Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Times of London ...

MINISTERS were warned in July 2002 that Britain was committed to taking part in an American-led invasion of Iraq and they had no choice but to find a way of making it legal.

The warning, in a leaked Cabinet Office briefing paper, said Tony Blair had already agreed to back military action to get rid of Saddam Hussein at a summit at the Texas ranch of President George W Bush three months earlier. The briefing paper, for participants at a meeting of Blair’s inner circle on July 23, 2002, said that since regime change was illegal it was “necessary to create the conditions” which would make it legal.

More here ...

Perhaps this shouldn't surprise me; but it does. Sen. Mel Martinez (R) of Florida yesterday gave a partial endorsement of Sen. Biden's call to shutdown the prison camp (let's call it what it is) at Guantanamo Bay.

Martinez isn't a senator like Hagel or McCain. He's Bush's former HUD secretary. And he was elected, more or less, as a Bush proxy.

I'm not sure I have anything to add at the moment to the growing chorus of outrage at what we've collectively allowed to happen just off our shores. But there is some mix of grim appropriateness and shameful symmetry to the fact that we've chosen the one piece of territory in the Americas free of free elections, civil rights and civil liberties to build our own human rights free zone.

I'm a bit embarrassed to say that I hadn't heard of this book before today. But it's one I'm certainly interested in reading and one I imagine a lot of TPM Readers would be too. Please note, I have not read the book yet. So I can't say it's a recommendation per se. But I want to bring it to your attention.

It's called The Plot Against Social Security : How the Bush Plan Is Endangering Our Financial Future. And it just came out in May.

It's by Michael Hiltzik, a business columnist for the LA Times.

Here's part of what Publishers Weekly said about it ...

A Pulitzer Prize–winning financial journalist for the Los Angeles Times, Hiltzik gathers arguments made by a plethora of economists and skeptics into a comprehensive, biting critique of the privatization agenda and what he calls the "astroturf" alliance of right-wing ideologues, Wall Street opportunists and Republican political operatives that "aims to propagate, and then exploit, public ignorance." Prophecies of the Social Security trust fund's bankruptcy, he finds, are based on dubious and politically biased forecasts; more realistic projections have the trust fund growing nicely over the next 75 years. Even if doomsayers' predictions come true, he notes, the system's solvency can be safeguarded by straightforward fixes; simply lifting the cap on Social Security taxes—thus taxing high-income workers at the same rate as everyone else—would make up Bush's projected shortfall and then some, he says.

Sounds about right to <$NoAd$> me.

Late Update: TPM Reader DE sent in this note this morning: "I just finished reading The Plot Against Social Security, and it is an excellent book. A good background on the origins of the program, some depth on the phony assumptions that go into the pessimistic forecasts, what's behind the push for privatization, and some suggestions for truly helping social security. An easy and very educational read."

Later Update: And now TPM Reader NG chimes in: "Hiltzik's columns in the LATimes are uniformly excellent--he's been a must-read for me ever since he covered the supermarket strikes here. He deals with workers with real understanding."

This is interesting. You'll remember that a few months back three opponents of privatization went to one of the president's Bamboozlepalooza events and got tossed by someone who they were told was a Secret Service agent, even though they did nothing to disrupt the event in any way.

(It later emerged that the reason they were ejected was that they came in a car with a 'No Blood for Oil' bumper sticker.

To the best of my knowledge no one now disputes the fact that the three did nothing to merit ejection, even by the most draconian and Bush-true standards of president-fealty. And politicians of both parties in Colorado have condemned what happened.

The three involved as well as their supporters have been trying to find out since March just who the official was who ejected them, what the justification was and who he worked for.

At this point, the Secret Service has confirmed that the person in question did not work for them. And the White House has conceded that Mr. X was working as a volunteer for the White House. Both know the identity of the man. But both refuse to divulge the who he is or reveal any more about what happened.

Here's a piece in today's Rocky Mountain News on the latest. And here's more from the Denver Post.

Here's an important new development in the Social Security story.

According to this article by David Espo of the Associated Press, a group of senate Republicans met privately on Thursday to try to come up with a Republican consensus plan on a Social Security bill they can move through the Finance Committee and presumably on to the floor.

The key point: the plan under discussion not only jettisons private accounts, it seems also to jettison the key elements of the Bush Sorta-Pozen plan released little more than a month ago.

The devil would very much be in the details on this. But according to Espo, the plan under discussion would involve a gradual increase in the retirement age and a freeze, or near-freeze, in the annual wage-linked rise in benefits at retirement for upper-income earners.

Again, Espo's description is less precise than you'd want it to be to know exactly what was discussed. But what he seems to be saying is that unlike the early-May Bush plan (Bush Phase-Out 2.0?) which said it cut benefits for upper-income earners but actually cut them for almost everyone, this plan would really only cut them for upper-income earners.

To my reading, this sounds very much like the phase-out death rattle, the phase of a legislative struggle -- grimly reminiscent for some of us of late 1994 -- in which a doomed legislative initiative rapidly de-evolves into more and more pitiful and anemic forms of its original self before finally disappearing into thin air -- perhaps with not a few of its champions going 'poof' along with it.

Nothing more tasty on a summer day than a good mad-cow-burger. Take a look here at what we may be eating and why.

Yesterday a number of blogs seized on an article by Ken Bazinet in the Daily News as an example that President Bush was cutting loose private accounts and refocusing his energy on achieving 'solvency' in Social Security with steep benefit cuts.

It seemed to me that they were over-interpreting what the article or Bush actually said. What Bush actually said was that "you can solve the solvency issue without personal accounts." And it seems to me he's given different versions of that statement a number of times over the last two or three months.

But my point here is not to get into an argument about what that comment meant. Atrios and others may well be right. And important political shifts are often signaled by seemingly inconsequential statements.

But regardless of whether they're right in this case, Bush probably will eventually pivot in just this direction. So it makes sense to air the issue now.

Basically, as long as everyone has an accurate understanding of the big picture, I don't see why the defenders of Social Security should be worried by such a shift in direction from the president.

The thinking is that Democrats, having invested so much political and rhetorical energy in opposing 'privatization' will now be faced with a president who says, in so many words, 'I'm not for privatization or private accounts. You've got no beef with me. I'm just for solvency.'

But this is a case where simply going back to the basic facts of the matter helps clarify the debate.

What President Bush wants is to phase out Social Security. That isn't just rhetoric or words designed to put the other side off their footing. It's really the truth of the matter. Social Security is a social insurance program with guaranteed benefits for Americans when they retire -- benefits of a level to provide a baseline of support in old age. The very concept offends the president, as it does many of his supporters. The key is guarantees, which are the essence of security.

Privatization was the first and most obvious way to phase out Social Security. If privatizing doesn't work, he may try just going at it directly -- not just by cutting benefits, per se, but by cutting the rate at which Social Security keeps up with the actual costs of living in the United States. And that distinction is key since over time it will be whittled down to nothing.

In other words, it will be phased out, perhaps not entirely, but close enough as to make it an irrelevancy. Then people will be on their own in retirement, much as they were seventy-five years ago, before there was Social Security.

Like many people who share President Bush's ideological viewpoint, Social Security was always a bad thing. It's just taken time to find a convenient way to get rid of it.

The search for 'solvency' is simply a dodge. For starters, President Bush wants to lock in steep cuts now based on pessimistic projections of Social Security's future finances. Needless to say, if the projections are wrong, the benefits won't be restored. But 'solvency' is a dodge on an even deeper level.

If I run a business and I'm not bringing in enough money to pay expenses, solvency can easily be restored by just closing down my office and ceasing to sell anything. Then my inflows and outflows will be equal because I'll be out of business. Similarly, if I'm not making enough to send my children to the best schools or give them the best medical care, I can solve that problem by pulling them out of school and just giving them aspirin. Then the shortfall is solved.

Admittedly, these are blunt examples. But they illustrate the point: any discussion of 'solvency' is meaningless outside of the context of the aim or project you are trying to make solvent.

President Bush says there's a problem, that there may not be funds to pay everyone's benefits in the 2040s. His solution: cut their benefits. That way we'll be able to pay the full benefits because they'll be smaller. Problem solved.

This is the essence of his solution.

And that doesn't even get into the fact that he doesn't want to pay back the money already borrowed from the Trust Fund to fund his tax cuts among other things.

Privatization is a means to the president's end: phasing out Social Security. I'm sure he's willing to try any number of ways to get there. The other side wants to preserve Social Security. That's the debate. Nothing has changed that.

I'm hearing more and more from readers on the evolving 'Coingate' scandal in Ohio. Honestly, I'm way behind on it. But I'd like to know more. To help me and other readers come up to speed on the story, I'm getting a discussion started over at the Republicans discussion table at TPMCafe. If you're interested, see this post.

As some long-time readers know, I was born in Missouri. So I was pleased to receive a note from a reader today pointing my attention to these pictures from a big anti-privatization rally from last Thursday which greeted President Bush when he came to town for a fundraiser for Sen. Jim Talent (R).