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The folks at Public

The folks at Public Citizen are telling people in DC that they have a big report coming out on Tuesday about former Enron executive and current Army Secretary Thomas White. They're using words like "bombshell" and telling some it'll force White to resign.

I haven't seen it, so I can't tell you whether this is more than just bluster.

I have said, though, that I think White's in trouble. Not because his ouster is merited (though I suspect it is), but because it must be looking more and more convenient to the political wizards at the White House.

Im writing tonight from

I'm writing tonight from out of town, so can someone go over to the Post offices and check to see if Karl Rove and/or Mitch Daniels has hacked into the paper's server. I'm not sure how else to explain this risible clunker by Rob Norton in the Outlook section. It's Fineman with green eye shades.

Admittedly, Outlook is for opinion pieces. But coming after this sop it's hard to know what to think.

A little follow-up on

A little follow-up on Doug Paal's nomination to serve as AIT Director in Taipei.

Earlier this week, in a letter dated March 4th, Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) sent a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell telling the Secretary:

The February 21st article in The New Republic regarding Douglas Paal leads me to express my deep concern about his potential appointment to direct the American Institute in Taiwan.

Later he writes that the "assertions made in The New Republic ... warrant further inquiry."

Helms goes on to request Powell's personal response to four questions he outlines based on issues raised in the New Republic article.

A copy of the letter has now been added to the TPM Document Collection.

Given the recent back-and-forth

Given the recent back-and-forth on the Croatian war, I thought it made sense to focus this installment of the TPM booklist on the 1990s crisis of the former Yugoslavia, what Misha Glenny rightly calls the Third Balkan War.

There are scores of books written on the Balkan Crisis, but today we're recommending two. The first is Misha Glenny's The Fall of Yugoslavia: The Third Balkan War. This is the book for getting the history. Glenny has since written another more broad-ranging book, The Balkans: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers 1809-1999, which I have not read. But Fall of Yugoslavia is a masterful introduction to just what happened in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. And why things went so horribly wrong.

Glenny is a print and electronic journalist and he is steeped in the colorful particulars of life in 1990s Yugoslavia as only a working journalist who was there can be. He weaves this together with a brisk, engaging narrative, as well as a rich command of the history of the region. There's nothing forced about Glenny's mixture of history and contemporary reporting. The effect is pure elucidation.

Occasionally, reading Glenny, I sensed that he might be too even-handed, finding at least some small measure of blame and sympathy for almost every group in the drama, if not every actor. But in general I don't think there's any faulting him on this ground.

What's most powerful about the book -- aside from its crisp narrative and edifying effect -- is the way it shows just how many people had to act willfully, irresponsibly, and impatiently, in order to lay the groundwork for the horrors that followed. Not just the bad guys, but in many instances the people who would later prove to be the victims -- the Bosnians, the Croats, et. al.

Foolish, irresponsible actions early on by the Bosnian Muslim political leadership, for instance, don't cut away a sliver of responsibility from the Bosnian Serbs for the atrocities they later committed. But Glenny gives you a sense of how one was connected to the other. And the same might be said of the impetuous, early diplomacy of the Germans which, arguably, had similar consequences.

My one misgiving about this book is that it's concerned largely with what happened in the very early 1990s. Glenny updated it twice, most recently in 1996. But the essence of what he's writing about is the very early 1990s, before the post-Dayton, American phase of the war began.

The other book we're recommending today is Love Thy Neighbor by Peter Maass. This is a quite different sort of book. It's about the war in Bosnia. Not the whole of Yugoslavia. It's not a history, either. It's a war reporter's memoir. If you're looking for the big-picture about the Balkans in the 1990s or the what happened in Kosovo or Croatia or inside Serbia, this isn't the book -- though it contains important information on each of those topics.

This is an interior story, what Maass himself saw. And it is by far the best piece of writing I've read of any of the books written on the 1990s Balkans. By far the best.

Reading it you see how the war in Bosnia was tragic in the deepest, most regret-inspiring and folly-filled sense of the word. This book will make you feel moments of agony. It will also make you laugh. Perhaps most uncomfortably, it will sometimes join these two feelings and reactions quite closely in time. I would say it is the best piece of war reporting I've ever read. And I believe it is. Only covering the Bosnian war, as Maass describes it, wasn't exactly a war so much as a loosely-organized, long-running series of individual and group murders.

This book is humane, and comic, and horrifying in each of the right measures and moments. I cannot recommend it more strongly. If you read it I think it will change you. Perhaps forever.

Social Security may not

Social Security may not be the most captivating topic around. But it is one of the most important. Here's a new Social Security info page from the folks at Campaign for America's Future.

Who are they? Reliably liberal. And on this topic, completely right.

Think of CAF as the liberal Democrat's version of the DLC (aka Democratic Leadership Council).

Definitely stop by the site.

I just caught a

I just caught a minute of Ari Fleischer's daily briefing today. And what caught my attention was the back-and-forth on Army Secretary Thomas White.

Fleischer 'defended' White against new charges that he had not divested himself of Enron holdings, as he had promised he would during his confirmation hearing. But he 'defended' him only in that highly circumscribed Washington sense of the word that might be loosely translated into the American vernacular as 'hung out to dry.'

In any case, to my ears, the defense sounded distressingly weak. It sounded to me like 'we're sure White's trying to fulfill his promise, we're sure he wants to, he'd better, don't ask me any more questions.'

If I were Thomas White, I'd be quite nervous right now. Not only does it look like he's in quite a good bit of political trouble. But you have to figure also that he's beginning to look a rather convenient scapegoat to Karl Rove and the rest of the folks at the White House political office.

To date, White is the only senior member of the administration that we know was deeply enmeshed in Enron wrong-doing. Not illegality, mind you. At least not necessarily. But the sort of corporate bad practices, while an executive at Enron, which at the very least everyone seems to agree are blameworthy.

Perhaps we'll find that other members of the administration are similarly tainted. But thus far we just have not seen proof of that. I'd imagine that the administration would like nothing better than to demonstrate zero-tolerance for Enron-type shenanigans by tossing some bad-actor overboard -- particularly if they could find someone who fit the bill and yet was utterly expendable.

Just off the top of my head, I think they'd be looking for maybe, say, a 2nd level appointee at a major department, someone of some consequence, but not anyone with deep connections to the principals (or principles) of the administration.

Like I said, if I were Thomas White ...

Weve already spoken at

We've already spoken at some length about 'astroturf' organizing. Let's now discuss one of the great unspoken scandals of DC and the newspaper world: Op-Ed payola.

What do I mean? Far more Op-Eds than you realize are bought and paid for. I don't mean by scholar X whose work is funded by corporation Y or union Z. That may be a problem, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about OpEds which are produced in lobbying chop-shops.

First they're written up by people at the lobbying firm. Then the lobbying firm finds some pliable economist, or scientist, ex-congressman or ex-diplomat and offers them, say, $1000 to sign their name to it. Once they get someone to bite they send it off to the papers.

I've talked to folks who ply at this enterprise and it's pretty common. From what I've been told it's very hard, if not impossible, to pull this off with most of the premium dailies. But many regional papers apparently either don't know about this or don't care. And that's where these bought and paid for pieces get placed.

This is one of the fun topics you'll see mentioned in installment two of Great Moments in Foreign Agency. Today we have the Zaire Program 1991, which DC foreign lobbying shop van Kloberg & Associates prepared for then-Zairian dictator Mobutu. (Zaire is now The Democratic Republic of the Congo.) Give the whole dossier a look. But give particular attention to the points highlighted with red arrows.

How over is Gary

How over is Gary Condit? Even I don't have anything more to say about him. Of course, on second thought, his wife's hilarious defamation suit against the rockin' NBC series Law & Order could still produce a few good gags.

If recent reports that

If recent reports that Robert Ray may have violated federal law didn't convince you that he is an incorrigible pettifogger and loathsome schemer, then his much-ballyhooed 'final report' on the Clinton investigation should do the trick.

Here's the key point: There is a technical legal term for prosecutors who publicly claim that they had enough evidence to prosecute and win a conviction and yet decided not to do so. They're called liars.

Liars, liars, liars.

This is the classic Starr/Ray tactic of trying to win cheap in the court of public opinion what they couldn't win in a real court.

What's pitiful about Ray is that he actually seems to think that playing the anti-Clinton card might help him pocket a Senate seat from New Jersey. But even the antis don't think or care much about Ray.

Let's just hope this sorry wretch decides to run.

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