infiltrating plane-spotting trips."

I hope this doesn't blow my New Dem credentials (on many issues at least) but I must confess that the Enron götterdämmerung is filling me with no end of schadenfreude.

Partly, this is simply due to my belief that most energy deregulation is a bad idea. But more than that it stems from what always struck me as Enron's gargantuan corporate arrogance, best typified by their Ask Why ad campaign ...

It is a small word ...
but it can bring years
of conventional assumptions
to a jarring halt.

Find out how we're changing
the way industries think.

The ethos behind the campaign was best captured by this TV ad (needs Windows Media Player) which has a hapless man in a metal business suit laboriously walking through various cityscapes amidst spryer go-getters on the rapid rush to the global marketized utopia.

You can just hear "metalman" saying in a stilted, half-computerized monotone:

I am the welfare state; I am the old-fashioned, outmoded command economy relying on regulation and bureaucracy, immune to the liberating force of efficiencies and the invisible hand.  Help... I am lame... I've fallen and I can't get up... Deregulate me... Please!!!

The point was that people who didn't buy into the Enron-ian model of Sis-Boom-Bah, rah-rah free-marketism were stodgy cowards who were just afraid to think anew, to ask why? The commercial fades out with a half-computerized, half-female voice repeating ... why, why, why, why ...

Well, of course, now it turns out that Enron was basically a house of cards. Its business model turned to be, if not a scam, then at least, shall we say, rather unworkable.

It seems these wise-asses weren't so sharp after all.

By the way, if want to check out the ad, which I strongly recommend, don't wait too long! I'm sure Enron's bummin' creditors will be there any day now to repossess the servers and every last pixel.

Why, why, why, why ...

Enough about civil liberties already. Here's a really bizarre and yet amusingly pitiful story currently taking shape in Greece. In fact, the Greek town of Kalamata, which until today Talking Points had only known through the eponymously named (and quite tasty) olives. Anyway, the British press is full of the story of twelve British and two Dutch 'plane-spotters' being held on charges of espionage in one of Greece's nastiest jails.

What the hell is a plane-spotter?

Good question!!! I didn't know either. So let me try to hook you up.

From what I can tell from this article in the Times of London, this one from the Telegraph, this one from the BBC, and others, plane-spotting is a popular hobby in Europe, which involves middle-aged, primarily male, oafs hanging out at air shows and military bases, watching planes take off and land, and taking pictures. If you're a guy and you've been through junior high you probably immediately understand the phenomena.

Anyway, apparently this is a big thing in Europe - plane-spotting, that is. But no one does it in Greece. And even though these guys were invited to come to some air show or something by Greek authorities, the Greeks wigged out and arrested them for spying on the Greek Air Force.

Who these guys would be spying for and who would care about whatever they were able to see of the crack Greek Air Force isn't really clear. But apparently the Greeks are pretty pissed about it and they're leaving the luckless plane-spotters to rot in some awful Greek prison while the matter winds it way through the courts.

You've got to feel sorry for these hapless boneheads whose gee-whiz vacation has turned into a softball, farcical version of 1978's chilling hit Midnight Express. But the British press is playing the drama like some Victorian set-piece with steadfast Brits keeping a stiff upper lip in the face of captivity by benighted barbarians. Here's one piece about how one of the plane-spotter's wives is holding up through the ordeal ("Sad wait for plane spotter's wife").

Talking about her imprisoned husband (pictured opposite), Perdita Norris tells the BBC: "We've been to Greece together many times. Peter loved everything Greek. At home, we'd have Greek salad, we'd buy Greek honey, Greek yoghurt, feta cheese. Now he doesn't want to know anything about the country. He says he'll never come back here, and I won't either."

By phone last night, her husband told her the group was "keeping up their 'true British grit'".

You can't make this stuff up.

If you want to see a road map for what the nation's politics will look like for the next several years, read this article. Mitch Daniels gave a speech Wednesday at the National Press Club and said, in essence, that we'll be running deficits at least till 2005. That is, if we're lucky.

Daniels' answer is to cut spending on various government programs, primarily social programs, and to put other programs -- like Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, farm aid, etc. -- up for yearly votes and thus, potentially, yearly cuts. Daniels says Congress's willingness to move in this direction will be a test of whether elected officials can "govern as adults should in a time of crisis and urgency."

We've already noted, at various points, Mr. Daniels' inordinate propensity for knowingly, publicly making statements contrary to fact. (Look, one link won't do in this case. Here's a couple more (one and two.))

The problem with Daniels' analysis is that adults take responsibility for their actions, something he himself seems congenitally unable to do. Daniels' implicit argument seems to be that so much has happened in the last few months that whatever you might have said about the tax cut, now it's just old news. But this overlooks a pretty obvious point. There are three reasons the economy is moving back into deficits. The economic slowdown/recession, the totality of the effects of the 9/11 attacks, and the Bush tax cut.

We can argue about which is first, second, and third in order of importance. But these are the three factors. Two of them are beyond our control: the business cycle and murderous terrorist attacks from abroad. One is a conscious and deliberate public policy decision. Policy is always the part of the equation we can change and manipulate. The vicissitudes of fortune are the ones we can't. In other words, the tax cut is the one decision we could have made differently. It's the one part of the equation that someone has to answer for.

And of course don't forget that, according to Daniels, reducing the surplus was the aim of the tax cut.

I just wanted to pull the surplus down to zero, Daniels seems to be saying, then all this other stuff came along and dragged us into deficits. It's not my fault!

I'm just glad we're in the responsibility era now. Otherwise, where would we be?

You may have read in this article in the New York Observer that Conrad Black (the Canadian facsimile of Rupert Murdoch) and some other investors are putting up money for a new New York City daily that's going to go by the name of the New York Sun.

The new neo-con-ish paper is going to be edited by Seth Lipsky and Ira Stoll (the guy who runs smartertimes.com), which is all to the good since these are two sharp, exciting (and in Ira's case, young) editor/writers. I mean, after all, I'm always up for a new conservative New York daily that might be willing to let me write token-lib columns -- after all, that's how I make part of my living.

The only problem I see is this: the Observer says the "group of investors including Mr. Black intends to spend up to $15 million to launch" the new paper.

To which I can only say: are you kidding?

Don't get me wrong. I'd love to see this thing succeed. But $15 million sounds like chump change to me. I mean, not to divulge any secrets or anything. But I was once involved in a much, much, much smaller venture and we got ... well, let's say a similar amount of money to take the thing bi-monthly. Now we had this small matter of having virtually no advertising and ... well, look, I just can't get into all this. But the point is this: if you're talking about a real daily paper and not just a novelty sheet, "up to $15 million" sounds pretty thin to me.

Not to mention the fact that the newspaper and magazine publishing biz is already in terrible shape.

Is Labour selling out the plane-spotters?

(Yo Talking Points! What the &#$% is a plane-spotter? See this earlier post. And why the @#$% should I care? There I can't help ya.)

When last we left these sad-sack Brits they were facing at least another ten days in a Greek slammer on suspicion of espionage. Now, according to this article from the BBC, the British government has said that the luckless plane-spotters "must face justice" and that the "the judicial process should be allowed to take its course." So basically Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the Foreign Office aren't going to try to muscle the Greeks.

But Shadow (i.e., Conservative wannabe) Foreign Secretary Michael Ancram is accusing the government of not doing enough to spring the plane-spotters from their Greek captivity.

Actually, Ancram sort of has a point, I guess. Back in the day, Great Britain used to make and unmake small-time countries like Greece with one hand tied behind its back. (Note: I said small time countries, not cultures, peoples, nations, etc. So don't give me any grief!) But these days the Greeks won't even give any respect to Britain's plane-spotters!

Ancram is actually like an Earl, I think. (And not the bogus kind, like the way Maggie Thatcher is now a Baroness. But the real thing.) So obviously, given his lineage, this sort of lese majesté is going to be a particular bummer for him.

Oh Britannia!

Here's a nice, short piece - with a 'what-goes around-comes-around' angle - about why Otto Reich's nomination to be under secretary of state for the western hemisphere is almost certainly toast, done-for, kaput. Short run-down: support for anti-Castro terrorism no longer flies in the post-9/11 world.

Well, it's official: we're in a recession and the recession began in March 2001.

That's the headline in today's New York Times ("Economists Make It Official: U.S. Is in Recession") and many other papers around the country. "The group of economists that tracks business cycles," writes Richard Stevenson in the Times, "made official today what has been apparent to laid-off workers and struggling businesses for months: the longest economic expansion on record gave way earlier this year to the first recession in a decade and the 10th since World War II."

Only it's not official. The report is the product of a standing committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research, a quite well-respected but also quite private organization of academic and private sector economists - facts which are readily available on the NBER's website.

The Washington Post managed this one a bit better. "The U.S. economy has been in recession since March," says the Post's article, "the last month of a 10-year expansion that was the longest in U.S. history, a committee of academic economists announced yesterday."

Guys, how 'bout some fact-checking on this stuff?

This is a touchy topic. But I think it's gotta be broached. If you've seen Beneath the Veil, Saira Shah's riveting and courageous documentary about women under Taliban rule (running on CNN in the United States) you certainly remember the horrific images of a burqa-clad woman being publicly executed in a soccer stadium in Kabul. A reference to the video even made it into President Bush's recent speech at the United Nations.

In the context of the documentary you get the impression that the woman was being executed for going burqa-less, or schooling young women, or perhaps some sexual infraction the Taliban would have no patience for. You also get the impression this is a common occurrence.

But it turns out she was being executed for braining her husband with a hammer while he slept. And the execution, which took place in November 1999 (three years after the Taliban took power), was also the first time a woman had been executed under Taliban rule.

Don't get me wrong. The images are horrific. And the reality no less so: a crude, public death by gunfire - a gruesome spectacle after what I'm sure was a rather inadequate trial. I'm an ambivalent opponent of capital punishment. So I don't think people should be executed at all. But I couldn't help thinking at least a little differently about this one incident after I learned a bit more about the case.

The Taliban are such a rotten, barbaric crew that there's no shortage of reasons to despise them and root them out. And I'm not going to lose a lot of sleep thinking they got a bad rap for this woman's execution. But a little more context in this case was really in order.