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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Well, the momentous day of the TPM relaunch has finally arrived. As you can see, we've made a great effort to keep the design of the site simple (and hopefully elegant) and more or less what regular readers are used to.

The big change is the new web address. If you're reading this you no doubt made it here successfully. But let's say it anyway. You can now find TPM at http://talkingpointsmemo.com at a web browser near you.

This will involve some temporary inconvenience. And the new domain is admittedly on the long side. But after much consideration it became clear that if the website is known as Talking Points Memo then j-marshall/talk is at least not the most intuitively obvious place to try to find it. The old domain also proved quite a pain to give out over the radio.

Radio Guy/Gal: And what's the web site people can find you at, Josh?

Josh: Okay, it's 'J' and then a hyphen -- you know, not an underline but a dash -- and then 'Marshall,' that's with two 'L's by the way, and then dot com. Then forward-slash. Then 'talk'.

Well, you get the idea. Anyway, from now on it's talkingpointsmemo.com. If you have old links to specific posts under the old address, they'll still work. Or you can just find them substituting the new domain.

It will also make possible future Talking Points mugs and shirts look more aesthetically pleasing.

What else? There's also a handy new search function, which will help you find all the goodies from Talking Points past. There were a lot of gizmos we considered adding. And this was the one that really seemed useful and didn't busy things up too much.

We're also helpfully provided still more ways that you can contribute to TPM, which you can see here.

We're also introducing the new TPM Book List. TPM reads quite a lot of books, many of them obscure but many of them interesting. Every week or two we'll be posting a short review. The review will explain some of why I found it interesting and hopefully give you a sense of whether you'd like to read it too. Many will be new or at least recent. But certainly not all. The first, for instance, Winston Churchill's My Early Life was first published in 1930.

These won't be formal books reviews. They'll be shorter and less formal than a regular book review but longer and, hopefully, more thoughtful than a blurb.

Talking Points Memo has about sixty- or seventy-thousand individual readers a month (unique IP addresses, to use the technical jargon) so hopefully we'll be able to send a few readers to some worthy books.

The reviews will be posted as normal posts. But then they'll be separately linked down there on the left hand side of the site beneath the pitch for contributions. After we're up and running for a few weeks, at any one time there should be about a half dozen books listed with links to the review and where they can purchased. (Full Disclosure: We include links to the books on Amazon.com. If you go to Amazon and purchase the book, we get a 15% cut.)

Well, with all the web-designing and hassling with the gizmocrats who run our web provider, I'm pretty much too worn out to write any commentary. But this is TPM after all. Some I'm bound to be back with a few more posts by the end of the day.

P.S. By the way, some friends of TPM (FoTPM) have been kind enough to blurb the site for the relaunch. Not to worry, though, these blurbs are just for relaunch week. They won't be a regular part of the site. Even TPM is only so shameless.

P.P.S. The Talking Points Memo relaunch also coincides with the birthday of TPM Editor, Writer, and CEO Josh Marshall, who turns 33 today.

What would the Talking TPM World Exclusive!  You heard it hear first!  Must Credit.Points Memo relaunch be without a few more names of Bush administration appointees who owned a piece of the 'Ron?

Appointee: Robert E. Fabricant
Position: General Counsel
Department: EPA
Relationship: Enron Corp. stock value less than $1,001, dividends and capital gains $5,001-$15,000

Appointee: William J. Leidinger
Title: Assistant Secretary for Management.
Department: Education
Relationship: Enron stock $1,001-$15,000

Appointee: Thomas N. Slonaker
Title: Special Trustee for American Indians
Department: Interior
Relationship: Enron stock $50,001-$100,000 assets, $1,001-$2,500 dividends

Appointee: Diane L. Tomb
Title: Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs
Department: Housing and Urban Development
Relationship: Enron stock $15,001-$50,000

You can find the earlier-posted complete list here.

This is a splendid book and if you're a Churchill fan I recommend it to you heartily. What's more, even if you're not a Churchill fan I think you may find it a treat. It's not a big book in either the literal or figurative sense of the word. But it accomplishes in spades what most books can only hope to do: it pulls you into another world.

Churchill wrote this book in 1930 when he was 56 years old, at the tail end of a long, successful, but in some many checkered career in public life. Of course, we know that from our perspective he had barely even gotten started yet. But at the time that was hardly clear. The book covers the years from his dawning of consciousness into his late twenties when a mixture of luck, daring, heredity and ingenuity landed him in the House of Commons, where he was to stay - more or less continuously - for the next six decades.

Churchill writes in his characteristic simple but vigorous prose. But what's captivating about this book is its candor, its ingenuousness, and really its alien-ness. Not only did most of these events take place more than one hundred years ago. But

Churchill lived in a world that doesn't exist anymore, that of the Victorian British aristocracy. And the book is filled with the details of that life. Most surprising is that much of it is quite funny, intentionally so.

He recalls very early years in Ireland, fitful experiences in school, Sandhurst, his posting to India where he gets terribly bored but discovers the written word, and then the whirlwind series of events which had him in Cuba during the Spanish-American war, in the Sudan during its reconquest by Kitchener, then in South Africa during the Boer War, and finally back in Britain and even on a speaking tour of America where he has a momentary encounter with Mark Twain. (Having read a good Churchill biography will help read between some of the lines, but it's by no means necessary.)

A few points. Churchill intentionally writes to mimic the level of knowledge and awareness he had at the time he describes. This occasionally misfires, but in general works quite well. So early on you have such gems as …

In 1880 [when he was six] we were all thrown out of office by Mr. Gladstone. Mr. Gladstone was a very dangerous man who went about rousing people up, lashing them into fury so that they voted against the Conservatives and turned my grandfather out of his place as Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland.

Churchill's grandfather, of course, was the Duke of Marlborough.

What stands out about this book for me is how it captures the fact that failure and disappointment were, in many ways, the defining experiences of Churchill's life - depression also, though he doesn't call it such here - and his successes and greatness were found in coming up with ways to overcome them, finding novel ways out of or solutions to his circumstances.

His high birth, his politically-connected family, his mother's special relationship with the future King of England all helped Churchill. But he was also given up on and ignored by his father, whom he revered, as too stupid to ever amount to anything. His mother was loving, but distant. (She did him her best turns later on when she got her influential lovers to pull strings for him.) He never did well in school and was sent off for a career in the army because it was thought he wasn't cut out for the University. It took him three tries to get into Sandhurst. But once he was there he began, he begins, to find himself. And he begins charting his way.

It's become an article of faith among Democrats that Enron is a political scandal. For Republicans, quite the same certainty that it's only an financial scandal. By and large, I think the Democrats have, and will increasingly have, the better part of this argument. But my God if there isn't enough scandal to go around.

We still don't know if there are any political bigwigs and fat-cats who got cut in those debt-concealing outside partnerships at Enron. But what we do now know is that many -- perhaps most -- of the big Wall Street investment houses were actively involved in marketing investments in these partnerships.

If these partnerships perpetrated a fraud on the investing public then almost everyone's hands seem to be dirty.

Will someone stop Howard Fineman before he writes yet another risible George W. Bush puff-piece?

He’s the Texas Ranger of the World, and wants everyone to know it. He’s the guy with the silver badge, issuing warnings to the cattle rustlers. He will cut deals when necessary — his history shows that — but, as a matter of inclination and strategy, he’s the toughest talker on his team.

Do the folks at Newsweek need to plan the journalistic equivalent of an intervention?

Get me Jon Alter's phone number!

Maybe as part of the eagerly-awaited Talking Points relaunch on Friday we need to set up a new feature called the Dick Cheney Own Worst Enemy Watch.

Look at this astonishing scoop from Bob Novak on CNN yesterday ...

WOODRUFF: Unusual plans for Dick Cheney, going to the Middle East soon?

NOVAK: Vice presidential trips have turned into circuses because very little business is down. Remember Lyndon Johnson's -- well, you are too young for that.

WOODRUFF: Much too young.

NOVAK: But he has very spectacular -- I remember it well. And you do remember the Spiro Agnew and the Dan Quayle trips were circuses.

Dick Cheney is going on 10-day trip to the Middle East. And his staff is considering whether they really want to take any press along, no members of the media whatsoever, to avoid all these made-up stories. They are very serious about it. No decision has been made, but they may say, hey, this is a business trip and we don't need the media. After all, he goes to undisclosed locations without the media.

WOODRUFF: That would be almost unprecedented.

NOVAK: Without precedent, absolutely.

I don't like to toss around the word 'Nixonian' loosely. But this is Nixonian. I had already half suspected that Cheney's trip to the Middle East might have more to do with events taking shape at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue than stuff going on in the Middle East. But this speaks volumes about the direction the Vice President is going in and his views about the place of the press.

Barring any media coverage will "avoid all these made-up stories." Is it too much to say that this sounds like something out of the Generalissimo Franco handbook, or something from Robert Mugabe? Media coverage apparently is only necessary or required when trips or events are only for show. But this is a "business trip [so] we don't need the media."

It's certainly worth noting that these words are Novak's, not those of the Vice President or his staff. But he's a good reporter. And I doubt he's not conveying the gist of their thinking.

But don't get caught up with the arrogance. This is the sort of thing White Houses pull before they get into big trouble.

Here's more interesting back-n-forth from today's Senate hearing about just who the investors were in those debt-concealing outside partnerships ...

SEN. DORGAN: And let me go back to one more point, if I might, on LJM, one of the partnerships. In your report, on page 73, you said LJM had -- excuse me -- quote, "We understand that LJM-II ultimately had approximately 50 limited partners," and then you mentioned some of them -- Home Assurance, Arkansas Teachers Retirement, MacArthur Foundation, Merrill Lynch, J.P. Morgan, Citicorp, First Union, Deutsche Bank, GE Capital, and Dresdner (sp), Kleinwort (sp), Bensen (sp). This 50 limited partners, is that a population that you're certain of? Did you see the names of the 50 limited partners, or is that what you were simply told by someone?

[Dorgan then discusses the identity of the partners with Enron board member William Powers. Powers describes how much difficulty they had prying the partner list out of Andersen. Then Powers agrees to turn the document over to the committee.]

SEN. DORGAN: All right. Well, that's a very small start. We have been, as you know, for a month and a half on this committee asking the corporation and asking all who are relevant to receive these requests that we need to understand what is the matrix of the investors -- friends, businesses and others who were brought into this web, this complex web of partnerships -- who are they? How much did they invest? Did they always make money on these investments? It looks to me like the corporation was backstopping everything with respect to these investments. So, we need to get that information, and at least today, at 1:30 in the afternoon, we will get the first 50 names, and we appreciate our ability to do that. And that comes courtesy of your copying a piece of information given by Arthur Andersen but then substantially -- then subsequently taken back by them. So, we will hope that the rest of the names will not be quite so hard to receive or to achieve. And we'll see.

So Dorgan and his staffers are clearly on to the mystery of the partners.

But let's not miss the big story here. The MacArthur Foundation?!?!!? The sugar daddy of every good liberal activist and pressure group had a slice of LJM2? Does this mean the Economic Policy Institute and the American Prospect have to give back their fat grants? Where will it end?

There's still more information on the investors in Enron's debt-concealing outside partnerships.

As we've noted before, all of Enron's outside partnerships were not created alike, and not everyone came in on the same terms. Some offered investors a windfall with no risks. Others promised conventional enough returns that potential investors had to be sold on the plans.

Despite his claims last week that he knew little or nothing about the outside partnerships, in December 1997 former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling appeared personally at a meeting of the board of directors of the California state-employee pension fund (CalPERS) to sell them on an investment in JEDI II.

It looks like we were on to something last week when we pointed out the importance of revealing who invested in Enron's outside partnerships. This article at SmartMoney.com publishes some of the first documentary evidence on the investors in LJM2.

(Hint: they're big Wall Street firms, though it's not immediately clear whose money they were investing.)

But on CNN's Capital Gang last night Senator Kent Conrad implied that the search for the partners might get more explosive still. Asked by Mark Shields whether Enron was a political scandal, the Senator replied...

CONRAD: I don't think we know yet. I think in fairness, what we know is this is corporate scandal of enormous dimension. It may become a full blown political scandal. Goodness knows there's tremendous amounts of money that Bush -- the administration got the greatest level of financial support from Enron people.

We see an involvement of Enron and the replacement of the FERC chairman. I think that's going to lead to a lot of serious questioning. But I'll tell you the real bottom line. The thing that I think is going to turn this into a scandal of even greater dimension is when the partners are revealed. Who was at the trough? Who had the advantage of these partnership agreements that enriched themselves at the expense, its shareholders and its creditors?

SHIELDS: Do we know any major figures you think were partners or?

CONRAD: Those names have not yet been revealed, but I've been told by those who are hot on the trail, that there's going to be some very, very embarrassed major figures in the days ahead.

So what's going on here? I think that what Conrad is saying is likely absolutely true. He doesn't know who the investors are. But he's hearing that the lists include some very high-profile names. Believe me, a lot of people are hearing that.

There are investigators on the Hill, ones working in private lawsuits against Enron, and presumably many in the Justice Department who are piecing together this information. And given that investments in one of Fastow's particularly lucrative sweetheart deals would likely be politically fatal and perhaps even worse, the rumor mill is bubbling with names. Names high up the political ladder. Really high up the political ladder.

A good bit of this is probably just wishful thinking on the part of Democratic politicos in Washington. But not all of it, I'd bet. In any case, we'll know soon enough.

Special thanks to TPM reader A. for the Kent Conrad catch.

Enron may not have been so hot at devising innovative mechanisms for allocating and trading energy and other commodities. But, as this article explains, they were fonts of innovation when it came to gaming Washington.

This included a specially-designed computer program which precisely calculated the costs various regulations would create for Enron. The numbers generated out of this influence-peddlotron were then used to determine when the big-money lobbying machine should be kicked into gear. It all amounted to what the management consultant types might call total quality corruption.

Then there was Ken Lay's idea of "gathering up pundits, journalists and politicians and placing them on lucrative retainers." At least one anonymous Enron exec says the pundits ended up being PFBNBs (see post below). But you wonder.

Then there are some choice gems like this...

"The ingrained philosophy was, me first, money counts and the government should eliminate my taxes," said another former manager. "That's all they cared about -- what impacted them personally."
The theme of the article is that the Enronians ended up being too clever by half. Their titanic arrogance did them in.

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