Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Today the Times reports that the the SEC has fined Halliburton $7.5 million for, in effect, defrauding its shareholders.

The charges stem from a change in accounting methods Halliburton made in 1998. The SEC found that the old and the new accounting methods were both permissible under accepted practices. The key, however, is that Halliburton did not inform investors of the change. That allowed Halliburton to "report annual earnings in 1998 that were 46 percent higher than they would have been had the change not been made ... [and] a substantially higher profit in 1999."

This change came just as Halliburton was struggling with falling share prices that threatened to sink its proposed merger with Dresser Industries.

Again from the Times ...

It reported a 34 percent gain in profit for the quarter, far better than other oil services companies were reporting, and Mr. Cheney said then that "Halliburton continues to make good financial progress despite uncertainties over future oil demand."

The commission said yesterday that the gain would have been just 6.7 percent without the undisclosed change in accounting policies.

This is sorta like, "Hey, we just changed the temperature reading in our refrigeration trucks from Fahrenheit to Celsius without telling you. So what's the problem?"

The SEC and the even the Times goes to some length to avoid the colloquial term for this sort of behavior: i.e., fraud. The SEC did levy the fine. And it did point the finger of blame at two lower levels Halliburton officials. Yet the SEC, in the words of the Times, "did not detail the extent to which [Cheney] was aware of the change or of the requirement to disclose it to investors." And not surprisingly, in the article, Cheney's lawyer, Terrence O'Donnell is trumpeting the results of the investigation as a clean bill of health for Cheney.

Now, with a whitewash, you might at least expect that Cheney would be denying knowledge that this took place, as implausible as it might sound. But he won't. After taking down O'Donnell's crowing about the results of the investigation, the Times asked whether Cheney "had been aware of the effect of the accounting change on the company's profits." But O'Donnell wouldn't answer.

So here you have the Vice President of the United States. His company gets caught in about as clear a case of cooking the books to inflate profits as you can imagine during the time he was CEO. (His salary and bonuses are tied to company profits.) And he won't even go to the trouble of denying that he was aware of the wrongdoing.

Can we have some more aggressive reporting on this one?

Double-decker preemption? This from Gen. Tommy Franks this morning on CNN ...

With respect to WMD, ... I've had a couple reporters ask me the same question, 'Do you think that since we didn't find this WMD, do you think it's a mistake?' And I look and hopefully give a wry smile and say "Do you think it would be better to have left this regime to build it?" I think we are far better served that the regime of Saddam Hussein no longer stands in Iraq.

Very wry.

Alan's moment draws near!

According to Reuters, Illinois Republicans have narrowed their choice of senate candidates to oppose Barack Obama to two. And one of those two is Alan Keyes. The other is a former deputy drug czar for demand reduction named Andrea Barthwell, who resigned early last month to consider a senate run.

Like Keyes', Barthwell's possible nomination would seem to indicate that the Illinois GOP is encountering some difficulty finding first-tier candidates to oppose Mr. Obama. During her brief stint at the drug czar's office one of her most noteworthy accomplishments seems to have been getting written up in a "hostile workplace memorandum" for "lewd and abusive behavior."

In the words of the Associated Press, "In front of her staff, Andrea Grubb Barthwell made repeated comments about the sexual orientation of a staff member and used a kaleidoscope to make sexually offensive gestures ..."

The staffer in question later told the investigator that he found her comments "lewd, derogatory and called into question his heterosexuality."

A kaleidoscope, you ask?

Thus the AP ...

The lewd and abusive behavior finding stemmed from a Dec. 19, 2002, staff gathering. Barthwell made comments about a staff member's sexual orientation after the staff member misspoke in an earlier conversation, the memorandum said.

"Dr. Barthwell made reference to this staff member sitting on men's laps. A kaleidoscope pointed upward was placed on a chair by Dr. Barthwell as the staff member was about to sit down," it said.

"Dr. Barthwell suggested that the staff member would want to cut the cake available for the gathering because the knife was 'long and hard' and he might 'enjoy handling it.' When the cake was cut, Dr. Barthwell referred to the pieces as 'most' or 'beefy' and she said to the staff member, 'I know you like it big and meaty.'"

Notwithstanding the strong social skills one might infer from that anecdote, the report also said that Barthwell's staff "almost uniformly stated their fear and discomfort with what they consider to be unusual behavior patterns and displays of temper."

In a short interview, Barthwell told the AP that the incident shouldn't be a factor in her candidacy. "I think it's something that was in the past, something we dealt with and it was resolved to everyone's satisfaction," she said.

So that's Barthwell.

Say what you will about Alan Keyes, I think we can be confident that when he starts saying unfortunate things about homosexuality he'll drive home his point with Aristotle and 'natural law' rather than kaleidoscopes.

Given all this, besides the fact that he's completely crazy, I think Keyes might likely be a less embarrassing figure to have in the senate than Barthwell. The man is not without his engaging qualities, after all, as one quickly realized reading Michael Lewis' masterful coverage of the 1996 presidential primary campaign in The New Republic.

You also didn't need to see Keyes diving into a portable mosh pit (set up by an as-yet-pre-iconic Michael Moore after a Republican presidential debate in 2000) and crowd surfing to the sounds of Rage Against the Machine to know that Keyes would probably be quite a guy to party with so long as the festivities were conducted in accordance with the laws of nature and nature's god.

In a classic Keyes' comment, both inane and inspired, he later defended the mosh pit episode, in the face of Gary Bauer's criticisms at the 2000 New Hampshire debate, as an ... well, it really deserves to be quoted in full ...

Admittedly, I was willing to fall into the mosh pit. But I'll tell you something. Do you know why I did that? Because I think that exemplifies the kind of trust in people that is the heart and soul of the Keyes campaign. It's about time we got back to the understanding that we trust the people of this country to do what is decent. And when you trust them, they will in fact hold you up - whether it is in terms of giving help to you when you are falling down, or caring for their own children.

So I thought that as an emblem of that trust, it was the right thing to do. And anyway, my daughter thought it was a good idea.

How can you not love the guy a little after reading that? Whackjob or not ...

In any case, with such politically viable options to choose from, you might think the Illinois Republican bosses would pick someone without so much baggage, like Jack Ryan, for instance. But according to Reuters, they'll crown either Keyes or Barthwell during their conclave tomorrow.

Do not miss this very important article that not only covers the exceptionally good reportage of Knight-Ridder reporters Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay on the WMD claims, but also the costs of aggressively bucking the administration line.

'Non-factual statements' my vice president told me ...

You'll notice that today in Hot Springs, Arkansas Vice President Dick Cheney blamed Democrats -- particularly John Kerry and John Edwards -- for high gasoline prices. The reason being that they opposed the administration energy bill.

"The only thing I can think of to do [to lower prices]," said Cheney in response to a question about gas prices, "is to keep pushing hard to enact a comprehensive energy plan on a national basis." But Kerry and Edwards, who voted against the administration's energy bill, "weren't with us in trying to come up with a national energy policy."

Yet, the Energy Department's own study of the bill -- a study requested by Senator John Sununu (R-NH) -- said its effect on prices, even years into the future, would be "negligible".

My friend Steve Clemons has been threatening for some time to start a blog of his own. And now he finally has with his new site, The Washington Note. His first post is about former CIA Director and Ahmed Chalabi advocate Jim Woolsey.

I'll be returning to this site again and again, as Steve is one of the most connected guys in DC and knows the inside line on just about everything.

I just hope he updates the site often enough.

Serendipity is part of the magic of the newspaper. Not the newspaper as a concept, or simply the work of hundreds of news professionals at the big dailies, but the physical artifact itself: the bundle of paper with numerous articles on various topics scrunched up together in the columns of a broadsheet.

The key being that even if you're focused on articles on topics A & B, you're bound to have your attention focused on articles on topics C & D, articles that actually turn out to interest you a great deal but which you wouldn't have thought to look for on your own.

The web has made that factor of serendipity all the more apparent to me because I've seen how focused -- and thus, in key respects I think, impoverished -- the web has allowed my newspaper reading to become. (Of course, the web has also allowed us all to have instant access to newspapers around the world -- something once possible only for heads of state and CEOs, if even for them).

As you no doubt know if you read this site on a regular basis, there are a host of topics that interest me a great deal -- basically, national politics, intelligence, foreign policy and military affairs. The web allows me to focus in on those topics. And I've found over time that I end up never seeing a lot of stuff I would have seen if I were still reading the paper paper.

In any case, largely for this reason I've started experimenting with getting the 'electronic' editions of the Times and the Post -- something which is now available for many papers, but not all.

Basically what you get is an exact copy of the physical newspaper on your computer, the same layout, the color, the ads, everything. The Times and the Post both use proprietary services, each of which I'd call 'okay' in terms of ease of use and navigation, though the Times set up seems marginally better. (I'm still getting the feel for them -- so that's a tentative judgment.)

One thing that strikes me about these services is that the papers don't seem at all serious about marketing them. First of all, they get almost no play on the sites themselves. And, more telling, they are outrageously expensive, as compared to the actual physical paper itself. I can't imagine I'll keep subscribing to the electronic edition of the Times, for instance, because it seems to cost as much to subscribe to as the paper paper itself.

Price aside, that almost seems galling on first principles.

In any case, here's an article today in the Times that I don't think I would have seen otherwise.

The article describes a new Spanish government proposal to finance all major religions in Spain. Spain already subsidizes the Catholic Church to the tune of $170 million a year -- no small sum in a country with a population of 40 million. Technically, the subsidy is temporary -- under an agreement brokered after the end of the Franco regime. But in practice it's permanent.

The new proposal is nominally couched in terms of equality and equity. But the Ministry of Justice and counterterrorism officials who are pushing the idea are quite open with the fact that the real aim is to wean Islamic organizations and mosques from funding from militant groups abroad.

George W. Bush, August 2nd 2004: “Let me talk about the intelligence in Iraq. First of all, we all thought we’d find stockpiles of weapons. We may still find weapons. We haven’t found them yet. Every person standing up here would say, 'Gosh, we thought it was going to be different.; As did congress, by the way. Member of both parties. And the United Nations. But what we do know is that Saddam Hussein had the capability of making weapons. And ... umm … but let me just say this to you. Knowing what I know today, we still would have gone on into Iraq. We still would have gone to make our country more secure. He had the capability of making weapons. He had terrorist ties. The decision I made was the right decision. The world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power.”

It certainly doesn't seem like there's much time to make a drama out of the Illinois senate race. But comedy, it seems, is still a possibility.

The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that the Illinois GOP is now trying to draft Alan Keyes to run against Barack Obama for the seat being vacated by retiring Senator Peter Fitzgerald.

According to a member of the Illinois Republican State Central Committee, Keyes, a Maryland resident, "said that he was open to the idea. And he felt that Obama didn't really represent the views of the people of Illinois."

For more on Keyes, the self-proclaimed 'Quintessential American', see this page on his website.

"White House and Bush campaign officials have long said that the details [of White House counterterrorism proposals] matter far less than the pictures and sounds of Mr. Bush talking in any way about his campaign against terrorism, which polls show is still his strongest card against Mr. Kerry," writes Elizabeth Bumiller in the Times today.

Ain't it the truth!

But wouldn't it be nice if we had a press which would make some effort to point out instances where the 'details' utterly belie what the president says he's doing?

The issue here is the president's supposed embrace of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, particularly on the creation of a new National Intelligence Director under whom the heads of the various intelligence agencies would operate.

I was working on another project pretty much constantly through most of the day and heard discussion of this on the cable networks, particularly CNN. What I heard there was that the president had embraced the commission's recommendation on this point while only disagreeing on whether this new head of national intelligence would be housed within the White House or have cabinet rank status outside the White House structure.

Yet it turns out that this is but one, and not at all the most significant way in which the policy the president has embraced differs from that of the commission. In fact, when you look closely at it, it's nothing like what the commission recommended at all. The president went out into the Rose Garden, said he was adopting the commission's proposals. But in fact he was doing close to the opposite, doing more or less what they said shouldn't be done.

The key point made by the commission, you'll remember, is that the new NDI would have to have budgetary authority across the various intelligence agencies and the ability to hire and fire senior managers. As the Times makes clear, the president's proposal does none of those. Indeed, the dailies do a pretty good job making this clear. The Post says that ...

Bush's statement embraced the two most significant of the 37 recommendations by the commission that investigated the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but with significant limitations. Under his plan, the new intelligence chief would lack the authority over budgets, hiring and firing that the commission had envisioned.

If anything, though, even that doesn't quite do it justice.

You'll remember that we already have a national director of intelligence, someone in charge of overseeing the work of all the various American intelligence agencies. That person is the DCI, the Director of Central Intelligence.

The only problem is that for a variety of reasons, some intentional, some historical and some incidental, the DCI does not really serve that function. In fact, the current set-up can reasonably be viewed as a worst of both worlds scenario since the DCI doesn't have this broad supervisory function and yet -- as we saw in the Iraq WMD debate -- the DCI can improperly tilt joint national intelligence findings in favor of his agency, the CIA.

Now, if you go back and read the actual 9/11 Report you'll see that the commissioners description of the organizational shortcomings of the DCI post reads more or less exactly like the description of the new post the president outlined today.

I quote from page 410 ...

The current DCI is responsible for community performance but lacks the three authorities critical for any agency head or chief executive officer: (1) control over purse strings, (2) the ability to hire or fire senior managers, and (3) the ability to set standards for the information infrastructure and personnel.

And it gets better.

The Times article notes that the president said that while the new NID wouldn't have full control of the purse strings, he or she would have a 'coordinating' role in budgeting.

Yet, in the very next paragraph of the report, the commissioners note how this doesn't cut it.

Again on page 410 (emphasis added) ...

The only budget power of the DCI over agencies other than the CIA lies in coordinating the budget requests of the various intelligence agencies into a single program for submission to Congress.The overall funding request of the 15 intelligence entities in this program is then presented to the president and Congress in 15 separate volumes.

Now, for what it's worth, I'm not at all happy with the way that the dynamics of the election year are rushing the process of adopting this list of recommendations which, at the end of the day, is still the product of a small group of people, done with relatively little open debate. But there's still the issue of truth in advertising and whether the press -- and particularly the electronic press -- only pays attention to the "pictures and sounds" rather than the details of what the White House is actually doing.

The Post's Tuesday editorial notes this ... well, how shall we say it ... lack of candor, but still refers to it in bland terms.

Saith the Post: "Mr. Bush cast the plan he unveiled yesterday, to create a director of national intelligence and a national counterterrorism center, as embracing the commission's recommendations. In fact the administration's proposals differ in critical respects."

What's more, this is such a pattern for this White House that you'd think the Kerry campaign, and the Dems on the Hill, would get hold of this as a pretty manageable critique of this administration: That is, you just can't trust them.

What this White House says it's doing and what it's actually doing seldom turn out to be the same thing.