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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

GOP front groups like USANext (the folks now working to uncover the AARP-homosexual world conspiracy) usually change their names every couple years or hive off other outfits just to keep everyone guessing. So USANext is actually part of the United Seniors Association, or as they put it: "USA United Generations and USA NEXT are grassroots projects of United Seniors Association (USA) which is celebrating its 13th anniversary as the non-partisan, 1.5 million-plus nationwide grassroots network Uniting the Generations for America’s Future."

They share the same website now. So really it's all the same outfit.

In any case, despite claiming this vast membership, this article from last year in The Washington Monthtly makes clear that United Seniors Association is basically a slush fund through which pharmaceutical companies make huge donations to the Republican party.

Says the article ...

Then there's the benignly-named United Seniors Association (USA), which serves as a soft-money slush fund for a single GOP-friendly industry: pharmaceuticals. USA claims a nationwide network of more than one million activists, but, just like Progress for America, listed zero income from membership dues in its most recent available tax return. USA does, however, have plenty of money on its hands. During the 2002 elections, with an "unrestricted educational grant" from the drug industry burning a hole in its pocket, the group spent roughly $14 million--the lion's share of its budget--on ads defending Republican members of Congress for their votes on a Medicare prescription-drug bill.


You can pick up the story on the United Seniors money mill from this July 2003 consumer bulletin from, of all places, the dreaded AARP.

One thing we learn from the AARP bulletin is that they apparently picked up USANext chief Charlie Jarvis from that notorious Spongebob-basher radical cleric James Dobson. Before he got the USANext gig, Jarvis was an executive vice president of Dobson's group Focus on the Family. And in the interests of bringing you all the information, it seems that it is not 100% accurate to say that USANext is a slush fund purely for the drug industry, seeing as how Jarvis was willing to bring the group out in favor of the rights of seniors to drill in ANWR after an Anchorage-based company called Arctic Power cut a check for $181,000. And if all that weren't enough, it seems that as of the summer of 2003 the Social Security Administration itself had secured a 'cease and desist' order against Jarvis's group for sending out mailings that "mislead the public into believing the mail is officially sent or approved by the Social Security Administration."

Charlie Jarvis, quite a piece a' work.

There's really no way to top USANext's anti-AARP ad claiming that the colossal fogey-bund we've all come to know over recent decades is really no seniors organization but a secret anti-military-pro-gay-love organization.

(If you don't know what we're talking about you'll want to see this post from yesterday to come up to speed.)

But one TPM Reader (D) noticed that the 'filename' of the ad run by USANext on the American Spectator website was '2.gif'. And he put two and two together, shall we say, and found these two other anti-AARP attack ads already on-deck at the Spectator website ready to get crackin'.

As I said, you really can't top the first attempt by Rove's front group USANext to get folks thinking that AARP either was the secret funder of Tongues Untied or part of a diabolical plot to enforce mandatory homosexuality in the armed forces.

But these two other samples are at least worth a look.

First, there's this ad putting AARP in a line-up with other liberal hobgoblins Bill Clinton, Hillary, Jesse Jackson and Ted Kennedy as one of "America's Liberal Powerbrokers" and then this one that let's you participate in a "conservative flash poll" to determine which "organization is the MOST liberal." Your choices are AARP, the ACLU, the NAACP and NARAL -- sort of a right-wing phantasmagoria with everyone from the crooks' lobby to the uppity negroes to the baby-killers, and now AARP, the notorious homo retiree outfit.

Who will take this to Rove's doorstep?

Granted, it's one of the British tabs, with all the skepticism that rightly entails. But the Sunday Mirror says that the White House has told the Brits that Camilla Parker Bowles is persona non grata at the White House. That can't be right, can it?

Lovely, just lovely.

We're already hearing that Rove has tapped Bill Bennett to take up his anti-AARP slime crusade. And another TPM Reader, JW, has just drawn our attention to a USANext ad (second down on the right hand column) currently running on the American Spectator website.

(USANext, you'll remember from this morning's Times, is the GOP seniors astroturf group now tasked with roughing up AARP for opposing Social Security phase-out.)

Over the headline: "The REAL AARP Agenda", the ad has, on the left, a picture of a soldier in desert fatigues with a big 'X' crossing him out and on the right a picture of two men (in tuxes and obviously just married) kissing each other. The gay newlyweds have a big green check mark over them.

The Rove slime, here it comes: AARP, the spit-on-the-troops/gay marriage lobby.

The prize to Marshall Wittman for the first choice prediction of what we'll likely see from Rove's SwiftBoatesque bludgeon-AARP astroturf campaign: "What's next - a Regnery book titled Unfit to Age?"

If the underlying issue weren't so serious, it would almost be farcical that Karl Rove is now rolling out the same slimers he used to go after John Kerry's military record to go after AARP. Not that AARP is without foibles and flaws certainly. Many of those who are now celebrating the organization's determined opposition to phasing out Social Security were breathing fire a year or so ago when the group supported the White House prescription drug bill. But I have to confess to a certain degree of genuine curiosity and anticipation in waiting for whatever garish charges they are going to hurl at the, shall we say, rather unexciting seniors organization.

As you've probably already seen in the Times this morning, one of the Republican party's two main 'seniors' astroturf organizations, USANext is now reuniting the folks behind the SwiftBoat malarkey to go after AARP in the Social Security wars.

To drive home the idea that they are a seniors organization (despite the fact that there's no age requirement for membership) they've retained Art Linkletter as their national spokesperson/chairman, presumably because Lawrence Welk, being dead, wasn't available.

(The Times rightly notes that USANext's main previous claim to fame was as a slush fund or piggy bank for some of founder Richard Viguerie's other companies.)

To me, the main question that comes to mind about this is whether we will have to endure another round of media Kabuki theater over whether this is really a White House operation when it is so clearly a piece of Mr. Rove's handiwork.

Another thing that caught my eye was that Jarvis's outfit has retained the services of our old friend Chris LaCivita.

LaCivita, for those who follow these things, is a veteran astroturfer and hired gun, who's had a hand in all sorts of funny-business over recent years. We're most interested to see if he gets pulled in to testify at the oft-delayed trial of Jim Tobin later this year.

Tobin, you'll remember, is the former New England Chair of the Bush-Cheney Reelection Committee, who back in 2002, when he was the Northeast political director of the NRSC (the Senate Republican campaign committee) organized the phone-jamming hijinks to sabotage Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts in the Sununu-Shaheen senate race.

Sununu ended up winning by a solid enough margin that he probably didn't need the help. But two of Tobin's co-conspirators have now pled guilty in the case and Tobin (whose trial has now been delayed a few times) is scheduled, I believe, to go on trial in June.

Now, Tobin was the Northeast field director for the Senate Republicans and the guy he was working for was none other than our man Chris LaCivita, the political director of the committee in the 2002 cycle. The fairly obvious question of what LaCivita did or knew about the operation has, to the best of our knowledge, never been addressed.

Since then LaCivita, along with Tobin, went to work for that Johnny Appleseed of astroturf, Tom Synhorst and his outfit DCI. And of course last year LaCivita was doing the Lord's work helping to gin up the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to maul John Kerry.

Rove will resort to anything to scam Americans out of a program they support. But maybe he's not the only one willing to go to the mattresses in this fight.

Apropos of the previous entry, one TPM Reader (FW) asks whether Rep. Jim Kolbe (R) feels miffed that he has to go before real townhall meetings while President Bush gets to do his phase-out song and dance in front of the phony-baloney variety.

Another phase-out flame-out?

Give Rep. Jim Kolbe (R) of Arizona <$Ad$> credit. Despite pressure from their congressional leadership and the White House to hold townhall meetings on Social Security in their districts, most representatives and senators seem poised to spend next week's congressional recess hiding from constituents at the nearest undisclosed location. But Kolbe is holding meetings and real ones where anyone can get in.

But privatization doesn't seem to be going over too well.

Says local station KVOA: "More than once, Congressman Jim Kolbe had to pacify a deeply divided crowd Saturday at Pima Community College. Many blasted the Congressman and the social security Deputy Commissioner James Lockhart, with questions about their Social Security plan, especially on the idea of private accounts."

Two TPM Reader-Correspondents also reported in from the field and they seem to feel that the crowd wasn't so much divided as just spirited in their opposition to phase-out.

First, from JM ...

Went to a townhall meeting with Jim Kolbe and James Lockhart held in Tucson, AZ.

Kolbe did a brief sketch of his plan, and Lockhart went over some (in my opinion, and some others in the audience) definitely pro privatization scenarios. Then it was opened up for questions.

There were approximately 150 - 175 people in attendance, and based on the response to the questions asked I would say it was 90% against privatization. The 2 things that elicited the greatest positive response were 1) Moving the cap on SSA Tax wages up (with I would say a majority in favor of total elimination of the cap; 2) Repeal the Bush tax cuts.

I do not see any way that this can be spun by Mr. Kolbe to have shown support for his plan or any other privatization plan.


And a more detailed account from TPM Reader AP ...

Jim Kolbe brought James Lockhart to Tucson yesterday to flack for his SS bill. Mr. Kolbe began with a short speech, in which he noted that he had been working on "fixing" Social Security for ten years, and that the "problem" is based on "established actuarial data." He referred to his statements regarding the insolvency of Social Security as, "not a scare tactic but a mathematical fact." He continued to discuss Personal Accounts, but allowed that "PSA does not fix the problem." He then introduced Mr. Lockhart.

Mr. Lockhart delivered a PowerPoint presentation titled "Strengthening Social Security," which, of course, began with the assumption that there is a problem with Social Security. Needless to say, all his numbers were based on the Intermediate Assessment in the 2004 Trustees report, and did not at all address the Low-cost Assessment. He also had a "calculator" which he claimed had been developed in co-operation with AARP. Needless to say, this "calculator" showed that the only way to "save" Social Security is to institute "Personal Accounts."

I'd estimate that 200 people turned out - it was standing room only. The great majority of attendees appeared to be well over fifty years old. There was a strong, perhaps even vehement, bias against both Kolbe and Lockhart. Several times Kolbe called for people to allow Mr. Lockhart to continue his presentation, at one point testily exclaiming, "Folks, come on!" One of Mr. Lockhart's slides, a quote from President Bush's recent State of the Union speech, drew loud boo's and even raspberries from the crowd.

Once, the floor was given over to the audience, all but one of the speakers came out against private accounts. At one point, Mr. Kolbe requested a show of hands for several different "solutions." Elimination of the salary cap while simultaneously limiting benefits to current (indexed) levels received well over 50%, perhaps as much as 75%. Mr. Kolbe tried to suggest that this would be unfair to people such as Bill Gates and received: "Who cares?" and "So what?" in response.

I was called on near the end of the meeting, and attempted to challenge the whole notion that there is a problem. I noted that eight years ago, Mr. Kolbe was predicting bankruptcy for Social Security in 2027, and that now, eight years later, this date has slid out fifteen years. I further noted that the "crisis" is based on the fairly pessimistic numbers in the intermediate assessment, and that the Low Cost assessment shows solvency for 75 years. Mr. Lockhart quickly jumped in to contradict me, and Mr. Kolbe immediately called on another speaker. Even though I had refutations of Mr. Lockhart's counters, I was not allowed to present them. I'll apologize for not being a strong enough debater.

While the crowd was substantially opposed to their position, it seems they were successful in planting the notion that there is a "problem," if not a crisis. Further, on the only local news that carried the story that evening, the reporter barely covered the strong opposition, then gave both Kolbe and Lockhart time to make their points and concluded by stating that something needs to be done. So much for a liberal media.


We'll be curious to see how this was all reported in the local papers.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito's (R) message for (pro-Social Security) West Virginians about her Social Security townhall meetings next week: "I will describe the problem, but I'm not going to be advocating for any particular solution. If I go to all these town meetings and it's a stampede against reform, I'll have to factor that into my thinking."

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