Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of

Articles by Josh

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 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 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 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 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 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.

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 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 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.