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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Here's an entry for the annals of incomplete reporting. The MSNBC report throwing cold water on the idea of 'John McCain for President as a Democrat' noted that in 1995 McCain ...

displeased environmentalists — another important Democratic Party constituency —by voting against an amendment to keep the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska closed to oil drilling.

I noted earlier that references of even so comparatively recent a vintage sort of miss the point with McCain since most of his political shift is in 2000 and after.

This business with ANWR turns out to be a case in point. On the very day the MSNBC went online McCain was voting against drilling in ANWR, as had been expected for some time. So the 1995 reference was perhaps a touch out of date.

On Thursday I was talking to a Latin America expert in DC about rumors of possible US involvement in the unsuccessful coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. She called my attention to an intriguing development which few or no US media sources have reported: despite the apparent calming of the situation in the country, the State Department is asking family members of embassy officials in Caracas and other non-essential employees to leave the country; and it's paying their way.

Let me wade into this McCain as a Democrat talk. First, this MSNBC article points to various interest group score cards and litmus test votes which should supposedly knock McCain out of contention in a Democratic primary. Look closely though because it's a somewhat misleading list. On its face it's damning but most of the votes and scores are lifetime scores or ones that are several years out of date. The AFL-CIO, for instance, apparently gave him a zero rating in 1999.

The problem with all these numbers is that McCain's serious leftward tilt pretty much all comes from during and after his 2000 presidential run. Before that, campaign finance reform was still pretty much his only break from mainstream conservative Republican orthodoxy.

Thus, statements or votes prior to that date simply beg the question of where McCain is politically today. Plus, candidates who've had political conversion experiences need be far less troubled with past votes and actions than conventional politicians.

Mickey Kaus notes talk that McCain is still most likely to run as an Independent.

Perhaps.

But if there are good reasons McCain would not or could not run as a Democrat there are even better reasons why he wouldn't or couldn't as an Independent.

Here's the best one: as I told Green while he was writing the article, if you actually want to become president as opposed to run for president, you'd never do it as an Independent because they never win.

Never?

Never.

Look at the data.

Last time an Independent was elected president since the creation of the two-party system in the 1820s?

It's never happened. Some interesting test cases include the lead-ups to the election of 1844 and perhaps also the election of 1868, when vice-presidents who had become president considered it.

The last time a third-party candidate became president?

Abraham Lincoln in 1860. And the proximate cause was sectional, not ideological, disintegration of the party system.

So, does the McCain as a Dem idea face a lot of hurdles? Absolutely. But the reason McCain would choose to run as a Democrat rather than an Independent would simply be that he is interested in winning.

I've just been reading Robert Wright's contrarian view of the Arafat-Barak Camp David negotiations while the idiot news coverage of the arrest of Robert Blake plays in the background.

The essence of his argument is that we're wrong to stick with the conventional wisdom that Arafat turned down a generous deal at Camp David and everything that follows from that assumption. The main conclusion that follows from it, of course, is that Barak's offer put the lie to Arafat's pretensions to be a true peace partner. If Arafat wouldn't bite when Barak offered him the whole cake, the reasoning goes, then that must not have been what he was interested in in the first place. The cake being an equitable peace, of course, and ... well, perhaps not the best metaphor or analogy, but let's move along.

I think Wright is far more right than wrong. And I really, really recommend that you read it. It's not that I think his analysis is correct in every respect. I disagree with a number of points he makes. But he's right to bust open the simplistic way in which this whole drama is generally understood in the US.

More on this later.

One of the fun things about reading daily newspaper reporters is watching them occasionally chafe at the mindless conventions of journalistic objectivity. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for being balanced and fair. I mean, we don't all want to be like Fox and the Wash Times.

But frequently a reporter will find an example of ridiculous hypocrisy or laughable bad faith and yet not really be able to quite call a spade a spade to the desired degree. So an expert at the trade will craft a series of quotes and factual asides which communicate the hidden message without violating the prescribed journalistic norms. Check out Mike Allen in today's Post ...

Bush, who as a presidential candidate condemned "nation-building," said the United States would remain involved in modernizing Afghanistan, likening his ambition to the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II. He said the United States was helping Afghanistan develop a stable government, train a national army and build a school system for boys and girls.

"We will work to help Afghanistan to develop an economy that can feed its people without feeding the world's demand for drugs, and we will help the Afghan people recover from the Taliban rule," he said.

Aides said his plans did not violate his pledge against nation-building because he will not use U.S. soldiers as social workers or police officers.

The key knives in this passage are the appositive clause in sentence one and the final sentence.

Now let me decode what Allen is saying ...

Allen: Bush is caught in a transparent flip-flop and I've forced his aides to defend him by treating as facts their earlier demagogic attacks on Clinton policy (i.e., soldiers working as 'social workers.') They look stupid. Please recognize that they look stupid and think of them henceforth as lame. Also, readers, please take this as a sign that I do have a clue despite the fact that the conventions of daily news journalism sometimes require me to appear that I do not.

The key mistake made by most people who endorse conspiracy theories is assuming that discrepancies in different accounts of a single event point to deception or the existence of some hidden truth behind the maze of contradictions. The messiness and ambiguity of real-life events is what they don't figure on. Military men call it the fog of war. But the same concept applies to everyday life, particularly to its more hectic and confusing moments. Reality, you might say, tends to be rather over-determined.

The various accounts surfacing of the Venezuelan coup and the United States government's reaction to it brings this to mind. Yet there is still something odd and perplexing about the drifting accounts being provided by administration officials. Every day there's a new detail. Each new detail is provided to exonerate administration officials but as often as not they tend rather to inculpate them.

For instance, discussions at which US officials told Venezuela's future coup plotters that they would not support a coup. Well, how'd the topic come up exactly? Or Otto Reich's statement that he tried to prevent 'interim' President Carmona from dissolving the National Assembly. That sounds as much like coup-management as trying to support democracy.

I've never thought that the US was 'behind' this coup in a strong sense. But administration officials seem to be implicated in it in various small and -- let's just say it -- incompetent ways.

Let me point out another interesting discrepancy. Tomorrow's Washington Post has what strikes me as an extremely ingenuous article by Scott Wilson, based largely on an interview with 'interim' President Carmona. Wilson says Carmona only got the job because he was the only guy who didn't want it. Perhaps Wilson needs to read up on literary and political tropes -- I think that line warranted a touch more skepticism.

Much of the piece looks like it was dictated by Carmona's post-coup spin-doctor (you know, he's just a bespectacled economist, happened upon this coup thing...).

Anyway, let me point out this discrepancy that strikes me as important.

In Wilson's article Carmona says he visited Washington in November to meet with John Maisto, Bush's Latin America guy at NSC, Energy Secretary Spence Abraham and Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich.

Then Carmona said he "next spoke with U.S. officials Saturday morning at the presidential palace when he received the recently arrived U.S. ambassador, Charles Shapiro, and the Spanish ambassador."

But if Wilson or his editors would have read today's edition of an obscure metropolitan daily called The New York Times they might have noticed the following contradiction. The Times article quotes a State Department official saying that Assistant Secretary Reich placed an urgent call to Carmona on Friday, one day earlier. It's a pretty big difference since the coup took place in the overnight hours between Thursday and Friday.

Why wasn't this discrepancy pointed out in the interview or at least in the article? Good question.

As it happens, I just now notice that tomorrow the Times reports that the State Department has now changed its story -- 'revised' is the term they use. Reich didn't contact Carmona on Friday. He asked Ambassador Shapiro to talk to Carmona. And Shapiro talked to Carmona on Friday. First, that's a pretty big change in the story. Second, the discrepancy in the day when contact is made still stands, even though the personnel is different.

Then there's another strange thing that pops out from the apparently hastily written and indifferently copyedited Post story. Read these four grafs nestled more than half way down into the article ...

At least three people who landed key jobs within the provisional government have acknowledged that they met with U.S. officials in the past six months. One of them was Vice Adm. Carlos Molina, who said that he had a meeting with a U.S. official outside the U.S. Embassy within the past six weeks.

But U.S. officials say that although they were aware of the growing dissent, they sought to distance the United States from opposition figures that might be plotting a coup. In November, the U.S. ambassador at the time, Donna Hrinak, took the unusual step of ordering the embassy's military attache to stop meeting with a group of dissident officers, according to a U.S. official.

That group, according to a Western diplomat here, included Molina, Air Force Col. Pedro Soto and several other officers who in February publicly demand Chavez's removal. The U.S. diplomat said Soto and Molina each received $100,000 from a Miami bank account for denouncing Chavez.

Soto and Molina could not be reached for comment today. Molina is under arrest and was the subject of a military hearing today. Soto is among three officers seeking asylum in the Bolivian Embassy.

Hold on a second. They each got $100,000 from a bank account in Miami? What's that about? This really gives new meaning to the phrase 'burying your lede.' The article just drops it there and provides no explanation or discussion. But this seems like something well worth discussing, doesn't it? Two members of the Venezuelan military who later participated in the coup each got $100,000 from a bank account in the United States "for denouncing Chavez."

That's a bit of money. Whose was it? And how does this American diplomat know about it?

Also, let's be frank: Miami isn't just any American city. One of America's big beefs with Chavez is that he's close to Fidel Castro. So I think you can assume that the Cuban exiles in South Florida don't much care for him. And again, let's be frank, Otto Reich, the Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America is himself a Cuban exile with close ties to the anti-Castro firebrands in South Florida. Not to put too fine a point on it, but whose money was that?

If a "U.S. Diplomat" -- a good catch-all phrase for someone who wants to remain both very anonymous and very credible -- knows that two of the key coup plotters got paid off for turning against Chavez, and that the money came from a US bank account, isn't this worth looking into?

The New York Times must not be quite as intolerant of conservative viewpoints as the founders of New York's new daily, The New York Sun, allege. The Sun has hired the Times to help them distribute their sheet.

Today's article in the Times provides the other key to the puzzle I addressed in my article today in Salon on the attempted Venezuelan coup.

As my piece describes, when Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America Otto Reich met with Latin American diplomats at the State Department early last Friday afternoon, he suprised them by not only parroting the rationales and alleged constitutional justifications for the coup, but also providing surprisingly precise pro-coup details of what had happened.

There were rumors among Latin America specialists in DC yesterday that at the meeting Reich had had a "document" laying out the constitutional rationale for the coup. Based on my conversations with diplomats who were present at the meeting, this seems not to have been the case. At least to the extent of there not being a "document."

However, he did seem to have been briefed on the details provided by, and the arguments of, the coup plotters. This is what made a number of the diplomats present at the meeting suspicious. In Washington parlance, Reich seemed to be reading from the coup plotters ... well, talking points.

In any case, today's article by Christopher Marquis in the Times confirms that Reich had in fact been in phone contact on Friday with Pedro Carmona Estanga, the man who briefly assumed the presidency during Chavez's overthrow. Reich apparently tried to counsel him on the management of the coup, specifically, trying to dissuade him from foolish and ultimately fatal expedient of dissolving the National Assembly. It's unclear from the article whether this was before or after he State Department meeting, but I think it's safe to assume it was before.

(Check out the Salon article to see the other embarrassing things Reich said at the meeting -- and why the representative of Argentina was not at all happy.)

I think this is trouble for the administration. Nothing earth-shattering, but trouble. Everything they admit brings up a half a dozen more questions. It's an uncomfortable mix of bad acts and incompetence. I don't think this story is going away.

Don't cry for me, Argentina? The reference will become clear when you read the article I wrote for Salon.com this evening. It's about an embarrassing moment for America's national honor that took place last Friday afternoon at the State Department.

If you want to join and be Netanyahu's supporter, or/and If you want to be active and participate in activities for Netanyahu's return - or/and If you want to receive news from the site, Please fill this form or send us email

Those are the reassuring words from the "Yes I Support" section of the Netanyahu.org website.

Netanyahu's return -- yikes!

Stop by the site. You can see the shameless adventurer's photo album, the 'media' page which leads with a blurb for Bernard Goldberg's Bias, and of course a transcript of the speech he gave before the US Senate criticizing Colin Powell a few days back.

Benjamin Netanyahu truly is a man for every train wreck.

It's a real stain on Joe Lieberman's judgement that he participated in that ill-conceived stunt.

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