Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of

Articles by Josh

Did any companies involved in the New Economy keep truly honest books? Or did those that did all tank in 2001? The new revelations about AOL make you wonder. Aren't we getting to the point now where, by definition, everybody in the industry had to know about these shenanigans since they seem to have been practiced at virtually every company?

Actually, I've got to start having one of the big five accounting firms do my books because my understanding, based on the AOL article, is that I could book my phone bills and clothing expenses (nonexistent though they are) and gas bills as article fees! I'm not even sure how it would work but I'm eager to try it out.

It's the year 2054. Magnetic levitation devices replace cars in America's major cities. Super-cops arrest criminals before they can commit their crimes. And California Republicans field a viable candidate in a statewide race ...

You know your campaign is in bad shape when that highly opinionated and politicized news outlet, The Associated Press, runs a story with the headline: "Calif. GOP Businessman Founders"

An expert on California politics quoted in the article says this week's meeting of National Republicans in San Francisco is "Simon's opportunity to make a case to Republican leaders that he is still a viable candidate."

Sounds pretty promising, doesn't it? Read the piece to see all the gory details.

You don't need to run a poll to know that Social Security privatization is an issue with, shall we say, declining saliency. But here are some documents (in .pdf format) from a recent study commissioned by the NRCC (National Republican Congressional Committee) on the privatization issue. And the results for the Republicans are really not pretty. Definitely take a look. Your Democratic schadenfreude will thank you. Or if you're not a Democrat, well, then tell your operatives to keep a better hold on their work product.

The worst news Dick Cheney has gotten in the last week isn't any specific revelation of wrongdoing or any news out of the SEC. It's this series of quotes out of the current Newsweek. Halliburton CEO David Lesar told Newsweek that of course Cheney knew all about their accounting methods. Of course, he did. Point being: Don't look for a lot of help from David Lesar. Or rather, David to Dick: We're all in this together, buddy.

That message came through even more clearly in another passage in the article. Apparently the Vice President's Office routinely refers Halliburton related questions to Halliburton. And they're apparently miffed. “At some point, [Cheney] is going to have to address these [accounting] questions,” Halliburton spokeswoman Wendy Hall told Newsweek.


A major F--- You! like that doesn't get made by a flack on the record unless the people on the inside have given the matter a lot of thought. And if the Cheney people are smart, which they are, that's got to give them a lot of pause.

What's striking though is how flat on his feet Cheney seems to be right now. It's not just that you don't see much of him. His people just don't seem to know how to react, how to spin the situation, how to take a few questions, how to do anything. The problem I suspect is that Dick Cheney is really the von Clausewitz of political gamesmanship. All frontal attacks and massed troops and beating the enemy into the ground. He's got none of what B.H. Liddell Hart called the "indirect approach."

In the calculus of the Bush White House political game Cheney isn't just the heavy. He's the anvil. Whenever there is a hint of trouble -- like when the first intelligence failure revelations came out -- you can bet they'll send out Dick Cheney to go right for the Dems' jugular.

Cheney is like the mob goon who comes to your house, looks at you with maniacal eyes, wrings your neck with his clammy hands and tells you if you don't cool it he's not just gonna kill you, he's gonna wipe out your family, knee-cap your nephew, saw your dog in half, and pour salt and bleach all over your lawn so nothing grows on it again for another hundred years.

By the time somebody gets done getting the treatment like that they don't even remember the questions they once had the temerity to ask. Which is pretty much what you could say about the Dems more or less every time Cheney gives them a good #%$^*-slapping.

Cheney's problem right now is that these new charges don't really require Dems or anybody else to run with them. They speak for themselves. He's got no one to whack. No one to attack. So he and his crew don't know what to do.

Hey, baby, I was just gettin liquid ...

Sounds to me like something out of Austin Powers. But apparently in the world of Texas high-rollers it has a whole other meaning entirely.

According to this overnight AP article, two months before President Bush cashed out his Harken stock he signed a 'lockup letter' promising not to sell any of his stock for six months.

Oops ...

Asked about this ...

Bush's accountant, Robert McCleskey, said Monday that Harken's troubled finances were "not, in my opinion," a factor in the stock sale and that Bush sold his shares 12 years ago as part of a pre-existing plan in place for many months to "get liquid."

I don't know about the excuse, but, man, I'm loving the phrase ...

A long-unspoken fear of Washington's China-hawks is the influence President Bush's father (and his father's advisors) seems to have over his policy on China. That concern became a lot more pronounced as China-watchers read the tea-leaves over the weekend.

First a little background.

China policy has long had a special place in the former President's heart. And he and his close advisor and former NSC Director Brent Scowcroft travel to China frequently, seamlessly mixing business and policy hobnobbing.

The former President was there meeting with Jiang Zemin in early May with Scowcroft in tow. Then Scowcroft was again meeting with key government leaders in early July. He met with China's Defense Minister Chi Haotian in Beijing on July 1st.

A few days later on July 5th the current President went to the family retreat at Kennebunkport, Maine to celebrate his 56th birthday with the Bush clan. There of course he spent a lot of quality time with pop. He left Maine on Monday the 8th.

Then later in the week, according to Hong Kong's Sunday Morning Post and Reuters, the President had a meeting with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (it's unclear how many others were in the meeting) and basically gave him clear marching orders to warm relations with China, now.

A Hong Kong paper quoted a high-level administration source thus: "The president made clear that he had been well briefed and had given the issue considerable thought... He left Pentagon hawks in no doubt that it was time to start moving forward, if possible ... He is very keen for a relationship to start to develop and believes it is important for America's security interest and the wider Sino-US relationship."

There's nothing wrong with this of course. The president is the president. He can take advice from whomever he pleases. But who exactly has the president's ear on China policy? And why? How did he suddenly get so 'well briefed'? And why the seemingly sudden change? And what ever happened to one president at a time?

Vive la difference!

Whatever else you can say about US government policy on the legal status of American al Qaedaites it certainly doesn't lack for variety.

Let's review.

Abdul Hamid, aka John Walker Lindh. A white US citizen and run of the mill goofball from the Bay Area. Walker converted to Islam, travelled to Yemen, then Pakistan, then Afghanistan. He was captured at Mazar-e-Sharif and is now on trial on federal charges in Virginia.

Abdullah Al Muhajir, aka Jose Padilla. A Hispanic US citizen, one-time gangbanger, and an undeniable if utterly hapless al Qaeda terrorist. Padilla was arrested at Chicago O'Hare International Airport on suspicion of planning to steal dirty bomb materials, figure out how to construct a dirty bomb, and then make a dirty bomb. Padilla is currently being held incommunicado in a military brig in South Carolina in indefinite detention as an "enemy combatant." He cannot meet with a lawyer and there are no plans to charge him with a crime.

Yasir Hamdi, aka Yasir Hamdi. A Saudi who is also --- by accident of US citizenship laws and the constitution -- a US citizen. Hamdi was born of Saudi parents and was raised in Saudi Arabia. But he was born and lived for a year or two in Louisiana. Hamdi was captured in Afghanistan, taken to Guantanamo Bay and then evacuated to a Navy prison facility in Norfolk, Virginia. Hamdi is also an "enemy combatant" but courts are currently hashing out whether he might also get to have his own lawyer.

In the interests of looking ahead, the TPM editorial staff has done some further research and has assembled a list of new American al Qaedaites whose identities and exploits are to be announced in coming months ...

Lupo Montez, aka Abdullah bin Mohammad. US citizen of Saudi extraction, underwent conversion to Catholicism, took an Hispanic name, and became a farm worker in Napa Valley, California. Mohammad was visiting elder brother Marwan in Kandahar Afghanistan when captured by elements of the 82nd Airborne. Mohammad is currently in the custody of the INS in Douglas, Arizona and has been allowed to meet with a local immigration attorney three times.

Nazir bin Abu Bakr, aka Freddy Baker. African-American US citizen who converted to Islam while attending Duke University in the late 1990s. Baker was captured at Mazar-e-Sharif in November 2001. At Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, he denied being a US citizen, instead insisting that he was from Kenya. After being recognized by former Duke classmate First Lieutenant Edward "Lank" Griffin and determined to be an American, Baker was transferred to a holding cell at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. He is being held there incommunicado, without legal counsel, as an "enemy combatant." Baker has also been convicted in absentia by a military tribunal for charges arising from the disappearance of twenty-seven books on Islam and one copy of Basil Davidson's The Lost Cities of Africa from Perkins Library at Duke University.

Abu Jafar bin Yahya, aka Philippe Le Brun. US citizen who converted to Islam and travelled to Kandahar Afghanistan to study at leading Taliban-affiliated Madrassa. Le Brun was abandoned by departing Taliban because of accusations that he had ducked tours of jihad with repeated re-ups of Madrassa study in 1999, 2000, and early 2001. He was captured by elements of the 101st Airborne soon after the Taliban flight from the city. Le Brun was originally detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After his claims to American citizenship were verified, he was transferred first to an army brig at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, then later to Texas to stand trial on state misdemeanor charges of "consorting with the enemy." Le Brun was later determined not in fact to be a US citizen but rather a citizen of Luxembourg. He is currently fighting extradition from the United States from an INS holding center in Miami, Florida.

Talking Points seems to be getting old.

And fast.

The first sign has been creeping up on me slowly for the last several months: Frank Sinatra just seems a lot cooler to me than he used to. I mean, yes, yes, yes, I still mainly listen to Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones and John Coltrane and Billie Holiday. But that voice! I mean, I'm not sure quite what he had but, man, he had a lot of it.

Admittedly the whole thing is a rather disturbing development. Maybe it's something to do with the Cianci affliction.

The second sign came on me this afternoon with a jolt. I was working my way down my normal jogging path on S street in Dupont circle when a little goofball on a skateboard -- maybe 13 years old or so -- was coming toward me and stumbled and fell in my direction. I hopped out of the way and all in one motion steadied him with one outstretched hand as he fell. And as this happened I instinctively blurted out an avuncular "Watch out, son."

Son? SON!!! Watch out, son? Where'd that come from? I'm only 33 years old. I'm not even old enough to ... or at least ...

Anyway, enough about me. What I actually came to talk to you about tonight is Iraq.

There have been a slew of quite good articles appearing recently. Not all great actually, but good informational articles. Here's one yesterday which appeared in UPI, another in the Times of London and this from today's USA Today. There's a lot of good information in each of these pieces. But, frankly, my doctrine on these pieces in the dailies is not to believe any of them. If you did you would have to believe that the US from one day to the next went from preparing to go to war with Iraq to backing out of it entirely and then back to war again, all within a couple days. These articles are all based on self-interested leaks and few if any of them take the time to probe the nature of their sources self-interest, though that is admittedly a difficult thing to do. Each of the three pieces above has solid factual information. But the central thrust of each is, to the best of my knowledge, false.

There is one fact, however, that I believe may be becoming clear.

Many people believe that an Iraq invasion would be questionable, perhaps disastrous, policy but great politics. Great politics at least in the sense that a successful campaign in Iraq sometime in 2003 or 2004 would seal George W. Bush's reelection.

The truth I think is almost precisely the opposite.

(The Bush administration has gotten a lot of things completely upside down about Iraq and this is totally one of them.)

As regular readers of this column know, a couple months ago I came to the reluctant conclusion that regime change in Iraq probably was the right thing to do. But I feel pretty strongly that it's at best a wash politically.

Let's grant for a moment that if an invasion of Iraq went badly the political consequences would be disastrous for the administration. I don't think anyone doubts that. But let's say it went well: a quick victory, no grave collateral damage either human or geo-political, and few US casualties.

Still, I'd say it's basically a wash for the administration.

Here's why.

For better or worse President Bush has convinced a substantial majority of the country that he's a strong war leader and a sure hand at foreign policy. Whether or not you or I believe that is irrelevant. Most of the country does. And so, unlike the case when he came into office, it wouldn't accomplish that much politically for President Bush to show he could successfully conduct a military campaign.

The other point is more fundamental. I suspect that if the US invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam's government with few negative consequences, the typical American voter's response would be something like this: "Wow. That was impressive. Great execution. I guess we're not gonna have to worry about Saddam Hussein any more. But then again I'd never really given the whole thing too much thought anyway. So what's the next issue?"

I don't doubt for a second that if such a successful engagement took place during an election, or not that long before it, that the president would get a sizeable boost. But not too long after I suspect the political benefit would be gone entirely, much as it was in 1991. This issue is just not very high on anybody's agenda. It's a big gamble. And it wouldn't end for a long time. The United States would have a big military presence on the ground for a years and years.

9/11 was totally different. Everybody in the country was scared and angry. Very scared and very angry. The president said he'd strike back. He did strike back. And at least in the first major engagement -- overthrowing the Afghan government -- he succeeded rapidly and unambiguously. It's never surprised me that his popularity has lasted as long as it has.

But Iraq? Totally different. This doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. I think it's still the right thing to do. But politically it's a total loser.

More postcards from the responsibility era.

One of the things I like that they [Andersen Accounting] do for us [Halliburton Co.] is that ... I get good advice ... from their people based upon how we're doing business and how we're operating, over and above the, just sort of the normal by-the-books audit arrangement ...

--Dick Cheney, 1996

They say that patriotism is the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings. Steal a little and they throw you in jail, Steal a lot and they make you king.

--Bob Dylan, 1983