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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Does Gary Condit have a possible mal-practice suit against Abbe Lowell? More on this later this evening.

For months I've wanted to write a post asking what should be (or should have been) one of the great questions of contemporary American journalism: why is LATimes.com the most pitiful website in the history of the universe?

Don't get me wrong: I don't mean the LA Times. Talking Points grew up near Los Angeles and well knows that the LA Times is one of the nation's great newspapers. Certainly at least the equal of any other in the country -- save the New York Times.

No, I'm talking about the website. And what I always wondered was why this big-time national newspaper would have a website more pitiful and impossible to navigate than your average 4th tier small-time paper like the Podunk Crier or the Lametown Gazette.

Well, you know what they say: carpe diem! I've missed my chance. I just noticed the LAT has redesigned their site. It's still far from the best newspaper website design I've seen. But it's not chaotic and pitiful either. And that's a big improvement.

Doesn't this speak for itself ?

"Governor Bush supports lockboxing $ 2.4 trillion to save and strengthen Social Security."

- Bush-Cheney Campaign 2000 website
(Quoted in LAT, Oct. 31, 2000)

"There is no box, there is no mattress. Paul O'Neill doesn't have a hole in the backyard where this money goes. And all the dollars are fungible ... What's unfair is to mislead the American people into thinking this money's in a box somewhere. It isn't. That box has nothing but promissory notes in it."

- Mitch Daniels
Office of Management & Budget Director
CNN, Late Edition, July 8th, 2001

More on this later.

P.S. Special heads-up to Senate Democratic staffers reading TPM from their offices. There are much, much better Bush lockbox quotes out there. But the TPM oppo research staff is small and greatly overextended. So have at it!

P.P.S. Ahhhaa! Another example of Bush's lockbox talk from New Hampshire in January 2000:

"First, unspent surpluses in Washington, D.C. will be spent, you mark my words, you leave money sitting around the table in Washington, Washington politicians will spend it. Now, I believe there's enough money. If you lockbox the payroll taxes, there is $2 trillion to make sure the Social Security system is safe and secure-- $2 trillion. I intend to lockbox the payroll taxes and spend them only on what they're supposed to be spent on, and that's Social Security."
That's courtesy of PBS' NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, January 14, 2000

Reformist Democrats have many, many reasons for believing (rightly I'd say) that time is on their side. Demographics, ideological propensity ... many, many reasons. But the biggest and probably most obvious sign is the one sitting right under our noses.

That is this: on pretty much every major question of domestic policy these days you have one piece of legislation, supported largely by Democrats, and enjoying pretty broad popular support. Then on the other side you have a phony-baloney piece of legislation put forward by Republicans (more or less entirely reactive to the Democratic legislation) intended to scuttle the effort to pass the original reform. Is the Republican approach better? Sure, maybe. Would they ever have thought to propose it on their own without heat from the Dem bill? Of course not.

In most cases you'll find some deer-caught -in-the- headlights backbench Republican Rotarian you've never heard of before hustled up to affix his name to the bill.

The latest example of course is in the campaign finance debate, and the new bill-killer in the House sponsored by Rep. Bob Ney (OH-R) and (regrettably) Rep. Albert Wynn (MD-D). But pretty much the same logic applies to Patients' Bill of Rights, prescription drug benefit, and a slew of other current debates.

It didn't used to be this way. Remember welfare reform? Nor does it mean the Democrats are right and the Republicans wrong. But it gives a clear sense of the trajectory of our politics today.

It may not be the Dems' time. But time is on their side.

Just a quick note on the Condit front. The story that's only starting to get a touch of play in the reporting is how much orchestration is taking place on the part of the public relations operatives working for the Levy family.

One hesitates to use the loaded word 'orchestration' since these people are desperately trying to find out what happened to their daughter; and the chances of finding a happy answer seem bleak. Still it's a point worth noting since it speaks to a broader issue of how the media functions today, and specifically how this story is being advanced.

Reporters I've spoken to who are covering the Levy camp (if I can use that word) say that the Levy supporters (would it be too cheeky to call them Levites?) are quite open about their strategy, which is to day-after-day drib and drab out more information on Condit-Levy relationship, both to squeeze Condit and keep pressure on the police. Yesterday's revelations from Chandra's aunt are of course part of this effort. These days even feeding frenzies and personal tragedy apparently can't do without professional management.

I'm not saying this is good or bad necessarily; just that much of it is very, very thought out in advance, and planned for greatest impact and effect.

Of course, Condit too now has an anti-feeding frenzy consultant on hire. But her job seems a touch more challenging than theirs.

And by the way, for you real Talking Points loyalists out there, I'll be on CNN's Reliable Sources (Sat. 6:30 PM; Sun 11:30 AM) this weekend making what (if I remember correctly) were some fairly vacuous media criticism type comments about you know what.

You hear a lot these days about how the Bush administration is starting to heed the polls and buff up its image on the environment and Big Oil lackey fronts. But developments like these reassure me that the Bushies are going to stick determinedly to principle. This from today's Wall Street Journal 'Washington Wire' ...

Climate-change treaty foe Philip Cooney is the new chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which helps formulate the U.S. position on global warming. At the American Petroleum Institute, he helped develop the oil lobby's opposition to the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse-gas emissions.
Which reminds me, I've still got to get in my application for this year's oil studies fellowship over at the 'Institute.'

I never, never, never want to hear you tell me that Talking Points doesn't give you an utterly unique take on the news of the day!

Needless to say, things are sort of heating up today on the Condit-Levy front. You've got Mrs. Condit's interview with authorities in suburban Virginia. Then you've got the DC police chief saying that the police consider it unlikely Levy committed suicide. They believe she was either the victim of foul play or simply went into hiding. And if you have a brain, of course, that sounds a lot like they think it was foul play.

Condit's attorney Abbe Lowell issued this statement to the press and announced that henceforth Marina Ein will be handling press matters for the Condits, presumably to give a break to the hapless Mike Lynch, Condit's press secretary who probably didn't know quite what he was getting into when he signed on to handle media for the obscure California congressman.

Now, sitting here at my desk writing out a draft of my soon-to- be-published article on foreign lobbyists, I couldn't help but wonder: Marina Ein? Marina Ein? Where do I know that name from?

Oh, right! She's the one who signed on back in the Spring of 2000 to do media relations work for General Wiranto of Indonesia at the time when he was coming under intense scrutiny for his role in alleged crimes against humanity in East Timor in 1999.

According to Ein's April 4, 2000 Foreign Agents Registration filing (reg.# 5369), she:

agreed to provide media outreach services -- including editorial services -- to General Wiranto. We are providing these services for a monthly retainer of $20,000 for an open-ended period .... We will draft editorial material for use in a "by-lined" or op-ed piece(s) and work to secure interviews and other speaking opportunities. We will seek such opportunities in print and electronic formats.
I guess the real question is, who will Ein have a harder time defending, Wiranto or Condit? And does Condit have to pay her 20Gs a month too?

P.S. Late Update: One TPM secret informant tells me Ein also used to do PR work for The New Republic. But I'll bet you third world strong man-types pay better than center-left opinion mags. Trust me, I should know.

The shrewdest analysts of the Balkan tragedy have always seen Slobodan Milosevic as a cynic, a pragmatist, a deft tactician, if a rather bad strategist.

So it makes sense that Milosevic should be taking this rejectionist stand toward the Hague tribunal. After all, it's not like there's anyone he can roll on; and not like anyway he's going to beat the rap. So why not go out with a flourish? And maybe inflict a little pain on his enemies along the way.

Milosevic now seems intent on putting the international community on trial with him, and attempting to make them appear complicit in his crimes. According to this BBC report, he plans particularly to target the British, especially two Tory Foreign Ministers from the early and middle nineties.

In any real sense, of course, this claim is utterly bogus. But it's not an entirely idle threat.

At various points over the last dozen years, the West saw Milosevic as useful, or at least someone they had to deal with. Most famously, at the Dayton peace talks, he was treated as something of a peace maker, and to a degree he actually delivered -- knocking the heads of Bosnian Serb chieftains and forcing them to get on board.

For the Europeans and the Brits there is even more awkwardness. After his retirement, for instance, Douglas Hurd, Tory Foreign Secretary in the early-mid 1990s, got involved with all manner of debt restructuring and telecom work for Milosevic's government. This of course was during one of Milosevic's 'good-guy' phases.

Again, the point is not that NATO governments share any real complicity in Milosevic's crimes; nor did various prime ministers and foreign ministers -- faced with few good options -- lack good reasons for dealing with Milosevic, and even in some sense propping him up.

But Milosevic can throw light on the West's back-and-forth positioning over the course of the 1990s -- sometimes denouncing him as an arch-war criminal, at other times giving him a good cleaning and dressing him up as a potential peace partner. He could embarrass Western leaders by highlighting their often erratic and cowardly stance toward the Balkan tragedy for much of the decade, their own crimes of omission, and their own connections to him.

A quick thought. Anne Marie Smith says that on "approximately May 5 or 6" Gary Condit called her and said he was "in trouble" and might have to "disappear for a while." According to the Levys, they first called the DC police on May 5th. They again called on the 6th and reported her as a missing person. Only then -- concerned that the police were not giving the matter sufficient attention -- did they call Condit. That was on the evening of May 6th.

Clearly, the question is which of these conversations occurred first. If conversation (A) occurred prior to conversation (B) -- that is to say, if Condit told Smith he was "in trouble" before he found out from Levy's parents that she was missing -- that would be rather damning, no?

With phone records, this should all be rather easy to nail down. As police presumably are trying to do.

Here is a worthwhile article on the bizarre afterlife of the one major Clinton-era Independent Counsel investigation still chugging along. Appropriately enough, it's David M. Barrett's investigation of Henry Cisneros -- which was just given yet another extension to continue its work. Needless to say, Cisneros himself is no longer even at issue. Not only was he investigated, he was investigated, indicted for lying to the FBI about how much money he gave to his one-time mistress, prosecuted, copped a plea and paid a fine, and for good measure got pardoned by Bill Clinton.

(As long as we're at it, Cisneros' crime -- that of low-balling the amount of money you paid to your former mistress when the FBI asked you about it during your background check for becoming a cabinet secretary -- is a pretty good example of the sort of bogus crime I referred to earlier.)

In any case, of all the Clinton-era IC appointments, Barrett and his subsequent investigation always had the strongest hint of political payback about it. Rather than a career prosecutor, Barret is best described as a career GOP activist, DC lawyer, lobbyist, rain-maker, and influence peddler -- a common species in the Washington ecosystem. Most particularly, Barrett was knee-deep in the multifarious doings of the notoriously corrupt Reagan-era HUD department. As the Washington Post gently put it a couple years ago "Barrett was part of an interconnected group of lobbyists, consultants, and current and former HUD officials who benefited from high-level access to HUD at a time when corruption in the department was rampant."

So the three judge panel which appoints ICs thought Barrett, an oily crony from HUD's corrupt days, would be a judicious pick to head up an investigation of the reforming HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros. Now Barrett has gotten yet another extension to continue investigating whether various government officials tried to criminally obstruct his probe.

Barrett's endless investigation, though, was always less grand conspiracy or perversion of justice than some pale echo of Arendt's banality of evil. There's less Vast Right Wing Conspiracy here than marquee time-serving, a third-tier DC influence peddler, perpetually on-the-make, unwilling to give up his roving commission to kick up trouble for fun and profit.

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