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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

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.

You heard it here first. Dems are set to start whacking the president for doing a lot of campaign travelling on the public dime, i.e., using Air Force One for campaign trips without reimbursing the public treasury. Actually, they have a better argument than you might imagine. More soon.

There may not be a groundswell of support for John McCain becoming a Democrat to run for president in 2004. But there is a groundswell of articles telling him to do it. Josh Green's piece in the Washington Monthly went up today. And tomorrow Jon Chait's piece on the same topic is going online on the New Republic website. I happen to know that neither of these guys is following the other. There's just some weird McCain-as-Dem-for-President mojo going around. Also, it's some strange online journalism, game-theory moment: both pubs are scooping their print mags to get their pieces on the web first.

There was a short email circulating in Goreland today. It was from one of the folks at Gore's new Leadership PAC, Leadership '02. Here's the first part of it. Take a look and then we'll discuss.

1Q Federal Receipts

Dashpac (Daschle): $62,158
Leadership '02: $502,482
New American Optimists (Edwards): $187,750
ROCPAC (Lieberman): $642,469

Leadership '02 received contributions from 859 supporters (and some even gave more than once). Our median contribution was $25.

Thanks again, to those you helped make our filing a big success! Please let me know if you have any questions about the filings.

What can we glean from this? Well, a few things. Kerry's numbers are hard to figure since he's currently raising money which is nominally going to his Senate reelection campaign for this Fall. And he's raising a ton.

Second, Gore's amount is reasonably impressive, considering he's just gotten started with new fund-raising.

Third, Lieberman's obviously raising some decent change and I'll bet his median contribution is a touch larger than $25.

But real political mandarins will immediately see that the real revelation in this email is that John Edwards or someone in his shop is one hard-core doofus. Why? New American Optimists? My god, was Patriots for Fun! and Americans for Niceness already taken? What a goofball.

Good piece by Paul Krugman on the fiasco of the US reaction to the overthrow and then un-overthrow of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The degree of embarrassment this represents has presumably been eclipsed by the crisis in the Mideast. One point Krugman alludes to is how clumsy and cliched a coup this turned out to be. The protests included a fairly broad section of the population -- business groups, labor groups, the church. But the new 'president', Pedro Carmona Estanga, assembled a government which excluded all but a series of business leaders and also dissolved the national assembly and all sorts of other good things. The whole gambit was turning into a set piece from some really bad example of fifties-era socialist realist fiction. In the end, even the military leaders who had launched the coup decided it had gone too far. They withdrew their support and the whole thing fell apart. And now we see the first signs in the mainstream press that the Bush administration may actually have had a hand in the coup itself.

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