Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Could there be something to this age tie-in for coming down with inhalational anthrax? It's no surprise that the elderly would be more susceptible to an opportunistic disease than those who are young and fit. But as I noted in last night's post, the age spread of those who've got skin and and inhalation anthrax is striking (all but one of the former were under 50, all but one of the latter over 50.)

I'm now told that studies of the accidental release of weaponized anthrax in the Soviet Union in 1979 showed the victims tended to be people who were older, were smokers, or had some previous lung impairment. This CDC report on that outbreak notes that none of those who came down with the disease were children -- though researchers were unable to determine whether this was due to differences in resistance or simply the pattern of who had been exposed.

Yes, the numbers are far too small to prove anything. But they do make you wonder.

Since the doctors and epidemiologists don't seem to have a clear grasp of what's going with the still-developing anthrax scare, perhaps there's not so much harm in amateurs putting forward theories. Whether that's the case, or not, I must confess that I'm increasingly struck by the age spread between the cases of inhalation and cutaneous anthrax, which I noted in the last post.

As you'll note, from the numbers I referenced previously, all but one of the victims of inhalation anthrax was over 50. Actually, all but one were 55 and over. The exception was 47.

All but one of the cases of skin anthrax were under 50. The one exception was 51.

Of course I know we're dealing with extraordinarily small samples here. Far too few to reveal a true statistical significance. But it's hard for me at least to figure that this is mere coincidence. Could age be a key determinant of which you get, in addition to numbers of spores?

Put this down under the heading of 'he's not a doctor, and he shouldn't even be playing one on the web'... But having said that, the following is meant in all seriousness.

Consider the list of people who've come down with inhalation anthrax. Do you notice a pattern? They're all on the old side. This page in the Washington Post identifies ten cases of inhalation anthrax, and gives ages for eight of them.

The ages are 61, 63, 55, 47, 73, 59, 57, 56. (The first four have died; the second have either recovered or are still sick) Granted, 47 is hardly old. But when you consider that these were mainly in workplaces where you're not going to have a lot of people in their 60s, 70s and 80s, it's a pretty striking pattern.

Compare to the ages of those who've gotten skin anthrax: 51, 38, 1, 27, 30, 35.

Doesn't it sort of sound like maybe there are a number of other people who've also breathed in a bunch of spores but had younger and better immune systems and were able to fight it off?

This Daily News article on John McCain describes how the Arizona Senator is reverting to his accustomed role as thorn in the side of the Bush administration, taking aim both at the administration's military strategy in Afghanistan and also their evolving post-9/11 domestic policy.

What's just as interesting though is what's implicit in the article: President Bush's seeming insistence on undermining the potential long-term political benefits of the war on terrorism with unthinking obedience to the DeLay-Armey crew in the House -- particularly on stuff like airport security.

No matter what pundits might say, a successful war on terrorism won't come close to guaranteeing President Bush reelection. But how he uses his political capital could. If Bush sidled a bit toward the middle and got some triangulation points by picking a few fights with the mullahs in the House, he'd have a decent shot at commanding the center of American politics and convincing a decent portion of the electorate that he's a different kind of Republican.

Lucky for the Dems, he shows no signs of doing that.

More on this to follow.

Just a few brief observations. In case you missed them, this Sunday's New York Times and Washington Post both had really good pieces on the broad question of political Islamic militancy.

In the Post, a former CIA analyst, Stanley Bedlington, examines Osama bin Laden principally as a maker of myths about himself. A lot of the stuff in the article jibes with things I've heard from other folks in the CIA, particularly those with experience in Afghan War in the 1980s. In any case, Bedlington weaves a lot of good information together in an incisive and probative essay.

In the Times, Joe Lelyveld talks to Muslims in Gaza, Cairo and Hamburg (Mohamed Atta's old stomping grounds) trying to find out what makes young men (and not so young men) turn into suicide bombers. Perhaps not surprisingly it's in Hamburg where the author finds the really frightening people, where radical Islam brushes up against the underbelly of the West, and where Islamic militancy becomes a language of discontent for the nihilism and ennui of the slums.

An interesting companion to the Lelyveld piece is this article, also from Sunday's Times, about the aborted attack on the US Embassy in Paris.

Also of note, the one year anniversary of Talking Points Memo is hurtling toward us at a dizzying pace. This font of online wisdom and wisecracks will turn one year old on November 13th. Various festivities will be announced shortly.

Don't miss this article on the new counter-terrorism crew by Ryan Lizza in the current issue of The New Republic.

Some of my conservative friends must be wondering something like this right about now: if we wanted a war fought from the air, with strategy dictated by politics and not the military, we might as well have given Bill Clinton a third term and kept Larry Klayman out of the unemployment line!

Now, obviously I don't have such a negative view of the former President's foreign and military policies (far from it), of which we'll say more later. But you do have to wonder: this is starting to look not like a new kind of war, but the old kind of war, just fought really badly.

Having said all this, a few disclaimers. It's really easy to gripe from the sidelines. The folks at the Pentagon have more information at hand than we do. And as everyone should have learned during the Kosovo War, if you've got a strategy and you think it's a good one, don't get all wobbly just because things get rough for a bit. I remember toward the end of the air phase of the Gulf War there was a lot of grumbling about why we hadn't just gone ahead and invaded Kuwait. But the military planners knew what they were doing. And at least in purely military terms the whole thing came off famously.

But you don't come to Talking Points for disclaimers, do you? So let's cut to the chase.

My concern is less that this is going too slowly than that I'm uncertain just what our strategy is, or more to the point, whether the one we have makes any sense. As nearly as I can understand it, our current plan is to weaken the Taliban through sustained air strikes; and weaken them enough relative to their Afghan opponents (the Northern Alliance, et.al.), that they collapse or get overrun. Then we go in and mop up Al Qaeda.

But like any air power strategy, this leaves it to our opponents to decide when, where and how to say 'uncle.' They have the initiative, not us. And decentralized opponents are more able to withstand this sort of barrage than centralized ones.

We also seem to want our ground allies to have at best only a partial victory, which further complicates what we're trying to do. And the comments leaking out of the Pentagon, that the Taliban are tougher than expected, don't inspire a lot of confidence.

Our beef here is with Al Qaeda. And as brutal and bloody as it will be, I don't know what alternative there is to going in on the ground and rooting them out. The problem with our current strategy is that we lack the initiative and as much as we might bluster, time does not seem to be on our side.

Why isn't time on our side? Because the longer this goes on, the less convincing we become when we say we're fighting terrorism and not the Afghan people. And because the longer this goes on the more antagonism we kick up in the rest of the Muslim world.

Trust me, I'm not saying this is easy. It's not. I'm just wondering whether we may have angled ourselves into a position where our opponents are controlling this situation and not us.

Who knows? Maybe next week things will start to break free. I hope so. But for the moment, maybe Perle-Wolfowitz & Company should stop yammering about expanding the war to Iraq and start pushing to expand it to Al Qaeda.

As a cautious partisan of the domestic whacko explanation of the Anthrax attacks, I was quite interested to see this article in the Washington Post, which states unambiguously that the FBI and the CIA don't think the attacks are connected to Al Qaeda.

Having said that, they don't provide a great deal of new evidence to support the argument beyond quotes from intelligence sources. Come to think of it, they don't provide much evidence at all, beside quotes from intelligence sources. But it's certainly worthwhile to know what these intel folks think since presumably they have access to much more information which they can't divulge.

Anyway, the new wave of reportage seems to be tipping the scale against an Al Qaeda connection and giving some credence to those of us who've been raising questions about the whether this had the look of an Al Qaeda operation.

The most interesting hypothesis (not necessarily valid, of course, but interesting) is the 'have your cake and eat it too' theory mentioned in the Post article. That theory says that it could be both! The work of some new Rightwing Racist Freak - Islamic Terrorist Freak alliance. Or perhaps just some domestic Aryan Nations types acting in sympathy with Al Qaeda goals. Who knows?

Now let's touch on another point: Bob Woodward, the fella who's got a co-byline on the article. I always see Woodward brought in on a byline when the big story gets run even though the other writer has been writing on the subject for weeks or months, really a ton of articles, and clearly has developed all sorts of good sources and expertise. Does Woodward actually bring anything to these articles? Or has he become more like the journalistic equivalent of a DC rainmaker? The mover and shaker who gets brought in at the last minute to make one phone call, sprinkle some holy water, set up the key lunch date? And most important, does this sort of comment mean I won't get picked up in Howie Kurtz's media column any more?????

It would really be nice if all the government leakers could get their stories straight about the Daschle Anthrax. Following on Ari Fleischer's announcement today that even a microbiologist with a decent lab could have made the Daschle batch, NBC's Andrea Mitchell is now saying investigators are giving a serious look at the home grown nut hypothesis and like the Washington Post two days ago noting that investigators are leaning away from the Iraq hypothesis. But then ABC says that the Daschle Anthrax contains something called 'bentonite' which is only known to be used by Iraq!

So what's the deal?!?!?! Can't we get a little better info here? And can ABC tell us whether one of the 'bentonite' experts is named Richard Perle?

Just curious.

If you didn't get a chance to see it, there was a splendidly elegant demonstration of common sense by CNN Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta a couple days ago. As you know, the big question this week has been whether or how many Anthrax spores could spill out of an envelope on its way through the postal system. The reason for the screw-up (not meant flippantly, but what else to call it?) with the postal workers was that the folks at the CDC didn't think Anthrax-tainted envelopes would 'leak' spores until they were opened.

Now, anyone who's ever licked an envelope knows that envelopes DON'T SEAL. The sticky stuff that you lick ends more than a centimeter before the end of the flap. Sometimes there's also a little gap in the sticky stuff between the two long slanted lines. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself.

So the intrepid Dr. Gupta fills an envelope with some talcum powder, seals it, and then pats it a few times. So what happens? $%&#'s pouring out of the thing! Out of the flaps. Even a bit through the paper itself. You name it, you got it.

So basically it's pretty clear this Daschle Anthrax letter must have been leaving a trail of spores from Jersey to DC. And it's not at all surprising that it spewed lots of spores when it got run through the sorting machine at the Brentwood facility in DC.

In any case, according to Dr. Gupta, the talcum particles are about 30 microns across. That's compared to the Anthrax spores which were 5 microns and under. The kicker is that the pores in the envelope paper are about a 100 microns. So even if the envelope were "sealed," the stuff could STILL come out without much difficulty.

If Gupta's experiment weren't so sad it almost would have been funny, because it showed how ridiculous the original assumption was.

The only question is why we had to wait for this dude from CNN to think of this. Isn't this what we have those CDC guys for?