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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

More great moments from the annals of aggressive accounting.

Yesterday's New York Times has an excellent story which I imagine would only have been written in quite this way in the post-Enron era.

The article describes the new hot trend financial advisors are pitching to major corporations. Incorporate a shell parent company in Bermuda and cut your corporate income taxes by millions of dollars.

Here's an example from the article ...

Becoming a Bermuda company is a paper transaction, as easy as securing a mail drop there and paying some fees, while keeping the working headquarters back in the United States.

Bermuda is charging Ingersoll- Rand just $27,653 a year for a move that allows the company to avoid at least $40 million annually in American corporate income taxes.

The company is not required to conduct any meetings in Bermuda and will not even have an office there, said its chief financial officer, David W. Devonshire.

"We just pay a service organization" to accept mail, he said.

How nice for them.

The reaction from the Bush administration is telling.

The White House has said nothing about these moves and their effect on tax revenues. Mark A. Weinberger, chief of tax policy in the Treasury Department, said the moves to Bermuda and other tax havens showed that the American tax system might be driving companies to make such decisions. "We may need to rethink some of our international tax rules that were written 30 years ago when our economy was very different and that now may be impeding the ability of U.S. companies to compete internationally."
Let's focus on the key line here: "the American tax system might be driving companies to make such decisions." This is the rich man's version of the argument which holds that inner-city hoodlums shouldn't be held to account for mugging old ladies because of limited job opportunities in the ghetto and persistent underfunding of Headstart.

This is the sort of story, the sort of muck that could fuel a potent new movement for reform. Not one that would demonize big business as such, but one which would steel our collective resolve that taxes shouldn't simply be a burden which middle-income suckers are forced to pay while big corporations devise clever schemes to dodge them.

This is about equity and patriotism.

If you will entrust me with your hard-earned dollars and contribute them to my campaign, I will use that money to make my case to the voters of our district, to tell a story about the struggles of working families and to enlist a dubious also-ran in the annals of forensic science to exonerate me of any responsibility for the tragic murder of my bosomy young girlfriend ...

Okay, I grant you, that's not an exact quote from Gary Condit. But it seems close to the basic idea.

Frank Bruni's article on Condit in yesterday's New York Times Magazine reports that the soon-to-be-former congressman used $1000 from campaign funds to pay for the private polygraph test which allegedly cleared him of any connection to the disappearance of one-time paramour Chandra Levy.

Are liberals hopeless suckers?

You better believe it.

Back in 1997 and 1998, as the presidential contenders were readying their engines, all Democrats pretty much realized that the nomination was Al Gore's to lose. But liberals were discomfited by Gore's centrism and casting about for some standard-bearer. Dick Gephardt decided he was that man.

Eventually, Gephardt decided that the Gore juggernaut could not be stopped and he stepped aside and endorsed Gore. But until then he pitched himself as the real Democrat, the Democrat who wasn't afraid to admit he was a Democrat (as Jim Fallows put it in this article), the Dem who still believed in the old time New Deal religion. Throughout the latter years of the second Clinton administration, looking toward the 2000 primaries, Gephardt consistently positioned himself as the leader of the party's liberals -- and signaled his stance by bucking the administration on some key votes.

I had just started working at the American Prospect -- the publication of liberal Democrats -- at the time and people had totally taken the bait.

Now, we're getting ready for 2004 and the lay of the land looks a little different. Gore wants to run again. Maybe Tom Daschle (though TPM feels confident this will never happen). And others. Now, Gephardt has decided he's going to run to the right of everyone else, as the one who doesn't believe in the same old tax and spend, who doesn't want to revisit the Bush tax cut, and so forth.

There are two possible explanations here. Either the Democratic party has lurched hard to the left in the last four years or Gephardt is a shameless opportunist...

And they say Bill Clinton's slick willie? That Al Gore's constantly reinventing himself?

Is Army Secretary Thomas E. White pulling an Argyros?

As TPM readers know, White was a major player at Enron as well as Chairman and CEO of Enron Operations Corporation, a major Enron subsidiary. Here's his description of his Enron involvement in his pre-scandal Defense Department bio ...

Prior to his appointment as Secretary of the Army, Secretary White served as Vice Chairman of Enron Energy Services, the Enron Corporation subsidiary responsible for providing energy outsource solutions to commercial and industrial customers throughout the United States. Mr. White was responsible for the delivery component of energy management services, which included commodity management; purchasing, maintaining, and operating energy assets; developing and implementing energy information services; capital management; and facilities management.

Secretary White also served as a member of Enron's Executive Committee and was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer for Enron Operations Corporation. He was also responsible for the Enron Engineering and Construction Company, which managed an extensive construction portfolio with domestic and international projects.

Here's the description in the new bio ...

From 1990 to 2001, Mr. White was employed by Enron Corporation and held various senior executive positions.
Special thanks to TPM reader RC for the catch.

This is classic. The Texas GOP has sent a cease and desist letter to Kelly Fero, who runs a Texas GOP parody site called www.EnronOwnsTheGOP.com.

"Texas GOP attorney Jonathan Snare said the site was clearly intended to mimic the party's trademark symbol and Web site and mislead the public," reports the Associated Press.

My only question is how we can get Snare and his doofus boss at the Texas GOP to come work for the national Republican party.

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!

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