Josh Marshall

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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 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 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.

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 Congress.

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, 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 touted 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 ...

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 ...