Editors’ Blog

Two cheers for Tim

Two cheers for Tim Noah. And complete agreement regarding celebrity historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

As regular readers know, I’m always trying to put my history doctorate to some use on TPM. (Well, okay, in a few months it’ll be a history doctorate. But then historians in the public square seem to play pretty fast and loose these days. So maybe it’s okay to just say it’s a doctorate?)

Anyway, Doris Kearns Goodwin and plagiarism.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, I think mistakes can be made either through innocence or sloppiness or disorganization. I think one can have a sentence or a phrase of someone else’s bubble back into one’s consciousness a few months later and not remember it’s not yours. As I wrote then, I think this should be called misdemeanor plagiarism. Worthy of a good whack on wrist, but not a firing or a career-ending offence.

What drives me &$#%#*$ nuts, though, is when TV historians have the unmitigated gall to say that this is actually okay to do. It’s not. No one has ever said that it is okay to do. Not until Steve Ambrose at least.

As Noah points out (as long as we’re being fastidious with handing out credit, the Kearns story was broken by Bo Crader in the Weekly Standard), Kearns says that you can lift a few sentences or a whole graf as long as you toss the author a bone in the form of a footnote.

It’s not. For better or worse, I was trained as a professional historian. And no one thinks this is true. Footnotes are about ideas and sources, not prose. That’s why we have quotes. What people do sometimes wonder about is if you are very heavily reliant on someone else’s ideas and merely toss them a footnote. At some point that crosses the line too. Not into plagiarism, but at least into scholarly inappropriateness.

No one thinks a footnote covers stealing prose.

There should be a reckoning for this sort of gall and deception.

Even more clues that

Even more clues that Ken Lay was in the running for a variety of cabinet and ambassadorial appointments. (See this earlier post for speculation about why this may matter.) In addition to the possible posts noted on Monday, this article from a year ago in Business Week says Lay was being considered for Treasury.

Wouldn’t that have gone well.

I like Don Rumsfeld

I like Don Rumsfeld too, but … Well, a few folks have fallen for this press release from the Sec Def’s office calling out a bunch of big media outlets for getting it wrong about whether or not he owned Enron stock.

He doesn’t mention Talking Points (sniffle, sniffle), but the list would have included us too since we reported that Rummy owned a bit of the ‘Ron back on January 2nd.

First let’s stipulate that whether Rumsfeld owns a few shares of Enron really doesn’t matter to this whole scandal. But let’s look at the dispute, which doesn’t take much more than some elementary logic to unpack and see that Rumsfeld — or more likely his flack — is full of it.

Rumsfeld’s press release starts off by saying …

Mr. Rumsfeld does not own any shares in Enron.

Contrary to the Associated Press, Washington Times, USA Today and New York Times stories, to the best of his knowledge he has never owned shares in Enron, and definitely has not since he divested most of his holdings on reentering government in January 2001. Prior to joining the government, Mr. Rumsfeld had funds managed by professional money managers, including index funds, so it is conceivable that one of those funds may have owned shares in Enron, but not to his knowledge. At present, he has a blind trust and is not aware of the investments in the trust.

Wow! Sounds pretty good. Rumsfeld didn’t own any Enron stock.

But wait. There’s another paragraph.

Mr. Rumsfeld’s accountant advises that for a period of time, until immediately after Mr. Rumsfeld was sworn in as Secretary of Defense, Mrs. Rumsfeld had an investment with an organization that designed a fund to replicate the S&P 500 index, and that for a period Enron was a component of that fund, along with several hundred other securities. As an investor in that fund, Mrs. Rumsfeld owned 100 shares of Enron stock before Mr. Rumsfeld came into the government.

Okay, so wait.

Apparently Rummy’s accountant chimed in between the writing of the first and second grafs. Disclosure statements sometimes don’t make clear (in fact, theirs did not) whether a husband or a wife owns stock. And the general theory underlying the laws assumes, rightly, that it doesn’t matter whether it’s you or your spouse, etc.

The next paragraph goes on to say that soon after Rummy became Sec Def, he and his wife divested themselves of various holdings including the Enron stock. Then there’s this kicker.

The Associated Press, Washington Times and the New York Times stories all cited the Center for Public Integrity as a source. USA Today cited its own research. All were inaccurate. To the best of our knowledge, none of the news organizations contacted Mr. or Mrs. Rumsfeld to determine the accuracy of their stories.

Actually the news outlets were relying on the facts generated by the Center for Public Integrity and they did try to check, but to no avail, as their response to Rumsfeld makes clear.

TPM on Rumsfeld: love the talk, love the camp, hate the crap (and the flack).

The word has been

The word has been out for a while that Ari Fleischer is one of the more feckless and incapable press secretaries any White House has had in some time. And that’s saying something, because to date Fleischer has really never had a challenging situation to deal with. So, say what you will about Dee Dee Myers’ chaotic tenure as White House Press Secretary in the early Clinton years, but she had a lot on her plate.

Could Enron be the scandal that convinces the adults in the White House that the president needs to hire a pro to do his spinning for him?

Can Ari Fleischer tell

Can Ari Fleischer tell the truth? Let’s make this the first installment of the Ari Fleischer Ridiculous Misstatement Watch.

Here’s an exchange from today from Fleischer’s daily Enron beating …

QUESTION: The question is, does he [President Bush] feel that he [Ken Lay] should have the sort of access that he’s had? Or does he believe that there ought to be more campaign finance reform?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks that access should be across the board. And that’s why the Sierra Club, for example, as you know, met repeatedly with the energy task force.

Wow, Sierra Club met with the Energy Task Force. Who knew?

Actually, The Sierra Club never met with the Energy Task Force while it was task-forcing. It was only after the Task Force had released its report that the Vice President agreed to meet with Sierra Club representatives to hear their gripes. So basically after it was no longer a task force at all.

Is this a lie?

Okay quick TPM quiz.

Okay, quick TPM quiz. Who’s the most execrable Larry King Live guest who’s made three appearances or more since September 11th?

Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York?

John Walsh of America’s Most Wanted?

Or Chas Grimaldi, the reformed serial-killer who now lectures around the country to audiences of adolescent sociopaths on how to reform their lives before it’s too late?

Okay, I admit it. I made up Chas Grimaldi. But, you know, I couldn’t come up with a third person who was equally loathsome. And someone you’d also expect to see on Larry King Live.

Heres an angle no

Here’s an angle no one seems to have given much attention.

After President Bush’s election, Ken Lay’s name was tossed around as being in the running for a number of potential administration appointments, including Secretary of Energy (Gas Daily, January 5th, 2001) and the Ambassadorships to Great Britain (Times of London, Jan 29th, 2001, February 5th, 2001) and Mexico (Dallas Morning News, March 30, 2001). Obviously, it didn’t happen.

Why? (As the Enron ad campaign might say.)

Perhaps it just didn’t pan out. Maybe Lay decided he didn’t want the job.

But could Lay have been vetted and come up wanting? Could the White House have done a background check and come across some uncomfortable findings? Could Lay have been gracious enough (in that heart-to-heart potential nominees have with high-level officials or presidential confidants) to let on that there might be trouble on the horizon?

Note to White House press corps: this one’s on me.

PS. Special thanks to TPM reader WB for putting me on this trail.

No more on Krugman

No more on Krugman and Enron here in these pages — barring some new facts or interesting tidbits. But allow me to briefly touch on one point. The criticism of choice now seems to be that Krugman’s disclosure of being on an Enron advisory board was not enough, since it didn’t make clear this was a paid position.

But this is foolish.

Who serves on any corporate board without pay? No one. These are paid positions, period. Salary. Consulting fees. ‘Honoraria.’ Whatever! Folks get money.

Do people do enough to earn the money? That’s another matter.

Should the companies’ fiduciaries keep a tighter check on the purse strings? Maybe.

But are they paid? Always.

Is pro-market capitalist TPM the only one who knows this? TPM-sponsored classes in corporate governance and culture?

I hesitate to weigh

I hesitate to weigh in on this. But I must say all this talk about Paul Krugman’s alleged conflict of interest over Enron seems … well, a touch over-wrought?

Is this really a problem? As nearly as I can tell, Krugman got paid $50,000 for serving on some advisory panel for Enron in 1999. For $50,000 he hung out for a couple days at some conference and talked economics. He was supposed to do it twice, but the other conference fell through, or some such thing. (By the way, Krugman has posted his own defense here.)

A few points. One, conflicts of interest usually get attention when it’s dog bites man. That is to say, if Krugman were making excuses for Enron. Since he’s not, what exactly is the problem?

Second, Andrew Sullivan seems to think that the mania for efficiencies which Krugman displayed in this Enron article in Fortune was somehow wildly out of character. The idea being that Krugman is a taxing-loving lefty economist and that this particular, more Smithian article shows he was on the take, etc.

Sullivan just must not follow centrist or liberal economics that closely. Perhaps a wise bit of inattention, but telling nonetheless.

When I worked at the American Prospect, certain economic journalists at the magazine were endlessly griping about Krugman as some sort of right-leaning or establishment economist. Actually, more than one, come to think of it. There was a even an issue cover I think, or at least some page art we had commissioned, showing Krugman as a crude pitchman or something. I always thought this sort of talk was a bit whacked. But well … we don’t have to get into my history there.

In any case, the relevant point is that the seeming oddity or strikingness of Krugman’s views in that article only seems so if you haven’t followed the field. And I think the common assumption would be that Krugman — at least regarding popular economic questions — has shifted a bit left on a broad front in the last couple years, though I’d probably chalk that up to the terrain shifting as much as anything.

If there’s an embarrassment here, it’s that Krugman participated in the common business of taking a pretty large sum of money from corporate bigwigs for a pretty small level of exertion. (Note to corporate bigwigs: this is a common business in which TPM is eager to become involved — though he’ll keep criticizing until the offers start coming in.) But I don’t see the conflict, since he seemed pretty straightforward about disclosing it.

Hear that creaking sound

Hear that creaking sound? That’s the conventional wisdom about the Bush administration being in the clear on Enron starting to shift.

The early questions about whether the Treasury or Commerce Secretaries did anything for Enron when they got desperate calls late last Fall really miss the point. Once it became clear that Enron had been losing money hand over fist and that the company was — as Enron Exec Sherron Watkins had told Ken Lay — “an elaborate accounting hoax,” what exactly was it they could have done?

So long as the President didn’t issue an executive order freezing trading in Enron stock or take some other unimaginable action, there was really nothing that could be done. Enron’s goose was cooked.

The questions about what favors got done are going to be ones that did or didn’t get done earlier.

And as Byron York correctly notes in this article in National Review Online, the White House’s growing unwillingness to answer questions is beginning to worry administration supporters.

For my money, I think the allegations stemming from Ken Lay’s apparent axing of the former head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Curtis Hebert, are the first ones I’ve heard that really could stick.

Hebert, a Republican, got cross-wise with Ken Lay during the California energy crisis. And Lay made it clear to him that if he didn’t play ball he “could no longer support [Hebert] as chairman.” Hebert didn’t play ball and pretty soon after that he was gone.

Hebert goes to pretty great lengths not to draw a direct connection between Lay and his being pushed aside at FERC. But his argument, frankly, strains credibility.

In any case, decide for yourself. Here’s a transcript from CNN from the 15th …

MARCHINI: What did Ken Lay want from you?

HEBERT: Well, actually Ken Lay wanted me to mandate regional transmission organizations, which I had told him there was no legal basis for under the Federal Power Act, not to mention it was not in the best interest of America. As you remember, at this same time last year, we had high prices in California and in the West. We even had the lights going out from time to time.

MARCHINI: Sure.

HEBERT: It certainly was not the time to do something like that when, quite frankly, you’re worried about Americans having the lights on and having lower prices and reasonable energy.

MARCHINI: You didn’t agree with Mr. Lay. What was the fallout?

HEBERT: Well, I didn’t agree with him. Then he informed me that quite frankly, he and his company, Enron, could no longer support me as chairman. So, you know, have it as you will, that was his wish. But, you know, so many people want to give Ken Lay such great weight. I never gave him the amount of weight I think some people did. He certainly tried to wield a big stick as did a lot of his executives in Washington and in states throughout America.

But Enron, I never really saw as someone who could give me expertise as to where we should be going energy in America. I thought they were always looking after the best interest of Enron and never, quite frankly, the best interest of the electrical industry.

MARCHINI: Do you feel that a lack of Ken Lay’s support cost you your job as the head of the FERC?

HEBERT: I never had any reason to believe that the White House was influenced by Ken Lay. I know he has a lot of friends, certainly, in the administration. Because he is-throughout Texas and has done a lot of work there. But the reason I had left the FERC was because the administration brought in two appointees, quite frankly, that agreed with Mr. Lay on mandating the regional transmission organizes. And they disagreed with me. There was already one member at FERC that agreed with them. So, I no longer had the balance, if you will, of the FERC. What good was it to be chairman?

What good, indeed?

Ready for your TPM

Ready for your TPM intelligence briefing? Excellent.

The news today is that Chinese intelligence found a couple dozen bugs on an American-manufactured airplane which was to serve as Chinese President Jiang Zemin’s equivalent of Air Force One. Given where the plane was manufactured and refitted, the origin of the listening devices – which were apparently highly sophisticated – seemed rather obvious.

Jiang was furious at the findings, according to the Financial Times.

But this story isn’t exactly what it appears.

Look closely at when the bugs were allegedly found: last Fall. So this isn’t really news. The fact that Chinese officials went to the press is news. And the reason is fairly straightforward and self-explanatory. President Bush is making a major trip to China late next month. And much rides on it for both sides — which we’ll be saying more about soon.

This is an effort on the part of the Chinese to throw the US side off-balance in the lead-up to the summit. It’s a Chinese attempt to get the upper hand on the US by making it seem that an apology is required or that Beijing is being generous by not demanding one. It’s standard operating procedure from the PRC.

So are the bugs really American? Who knows? I’d certainly assume so. But this doesn’t have anything to do with spying. It’s pure international politics.

Wait. Was it all

Wait. Was it all just a bad dream? Did that whole Bush administration II thing never really happen? Why else would the Clinton White House website be back up online?

No more ‘blame Clinton for terrorism’ articles with multiple factual errors?

No more Ari Fleischer.

Sigh … Oh, to dream.

In life Enron may

In life, Enron may not have produced much of value. But in death the company is turning out some extremely high quality comedic product. Maybe there’s hope for the company yet.

Today Enron fired accounting firm Andersen. “We’re very troubled about the destruction of the documents, and we’re very concerned about the accounting advice we got,” said Enron lawyer Bob Bennett.

But Bennett’s just a hired gun.

The real choice material is coming from the big man himself, Ken Lay:

While we had been willing to give Andersen the benefit of the doubt until the completion of that investigation, we can’t afford to wait any longer in light of recent events, including the reported destruction of documents by Andersen personnel and the disciplinary actions taken against several of Andersen’s partners working in its Houston office …

In other news, Bill Clinton is now suing former White House secretary Betty Currie for insufficient supervision of Monica Lewinsky.

If you havent seen

If you haven’t seen enough craven smarminess from politicians lately, then by all means take a look at this new Washington Post article by Tom Edsall.

Enron cash has become Washington’s newest hot potato. And politicians who until just recently couldn’t grab enough of the stuff are now trying to ‘divest’ themselves of it as quickly as possible.

You take it. No, you take it. No, YOU take it … and so on.

I guess one can’t give the stuff back since Enron is now in a bankruptcy-induced state of suspended animation. So most of these jokers are finding charities to give the contaminated cash to.

Now, this is a pretty sad situation. So to help out we’re announcing the new Enron Talking Points Memo-Capitalization Fund.

If you’re an elected official who is sitting uncomfortably on some Enron contributions, you can donate the money to the ETPMCF. This will not only get the money out of your hands. It will also help support on-going muckracking into the Enron fiasco and humor at the expense of Enron evildoers, which should in some degree expiate guilt owing to haven taken the money in the first place.

Now, it’s true. The Amazon.com payment system can only accept donations of up to $50. And Enron seemed to like giving checks in substantially higher amounts. But this can be worked around pretty easily by returning repeated times to remit the full amount of the Enron donation. It’s like when you have your contributors’ spouses and kids pony up money to evade the campaign finance laws.

Trust me, it’ll work like a charm.

What a breath of

What a breath of fresh air. For some time now I’ve wondered why the US doesn’t pursue what I call an ‘Arabian fringes’ strategy in the Persian Gulf. And now Senator Carl Levin seems to be arguing for something similar.

Here’s the idea.

By now we all know we’ve got serious problems with Saudi Arabia. The question is, do we have any better options?

And the answer, it seems to me, would seem to be a surprisingly clear ‘yes’.

As you can see on this map, the southern and eastern fringes of the Arabian Peninsula are ringed by a series of emirates and sultanates. Some like Oman are actually rather large, while others like Bahrain are tiny little islands in the Persian Gulf.

With the exception of Yemen, though, the one thing that unites pretty much all of them is that they have more progressive political systems than Saudi Arabia and they’re more friendly to the United States and even, in some cases, Israel. Here’s a good, recent article from Slate about how tight we are with the Sultan of Oman. And here’s a transcript of Larry King spending some quality time with the Crown Prince of Bahrain. And that doesn’t even get you to the United Arab Emirates.

So if the Saudis have such a beef with us, why do we need to be there?

It seems to me that our geostrategic needs can be met elsewhere.

A number of readers

A number of readers have written in to argue that there’s nothing wrong or out of the ordinary with the document shredding Arthur Andersen’s accountants did over at Enron. One even tells me it’s standard operating procedure over at Ernst & Young where his sister works.

Be that as it may, I feel pretty vindicated by today’s announcement that Arthur Andersen has summarily fired David B. Duncan, the lead partner on the Enron account.

Another reader points out yet another interesting fact. It turns out that David B. Duncan and Kenneth L. Lay are both on the board of directors of the American Council for Capital Formation.

Now it’s important to note, the ACCF is neither part of nor connected with the United States Institute for Economic Efficiencies, the Academy of Trickle-Down Sciences, the Center for Deregulation and Frictionless Markets, or the Club for Growth. (Actually, here’s where the joke breaks down, because there really is a Club for Growth – it’s a supply-side pressure group that gangs up on normal Republicans in the Northeast … )

In all seriousness, I’m really all for markets, capitalism, and capital formation. (In a round about way it’s one of the reasons I’m now freelancing rather than at my old job.) And to prove it, I’ll even make a direct pitch to support Talking Points Memo with an easy online donation!!!

And if that’s not enough, to fill the void left in the frictionless commodity market world by the Enron collapse, tomorrow we’ll debuting our new online market in Ken Lay and David Duncan prison term years.

If youre down in

If you’re down in the dumps or need something to pick you up I really can’t recommend enough that you stop by the Enron website and browse through the sections of the site that predate the bankruptcy.

I’ve commented previously on the dopiness of Enron’s glammy, wise-guy Schumpeterian ad campaign. But most of their website now reads like a cacophony of gag lines and double meanings.

Like this beaut from their ‘Who We Are‘ Page …

It’s difficult to define Enron in a sentence, but the closest we come is this: we make commodity markets so that we can deliver physical commodities to our customers at a predictable price. It’s difficult, too, to talk about Enron without using the word “innovative.” Most of the things we do have never been done before …

Some posts just pretty much write themselves.

Top ten innocent explanations

Top ten innocent explanations for Arthur Andersen’s end-of-Enron document shredding party.

10. Arthur Andersen company simply making a quick transition to fabled “paperless” office.

9. Collateral damage in effort to destroy all circa-1998 George W. Bush ‘I wanna be president’ coloring books.

8. Enron kept books in pre-2002 European currencies now supplanted by the Euro.

7. Cool new portable paper-shredder from OfficeMax just too big a temptation.

6. Who doesn’t throw away receipts?

5. Documents mistaken for mail and disposed of in a fit of Anthrax-scare hysteria.

4. Compassion for over-worked, grunt congressional staffers who will be running the investigation.

3. Incinerated paper is surprisingly efficient new energy source!

2. Just a mistake. Thought they were records of Cheney Energy Taskforce.

1. Accountants just love doing time.

I think you can

I think you can safely say that this new Enron article in the Washington Post is profoundly damning.

Here’s Enron attorney Bob Bennett explaining why Enron ordered an intentionally superficial and non-probing internal investigation into its own accounting methods.

Bennett said Enron told the lawyers not to second-guess Andersen’s accounting and not to make a detailed analysis of particular transactions because he thought speed was essential and had no reason to question Andersen’s work.

Like they say, when the facts are on your side, you pound the facts.

When the law’s on your side, you pound the law.

When you got neither, as would seem to be the case with Bennett’s new client, apparently you give your own credibility a pounding.

Is it too early

Is it too early to raise this rather elementary question? Was Phil Gramm’s retirement from the Senate in early September tied to the Enron debacle?

Consider the timing.

True. There had been talk of a possible Gramm retirement, but as late as August 16th, in a discussion of possible Republican retirements, the Washington Post wrote …

Another Republican incumbent who has left his party guessing is Sen. Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee, who has indicated he will decide by late fall, say GOP sources. Like Helms, Thompson has raised little money but would probably have little trouble catching up. Thompson is favored to win if he runs, but Democrats believe the race could be close if the field is open. The only Senate incumbent who has said he will retire next year is 98-year-old Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.). Democrats, who so far have avoided retirements in their ranks, nurse hopes that GOP Sens. Phil Gramm (Tex.) and Pete V. Domenici (N.M.) might retire, but Republicans say they’re pipe-dreaming.

Consider what else was happening right about that time.

Two days before the Post story, on August 14th, Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling quit after only six months on the job for what he called “purely personal” reasons. According to CNN, stock analysts were “stunned.”

Knowing what stock analysts couldn’t have known then, it now seems pretty clear that Skilling quit because of the first rumblings of the earthquake that would leave the company bankrupt in less than six months. Around the middle of August, it seems fair to say, he knew things were very, very bad.

Gramm’s wife, Wendy Gramm was on Enron’s Board and — even more important — on the board’s audit committee. If things were going very wrong, and if the problems centered on the company’s books being cooked, she’d likely be one of the first to know. And she would probably learn about it soon after Skilling. That is to say, sometime in late August.

Senator Gramm announced his retirement on September 4th.

Is all this speculation? Certainly. But the timing is hard to overlook. And besides, he’s not the only high-profile Texan in Congress to make a surprise retirement announcement last Fall.

Remember that much-ballyhooed speech

Remember that much-ballyhooed speech Tom Daschle gave last week ripping into President Bush’s tax-cutting fiscal policy? Remember the oh-so-thin pancake the President made out of Daschle over the next few days when he dared Democrats to raise taxes “over my dead body.”

Before this goes any further, let’s confess that Hill Democrats are suffering from a crying deficiency of good strategy. It’s not that Daschle’s argument was bad on the merits. What it lacked was coherence. And in political battles coherence is king.

Daschle says the tax cut was bad. But he doesn’t want to raise taxes. But that means we may have dip into Social Security revenues, or maybe raise taxes, or go into deficit spending. And all of those are bad. And so on and so forth.

Bush doesn’t want to raise taxes, period.

Is this just the power of the presidency? The difficulty of running the opposition from the Senate?

I don’t think so.

The key here is that Democrats are letting themselves get baited into the trap of solving the problems created by Republican policies, which is a category strategic error.

The president and his party promised X would happen and Y happened. They said that deficits wouldn’t return and they did return. They had the power and authority to do it their way and now they have to take responsibility for what’s happened.

It’s not for the Democrats to figure out how to clean up Bush’s mess or solve his problem for him. This is about taking responsibility. Something the Republicans seem quite unwilling to do. They blame the return of structural deficits on the war on terrorism and the downturn in the economy, each of which play a smaller role than the results of their own policy.

(Eventually, Americans will weary of such cynical use of the 9/11 attacks.)

Even with nominal control of the Senate, Republicans still basically run the show in Washington. So it’s for Republicans to answer how they’ll get the country out of the fiscal ditch they created.

This whole debate is about responsibility and values. Doing what you said you would do and cleaning up the mess you created.

Here are just a

Here are just a couple examples of why the quickly unfolding Enron investigation may lead in unpredictable and uncontrollable directions.

It turns out that Enron execs weren’t the only ones who called Treasury Under Secretary for Domestic Finance Peter Fisher on the company’s behalf as the energy trading collosus swirled into oblivion. Former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin did too.

(As a side note, it seems worth noting that the administration was quite eager to get out news of Rubin’s call. But their eagerness doesn’t make it less true.)

Meanwhile, SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt is in a bind because he once represented Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm which at the very least woefully botched Enron’s books, and now appears to have destroyed many crucial documents.

The revelation about Pitt makes this earlier post seem not so sarcastic.

It’s still possible that this is just a cataclysmic bankruptcy for which a few malfeasant executives will pay a stiff price. Or more likely it will turn out to be a conventional political scandal, in which a handful of politicians are dragged down in the whirlpool of Enron’s collapse.

But those pooh-poohing the notion that this could be a major scandal of any sort overlook the less than likely, but yet real, possibility that this could develop into a meta-scandal – a cascade of revelations which gain traction not because of specific or discrete criminality but because the sheer magnitude of the event delegitimizes the whole framework of interaction between government and corporations at the highest levels.

Because Enron was part of a peculiar Texan form of wildcatter capitalism, and this Texan administration is closely tied to it, a scandal even of such proportions could still cut in a decidedly partisan direction. It’s no accident, for instance, that Harvey Pitt finds himself in this situation, as opposed to … say, former SEC head Arthur Levitt. So probably it just hits the GOP.

But who knows?

One of the more

One of the more interesting things about Enron political donation pattern is not just its partisan tilt, but the way it became more partisan – ie, more Republican – over time. This chart from the Center for Responsive Politics website shows that back in the early 1990s Enron giving was more GOP than Dem, but only by a 60-40 margin.

After the 1994 cycle, the Republican percentage of the take rocketed to more than 80%, reflecting not only the GOP takeover of the House and Senate, but the fact that two Texans – Dick Armey and Tom DeLay – had become the number two and number three in the House leadership.

In the Senate, the leadership team of Trent Lott and Don Nickles contained no Texans. But both came from energy producing states.

The margin for Democrats bounced back a bit in the ’98 and ’00 cycles, but not by much. And in the 2002 cycle we’re currently in, Republicans were pulling in only slightly less than 90% of the take.

The Republican line is

The Republican line is that the public aversion to deficit spending is … well, just so 20th century!

No one will care anymore. Especially after 9/11. I guess that’s why the White House waits till late in the afternoon on a Friday have the reptilian Mitch Daniels tell the Associated Press that the President will propose a federal deficit for next year’s budget.

What a coincidence.

Theres no shortage of

There’s no shortage of committees on the Hill lining up to investigate Enron. And one of the key points of investigation is Enron’s multifarious lobbying of the federal government.

But aren’t we missing a rather obvious difficulty?

How many of the Senators and Congresspersons on these committees received campaign contributions from Enron? And do they have to recuse themselves?

And will anyone be left to run the committees?

A year ago Dick

A year ago Dick Armey’s longtime political advisor Pat Shortridge was heading up the Majority Leader’s Fund, Congressman Armey’s leadership PAC. Last Spring Shortridge left the MLF to become one of two senior directors of federal government affairs at Enron. That is to say, one of two people charged with lobbying the federal government on Enron’s behalf.

In early December, according to the Majority Leader’s spokesperson, Shortridge took a new job in Congressman Armey’s leadership office after Enron closed its DC lobbying operation. His title is now “Director of Coalitions.”

Also in early December (the Houston Chronicle reported it on December 4th) Congressman Armey told reporters “I think the Enron circumstances are very difficult. My impression is that Enron’s business right now is Enron’s business.”

Im not sure any

I’m not sure any other writers are going to be able to get a big article out of unearthing purloined passages in Stephen Ambrose books. But this may be the exception. According to Nick Confessore’s article from early last Fall, Stephen Ambrose has routinely plagiarized the work of … Stephen Ambrose!

Of course, recycling your own material is one of the perks of being a writer. But as Nick describes what he found you quickly get the feeling that this modus operandi could spill over into recycling other people’s prose.

So how has Ambrose managed to sustain this deluge? Partly by hiring a devoted army of research assistants, but mostly by becoming an efficient and unabashed recycler of his own work. Ambrose’s chapter in this spring’s No End Save Victory collection was, in a previous life, a chapter in Citizen Soldiers–a 1997 book that itself contains bits and pieces from Band of Brothers. The Good Fight, published this May and aimed at the children’s market, is essentially a simplified combination of Citizen Soldiers and Band of Brothers. Though Comrades: Brothers, Fathers, Heroes, Sons, Pals (1999) is partly an account of Ambrose’s relationships with his brothers, father, and pals, it consists largely of reworked passages from Band of Brothers and his previous books on Lewis and Clark, Crazy Horse and General Custer, Eisenhower, and Nixon.

and more to the point …

He not only makes new books from old books; he makes new op-eds from old op-eds. A devoted Ambrose fan will thus read about how the young GIs “wanted to throw baseballs, not grenades, shoot a .22 rifle, not an M-1” first in D-Day, then again in Band of Brothers, and then again in a cluster of World War II-themed newspaper pieces. Likewise, a passage from Citizen Soldiers about how “they went to school on the GI Bill of Rights, and then they started building the interstate highway system, the St. Lawrence Seaway, the modern corporation,” and so forth, turns up again in several columns urging the creation of a World War II memorial and in a piece musing about heroism in the age of political correctness.

Check out Nick’s article to see the whole story.

Some bits of info

Some bits of info are just too choice not to share with you. They say so much about this city.

You may remember that back during the Balkan Wars one of the contested spaces 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.

But not, it turns out, without a good media strategy!

In an agreement signed on February 24th, 1993 the Washington foreign lobbying shop of Jefferson Waterman International agreed to help the Croatians deal with whatever bad press might ensue from reasserting their ethnic rights in the region. For instance, according to the proposal JWI submitted to the Croatian government, they advised …

“Should the time come when it is necessary for Croatia forcefully to assert control over Croatian territory currently hosting a United Nations presence, a wave of criticism must be anticipated and countered. The groundwork to justify such actions should be laid now, not after the fact.”

also

“A number of articles and individuals have articulated the viewpoint that both Croatia and Serbia are to blame for the current carnage, and that both are conspiring to carve up Bosnia. This viewpoint must not be allowed to go unchallenged.”

Even ethnic cleansing needs a good PR campaign.

So whats the deal

So what’s the deal with me and Stephen Ambrose?

A number of readers have asked me to explain this earlier remark, which I made in the context of the plagiarism charges against Ambrose …

Now before proceeding further, it’s probably fair to admit that I come to this whole thing already not very friendly to Ambrose – for a number of reasons we can get to later.

Actually, a few readers are pretty damn insistent. One wrote this evening …

You allude to the fact that you and Steve Ambrose are not on the best of terms but you never spell out why. I am curious to know what may have transpired between you two. Perhaps you are just bitter that he is a nationally respected professor while you are just a career student. The time to come clean about this is now!

Sheesh! That’s kind of rough. ‘Career student’? Hey, if it were almost ten years since I started a Ph.D. program and I was still only working on the last chapter of the dissertation, then I might be a career student, and maybe pretty hurtin’ too. But I’ve got this whole journalism thing going! So I’m fine with it. And besides I get the parchment in June … Okay, wait. I gotta center myself …

Anyway, back to our story. So what’s the deal with me and Ambrose? The reader noted above implies there’s some sort of competition going on. But how would I compete with Ambrose. Over who’s most crotchety? Who’s most grizzled? Who’s got the gravelliest voice?

Please.

Needless to say, I’ve never met Stephen Ambrose and have read very little of his academic work.

My beef with Ambrose is that in the recent years in which he has become a household name, he’s become a purveyor of a sort of retrograde sentimentalism, the fashionable discontent of the 1990s … You’re never gonna find a generation like the WW II generation and the young’ens these days don’t have the fiber! the gumption! to do the work that needs to be done. So I say vote for this feller George W. Bush. etc.

This is no beef with the men who fought and won World War II and liberated the world from fascism in Europe and militarism in East Asia. It’s a beef with the cliche I feel Ambrose makes of it. And lessons he draws from it for today.

Just a tidbit.John Shelk

Just a tidbit.

John Shelk, VP of government affairs, American Gaming Assn., and Patrick Shortridge, chief political advisor for Rep. Dick Armey, to Enron Corp., Washington, D.C., as senior directors of federal government affairs.

Jack O’Dwyer’s Newsletter
May 23, 2001

Just make a note of it.

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