Editor’s Blog

On Wednesday we mentioned

On Wednesday we mentioned that Assistant Secretary of State Jim Kelly would be speaking to the foreign press yesterday and that he’d certainly get asked about the delay in the appointment of Doug Paal to the AIT Directoship in Taipei.

He did. Here’s how it went.

Q Jay Chen, Central News Agency, Taiwan. Sir, four months ago at the same podium, you told us that an announcement could be expected about the new AIT director in Taipei. I wonder whether that statement still holds true today.

MR. KELLY: Yes, it does. (Laughter.)

Q When can we expect an announcement? And specifically, is Douglas Paal still being considered for that job?

MR. KELLY: I can’t comment on any appointments that might be made before they are made, but I was hopeful then and have been disappointed that we haven’t been able to make an announcement during that time. But I, frankly, do expect that we will be able to make an announcement within the next few weeks. But you know, it’s the nature of the world and of the bureaucracy that until something actually happens, it doesn’t happen. So I’m just telling you my best guess and expectation that there should be an announcement of a representative to be director of the American Institute in Taipei before long.

We also have a report from the public event at which Kelly and renowned China-hand Chas Freeman spoke out on the oft-on-TPM-mentioned New Republic article.

(Note: Unlike the passage above, what follows is not a verbatim transcript. This comes from contemporaneous notes taken by an attendee at the luncheon in question.)

Written Question from the Audience: What are your views of the recent New Republic article regarding Douglas Paal, and do you feel that the issues raised in the article are legitimate issues for the public to raise?

Answer, James Kelly:

I have just returned from Asia and have not read the article. In fact,
I haven’t read the American Spectator, the National Enquirer, or the
New Republic since I’ve been back — but I’m glad to see that hack
journalism is alive and well. (laughter) The one thing I do know is
that this guy didn’t do good fact checking because he has me down
working for the Bush administration — and I’ve taken another look at my
bio, and I don’t see any other Bush administration on the list other
than this one. Makes you wonder about the rest of it (laughter). I
suspect that the New Republic has gone to new lows on this one.

Then — Chas Freeman, the moderator, chimed in:

(Chas Freeman) I have a few words to say about this. I think that we
as a nation should be very concerned when a publication like the New
Republic attacks a person who is committing himself to public service,
and who has been a public servant, and who could make a lot more money
outside of public service — well, this kind of public questioning is
disgusting of someone so honorable. The New Republic is engaged in
slime journalism as far as I’m concerned.

Following up on the

Following up on the previous post, it’s striking how pitiful and disrespected a job the Massachusetts governorship has become under Republican occupancy. The post has barely had an elected occupant in the last decade, but rather been passed on like a … well, i’m not going to finish the metaphor. But I think you know where I’m going.

Consider the list.

Bill Weld got reelected to the position in 1994. But he resigned the job in 1997. Notionally, he resigned the governorship to take the Ambassadorship to Mexico. But actually, we all knew he wasn’t going to get that position either. In truth, he resigned as governor because he was bored.

That left the job to Lieutenant Governor Paul Cellucci. He managed to win the job in his own right in 1998. But apparently he didn’t think the job was such great shakes either. Because he resigned the job to assume the illustrious post of Ambassador to Canada. At least he actually got the job.

That left the job to Celluci’s Lieutenant Governor Jane Swift. Swift’s tenure has been unremarkable at best and most known for her decision to go on (entirely appropriate) maternity leave.

Maybe the big questions for Mass. gubernatorial candidates — especially the Republicans — should be whether they plan to serve out their terms — even if they find something good on TV.

These are some rough

These are some rough days for the pooh-bahs of Cambridge, Mass.

First you’ve got the continuing travails of Doris Kearns Goodwin, who got a rather feeble defense from Natasha Berger at Prospect Online a few days back. Other Harvard Yard/Boston Globe pooh-bahs and sub-pooh-bahs are circling the wagons for Goodwin, but really it’s not pretty.

Now Bob Reich is apparently also in the soup. According to this article in the Boston Herald, Reich told the Herald a few months back that Bill Clinton had encouraged him to get into the Massachusetts governor’s race.

At a speech yesterday Clinton said pretty clearly that this wasn’t true:

I like (Reich) fine, but I didn’t like the implication that somehow I encouraged him into the race when you already had one guy in the race that had supported my policies, and at critical points (Reich) didn’t. I wouldn’t have done that.

This runs pretty deep. Lots of stuff public and private. Reich has burned a lot of bridges with the Democratic establishment, and with Clinton in particular, over the last couple years. (The contrast with Steve Grossman, one of his Mass. gubernatorial opponents, is total). He became a more and more pointed critic of the Clintonian policy agenda as it came into focus in the late 1990s. But it may be fair to say that the policy Reich and Clinton disagreed about most was Clinton’s policy of remaining in office during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

I just got done

I just got done reading the advance copies of an article — set to appear around the first of April — which is sure to take a lot of the shine off President Bush’s promise to “bring a new tone to Washington.” Don’t get me wrong. There’s no big scandal reported. Just a great investigative look into the inner-workings of the Bush White House.

More news on this just before the piece hits the newsstands.

Still more back and

Still more back and forth on the long, long, long anticipated appointment of Douglas H. Paal to serve as America’s chief envoy to Taiwan, the island nation at the center of one of the most volatile crisis points in the world.

The publication of this article in The New Republic three weeks ago at first threatened to torpedo Paal’s chances for the Taiwan appointment. But State Department and White House officials quickly regrouped and dug in their heels, insisting that Paal’s appointment go through. Hot-spots of opposition to Paal’s appointment — like the Office of the Vice President — either got on board or were muzzled.

Since then, behind the scenes, there’s been a flurry of letters written back and forth and last-ditch politicking.

Here’s a bit of it.

Days after the TNR article appeared, James Kelly, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, attacked the article and The New Republic at a speaking engagement in Washington, calling it among other things an example of “hack journalism.”

Yesterday, Washington Asia-hand Steven Clemons, Executive Vice President of the New America Foundation, wrote Kelly a letter criticizing his cavalier dismissal of the ethical and legal questions raised in the article. The letter contains a description of Kelly’s remarks.

(According to this State Department website, Kelly is scheduled to address the foreign media today — March 14th — at 2:15 PM at the Washington foreign press center. He’ll likely be asked about the Doug Paal appointment.)

Here’s the earlier letter Senator Jesse Helms sent to Kelly’s boss, Colin Powell, asking for an explanation of, or response to, the questions raised in The New Republic article.

Because of the Helms’ letter, and other developments, State Department officials have now agreed to hold a private briefing for Senate opponents of the Paal appointment to discuss the questions surrounding it.

That meeting is expected to take place in the next several days. But Paal’s opponents in the Senate believe the administration’s mind is made up and it’s a done deal.

The rapidly-growing Talking Points

The rapidly-growing Talking Points Memo Document Collection now has its own website on the TPM server. Click here for a quick description of the TPMDC.

More from the annals

More from the annals of foreign agency.

In the coming days we’ll be discussing the captivating tale of Richard A. Schechter and LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae, L.L.P and their work on behalf Bogoljub Karic and the Karic Group of companies. Here’s a link to the Karic family foundation.

In the bastard form of crony capitalism which prevailed during Slobodan Milosevic’s decade-plus reign, Bogoljub Karic served as crony-in-chief. He rose to riches and fame under the Milosevic regime; he operated as Milosevic’s personal banker; he published Milosevic’s wife’s memoirs and loaned her his private jet. Karic even served in Milosevic’s cabinet during the Kosovo war and, according to the February 9th, 2002 Daily Telegraph, Serb authorities still believe Karic is serving as the Milosevic family’s banker.

Those fascinating documents are still to come. But for now let’s deal with some unfinished business, or rather, continue a story we started a little while back.

As regular readers will remember, on March 2nd we discussed the lobbying which Jefferson Waterman International did for the Republic of Croatia, particularly with regards to laying the media groundwork for their military reconquest of the Krajina region. There was also a follow-up on March 6th.

We don’t want to give readers the idea that the Croats were the only ones playing the foreign lobbying game in Washington in the 1990s. So today we have filings from foreign agents who represented the two pseudo-states Serbs carved out from Croatia and Bosnia — the Serbian Krajina, repped by Zoran Djordjevic, and the Republika Srpska, repped by Danielle Sremac.

In any case, the Serbs and the Croats both had folks working for them in DC. The basic difference seems to be that the Croats had a more professional operation. They had established firms — with no obvious ethnic connection to Croatia — working for them for big bucks. The Serbs tended to have Serbs or Serbian-Americans working on their behalf in DC. And often they were paid, at least in part, with funds collected from Serbian-Americans.

The really interesting figure here is Danielle Sremac.

Sremac made frequent television appearances in the 1990s as a supporter of the Serb position in the Bosnian and Kosovo conflicts. More recently she hits the airwaves as the Director of something called the Institute for Balkan Affairs.

Seldom noted in these various media appearances was the fact that Sremac was the paid agent of the Republika Srpska (RS), the Serb secessionist pseudo-state ruled by indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic. And she signed on to represent RS, as these documents show, in July 1994, at what can only be called the era when the RS was committing the worst of its excesses, war crimes, and miscellaneous other crimes against humanity type activities.

I never read the

I never read the Slate Diary of Robert Klingler, the supposed American CEO of a major European auto manufacturer, later exposed as a fraud. But the article born of the investigation into the hoax is one of the most interesting little detective stories I’ve read in a long time. You really must read it.

The upshot of the story is that ‘Robert Klingler’ is not some anonymous schmo but almost certainly a fellow named Ravi Desai, a storied and rather whacked impresario from the dot.com era.

Desai himself is fascinating to learn about — and one learns a good bit about him from this article. Many folks manage to be highly educated and fabulously and legitimately successful. Not a few are able to live as frauds and hucksters who pad their resumes with myriad non-existent accomplishments and credentials. There is a select breed, however, able and for some odd reason perhaps best understood through the modalities of psychiatry inclined to be both. Desai apparently falls into that category — the few, the proud, the ridiculous.

The author of the article, Jack Shafer, has been my editor at Slate for the last year or more. And occasionally, frustratingly so, since he’s constantly sending me back to do more reporting, more interviewing — often long after I feel enough’s been done. But reading this article, I see that Jack lives by what he preaches. And it also makes me wish Jack were doing more of these investigative type pieces.

Of course, I guess there’s one more possibility yet unmentioned. Perhaps Jack’s been yearning to write such a piece for some time. And the original hoax diary was just a ploy to make it possible — cunninngly and sinisterly devised as a joint enterprise by the fertile minds of Ravi Desai and Jack Shafer!!!

Obviously the Public Citizen

Obviously, the Public Citizen report on Army Secretary Thomas White didn’t come out today, as I said it would previously.

TPM regrets the failed prediction, based on a tip from someone I’m now referring to as the source formerly known as reliable. ‘The source’ will regret it even more, once TPM gets a hold of him. But that’s another matter.

However, I am assured by, well, let’s say extremely informed sources that the report is still coming out. And there’s still a good chance it’ll be out by the end of the week.

Back during the 2000

Back during the 2000 campaign I participated in what turned out to be an extremely contentious online debate with Micah Sifry about the Nader campaign.

Sifry’s a hardcore Naderite and if you’ve read more than two or three TPM posts you know I’m not. In any case, I don’t agree with many of Sifry’s views. But if you’re on the leftward end of the TPM readership, check out his new book, Spoiling for a Fight: Third Party Politics in America.

The folks at Public

The folks at Public Citizen are telling people in DC that they have a big report coming out on Tuesday about former Enron executive and current Army Secretary Thomas White. They’re using words like “bombshell” and telling some it’ll force White to resign.

I haven’t seen it, so I can’t tell you whether this is more than just bluster.

I have said, though, that I think White’s in trouble. Not because his ouster is merited (though I suspect it is), but because it must be looking more and more convenient to the political wizards at the White House.

Im writing tonight from

I’m writing tonight from out of town, so can someone go over to the Post offices and check to see if Karl Rove and/or Mitch Daniels has hacked into the paper’s server. I’m not sure how else to explain this risible clunker by Rob Norton in the Outlook section. It’s Fineman with green eye shades.

Admittedly, Outlook is for opinion pieces. But coming after this sop it’s hard to know what to think.

Did the Posts Glenn

Did the Post’s Glenn Kessler write this article (“Past Rhetoric Haunts Senate Democrats“)? Or was it Mitch Daniels? A collaborative effort? You be the judge.

A little follow-up on

A little follow-up on Doug Paal’s nomination to serve as AIT Director in Taipei.

Earlier this week, in a letter dated March 4th, Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) sent a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell telling the Secretary:

The February 21st article in The New Republic regarding Douglas Paal leads me to express my deep concern about his potential appointment to direct the American Institute in Taiwan.

Later he writes that the “assertions made in The New Republic … warrant further inquiry.”

Helms goes on to request Powell’s personal response to four questions he outlines based on issues raised in the New Republic article.

A copy of the letter has now been added to the TPM Document Collection.

Given the recent back-and-forth

Given the recent back-and-forth on the Croatian war, I thought it made sense to focus this installment of the TPM booklist on the 1990s crisis of the former Yugoslavia, what Misha Glenny rightly calls the Third Balkan War.

There are scores of books written on the Balkan Crisis, but today we’re recommending two. The first is Misha Glenny’s The Fall of Yugoslavia: The Third Balkan War. This is the book for getting the history. Glenny has since written another more broad-ranging book, The Balkans: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers 1809-1999, which I have not read. But Fall of Yugoslavia is a masterful introduction to just what happened in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. And why things went so horribly wrong.

Glenny is a print and electronic journalist and he is steeped in the colorful particulars of life in 1990s Yugoslavia as only a working journalist who was there can be. He weaves this together with a brisk, engaging narrative, as well as a rich command of the history of the region. There’s nothing forced about Glenny’s mixture of history and contemporary reporting. The effect is pure elucidation.

Occasionally, reading Glenny, I sensed that he might be too even-handed, finding at least some small measure of blame and sympathy for almost every group in the drama, if not every actor. But in general I don’t think there’s any faulting him on this ground.

What’s most powerful about the book — aside from its crisp narrative and edifying effect — is the way it shows just how many people had to act willfully, irresponsibly, and impatiently, in order to lay the groundwork for the horrors that followed. Not just the bad guys, but in many instances the people who would later prove to be the victims — the Bosnians, the Croats, et. al.

Foolish, irresponsible actions early on by the Bosnian Muslim political leadership, for instance, don’t cut away a sliver of responsibility from the Bosnian Serbs for the atrocities they later committed. But Glenny gives you a sense of how one was connected to the other. And the same might be said of the impetuous, early diplomacy of the Germans which, arguably, had similar consequences.

My one misgiving about this book is that it’s concerned largely with what happened in the very early 1990s. Glenny updated it twice, most recently in 1996. But the essence of what he’s writing about is the very early 1990s, before the post-Dayton, American phase of the war began.

The other book we’re recommending today is Love Thy Neighbor by Peter Maass. This is a quite different sort of book. It’s about the war in Bosnia. Not the whole of Yugoslavia. It’s not a history, either. It’s a war reporter’s memoir. If you’re looking for the big-picture about the Balkans in the 1990s or the what happened in Kosovo or Croatia or inside Serbia, this isn’t the book — though it contains important information on each of those topics.

This is an interior story, what Maass himself saw. And it is by far the best piece of writing I’ve read of any of the books written on the 1990s Balkans. By far the best.

Reading it you see how the war in Bosnia was tragic in the deepest, most regret-inspiring and folly-filled sense of the word. This book will make you feel moments of agony. It will also make you laugh. Perhaps most uncomfortably, it will sometimes join these two feelings and reactions quite closely in time. I would say it is the best piece of war reporting I’ve ever read. And I believe it is. Only covering the Bosnian war, as Maass describes it, wasn’t exactly a war so much as a loosely-organized, long-running series of individual and group murders.

This book is humane, and comic, and horrifying in each of the right measures and moments. I cannot recommend it more strongly. If you read it I think it will change you. Perhaps forever.

Social Security may not

Social Security may not be the most captivating topic around. But it is one of the most important. Here’s a new Social Security info page from the folks at Campaign for America’s Future.

Who are they? Reliably liberal. And on this topic, completely right.

Think of CAF as the liberal Democrat’s version of the DLC (aka Democratic Leadership Council).

Definitely stop by the site.

I just caught a

I just caught a minute of Ari Fleischer’s daily briefing today. And what caught my attention was the back-and-forth on Army Secretary Thomas White.

Fleischer ‘defended’ White against new charges that he had not divested himself of Enron holdings, as he had promised he would during his confirmation hearing. But he ‘defended’ him only in that highly circumscribed Washington sense of the word that might be loosely translated into the American vernacular as ‘hung out to dry.’

In any case, to my ears, the defense sounded distressingly weak. It sounded to me like ‘we’re sure White’s trying to fulfill his promise, we’re sure he wants to, he’d better, don’t ask me any more questions.’

If I were Thomas White, I’d be quite nervous right now. Not only does it look like he’s in quite a good bit of political trouble. But you have to figure also that he’s beginning to look a rather convenient scapegoat to Karl Rove and the rest of the folks at the White House political office.

To date, White is the only senior member of the administration that we know was deeply enmeshed in Enron wrong-doing. Not illegality, mind you. At least not necessarily. But the sort of corporate bad practices, while an executive at Enron, which at the very least everyone seems to agree are blameworthy.

Perhaps we’ll find that other members of the administration are similarly tainted. But thus far we just have not seen proof of that. I’d imagine that the administration would like nothing better than to demonstrate zero-tolerance for Enron-type shenanigans by tossing some bad-actor overboard — particularly if they could find someone who fit the bill and yet was utterly expendable.

Just off the top of my head, I think they’d be looking for maybe, say, a 2nd level appointee at a major department, someone of some consequence, but not anyone with deep connections to the principals (or principles) of the administration.

Like I said, if I were Thomas White …

Weve already spoken at

We’ve already spoken at some length about ‘astroturf’ organizing. Let’s now discuss one of the great unspoken scandals of DC and the newspaper world: Op-Ed payola.

What do I mean? Far more Op-Eds than you realize are bought and paid for. I don’t mean by scholar X whose work is funded by corporation Y or union Z. That may be a problem, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about OpEds which are produced in lobbying chop-shops.

First they’re written up by people at the lobbying firm. Then the lobbying firm finds some pliable economist, or scientist, ex-congressman or ex-diplomat and offers them, say, $1000 to sign their name to it. Once they get someone to bite they send it off to the papers.

I’ve talked to folks who ply at this enterprise and it’s pretty common. From what I’ve been told it’s very hard, if not impossible, to pull this off with most of the premium dailies. But many regional papers apparently either don’t know about this or don’t care. And that’s where these bought and paid for pieces get placed.

This is one of the fun topics you’ll see mentioned in installment two of Great Moments in Foreign Agency. Today we have the Zaire Program 1991, which DC foreign lobbying shop van Kloberg & Associates prepared for then-Zairian dictator Mobutu. (Zaire is now The Democratic Republic of the Congo.)

Give the whole dossier a look. But give particular attention to the points highlighted with red arrows.

How over is Gary

How over is Gary Condit? Even I don’t have anything more to say about him. Of course, on second thought, his wife’s hilarious defamation suit against the rockin’ NBC series Law & Order could still produce a few good gags.

If recent reports that

If recent reports that Robert Ray may have violated federal law didn’t convince you that he is an incorrigible pettifogger and loathsome schemer, then his much-ballyhooed ‘final report‘ on the Clinton investigation should do the trick.

Here’s the key point: There is a technical legal term for prosecutors who publicly claim that they had enough evidence to prosecute and win a conviction and yet decided not to do so. They’re called liars.

Liars, liars, liars.

This is the classic Starr/Ray tactic of trying to win cheap in the court of public opinion what they couldn’t win in a real court.

What’s pitiful about Ray is that he actually seems to think that playing the anti-Clinton card might help him pocket a Senate seat from New Jersey. But even the antis don’t think or care much about Ray.

Let’s just hope this sorry wretch decides to run.

Ive had a number

I’ve had a number requests, actually a number of demands, over the last few days that I address the criticisms, which appeared on another website, of this earlier post of mine on Croatia.

You can read the criticisms for yourself. But, as I read them at least, the criticizer, Ms. Radic, takes issue with me on three basic grounds. 1) What the UN peacekeepers did or didn’t do in Croatia’s Krajina region. 2) Whether Croatia had a right to retake the Krajina. And 3) whether the Croatian government had a right to attempt to influence the American government to attain its objectives.

The first criticism seems easiest to deal with. Radic says the UN peacekeepers had nothing to do with ending the fighting in the Krajina. Rather, it was a product of a stalemate between JNA forces (the Yugoslav national army under de facto Serb control) and the nascent Croatian army. Is this true? Absolutely. But I never said otherwise. I said they were brought in to “maintain” the peace. And for better or worse the way peacekeeping always works is that a cessation of hostilities — arrived at by whatever means — has been arrived at before peacekeepers arrive. So here, we don’t disagree. Radic has simply — and I say with all due respect — misunderstood what I said.

The second two points are more complex and also related to one another.

It’s always difficult to say that one or another state has a “right” to this or that strip of land. But to the extent that any state has such a right, I believe Croatia had such a right with regards to the Krajina. (I welcome anyone to find anything in the original post to the contrary.) Only it’s not quite so simple. The Croat reconquest of the Krajina has always been a point of controversy and conflicted opinions for the following reasons …

The Croats have always had the reputation as relative good guys in the 1990s Balkan wars. And, by and large, I believe this is an accurate perception. But the reconquest of the Krajina was the one instance in which they took actions not that dissimilar to those of their enemies. To the best of my knowledge nothing occurred in the Krajina truly equivalent to the worst excesses that occured in Bosnia. But it wasn’t pretty either. A number of high-ranking Croat military officers are now under indictment by the Hague war crimes tribunal for things that occurred during the offensive. And contrary to what Ms. Radic says, most experts do not believe that the misdeeds that occurred were simply the work of a few rogue commanders.

So you have a military action that was largely justified in general terms but in which a number of bad acts did occur.

Now let’s discuss a few other areas of complexity. What happened in the Krajina raises the following question. If country A has already attacked country B and employed criminal measures (as the Serbs had) what standards do we apply to country B if they fight back? Do we demand that country B follow all the niceties of the rules of war in fighting back, even if we were unwilling or unable to save them from the first assault? On the face of it that doesn’t seem fair. (I think this question raises itself even more forcefully in the case of Kosovo, which hopefully we’ll discuss at a later point.)

There’s also another point which should be raised. In the early and middle 1990s the US government, through indirect means, provided substantial assistance to the Croats in their efforts to build a modern army. And when the Croats did actually go into the Krajina the US government decided essentially to turn a blind eye. There were a number of reasons for this. But the most important was that the strength of the empowered Croat army bloodied the nose of the JNA and got Milosevic et.al. to come to the Bosnian bargaining table. The US very much wanted some other serious army on the ground in the former Yugoslavia and it ended up being the Croats.

Finally, the whole UN regime in Yugoslavia in the middle 1990s did range from the useless to the scandalous, with UN officials making demands, while not having the authority or the nerve to back up their points with force. One need only read one of the countless books on the crisis in Bosnia to see many examples of this. The US of all countries is least on the line for this, since in the end it was American leadership and American arms which eventually shut down the JNA and Milosevic.

So where does this all leave us? Did the Croatians have the right in the abstract to retake the Krajina? Yes. In the actual circumstance? Yes, but it was a complicated matter and in the event it was not done without significant numbers of war crimes, atrocities and instances of ethnic cleansing. For my part I am quite comfortable calling these “quite ugly consequences.” Looked at from a distance, and taking into account the totality of the Balkan War of the 1990s, I’d say that the reconquest of the Krajina was more part of the solution than part of the problem. But that doesn’t absolve what occurred there. And it’s a close run thing in any case.

Now to the final point, did the Croats have the right to try to influence American policy?

This point brings all the other ones together. Because, properly read, I don’t think my post expresses an opinion on this at all. The confusion here may be partly the result of writing by an American being read (for which I’m very glad) by people overseas. But the whole thrust of the post was not aimed at the Croats but rather the American consultants who were working for them.

The Croats can do whatever they believe is in their national interest, especially if it does not violate American law, which this did not. My beef is with Americans who — for money — are willing to take a hand in — however indirectly — actions which are not only frowned upon but which are violations of the rules of war. The Croats live in a dangerous neighborhood. Well-paid consultants in DC don’t.

If you go back and read the documents I posted, I think readers will see quite clearly that the authors of the consulting proposal knew what they were talking about — ethnic cleansing type activities — and used euphemisms and talk-arounds to describe them. Is this illegal? No. But I think Americans should know that these are the types of services which foreign countries can buy in Washington, DC. For a price.

So, to sum up a long-winded response … Radic misunderstood me on certain points. And on others she was expressing understandable outrage — just not at anything I actually said. If anyone has any questions, I’d recommend that they read my comments and her response.

P.S. To those who sent in some of the more strident comments, I’d recommended you be more civil and — even more — important, read more carefully. It’ll save you endless embarrassment.

All is okay with

All is okay with TPM, just reporting from the road (today in NYC). More posts later today, including another installment of great moments in foreign agency. Today the Zaire Program 1991.

What shall we call

What shall we call it? Great moments in foreign agency?

One of the points of Talking Points is to give you a peek behind the curtain and let you see how Washington really works. Well, here’s a revealing, tragicomic, ugly example.

There’ve been a number of items in the news of late about the on-going efforts to bring various Balkan war criminals to account.

But let’s go back to 1992 and ’93.

Back then, one TPM World Exclusive!  You heard it hear first!  Must Credit.of the contested areas was the part of Croatia called the Krajina. This was essentially an ethnic Serb enclave within the borders of Croatia and as you might imagine this became a volatile crisis point in the fighting between Serbs and Croats. In any case, United Nations peace-keepers were sent into the region in the beginning of 1992 to maintain the peace. And did a reasonably good, though by no means perfect, job at it.

For a while, the matter was thus placed in suspense, until 1995 when then-Croatian President Franjo Tudjman gave the UN Mission an ultimatum to leave. Eventually the Croatians rolled in and retook the region with some quite ugly consequences.

As we noted a couple months ago, Croatia got help laying the groundwork for this rampage from a DC PR and lobbying shop called Jefferson Waterman International. JWI agreed to help the Croatians deal with whatever bad press might ensue from reasserting their ethnic rights in the region.

So how exactly does a lobbying outfit make this sort of pitch to a foreign head of state? How do public relations and war crimes mix? Well, today we’re proud to show you.

Click here to see JWI’s proposal for yourself. Trust me, it’s worth a look.

Heres an interesting article

Here’s an interesting article on an important topic you’ve probably never heard about: American POWs forced into slave labor in Japan during World War II, their current efforts to seek judicial relief in the courts, and the State Department’s long-running effort to stand in their way.

The piece is in the Taipei Times and it’s by Steve Clemons. You can find links to articles on this and other related topics at Steve’s site, steveclemons.com.

Lets get another ball

Let’s get another ball rolling. At what point does Lou Dobbs of Lou Dobbs Moneyline become so comically biased that it becomes a problem?

Yes, it’s business news. And right-wingers would have a good point in arguing that the 30 minute ‘let’s all love the environment’ program that CNN used to run on the weekend tilted as much left as Moneyline does to the right.

But then the tree-hugger show didn’t double as the evening newscast, did it?

More on this to come.

Its bad enough that

It’s bad enough that the likes of Tom Synhorst can clog up your phone with annoying pre-recorded phone messages from Tom DeLay or ambush candidates like John McCain with lurid under-the-radar smears. But should he be able to do it on the government’s dime?

He thinks so. And apparently he’s right.

Synhorst is now behind something called Constituent Calls — a joint venture of Synhorst’s company DCI (now Feather, Larson & Synhorst-DCI) and some other outfit called CallingPost. Constituent Calls is basically a phone-banking operation specializing is peppering your phone with prerecorded messages from your congressman or senator. They can pick a special target audience from amongst their constituents and even get a guarantee on how many people will be annoyed by their message.

Just listen how great it is …

Immediate feed back from constituents is another advantage of this service. Feedback can come in the form of a response keyed in by the constituent receiving the message, or calls to a phone number given in the message. Additionally, you are guaranteed that 80% of your targeted audience will hear your message. We can also send your message during specific times of day, in order to reach people at home or target answering machines.

Now here’s the key. The Constituent Calls website says your Rep or Senator can get the government to pay for this crap out of their franking allowance — the government money members of Congress use to send constituent mail.

Again, from the horse’s mouth …

Automated calls are considered unsolicited mass communications and can be paid for out of the Members’ Representational Allowance when conducted under the guidelines set forth by the Franking Commission. For more information, contact the Franking Commission and/or the Office of Member Services directly.

Is this the best use of government money?

Does this annoy you as much as it annoys me?

Is Ari Fleischer long

Is Ari Fleischer long for this town?

After today’s antics (blaming Middle East violence on Bill Clinton), and then getting snapped back so hard his neck is probably still vibrating, maybe not.

Obnoxious and irresponsible is one thing. Offensive and incompetent is quite another.

The bill of particulars on Fleischer has been growing for some time. But no one is going to be laughing about this one. I’d say the writing’s on the wall.

Will it be Senior Counselor Fleischer? Or just Fleischer Associates?

Ari Fleischer: outta the loop; outta luck; outta time.

A few days ago

A few days ago I went to a lunch panel where two luminaries — one of the right and one of the left — discussed the cultural contradictions of capitalism. You know, morals and the market, creative destruction, that sort of stuff.

Well, I think we have our test case.

On March 13th Fox is broadcasting a live boxing match called “battle of the bad girls.” It’s former ice-skater, knee-capper, and accidental pornstar Tonya Harding vs. suburban mattress-back, attempted murderess and darling of alienated university post-modernists Amy Fisher, AKA the Long Island Lolita.

A long-time reader CR

A long-time reader (CR) writes in to ask, just what is this “astroturf” or phony grass-roots organizing you keep talking about?

Good question. Let me see if I can answer it.

Start with the premise that any organized interest group or corporation can hire some shark who served a few terms in the House and have him go to the Hill and lobby. But what really gets Reps’ and Senators’ attention is when the issue being discussed is one that people care about back home. One that can get the switchboard humming with calls from the district.

That matters.

If angry voters are pissed because Senator X isn’t supporting or opposing amendment Y, that matters a helluva lot more than the lobbyist’s $2000 suit, manicured fingernails, and gaudy watch.

Astroturf organizing begins with the following question, why can’t we buy that kind of support too?

Well, it turns out you can! Or at least, sorta. Astroturf organizing describes a series of services consultants provide to simulate the existence of grass-roots interest or concern with an issue. It’s fake grass-roots, thus ‘astroturf.’

So how is it down? Basically, with a mix of phone-banking, setting up of front groups meant to imitate citizen groups, media campaigns, and the like. Perhaps even demonstrations if a sufficient number of rent-a-protestors can be assembled. On top of this, mix in some clever new angles for your message… like maybe pollution actually counts as paid speech and is thus constitutionally protected! These guys are very creative.

In any case, astroturf originated in the field operations run by the tobacco companies and the gun lobby. Again, phony groups, paid-rabble-rousing, and so forth. But obviously this wasn’t all phony. With guns at least, there obviously is a very real constituency for anti-gun-control activism. (Much less with tobacco, of course. And that’s where the art was really developed. More on this later.) But the folks who originated the skills got them down to such an art that they started selling them to other organized interests. The health care industry. Energy deregulators. Microsoft. And on and on.

A typical ‘astroturf’ effort might have a given turfster receiving a certain amount of cash for delivering X number of citizen calls to a certain congressperson, yelling at them to oppose this or that piece of legislation.

Don’t place caps on my electricity prices! I WON’T STAND FOR IT!!!!!!!!

There’s also something called ‘grass-tops’ organizing. This is what Ralph Reed got in trouble for when he was allegedly lobbying candidate Bush on Microsoft’s behalf, while also working for candidate Bush. (I have some doubts whether this was the whole story, but we’ll get to that later.) Grass-tops is when you get a certain number of community leaders, bigwigs and so forth to contact a candidate or office-holder on behalf of some issue. So this is the tops not the roots; you get the idea.

The key to the ‘astroturf’ world is that pols are continually getting wiser and wiser to the turfsters’ games. A good staffer can spot turf a mile away and once it’s identified as such it loses all its value. So the turfsters are constantly developing more and more subtle ways to imitate and fake citizen interest.

More later on how American politics is becoming more and more like 1970s baseball, with astroturf crowding out natural grass.

As a general matter

As a general matter I’m not at all well-inclined to those who’ve tried to argue that Islam is somehow an inherently violent religion. I don’t think that’s true.

But the following does occur to me. One hears quite often that ‘Islam’ means ‘peace.’ Not just the religion, but the word itself. My understanding though is that it means something closer to the English word ‘submission.’

Similar, yes. But hardly the same thing.

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