Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Here's a question -- not the rhetorical kind, a genuine question.

I didn't delve deeply into the legal -- as in black letter law -- side of the Schiavo case. But watching that part from a distance at least, I didn't have the sense that any of the various rulings in the case -- original or on appeal -- departed in any meaningful way from the black letter law as it exists in the state of Florida.

Maybe the law is wrong and should be changed. Or maybe the law is proper but in this case it produced a bad result -- and even a good law can fail to produce the 'right' result in a given case. But set those points aside.

Was there any clear point in the legal history of this case at which, purely on legal intepretation grounds, any significant question should have been judged in a different manner?

I raise this because one of this site's regular readers and correspondents just dropped me a note about some program he was watching on C-Span in which some staffer from the Hill was about to blow a fuse over unaccountable activist judges and how they all need to be impeached.

But if the answer to the question above is 'no', then isn't the real beef of all these Schiavo-hounds that these judges aren't activist enough in departing from the law to get results the hounds want?

The Post has just posted a .pdf of the 'Schiavo talking points' written by one of Sen. Martinez's staffers and distributed to senate Republicans.

Of course, if Mike Allen were even a half-way decent journalist he would have correctly identified these not as 'Republican talking points on the Schiavo case' but rather as 'a series of bullet points written on plain, unmarked white paper by a senior staffer from Sen. Martinez's office who, as far as we know, was not operating under a direct order from the senator to write talking points about the Schiavo case which stated what a good political issue the Republicans thought it was before the first round of polls came back.'

Kurtz and Kaus, take it away.

The Post says that the Bamboozlepalooza Tour "may be one of the most costly in memory, well into the millions of dollars, according to some rough, unofficial calculations." And even Republicans on the Hill seem to be getting concerned.

Remember, too, that that money comes into a whole different light when you see that Americans are being systematically excluded from these taxpayer-funded tour events on the basis of political ideology.

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.