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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Here's a point I'm surprised no one has made more of.

As you know, the president says the Treasury notes in the Social Security are 'worthless IOUs'. And we've explained, probably at too much length at this point, why that is both factually incorrect and morally wrong, in as much as stealing other people's money is ever wrong.

The only sense in which the president's claim has any meaning at all is that while those Treasury notes are assets in the hands of the Social Security Trust Fund (payroll tax money collected overwhelmingly from middle income earners) they are also claims against future money out of general revenues (money collected disproportionately from upper-income earners).

That doesn't make them unique: all the debt we've been running up over the last three decades is in Treasury notes that will have to be paid back, with interest, out of general revenue. The ones owned by the central banks in Asia, the ones that President Bush has most of his personal wealth tied up in, all of them.

It's always seemed to me that it's a good thing, not a bad thing, that some of that money at least can go to people's Social Security checks.

That's not a reason to get rid of Social Security, as the president wants. It's a reason to stop running chronic budget deficits.

In any case, the point the president is trying to make is that those bonds built up in the Trust Fund will have to be paid in coming years out of general revenue, which means for the most part out of income taxes.

But consider this.

On what basis are we endlessly told that President Bush's private accounts system would be a secure retirement security vehicle for Americans? Because he says that a substantial proportion of the accounts would be made up of US government bonds, the safest investment in the world.

So what's the difference exactly?

Private accounts advocates would say that there's all the difference in the world since people would have a personal property right to those assets rather than what they have now. I'm not so sure that's really true, as I'll try to explain later. But even if it is, that doesn't make any difference in terms of the fact that they are obligations against general revenue from the US Treasury.

Under either scenario, a substantial portion of the US government's retirement security program will be paid for by general revenue funds. And you can come up with the same scare-quotes about this or that number of hundreds of billions of dollars being needed and whether it's going to come out of budget cuts or new taxes. As far as I can see, there's no difference.

So perhaps reporters should ask the president what will make those bonds any less worthless when they start funding his private accounts plan.

Now, one separate point. Private accounts advocates, as I said, will argue that a big difference is that you'll own these assets. But will you? As I understand the president's program, you'll have a choice of investing in a handful of separate funds, which will vary by risk -- some weighted more to stocks, others weighted more to bonds. Whatever theoretical ownership right you might have, it sounds to me like this just means that instead of having one big Trust Fund -- with all those worthless IOUs -- President Bush is going to set us up with maybe 4 or 5 mini-Trust Funds, each with their cabinet drawer of worthless IOUs. It'll be sorta like the baby-bells after the break up of ATT.

As near as I can figure it, the only way to get around this problem is to have the private accounts invested entirely in stocks. Or, rather, to have none of their funds invested in US government bonds.

Of course, if you do that, the risk level goes through the roof.

Max Speaks!

A couple days ago we wondered aloud how many 'worthless IOUs' President Bush has himself written to the Social Security Administration. Max Sawicky ran the numbers and came up with the total: $639 billion.

That's about 1/3 of the 'worthless IOUs' currently in the fund.

Over the next five years, he plans to write another trillion dollars worth, according to his recent budget projection.

Max has the details.

A bad news Wall Street Journal poll for the president ...

Almost three months into President Bush's second term, a raft of economic and social issues -- Social Security, immigration, gay marriage and the recent national debate over Terri Schiavo -- is splintering the Republican base.

After winning re-election on the strength of support from nine in 10 Republican voters, the president is seeing significant chunks of that base balk at major initiatives, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows. One-third of Republicans say Democrats in Congress should prevent Mr. Bush and party leaders from "going too far in pushing their agenda," and 41% oppose eliminating filibusters against Mr. Bush's judicial nominees -- the "nuclear option" that Senate Republican leaders are considering.


Also of note ...

On his centerpiece initiative of Social Security, for instance, 32% of Republicans call it "a bad idea" to let workers invest payroll taxes in the stock markets.

Despite Mr. Bush's cross-country tour to sell his plan, that proportion has held steady since January, while resistance among Democrats and senior citizens has driven overall opposition to 55% from the 50% recorded on the eve of his second inauguration. On Social Security, "opinions are hardening in a way that makes Bush's job more difficult," Mr. McInturff says.

On judicial nominations -- a cause of contention between the White House and Democratic leaders -- resistance among rank-and-file Republicans is even higher. Four in 10 say the option of filibusters should be preserved.


Tomorrow, more on the <$NoAd$> doctrine of Rovian infallibility.

If I'm not mistaken, this new story about Tom DeLay's junket to the Marianas back in the late 1990s is pretty much the same story we read in the late 1990s.

(Just to be clear and fair: The reporter with the byline on the ABC report -- Brian Ross -- is one of the journalists who reported on the story back at the time.)

This is the case where DeLay and his family got a luxe trip to a resort in Saipan so he could help make the US territory safe for sweatshop labor.

Don't get me wrong. It stinks to high heaven.

But the resurrection of this story does seem to suggest that we're in that phase of the battle where all the stuff that was long written up about DeLay, but routinely ignored, is getting written up again. And now we're shocked, shocked that this hustler has been polluting the people's House with his neo-Tammany shenanigans.

There's going to be rather an abundance of gloating and knife-toothed smiles (as well there should be) among Democrats tonight as people read Mike Allen's piece in Thursday's Post revealing the identity of the person who wrote the infamous Schiavo 'talking points' distributed in the senate last month.

This is the document that called the Schiavo tragi-circus a "a great political issue" and one that "the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating."

Turns out it was the legal counsel to freshman Sen. Martinez (R) of Florida, a former gun-rights lobbyist named Brian Darling. As you might imagine, Darling's now chosen to leave the senator's employ and move on to other opportunities.

I'll let others dig into how many other Republicans knew about the memo, or helped distribute it or whatever else.

To me, though, the folks who really deserve to be tarred and feathered over this are the almost criminally fatuous commentators and reporters who wrote up stories suggesting the memo was actually a dirty trick by the Democrats, a false flag operation meant to make the Republicans look bad.

In politics, anything is possible. And often the most improbable and devilish things turn out to be true. So, sure, anyone could have been the author.

But look at the evidence some folks walked into print with ...

Look, all the Republicans senators say they didn't do it! And if they didn't, who did?

And did you see that the strategy memo wasn't written on RNC letterhead? And you want us to believe it was written by a Republican?

I hope some folks have sense enough to feel like real fools tonight.

CNN in the bag? Or in the sack?

Lou Dobbs insta-poll question tonight is: "Do you believe House Majority Leader Tom Delay is the victim of a campaign by the 'liberal' media to embarrass him?"

There's truly no end to the comedy.

One thing I always say is that Washington needs more bipartisan cooperation. And since David Keene, Chairman of the American Conservative Union, seems to be the head conservative leading up the effort to defend Tom DeLay and keep him in place as House Majority Leader, it occurred to me that I should reach out to him and see if we can form a coalition, bringing together Republicans and Democrats of goodwill, who want to keep Tom DeLay where he is as head of the House Republican caucus, doing what he does best.

Some groups and leaders in the Democratic neck of the woods might not want to join our coalition publicly, sort of like all those brokerage houses that fund the Social Security phase-out front groups. But behind the scenes I have no doubt we can enlist many of them in our joint effort. And they'll be quite active in support.

David, what say you?

Late Update: We can call it the CDI: The Coalition to DeLay the Inevitable.

News Flash: CNN reports latest DeLay stories on front page!

Oh, no, wait ... They report DeLay's calling the reports "seedy" on the front page.

My bad ...

Let me mention a few more details about the new site we're getting ready to launch.

It has a few different components. But the main one is a new group blog with a few more than a dozen individual contributors. The group blog will be a forum both for posts on topics and questions of interest to the individual contributors and also, we hope, for debate and discussion amongst them.

As you might expect, the focus of conversation will be politics and current affairs, but neither narrowly nor exclusively. We're also hoping for lively exchanges about the arts, literature, religion and the sciences.

We're still putting together the list of contributors. And we'll be bringing you more on that in the coming days. But the list of those who've already signed on includes Todd Gitlin, Ed Kilgore, Mike Lind and Judith Shulevitz, among others.

More on this soon.

The Moose sees it too. Marshall Wittman says that the sourcing of those DeLay hit articles makes it look a lot like Rove may be pulling the trap door lever on the bug man.

Meanwhile, the Mallet got his House caucus to line up in support and got Rep. Roy Blunt (R) of Missouri, their #3 man, to sign up as chief spear-catcher: "I don't see any wavering of the support for the leader. I think a lot of members think he's taking arrows for all of us."

(Can someone out there translate that line into Italian for us?)

Finally, a conservative pal sent me a form letter from the ACU's David Keene calling on all conservatives to line up behind Tom DeLay and defend him with every measure of their strength.

So it would seem that to small government, strong national defense and traditional values has been added a fourth pillar of the conservative movement: defending Tom DeLay no matter what new ethics infractions, crimes or generalized corruption might show up in tomorrow's papers.

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