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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

What shall we call it? Great moments in foreign agency?

One of the points of Talking Points is to give you a peek behind the curtain and let you see how Washington really works. Well, here's a revealing, tragicomic, ugly example.

There've been a number of items in the news of late about the on-going efforts to bring various Balkan war criminals to account.

But let's go back to 1992 and '93.

Back then, one TPM World Exclusive!  You heard it hear first!  Must Credit.of the contested areas was the part of Croatia called the Krajina. This was essentially an ethnic Serb enclave within the borders of Croatia and as you might imagine this became a volatile crisis point in the fighting between Serbs and Croats. In any case, United Nations peace-keepers were sent into the region in the beginning of 1992 to maintain the peace. And did a reasonably good, though by no means perfect, job at it.

For a while, the matter was thus placed in suspense, until 1995 when then-Croatian President Franjo Tudjman gave the UN Mission an ultimatum to leave. Eventually the Croatians rolled in and retook the region with some quite ugly consequences.

As we noted a couple months ago, Croatia got help laying the groundwork for this rampage from a DC PR and lobbying shop called Jefferson Waterman International. JWI agreed to help the Croatians deal with whatever bad press might ensue from reasserting their ethnic rights in the region.

So how exactly does a lobbying outfit make this sort of pitch to a foreign head of state? How do public relations and war crimes mix? Well, today we're proud to show you.

Click here to see JWI's proposal for yourself. Trust me, it's worth a look.

Here's an interesting article on an important topic you've probably never heard about: American POWs forced into slave labor in Japan during World War II, their current efforts to seek judicial relief in the courts, and the State Department's long-running effort to stand in their way.

The piece is in the Taipei Times and it's by Steve Clemons. You can find links to articles on this and other related topics at Steve's site, steveclemons.com.

Let's get another ball rolling. At what point does Lou Dobbs of Lou Dobbs Moneyline become so comically biased that it becomes a problem?

Yes, it's business news. And right-wingers would have a good point in arguing that the 30 minute 'let's all love the environment' program that CNN used to run on the weekend tilted as much left as Moneyline does to the right.

But then the tree-hugger show didn't double as the evening newscast, did it?

More on this to come.

It's bad enough that the likes of Tom Synhorst can clog up your phone with annoying pre-recorded phone messages from Tom DeLay or ambush candidates like John McCain with lurid under-the-radar smears. But should he be able to do it on the government's dime?

He thinks so. And apparently he's right.

Synhorst is now behind something called Constituent Calls -- a joint venture of Synhorst's company DCI (now Feather, Larson & Synhorst-DCI) and some other outfit called CallingPost. Constituent Calls is basically a phone-banking operation specializing is peppering your phone with prerecorded messages from your congressman or senator. They can pick a special target audience from amongst their constituents and even get a guarantee on how many people will be annoyed by their message.

Just listen how great it is ...

Immediate feed back from constituents is another advantage of this service. Feedback can come in the form of a response keyed in by the constituent receiving the message, or calls to a phone number given in the message. Additionally, you are guaranteed that 80% of your targeted audience will hear your message. We can also send your message during specific times of day, in order to reach people at home or target answering machines.

Now here's the key. The Constituent Calls website says your Rep or Senator can get the government to pay for this crap out of their franking allowance -- the government money members of Congress use to send constituent mail.

Again, from the horse's mouth ...

Automated calls are considered unsolicited mass communications and can be paid for out of the Members' Representational Allowance when conducted under the guidelines set forth by the Franking Commission. For more information, contact the Franking Commission and/or the Office of Member Services directly.

Is this the best use of government money?

Does this annoy you as much as it annoys me?

Is Ari Fleischer long for this town?

After today's antics (blaming Middle East violence on Bill Clinton), and then getting snapped back so hard his neck is probably still vibrating, maybe not.

Obnoxious and irresponsible is one thing. Offensive and incompetent is quite another.

The bill of particulars on Fleischer has been growing for some time. But no one is going to be laughing about this one. I'd say the writing's on the wall.

Will it be Senior Counselor Fleischer? Or just Fleischer Associates?

Ari Fleischer: outta the loop; outta luck; outta time.

A few days ago I went to a lunch panel where two luminaries -- one of the right and one of the left -- discussed the cultural contradictions of capitalism. You know, morals and the market, creative destruction, that sort of stuff.

Well, I think we have our test case.

On March 13th Fox is broadcasting a live boxing match called "battle of the bad girls." It's former ice-skater, knee-capper, and accidental pornstar Tonya Harding vs. suburban mattress-back, attempted murderess and darling of alienated university post-modernists Amy Fisher, AKA the Long Island Lolita.

A long-time reader (CR) writes in to ask, just what is this "astroturf" or phony grass-roots organizing you keep talking about?

Good question. Let me see if I can answer it.

Start with the premise that any organized interest group or corporation can hire some shark who served a few terms in the House and have him go to the Hill and lobby. But what really gets Reps' and Senators' attention is when the issue being discussed is one that people care about back home. One that can get the switchboard humming with calls from the district.

That matters.

If angry voters are pissed because Senator X isn't supporting or opposing amendment Y, that matters a helluva lot more than the lobbyist's $2000 suit, manicured fingernails, and gaudy watch. Astroturf organizing begins with the following question, why can't we buy that kind of support too?

Well, it turns out you can! Or at least, sorta. Astroturf organizing describes a series of services consultants provide to simulate the existence of grass-roots interest or concern with an issue. It's fake grass-roots, thus 'astroturf.'

So how is it down? Basically, with a mix of phone-banking, setting up of front groups meant to imitate citizen groups, media campaigns, and the like. Perhaps even demonstrations if a sufficient number of rent-a-protestors can be assembled. On top of this, mix in some clever new angles for your message... like maybe pollution actually counts as paid speech and is thus constitutionally protected! These guys are very creative.

In any case, astroturf originated in the field operations run by the tobacco companies and the gun lobby. Again, phony groups, paid-rabble-rousing, and so forth. But obviously this wasn't all phony. With guns at least, there obviously is a very real constituency for anti-gun-control activism. (Much less with tobacco, of course. And that's where the art was really developed. More on this later.) But the folks who originated the skills got them down to such an art that they started selling them to other organized interests. The health care industry. Energy deregulators. Microsoft. And on and on.

A typical 'astroturf' effort might have a given turfster receiving a certain amount of cash for delivering X number of citizen calls to a certain congressperson, yelling at them to oppose this or that piece of legislation.

Don't place caps on my electricity prices! I WON'T STAND FOR IT!!!!!!!!

There's also something called 'grass-tops' organizing. This is what Ralph Reed got in trouble for when he was allegedly lobbying candidate Bush on Microsoft's behalf, while also working for candidate Bush. (I have some doubts whether this was the whole story, but we'll get to that later.) Grass-tops is when you get a certain number of community leaders, bigwigs and so forth to contact a candidate or office-holder on behalf of some issue. So this is the tops not the roots; you get the idea.

The key to the 'astroturf' world is that pols are continually getting wiser and wiser to the turfsters' games. A good staffer can spot turf a mile away and once it's identified as such it loses all its value. So the turfsters are constantly developing more and more subtle ways to imitate and fake citizen interest.

More later on how American politics is becoming more and more like 1970s baseball, with astroturf crowding out natural grass.

As a general matter I'm not at all well-inclined to those who've tried to argue that Islam is somehow an inherently violent religion. I don't think that's true.

But the following does occur to me. One hears quite often that 'Islam' means 'peace.' Not just the religion, but the word itself. My understanding though is that it means something closer to the English word 'submission.'

Similar, yes. But hardly the same thing.

A few more points on Ralph Reed and the entertaining world of "astroturf" political organizing. Lobbying on the Hill is currently regulated under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995. A Capitol Hill reporter tells me that when the bill was being put together, Reed was a key force, perhaps the key force, making sure that "astroturf" work (phony grass-roots organizing) would not be covered under the LDA. This of course was while Reed was still Executive Director of the Christian Coalition.

Reed's frequent partner in "astroturf" work is Tom Synhorst. Let's run through some of his exploits in the "astroturf" biz. Synhorst's main shop is Direct Connect Inc., DCI. DCI did the "astroturf" work for the 'Health Benefits Coalition,' trying to kill the Health Care Bill of Rights back in 1998 (Nat. Journal July 11, '98); DCI also spearheaded various efforts by the tobacco industry and the NRA; it also helped set up Americans for Competitive Technology and Americans for Technology Leadership, two Microsoft front groups agitating against the Justice Department's antitrust suit.

Of course, Reed and Synhorst will always have a special place in my heart for that stand-up work they did ambushing John McCain in South Carolina in 2000 with their nasty, below-the-radar push-polls.

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