Editors’ Blog

I wanted to ignore

I wanted to ignore Bob Somerby’s continued attacks on me. But his new one today is so tendentious and misinformed that I can’t hold my tongue. Today Somerby says that over the weekend on Reliable Sources I “finally acknowledged” that one of Gore’s major problems in 2000 was the press corps’ deep antipathy to him.

“There’s only one problem with Marshall’s statement,” writes Somerby, “he didn’t say a word in real time, when voters deserved—indeed, needed—to be told.” I’m only saying it now, says Somerby, not before or during the election when it would have counted.

I don’t want to clutter these pages any more with this inanity. But for anyone who wants proof that Somerby is either wildly misinformed or deeply tendentious (I suspect the former) please peruse this article about the press’s deep antipathy for Gore which I wrote during the Democratic National Convention in August 2000 (The American Prospect, cover date: Sept. 11th, 2000 Volume 11, Issue 20).

Im quite pleased honored

I’m quite pleased, honored really, to bring you our second guest post at TPM, this one from John Judis of the New Republic

HENRY KISSINGER WAS, perhaps, our most brilliant Secretary of State. Certainly he was one of the few who had an overarching theory of foreign relations, first articulated in his book on the Congress of Vienna. But his post-scholarly writing has been too corrupted by his own determination to remain a player in the Republican party. And he’s still at it as a member of Richard Perle’s influential Defense Policy Board Advisory advisory committee, which is leading the charge for an invasion of Iraq.

Yet Kissinger can never entirely abandon his European realism – his view of nations as rival centers of power rather than forces for good or evil – and so his books and columns have been exercises in equivocation. Witness his latest effort in today’s Washington Post. The Post’s op-ed editor, who seems to favor invasion, bills it, “How a preemptive war could lead to a new international order,” but a close reading reveals a war between Kissinger’s conviction and his opportunism. The former Secretary of State praises Bush’s “eloquent” address at West Point, and appears to argue for a pre-emptive attack against Iraq. But at the same time, he quarrels with the logic that produced that strategy and puts a set of onerous conditions in the way of its execution.

Before the U.S. can strike, the Bush administration must gain public and Congressional support. But also it must develop a “comprehensive strategy for itself and the rest of the world,” “a common approach” that would bring along America’s allies, and a “program of postwar reconstruction.” And, most important of all, it must “propose a stringent inspection system” through the U.N. That last condition means that Kissinger agrees with Senator Carl Levin and with European leaders like Tony Blair who want to see whether they can contain Saddam’s nuclear program through the U.N. before undertaking an invasion. By contrast, the administration, as Vice President Dick Cheney made clear last Friday, insists that an invasion will be necessary even if Saddam were to agree to arms inspections. So contrary to appearances, Kissinger completely disagrees with administration policy.

The real tip-off is what Kissinger says about Bush’s “eloquent” strategy of pre-emption. He calls it “revolutionary.” In Kissingerian terms, that is a synonym for reckless or irresponsible. And Kissinger takes issue with the administration’s most basic approach to Iraq. The administration has declared itself in favor of “regime change,” but Kissinger writes, “The objective of regime change should be subordinated in American declaratory policy to the need to eliminate weapons of mass destruction as required by the U.N. resolutions.” That’s the Levin-Blair position. And he concludes, “A conspicuous American deployment in the region is therefore necessary to support the diplomacy to destroy weapons of mass destruction and provide a margin for quick victory if military action proves the only recourse.” “Proves the only recourse” – that is also the Levin-Blair position, not the Bush administration stance. But don’t tell the op-ed editor of the Washington Post.

— John B. Judis

(August 11th, 2002 — 12:28 PM EDT // link)

Saudi diplomat Adel al Jubeir made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows. But no one asked him about the incident early last year in which one of Paul Wolfowitz’s close advisors essentially threatened him after a meeting at the Pentagon. And there’s another dimension to the unfurling story of the anti-Saudi briefing to the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board. Last December, in what I imagine was likely my final article for the American Prospect, I noted that Richard Perle was having it both ways: He was going on every talk show in the world as a “former administration official” or “AEI scholar” and attacking the more moderate administration policy stance emanating from the State Department. At the same time he was actually a de facto member of this administration. He has an office in the E-Ring of the Pentagon because he is Chairman of the Defense Policy Board – a once somnolent outfit which Perle has reshaped into a highly partisan and quite influential pressure group in the administration. The briefing in question was clearly given at Perle’s behest. Now that Perle’s actions are themselves becoming issues in our relations with foreign powers, isn’t it time he got a bit more scrutiny?

Hmmmm. Is imitation the

Hmmmm. Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Or did washingtonpost.com just snag the title of this column for its own nefarious purposes? For the last couple weeks Terry M. Neal has been calling his online column at washingtonpost.com “talking points.”

True enough, “talking points” is a common phrase. But for another column which is a) online, b) about politics, and c) based in Washington, DC. can’t they find another title?

What gives? The corporate media behemoth can just run roughshod over the small independent?

That seems to be the idea.

I’m under no illusion that everyone in journalism knows about this column. But Howard Kurtz writes a daily media column on washingtonpost.com and he’s been picking up bits and morsels from this site (for which, don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely appreciative) about once a week for almost two years. Plus, the site has been written about several times in the Washington Post itself. So I have to imagine that someone at washingtonpost.com knows this site exists.

Alas, the small TPM legal department probably can’t outgun the big-city law firm sharks who work for the Washington Post Company. But by all means drop Terry Neal a line and tell him to put a stop to this egregious trespass.

TPM appearance tomorrow evening

TPM appearance tomorrow evening on CNN’s Reliable Sources, 6:30 PM on the East Coast.

As I mentioned today

As I mentioned today in my Salon article on nasty in-fighting at the Pentagon, Iraq isn’t the only country in line for the ‘regime change’ treatment. In many ways the neo-cons are even more interested in tossing the regimes in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Which brings us to the Voice of America and Iran.

As I’ve mentioned to you before, The Nelson Report is Washington’s bible for the hottest scoops and gossip on Asian diplomacy and trade negotiation politics — Nelson’s sort of like the Drudge of Fast Track.

Anyway, Robert R. Reilly is the extremely conservative Bush political appointee in charge of Voice of America. According to Wednesday’s Nelson Report, at last month’s meeting of the Voice of America Board, Reilly proposed and got approval to shut down “all the major [VOA] news bureaus in Asia, Latin America and Europe” in order to free up money to create a new station dedicated exclusively to broadcasting youth-oriented popular music in Iran — the idea being of course to channel the incipient rebelliousness of Iranian youth (of which there is actually quite a lot) to overthrow the mullahs by pumping the Iranian version of Britney Spears into the country 24/7.

I can just hear the morning radio lead-in now … “Yo, yo, yo Tehran, we got some cra-a-a-a-zy bumpin’ and grindin’ comin’ your way this morning from Michael Ledeen and his fly peeps at AEI…”

Truth be told, on its own, I’m not sure this is such a bad idea. The issue is more gutting the rest of VOA to do it. The career people at VOA are, as you might imagine, not happy about this. The decision was apparently made without consultation with any professional journalists or the American diplomats with responsibility for the regions in question. The bigger story, though, seems to be that this is administration payback for the career people at VOA being too independent from the administration line.

P.S. Independent reporting from the TPM research department has revealed another possible angle on Reilly’s Iranian radio station: Reilly’s bio at the VOA website says he “has written music criticism for 20 years for such publications as High Fidelity, Musical America, Schwann Magazine, and Crisis Magazine.” So in addition to ideology, this may also be about tunes.

Heres a sneak-peek at

Here’s a sneak-peek at my new article in next month’s Washington Monthly about why the myth of Bush administration competence is fading fast.

This is difficult. But

This is difficult. But how can I hold my tongue? There’s no one I like better in this profession than Mickey Kaus, no one who’s been kinder to me. But Mickey seems to have come down with a bilious fever of special pleading. Perhaps it’s a milder form of West Nile Virus? I don’t know. I just hope he recovers quickly.

Mickey deals with two issues on his site today: 1) Bill Clinton’s comments about the war-on-terrorism blame game and then 2) this on-going matter about Paul Krugman and the OMB.

Let’s try to deal with the introductory matters as quickly as possible. Clinton said the Bush administration — which made such a fuss about ‘responsibility‘ — is quick pass the buck to him whenever anything goes wrong on their watch in the war on terrorism. On the contrary, says the former president, when our soldiers got killed in Mogadishu he didn’t try to pin it on the first President Bush.

The Wall Street Journal said this was a lie, carting out the old right-wing canard that Clinton denied the soldiers the proper weapons, thus leaving them vulnerable and getting a number of them killed. The Journal editorialists are either too ignorant, too stupid or too dishonest to know that, as Mickey rightly points out, this charge is false. But Mickey goes in for an equally bogus, though more subtle, canard: that is, that Bush I went in purely to secure humanitarian relief and it was Clinton who later went in for (horribile dictu!) NATION-BUILDING.

This argument manages to be both accurate and also bogus. Here’s why. The situation in Afghanistan is now beginning to get very dicey. Karzai’s getting more dependent on US military protection; warlords and even sub-warlords (mere capos, in mafia terms) are starting to challenge him; things are getting tough. Imagine if we’d had a turnover of administration a couple months after we drove the Taliban from power. The old administration might say, hey, we fought a kick-ass war. Everything was going great and now you get into the nation-building phase and everything falls apart!

This would be a stupid argument since phase A rather inevitably leads to phase B, and B is in the nature of things the complicated phase.

The Somalia case isn’t quite so clear cut. But not far from it. It was always going to be a rather simple matter to get in to a Somalia, rather more difficult to get out. The logic is elementary. You go into Somalia to force a degree of peace so that you can deliver some food. And then you see that when you leave it’s going to degenerate back to the status quo ante. What do you do then?

This isn’t to say that the Clinton team handled it perfectly, only to note that Bush made the feel-good decision to hand out the food, with the knowledge that he wasn’t going to be around when the tough decisions had to be made later. You can imagine where Clinton might have felt like Bush left him holding the bag. Because, in a sense, he did.

Yet if you follow the logic of Clinton’s remark, he must be saying that criticizing Bush in this way would have been invalid, unfair, and false, since clearly he’s insisting the current administration’s criticisms of him are invalid, unfair, false, etc.

But enough of these details.

It seems to me you can slice this a number of ways. But Clinton’s point hardly seems unreasonable. One might look on this whole brouhaha and latch on to the Bush administration’s penchant for blaming everything on Clinton. But Mickey latches on to Clinton’s response to that penchant for buck-passing and finds it to be yet another sign of the former president’s “alarming, mendacious self-pity.”

Is there any logic to this statement? Or is it simply that one is supposed to look at such statements and see signs of the former president’s “alarming, mendacious self-pity”? That’s the storyline and why buck it? Seems mighty like the latter to me. Almost to the degree of parody.

Now to Krugman.

To get the whole story, the whole back and forth, go to Mickey’s site. But the essence of the matter is that the Bush OMB came out with a statistic which vastly understated the role of the Bush tax cut in creating the deficits projected over the next ten years. Krugman called this a lie. They called it an honest mistake, which they say they later corrected. Again, if you want the details (of which there are many), go to Mickey’s site. Mickey has latched onto Krugman’s hide like a mountain tick, demanding apologies or recantations or clarifications. Perhaps a special Mass or a ritual sacrifice.

Krugman can defend himself. So can the Times.

If I had been writing the piece I might not have said “lie.” I’m not sure. Here on TPM sometimes I cut to the chase like that. In print, I often hold back. I’m not sure which is better.

But indulge me in a thought experiment.

Let’s imagine we’re dealing with the Clinton administration. The Clinton OMB puts out false numbers which just happen to exculpate the administration on a major public policy issue. In congressional testimony another administration economics official — not the head of the OMB — grudgingly concedes that the numbers are probably incorrect. Later, the White House is called out by a conservative think tank for using false numbers. Still later, folks at the White House go on to their website and simply change the number without telling anybody.

Here we have the same set of facts, just change the administrations.

Is it even remotely conceivable that if this were the Clinton OMB that Mickey would so bend over backwards to see the whole thing as just an honest mistake? When the honest mistake is so helpful to the administration? When it goes uncorrected for weeks? Of course, not. The question answers itself.

I think it’s possible that it was an honest mistake, quite possible. But calling it a ‘lie’ hardly seems an unwarranted conclusion. It’s a bit sharp, but hardly something that itself requires some sort of retraction.

The only explanation I can see is that since it’s the Bush administration (and Paul Krugman on the other side) Mickey wants to hold open every door, make every excuse, refuse to draw any adverse conclusion. Precisely the opposite of what we see him do in the other case involving Bill Clinton. When it comes to the Bush administration, Mickey is so permissive you’d think he were Peter Edelman (that’s a little welfare reform humor, there). The contrast is blinding.

P.S. As long as we’re at it, did Mickey get taken in by the OMB representative’s claim that they had made the correction to their numbers “weeks ago.” [Note: from here on it gets mind-numbingly detailed. So only keep reading if you want to see the Bush administration caught in another lie.] The OMB came out with the erroneous statistics on July 12th. On July 31st, OMB flack Trent Duffy wrote the Times and claimed, among other things, that they had corrected the mistake “weeks ago.”

I’ve never been great with numbers (those two Ds in high school math dramatize the point). But I think that means they corrected their mistake no later than July 17th, right? July 17th is also the day when Council of Economic Advisors chairman, Glenn Hubbard conceded that the number was probably wrong during congressional testimony.

So first it seems like maybe that’s what they’re talking about. But Duffy’s letter to the Times is pretty clearly talking about a revised press release, since he refers to how the “first press release mistakenly [itals added]” screwed up the numbers. Now here’s the problem. The people who really caught the OMB ought were the worthies at the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. They put out their paper on July 26th and in that paper they said the OMB “has yet to issue a formal correction on this matter.” If OMB had really put out a retraction why didn’t the folks at CBPP know about it? Did they get it wrong too? Like Krugman? Or is Duffy’s July 31st letter to the Times itself a lie?

As long as we’re all being sticklers, let’s find out exactly when the OMB made the correction.

With Al Gores Sunday

With Al Gore’s Sunday Oped in the Times and Joe Lieberman’s comments at the DLC conclave in New York, it seems we’re now going to again revisit this question of just what role Al Gore’s populist turn did or didn’t play in the outcome of the election.

Tonight I read Will Saletan’s take on Gore’s Oped — which was, shall we say, rather negative. Will’s piece troubled me on many levels.

First — I think this is fair to say — was Will’s unwillingness to take up the question of whether what Gore was saying might actually be true — true, that is, in the sense of reflecting an accurate representation of the political and economic world we live in. Troubling to me on a deeper level, however, is how much what Will said represents a deep consensus among Washington politicos and journalists and why this should be so.

For my part, I think the ‘evidence’ — if you can call it that — for whether Gore’s populism helped him or hurt him is ambiguous. His convention speech gave him a big and — more important — sustained bounce out of the convention. That fact is hard to square with his populist turn being a political loser.

On the other hand, he’s not in the White House. And even if you believe, as I do, that he really did win the election, the results were still close to a tie. And one would figure that with a politically potent message (if that’s what it was), a strong economy and all the rest, he should have won by a good margin. As I said, the evidence is ambiguous. But to Will, there’s simply no question that it was a political loser. Not just that, either: to Will, the way Gore has stuck to the message reveals his various character flaws.

I’m very ambivalent about all of this: whether Gore’s message makes for good politics, how I personally think that rhetoric sounds, all of these things. But one thing I am quite clear on is that hyper-educated, upper-middle-class folks — i.e., almost all journalists — have never, through the course of American history, been the people for whom Populist rhetoric resonates. That’s an incontestable fact. It’s one that’s important to keep in mind. And I think it’s seldom kept in mind.

I don’t mean to pick on Will, who I consider a great writer and a good friend. I have to confess that when I read Gore column, I found it a touch jarring, even as I agreed with much of it. Another friend of mine who is quite sensible, but also rather left in her politics, told me last night that she found what Gore wrote grating and inauthentic.

In any case, I want to write about this more. But not having more time tonight, let me reprint what I wrote the night of the convention speech itself in the now-defunct (and no longer able to be linked to) Feed Magazine. It captures much of what I still think about this topic.

IN THE DWINDLING aftermath of a major political speech, like the one Al Gore delivered Thursday night, journalists circle and buzz around one another comparing notes, trolling for insights: What did you think? Too fast? Too starchy? Too long? Too short? Brilliantly populist? Stupidly populist? Unvarnished first impressions can rapidly get turned on their head if the tide of opinion in these writerly conclaves runs too hard against them. But there’s another complication. Most reporters, who have what amount to the ringside seats, actually watched Gore speak from a range of oblique angles off to the side of the podium. The only images that really count are the tight-in television close-ups, since, aside from the few thousand souls in the Staples Center, that’s all anyone will see. And then one more complicating factor. Swing voters, those all-important voters whose votes are actually up for grabs, are notoriously haphazard and indifferent in their attention to politics. Many will only see the speech in the clips and sound bites filtering through the nightly news. And those who watch it in full will receive it with minds uncluttered by all the thoughts of political junkies. All of which is to say that professional observers often have a terribly difficult time grasping how such a speech will be received by its intended audience.

Yes, the errors of the vice president’s presentation and delivery were apparent. Gore often rumbles over well-crafted sentences and tramples all the poetry out of them. His boss can take even a hackneyed phrase and let it dangle suggestively in the air until a dozen meanings reveal themselves. Gore words don’t float the same way. But like Clinton’s State of the Union speeches, which were routinely panned by pundits but gobbled up by the public, Gore’s speech will probably get a much better reception with swing voters than the critics expect.

In the end, Gore decided to go with what he is: serious (a bit over-serious), honorable, good intentioned, and committed — as his opponent is not — to pursuing a set of policies most voters support. As a politician so often accused of being phony and inauthentic, all he could do was be himself. And he did it pretty well.

In so doing, he gave a hint of how Gore-ism might differ from Clintonism. More austere. Less emotional, fulsome, and lachrymose. Though Clinton was endlessly ribbed for telling voters he would “feel their pain,” it was actually the lodestone of his political power and resilience, the hallmark of his politics of empathy. Polls have consistently shown that whatever else they thought of him, a clear majority believed Clinton understood their problems and cared about solving them.

Gore had a handful of good lines in the speech. Saying he’s his own man; poking fun at his over-seriousness but saying the election isn’t a popularity contest; dismissing any thought that he deserves to win because of the successes of the last eight years — these will all stand him in good stead. But most resonant and enduring was his line about the role of the president as the advocate and defender of the interests of everyday people.

What couldn’t have been accidental (though I believe it went wholly unremarked) was that this line was almost identical down to the word, almost identical to the words of Andrew Jackson, the first Tennessean ever to become president, more than a century-and-a-half ago. In the early 1830s Jackson articulated the then-novel, even heretical, notion that the presidency, not the Congress, was the most representative branch of government, the first among equals in the calculus of democratic government. The presidency “is the only job in the Constitution that is charged with the responsibility of fighting for all the people, not just the people of one state or one district, not just the wealthy or the powerful, all the people; especially those who need a voice, those who need a champion.” Those are Gore’s words, but they echoed Jackson’s almost exactly.

The fact that this historical and ancestral allusion is plopped down in the middle of the text, with no clear acknowledgement, is somehow typically Gore.

Truth be told, for better or worse, most journalists react to populist rhetoric like a shot of vinegar when they expected gin. But this may be the closest that Gore could get to Clintonian “feel your pain” and yet still be, in some sense, very much himself. Will voters find this hopelessly retro? Maybe. The weirdness and the promise of Gore are the contradictions at the heart of these populist inclinations. He’s a New Economy technocrat, raised at the heart of government, with a privileged education. He also comes from poor Tennessee farm folk and he’s the dutiful son of a man who was the most authentic sort of border-state Southern populist politician. From the start of his campaign, Gore has veered from making that combination the best of all worlds, or the worst. The next two months will decide which it will be. But this speech was a good start.

More on this soon …

The authors of this

The authors of this Time article go to great lengths to be fair to the Bush administration. But the upshot of the story is still pretty devastating. In the early months of the War on Terrorism we heard a heroic tale: the Bush administration had inherited a dawdling and feckless anti-terrorism policy from their predecessors. Through 2001 they were in a headlong rush to bring the country up to speed but couldn’t quite make up all the lost time before the terrorists struck.

Let’s call this the Andrew Sullivan version of events.

The truth was rather different. By definition some things didn’t get done that should have been done in the late 1990s. But the out-going administration left its successors with a fairly detailed action plan for attacking al Qaida. Presidential transitions are unavoidably disorienting affairs. But there were more specific reasons the plan didn’t get acted upon. The Bush team a) was more concerned with missile defense than terrorism and b) was unwilling to adopt a Clinton era plan until six or seven months had been spent repackaging it as a Bush-era plan. And therein lies a tale.

Now to other matters.

Earlier this morning I came home from doing a short segment on Fox and flipped on the TV. On Cnn Robert Novak was reading Senator Carl Levin a quote from fellow Senator Rick Santorum in which Santorum was claiming that only a double standard was keeping former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin from being called before Congress to testify on his employer Citicorp’s involvement in transactions which helped Enron hide losses.

It’s time to say it: this is a stupid argument. It’s being made by a) mau-mauing Republicans and their journalistic allies, b) morons, and c) chumps. Absent any new information those are really the only groups who can be involved. The first group I don’t much begrudge. They’re involved in a political fight and that’s how the game is played. The second group requires no explanation. The rest are journalists — largely, but not all, of vaguely liberal politics — who have so long been slapped around and cowed by conservative complaints about liberal bias that the desired Pavlovian response has become second nature. In the seedy vernacular we call this being ‘whipped.’ The better analogy might be to the emotionally-damaged battered woman who perversely respects her abusive husband for keeping her in line.

It’s not a pretty sight.

Unfortunately through a grievous

Unfortunately, through a grievous technical glitch, we lost the archived copy of the July 22nd through 31st TPMs. We are hunting around for a cached copy and will repost it as soon as possible.

Grievous, I tell you! Grievous!

One would think Id

One would think I’d been friendly enough to Al Gore over the months and years to avoid getting knocked in a blundering screed by Bob Somerby, the guy who writes the Daily Howler. But there’s a deeper annoyance and foolishness here that I’d like to comment on.

A few days ago I made the point that with the economy in a tizzy and so much incompetence from the Bush team we might see a very different dynamic in a 2004 match-up between Gore and Bush. Bush’s folksiness might count for much less than it did in 2000 and Gore’s experience might count for much more.

Here’s what I said.

In 2000 no one doubted that Al Gore was experienced and competent. But it almost ended up being a liability. People just never warmed to him. And they liked George W. Bush. Right now, who you’d rather hang with at the barbecue just doesn’t seem quite as important. Competence and experience does.

Here’s Somerby’s response (which comes in the course of a long post)..

“People just never warmed to Gore,” Marshall says, offering no thoughts as to why that happened. Of course, the fact that the press borked Gore for twenty straight months will seldom be mentioned in the press corps’ narrations. In these renditions, the press corps itself plays absolutely no role; their effect of events is completely disappeared. In the case of Campaign 2000, the press corps is removing itself from the turrible tale as it concocts its group story about Gore.

Be careful when you encounter that story. Trust us: This press corps never tells you the truth when its own conduct is part of the tale. Do you really think that Ambitious Al weirdly refused to acknowledge Vile Bill? If you believe that, we have a bridge to sell you. It’s a bridge to the thirty-first century.

On one level this strikes me as a stupid comment because anyone who’s even remotely familiar with my reporting and columns during the 2000 election knows that I was quite favorable to Gore and quite critical of the way the media covered him. Somerby is partly just at war with writerly brevity. One can’t say that people never warmed to Gore because then one is lumped in with the anti-Gore, ass-covering media conspiracy. One has to make the prescibed genuflection, stating that people never warmed to Gore because the press bought into the right-wing’s long-standing and well-timed attacks on Gore’s character, held him to a higher standard than the bumbling governor of Texas, yada, yada, yada.

In a similar fashion one can never write the grammatically elegant sentence “Gore lost the election” without a hundred yahoos writing in to say, “No, no, no, Gore didn’t lose. He got more votes. He won. Bush wasn’t elected, he was selected!”

Yes, yes, I know. I too think Gore was robbed. But I’m content to let the language remain unmutilated and assume that right-thinking people remember all that.

The whole thing makes me think of someone who walks to the edge of the road, looks right, looks left, and then walks into the street and gets run over. As his ghost is rising up to heaven he’s saying “No, wait, I looked both ways!”

Some things may not be your fault. But they’re still your problem.

And this brings us back to the question of Gore and the press. It’s stupid to criticize people who are sympathetic to Gore and yet don’t muddle up their prose with explanations of why Gore had a hard go of things.

But there’s a deeper issue too. Like Hobbes said with respect to life, most members of the press are nasty, brutish and short. And also not that sharp.

But, buddy, that’s life! Or at least it’s life in the political game. Most of the press was imbecilic in its treatment of Gore. But they were equally so of Bill Clinton and he managed okay. Democrats should mau-mau for press for their imbecility as successfully as whiny conservatives did for years about ‘media bias’, something that still has most of the press pitifully cowed.

I’m not saying to get over it. I’m saying to do something about it. Much of the political game is a matter of managing and dealing with a craven and shallow press corps. Like bad referees in sports, they may suck, but they’re part of the game. Once you get that through your &#$%(@# head you’re better equipped to deal with the situation.

For a while Ive

For a while I’ve thought the coverage of the Democratic jockeying for 2004 has been reported with an air of unreality. For starters: Joe Lieberman. As nearly as I can figure, for reasons I outline in Thursday’s New York Post, he never even enters the race.

I thought we might

I thought we might be able to go more than a few hours without another installment of (hands in the) Cookie Jar Watch. But it wasn’t meant to be.

As you know healthcare is a very pricey commodity — but one which veterans earn a right to by virtue of their service. But, think about, couldn’t we save a few bucks if we just didn’t tell these guys and gals about the healthcare services they’re entitled to? A shameful attitude, you say? Well, the Bush administration apparently doesn’t agree.

A couple weeks ago a Bush appointee at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Laura J. Miller, sent out a memo to local administrators telling them to stop healthcare outreach programs to vets so that the Department could save money.

In the memo (just added to TPM Document Collection), Miller notes the growing demand for VA healthcare services. But “against this backdrop,” she notes, “is very conservative OMB budget guidance for 2004.” In plain English that means we need more money to service all the vets who are applying for VA healthcare services, but Mitch Daniels and the White House says we can’t have it.

The answer?

Get more resources to serve the deserving vets?

Bite the bullet and say the budget requires cuts in VA health benefits?

No, no, no. Just order local officials to stop all efforts to tell vets what services they’re entitled to. What could be easier?

In the memo, Miller orders local administrators to “ensure that no marketing activities to enroll new veterans occur within your networks.” Efforts to get out the word about VA health services, the memo goes on to say, “with such activities as health fairs, veteran open houses to invite new veterans to the facilities, or enrollment displays at VSO meetings, are inappropriate.”

At least they’re pro-military.

Oh My … I

Oh My … I guess it’s time for another edition of Cookie Jar Watch. As in ‘hands in the …’ It seems no sooner was the president kickin’ it with Paul Sarbanes and gettin’ d-o-w-n with his regulatory self than the White House turns around and quietly announces its intention not to enforce a key provision of the law.

The new law included a whistleblower provision granting protection to any employee of a publicly traded company who take “lawful acts” to tip off or assist regulatory agencies, law enforcement officials or “any member of Congress or any committee of Congress.”

If they get punished they can file a claim at the Department of Labor and get reinstated and possibly also get compensatory damages.

But then the White House announced that it plans to interpret the law as referring only to a properly constituted congressional investigation. In other words, if you know your company’s books are getting cooked and you ring up a Senator before the investigation gets underway, then you’re vulnerable. But of course it probably would be before the investigation got underway, wouldn’t it? That’s why you’re dropping a dime on them in the first place! To let someone know what’s going on so they’ll start an investigation!

A special thanks to Nathan Newman for putting me on to this.

I spent most of

I spent most of June reporting on what the Bush administration has or hasn’t accomplished on homeland security — with particular emphasis on intelligence reform. Here’s the result, in the new issue of Blueprint magazine.

Another major topic covered is the woeful unpreparedness of the FBI — which was shocking to behold.

We need to do

“We need to do more to strip corrupt corporate kingpins of their ill-gotten gains. We’re taking the mansion. We’re draining the accounts. And we’re coming after the yacht.” That’s a quote from Tom DeLay of all people, in an article from the Washington Times about new super-mega-double-crack down efforts from the GOP.

Why does this remind me of Dukakis in the tank?

Oh to have been

Oh, to have been there at the first moment when this or that fabled canard got hatched on the world. The moment of creation. The precise second when the bacillus escaped the lab.

Someone had to argue that the recent stock market skid wasn’t the cause of congress’s new anti-corporate corruption bill, but rather its result. The markets weathered Enron and Worldcom and all the others just fine, this argument would hold. It was when congress got the idea of passing some new laws — that’s when the bottom fell out.

Someone had to be first. But who would it be?

The prize goes to James K. Glassman, who has apparently decided that the best defense (“Dow 36,000!“) is a good offense.

Indulge me in a

Indulge me in a quick counter-factual.

Imagine that Al Gore was now president and he, not George W. Bush, had sent up a proposal for a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Only in the Gore proposal all employees of the DHS would get free health care insurance, dental insurance, generous long-term care coverage, and copious allowances for repetitive stress injuries.

I assume editorialists would see this for what it was: a craven and disreputable attempt to bootstrap in the Democrats’ workplace policy agenda under the guise of a critical homeland security measure. The White House would be cynically calculating that they could snag an interest group goody on the sly since Republicans wouldn’t have the stomach to vote against. It wouldn’t matter if you happened to support universal health, long-term care insurance, and ergonomics regs. The White House just should not use the terrorism card to muscle through an ideological wish-list that it lacks the courage to push on its own terms.

So why no similar outrage at the Bush White House for doing just the same thing?

The White House is insisting on a Homeland Security bill with virtually all the civil service and collective bargaining rights of federal employees stripped out of it? The excuse of course is that the DHS is just too important to pussyfoot around with the sort of loafers who slide by under the civil service regime. But this argument — though superficially plausible — doesn’t bear much scrutiny, especially since these protections now apply to people doing just the same kinds of work throughout the federal government.

Maybe federal employees shouldn’t get the double protection of unions and civil service status. It’s not an unreasonable argument. If that’s what the president believes, he should send up a separate bill abolishing the civil service system. What he’s doing here is just using the crushed, maimed and devastated of 9/11 to prop up Grover Norquist’s federal workplace policy agenda.

Here are some interesting

Here are some interesting thoughts on the new (or rather proposed) Department of Homeland Security by two people who know what they’re talking about. Here’s the press release. Here’s the report.

Okay time to say

Okay, time to say it: Who’s the big winner in all this? The Democrats? Way too general. It’s Al Gore.

Consider just a few of the many reasons …

1. The first is the simplest. The 2000 election and a possible 2004 rematch are zero-sum games. What hurts Bush helps Gore. This hurts Bush so it helps Gore.

2. Gore ran on a people versus the powerful, anti-corporate-wrong-doing message. That sounds pretty good right now. And it would give Gore a strong ‘I told you so’ theme to go along with attacks on the various other ways Bush has run the country into the ditch. But wait, you say! Shrum just told him to say that. He never really believed any of that populist stuff. Well, I never really bought into that cynical read. But say you’re right. Who cares? He still said it.

3. In 2000 no one doubted that Al Gore was experienced and competent. But it almost ended up being a liability. People just never warmed to him. And they liked George W. Bush. Right now, who you’d rather hang with at the barbecue just doesn’t seem quite as important. Competence and experience does.

And if you thought the people who invested in stocks lost their shirt, just talk to the folks who put their money on the Bush team’s rep for competence.

There is an article

There is an article in Wednesday’s Washington Post (“Bush Bids to Regain Economic Initiative“) which is a weird mixture of bizarre and hilarious and downright terrifying.

In any case, it’s a must-read. It’s yet another piece on the White House’s response (if you can call it that) to the corporate scandals and stock market tumble. But this one just perfectly captures the mix of ideological rigidity, bizarre denial and whistling-past-the-grave trash-talk which is now the coin of the realm at the White House.

Remember the big tin robot in those early sixties sci-fi films? Remember how there’d come a point at the end where the hero would outwit the robot or set him on some problem he couldn’t solve and the robot would slip into a feedback loop and smoke would start coming out of his ears?

The White House is the robot.

It’s really that bad.

The upshot of the article is that Wall Street and congressional Republicans are going nuts. They think the sky is falling. But the White House thinks things really aren’t so bad. And they have a clever plan! The administration will use the August congressional recess to get a jump on Congress by pressing lawmakers to vote on fast track. That, and the President and Secretry O’Neill will travel to companies around the country that are doing well.

Phew! And I thought they didn’t have a plan…

The article accurately, if with understatement, notes that the White House’s response is “greatly constrained by administration philosophy … [which] does not believe in dramatic intervention, either in the markets or the economy.”

Sound familiar?

But here’s the graf that launches a thousand ships …

More dramatic economic proposals have so far been squelched. According to one economist close to the administration, White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey has suggested a narrowly tailored cut in the tax rate paid on stock profits for investors buying new stocks. That could lure buyers into the market. But the proposal was roundly shot down because it could be interpreted as a gift to affluent taxpayers at a time of economic uncertainty.

This is what I mean by the feedback loop and smoke coming out of their ears. Larry Lindsey is the president’s chief economic advisor, the top cheese, as good as it gets. His solution to the fix we’re in is to jigger the capital gains tax. Obviously his advice is being blocked by political advisors who happen not to be insane. But if Lindsey is being sidelined because he’s taken up residence on another planet who does that leave guiding the nation’s economic policy? Not Paul O’Neill. No one likes or respects him at the White House. Don Evans? Dick Cheney?

I think the answer is pretty obvious: No one.

We’re in trouble.

I write little about

I write little about technology on these pages. But this story left me incensed. A crew of Texas scammers or rather cyber-highwaymen are trying to shakedown the Internet economy for tons of cash by claiming that they own the patent to the jpg image format, the format in which at least half the images on the web — and I suspect many more — are stored.

The company is (the perhaps appropriately named) Forgent Networks and they claim that they got the rights to jpg when they bought Compression Labs back in 1997. They’ve apparently aleady gotten a few Japanese companies to cough up millions of dollars.

Up until now everyone had been going on the assumption that the basic jpg specifications were in the public domain — with ample facts to back up the assumption. (The precise ins and outs of the matter are a touch more complicated. And they’re discussed here. But this is the essence of it.) And now the Joint Photographic Experts Group, the committee which manages jpg (thus the name) is mobilizing an effort to prove the point.

If you don’t do much work with computer graphics or have never looked under the hood of a website, I grant you, this may all seem a touch nerdy and obscure. But really it’s not. Your digital camera? It uses jpg. Your Palm Pilot? Pretty much every electronic or computer device you own? The same thing. The sharks at Forgent want to get a cut from pretty much everyone who makes a product that uses computer images, and no doubt jack up the price you’ll have to pay.

I’m all for securing real intellectual property rights. But this, I assure you, is a scam. They are the cyber-era equivalents of highwaymen, sharks, cheesy protection racketeers. Let’s hope the folks at the Joint Photographic Experts Group and the courts won’t let them.

I read the next

I read the next day’s Wall Street Journal online very late in the evenings. And the Journal is particularly good at times like these because — at least in the news section of the paper — one gets a concentrated view of how professional market observers see what’s going on, absent much of the distracting glosses of the political right and left.

The most sobering article (subscription required) I read was on Williams, the telecom and energy trading company. I only have a layman’s understanding of such matters. But the essence of the story seemed to be that Williams hasn’t been caught in any clear shenanigans and it’s not that they’re some house-of-cards, never-to-be-profitable business like so many dotcoms. They’re just caught in the massive downdraft in the entire market. And now, for these various reasons, they’ve been unable to renew a certain unsecured credit line. And this may lead them further into the ditch.

Particulars aside, the sense one gets from reading this article is how the chaos in the market — and of course the flat-on-its-back telecom industry — is creating a massive economic downdraft that might force decent companies — a number of which control a lot of critical infrastructure — into the ground.

What makes this all really unsettling is that the executive branch, frankly, seems not to have any idea what’s going on.

That’s a strong statement and obviously I make some of my living being critical of Republicans. But it’s really true. I think most honest observers are starting to see that. And frankly that’s scary.

On Monday the president made some rambling remarks about bright times being around the corner and buying on the dips and a few other points that were virtually incomprehensible. Beside that he argued why he shouldn’t can his Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, a man who is essentially a non-entity in the administration, whatever his own virtues may be. O’Neill has been pretty much silent through all of this. But he’s prone to gaffes. So maybe it’s a good thing.

The vice-president is silent because he’s under investigation by the SEC.

Economic advisor Larry Lindsey is silent or maybe just can’t figure out what to do.

The same pretty much goes for Commerce Secretary Don Evans, the third member of the president’s economic brain-trust which gave him the sage advice not to include any serious reforms in his early July Wall Street speech.

Can anyone honestly deny that no one seems to be at the helm?

Friends I have had

Friends, I have had a wave of emails asking for the link to the Reuters news story about Karen Hughes’ husband’s decision to move back to Washington and the secret government “pre-cog” historians. Friends, this was satire. Admittedly, reality has been rubbing up against fantasy in recent days. But these developments, so far at least, haven’t occurred.

P.S. TPM’s accounting isn’t really done by Arthur Andersen either …

Reuters In a surprise

(Reuters) In a surprise turn of events today, Karen Hughes’ husband Jerry decides that Washington, DC. is a pretty rockin’ place after all. Hughes family to re-relocate to Washington, DC. Karen Hughes perhaps to be rehired at White House?

Meanwhile, secret government “pre-cog” historians ponder the implications of recent events for LJ “Dutch” Bush, great-grand-nephew of George W., currently scheduled to assume the presidency in 2072.

They say a picture

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But sometimes you get a bargain. Like this one of President Bush expressing his support for the American economy outside Chicago, Illinois — which is worth about 78 million words. Look at the faces. Each one.

If we just all

If we just all agreed in advance by mutual consent that the Dow is now really at 6,000, wouldn’t that just make for a more relaxing next few weeks?

Just a thought.

I didnt want to

I didn’t want to do any posts this weekend. But this article by Chris Caldwell in the New York Press merits an exception. It’s simply devastating and the most apt statement of the White House’s predicament I’ve yet read. Every word of it practically is worth reading and reading again.

There’s always an element of unmerited, guilty pleasure you feel when you hear someone on the other side making your side’s case for you. But it’s equally true that sometimes a political point can only be made clearly by someone who has to say it with an element of regret, whose words are free of the dross of wishful-thinking and mindless overstatement.

Consider this peerless paragraph, which comes after Caldwell argues that no actual illegality was likely involved in Bush’s Harken stock sale …

What kills the President is that every time Harken comes up, Democrats get to retell the story of how he made his money. And this, basically, is the story of the spectacular unfairness with which moneymaking opportunities are lavished on the politically connected. It is the story of a man who has been rewarded for repeated failures by having money shot at him through a fire hose. It is the story of a man who talks with a straight face about having “earned” a fortune of tens of millions of dollars, without having ever done an honest day’s work in his life.

More than anyone else thus far, Caldwell gets bracingly to the heart of the matter.

What’s so damning about this current round of revelations isn’t so much the law-breaking. Nor is it that people make the wrong choice when forced to choose between playing by the rules and taking shortcuts to cash in big. What’s so damning is that there is apparently a whole class of people who never have to face that tough decision, the sort of decision that defines most people’s lives.

The insiders’ we hear about never seem to have broken any law. Or they never knew the key inculpating fact at the key moment. But somehow they manage to cash out at the right time and everything works out okay.

One group of people seems to live in a world where the economic god comes out of the theology of John Calvin, while the other lives in a world with a god of ever-abiding love, universal salvation, endless second chances, and never having to say you’re sorry …

Welcome to the responsibility era

If youre wondering if

If you’re wondering if Tom White helped himself in his Senate testimony yesterday, the Army brass that works under him apparently isn’t. White got a standing ovation from the hundred-odd officers present at this morning’s staff briefing at the Army operations center. And it’s little surprise. The Senate Dems just hadn’t done their homework and it showed, as Josh Green makes clear in this earlier post.

Heres a first for

Here’s a first for Talking Points Memo: A guest post, this one from The
Washington Monthly’s
Josh Green — JMM

Are Democrats about to blow it on the issue of corporate scandal? You
wouldn’t think so from Dick Gephardt’s disputed-but-nonetheless-bold
prediction in Roll Call that the Democrats will take back 40 seats in the
House. But you might if, like me, you were seated behind embattled Army
Secretary/Enron impressario Thomas White yesterday as he testified before

Shrill Democratic grandstanding was the order of the day and dominates most
of today’s coverage. But anyone in the room could tell you that–flip charts
and hectoring moralism aside–the Democratic senators got trounced.
The hearing was supposed to connect White to the California price-fixing
scandal, but, well…it didn’t, as only a few astute reporters seem willing
to admit.

Here’s a quote from today’s Sacramento Bee: “By the end of the hearing,
Democrats were left with little more than they had started. Even with the
Enron memos, which Dorgan several times called ‘smoking-gun memos,’ there
was nothing linking White to the California energy crisis.”

Or how about Business Week? “Surprisingly, after several hours of grilling
White, several members of the Senate Commerce Committee seemed resigned to
accept the explanations for his corporate behavior while he was
vice-chairman of the Enron retail subsidiary.”

Regular TPM readers may remember the supposedly explosive report being
a while back by one Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen that was going to
doom White by linking him to the energy scandal. While a lot of folks took
the bait (the Senate and my gracious host among them) the hype surrounding
that report, at least as it pertains to the California scandal, now seems
thoroughly discredited. But that didn’t stop Slocum from showing up! He was
looking a bit glum and strangely out of place, decked out as he was in black
jeans and a billowing patterned shirt and looking uncannily like a member of
Third Eye Blind.

But back to the bigger issue: If Democrats swing and miss at the top Enron
official in the Bush administration–who, by the way, ain’t exactly a
choirboy— what does that say about their chances this fall? Maybe that
they’re dropping faster than the Dow?

— Josh Green

(July 18th, 2002 — 9:03 PM EDT // link)

Is the Bush administration the most crudely political administration ever? Especially when it comes to the conduct of foreign policy? To date, the administration has had two state dinners. One for the President of Mexico, another for the President of Poland. No doubt, if there were a country of Pennsylvania steelworkers tucked away somewhere in the Balkans their president would be getting the red carpet treatment too.

NEWSFLASH: (Reuters) President Bush hosts president of MidAtlanticSwingVoterStan at White House. State Dinner scheduled for Friday evening …

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