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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I think my attempt at subtlety in my last post left me a bit misunderstood. So let me try to clarify.

I'm still trying to sort out what I think of the in-house lie detector test that Abbe Lowell arranged for his client Gary Condit. Opinion on that point seems to have evolved pretty quickly, even over the half-dozen hours or so since Lowell's press conference.

But for the moment let's take the answers to these three questions wholly at face value and assume their veracity. If you boil down the three questions they asked of Condit they basically come down to this: a) were you involved in, or did you cause, Levy's disappearance? and b) do you know the current whereabouts of her or her remains?

Those two questions leave some pretty obvious questions unasked. Like, Do you know what happened to Chandra? Do you know who harmed her / is responsible for her disappearance?

In any case, for now, suffice it to say that even if you completely buy that this was a legit test, it leaves a pretty big and obvious question unanswered, especially because it's not too difficult to speculate about who some potential other suspects might be.

Now, on to other matters.

There seems to be some anti-Talking Points mojo in the air tonight because I'm being called on the carpet by fellow me-ziners Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan -- for two entirely different things. Kaus says I'm going soft because I criticized the Washington Post's story on Condit's alleged affair with the then-18 year old woman from back home in Modesto. Sullivan is on my case or, perhaps better to say, putting me on the spot for not providing the name of the ABC News reporter discussed in this article I wrote yesterday in Salon. I'm going to come back to the matter of the unnamed reporter. But first let's deal with Kaus.

I went back and read the July 12th Washington Post article about the minister and his daughter and I think I was in part wrong to question its relevance. Now this will get kind of complicated so bear with me (it's also four o'clock in the morning so incoherence is a real possibility as well).

My initial concern was the combination of how distant this affair seemed from anything to do with the Levy case and the fact that the alleged paramour herself denied the affair took place. Hardly a small matter. The combination, I thought, made it not ready to publish.

However, what's really key is not the relationship itself but Susan Levy's alleged phone call in mid-April confronting Chandra with news of the earlier relationship, and Chandra's alleged subsequent discussion of that relationship with Condit. This chain of events seems quite relevant to what was happening in Chandra's life in the last two weeks before her disappearance -- even if you allow the possibility that the other affair didn't happen. For the purposes of understanding what was up with Chandra, what matters is that she and her mother believed it was true and that she discussed it with Condit.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that I think I was at least partly incorrect on the question of relevance -- though I still have misgivings about the fact that they went with the story while the woman herself denied that the affair had even taken place. Perhaps it would have been better to front the combustible conversations between Susan and Chandra Levy, and Chandra and Condit, rather than the alleged affair itself. Though this probably wouldn't have made for such a charged headline. Make sense? I'll get to Sullivan's very legitimate point (and challenge) tomorrow.

Maybe it's just my underlying innocence and naivete, but it's hard for me not to look at this case in a rather different light now that Rep. Condit has submitted to a lie detector test, even one in a highly controlled setting, and with questions contrived with precision by his attorney.

The questions asked of Condit, according to various media outlets, were:

Did the congressman (you) have anything at all to do with the disappearance of Ms. Levy?

Did he (you) harm her or cause anyone else to harm her in any way?

Does he (do you) know where she can be located?

But I would have wanted to ask just one other question ... Do you know who else may have harmed Chandra Levy?

Gary Condit's flacks have to look pretty long and hard these days to find something -- anything -- which will let them go on the offensive against the media avalanche of stories adverse to their client (like plowing the sea, as Bolivar famously said). But yesterday's Washington Post gave them a pretty good shot at it.

The Post has done what I think is a pretty admirable job reporting this story thus far -- even though they do seem to be working in pretty close concert with the Levy's PR firm. But their story about an affair Condit allegedly carried on with a then-18 year old woman is a textbook example of a story that just doesn't seem to have any relevance to this case.

We already know that Gary Condit is ... well, how shall we say it? ... a bit of a man about town? Unlike the Anne Marie Smith case, which has an arguable relevance to the Levy story, this one seems to have none. Plus, the alleged paramour herself first wouldn't confirm the relationship and then actively denied it.

The entire evidence for the affair apparently hinges on the woman's father's say-so. A lot of other news outlets apparently had a shot at this story and took a pass -- a number with reputations far beneath that of the Post.

Did Condit have this affair too? Who knows? But more to the point, who cares?

Wow. Talking Points hasn't just cracked the Grey Lady. He's practically got her swooning. First the Monday article about Me-zines and then Paul Krugman's column on Wednesday about the Bushies' shameless lockbox climb-down.

Krugman didn't mention the Talking Points site by name. But he quoted from it, or rather borrowed a quote from Mitch Daniels, which appeared here on this site, and was kind enough to give credit. Something that hasn't been done by some others who shall remain nameless.

In any case, let me try to salvage this self-promoting post with something approaching substance.

Krugman made a point which I had intended to cover in a follow-up to the original post, but he made it with far greater elegance and authority than I could have mustered. That is, while the concept of a 'lockbox' is of course a fiction, it is a very important fiction, or rather one with very real consequences and effects.

Simply put, Social Security's incoming revenues will not cover its outflows in the coming decades. There is a decent argument put forward by some liberals that the economic forecasts on which these assumptions are based are too pessimistic -- and we can largely grow our way out of the problem, if you make certain assumptions based on long-term gains in productivity and so forth. But even if this is true, it's still sensible and prudent not to base our plans on the rosiest of possible outcomes.

So you come back to the basic point that income won't cover outflow. Some of that difference will likely have to be made up by some mix of benefit cuts and perhaps tax increases -- though I'm very dubious about further raising payroll taxes on workers -- or perhaps supplementing Social Security payments with funds from general revenue, i.e. not from payroll taxes.

But the bottom line is that some more money is probably going to have to be found somewhere. By paying off debt now we reduce the amount of money the government currently pays in interest on that debt. That frees up general revenue funds which could go to propping up Social Security down the road.

But the more basic point is that reducing our burden of debt today will make it easier to do some borrowing to shore up Social Security tomorrow. Though the mechanism for all this is complicated by the intricacies of government bond issues, and one part of the government owing money to another part of the government, the essence of the matter is that some of it will likely have to be borrowed. And paying off debt today will make that potential borrowing tomorrow far more feasible.

However this may be, as Krugman notes, the sort of funny-business the Bushies are now engaged in makes it far more likely that Social Security really will go off a cliff in a few decades and that the problem will have to be solved through draconian benefit cuts.

In any case, this is the point I was going to make but Krugman beat me to it. But if Krugman wants to keep up with this Talking Points-Krugman vs. Daniels-Bush tagteam action, what can I say, I'm game.

Along other lines, for the real Talking Points die-hards, I've got three new articles which might strike your fancy. This one in the American Prospect details the story behind the Social Security privatization group Treasury Secretary O'Neill spoke to recently. This one in the New Republic Online argues that you need only look at the legislative docket in Congress to see why time is on the Democrats' side. And this one in Salon.com details an as-yet-untold story about ABC News and the 'timeline' Gary Condit's office made available at the end of June. Here's a hint: one of the meetings the original timeline described on May 1st (the day Chandra disappeared) never happened.

You might look at this blizzard of words (running the gamut from polemic, to commentary, to investigative reporting) and say to yourself: This is the sign of a fabulously prolific up-and-coming young writer with acute insights on contemporary politics! Actually, the real lesson to be drawn is a touch different. And that would be? That supporting yourself as a freelance writer is *#$%&@ hell on wheels!!!

With no new Condit posts since the congressman admitted to his affair last Friday, a reader wrote in and asked if maybe my silence was because someone had 'gotten to me.' The funny thing is I'm not completely sure he was kidding ...

Anyway, a number of papers are reporting on their websites tonight that the police will be giving Congressman Condit a lie detector test. But they're getting way ahead of themselves. The police have asked. Abbe Lowell told them he'd get back to them.

And that gets back to the point I raised earlier: whether Gary Condit, whatever other legal difficulties he may face, may have a malpractice case against Abbe Lowell.

It's difficult to imagine that Lowell realized just how quickly and eagerly the DC Metro Police Department would go for his offer to provide various pieces of evidence. When DC Police Chief Ramsey gave his press conference this afternoon he had the look of someone whose quarry had fallen into a trap.

Ramsey accepted Lowell's 'offer' of a lie detector test for Condit. But, as I note in an article to be published tonight in Salon.com, that was an offer that Lowell never really made. He said he'd be willing to talk to police about it. Nothing more. In fact, if you look at Lowell's news conference yesterday it looked very much like he got maneuvered into the lie detector remark in an impromptu exchange with reporters. Lowell quite clearly intended to offer the search of the apartment and the phone records. But there was no mention of a willingness to take a lie detector test in his original prepared statement. That only came up in response to two reporters' questions. And Lowell's willingness to have his client undergo a lie detector test seemed to increase over the course of each answer and from one response to the next.

Here's the first ...

QUESTION: Does that include a lie detector test?

LOWELL: I have just said that I will work with the police and I will do with the police what they find useful. And the congressman will be as cooperative as he can possibly be. With respect to lie detectors, I know there is a great public appeal to lie detectors, but I know from my own practice that they leave a lot to be desired.

If the police call me and tell me that at some point they think that, no matter how suspect it might be, can be helpful, I will discuss it with them, but I will discuss it with them, and not with you.

And here's the second ...
LOWELL: You heard my statements today and my statements today were that the police have said that he has answered all questions to their satisfaction, they have said that he has been cooperative, they have said that they are comfortable with his answers, there is no question to test. There is nothing that a lie detector could test. He has not been inconsistent to the police and he has answered their questions.

So let me reiterate, that if the police get back to me say, you know what, even though we think as you think, lie detectors don't really work very well, if they find that useful at some point, I will listen to them, and we will respond accordingly. But let me say today that the congressman is going to make available what the police ask for that they think is helpful. And if it is a search of his apartment, if it is something as somebody said, a sample, if it is anything else, let it come.

It's impossible to say what was in Lowell's mind. But listening to his impassioned press conference, it was hard not to wonder whether he didn't let the passion of the moment (his deep desire to communicate his client's lack of anything to hide) get the better of him and lead him to say more than he wished to or should have.

He didn't really offer to let Condit take a lie detector test. But he came close. Apparently close enough for Chief Ramsey to feel he could pounce. If Condit can take that lie detector test there's no problem. If he can't, he's in a hell of a bind. And so is Abbe Lowell.

Remember that Social Security privatization group Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill spoke to a while back? Well, turns out there's a story to tell. The Coalition for American Financial Security is actually pretty tight with the Bush administration. And the outfit is a product of a company involved in social insurance privatization efforts all over the world.

Think I spill this kinda reporting for free on Talking Points? Please!!! I've gotta get paid for this kind of work. Check out the article in the new issue of The American Prospect.

Does Gary Condit have a possible mal-practice suit against Abbe Lowell? More on this later this evening.

For months I've wanted to write a post asking what should be (or should have been) one of the great questions of contemporary American journalism: why is LATimes.com the most pitiful website in the history of the universe?

Don't get me wrong: I don't mean the LA Times. Talking Points grew up near Los Angeles and well knows that the LA Times is one of the nation's great newspapers. Certainly at least the equal of any other in the country -- save the New York Times.

No, I'm talking about the website. And what I always wondered was why this big-time national newspaper would have a website more pitiful and impossible to navigate than your average 4th tier small-time paper like the Podunk Crier or the Lametown Gazette.

Well, you know what they say: carpe diem! I've missed my chance. I just noticed the LAT has redesigned their site. It's still far from the best newspaper website design I've seen. But it's not chaotic and pitiful either. And that's a big improvement.

Doesn't this speak for itself ?

"Governor Bush supports lockboxing $ 2.4 trillion to save and strengthen Social Security."

- Bush-Cheney Campaign 2000 website
(Quoted in LAT, Oct. 31, 2000)

"There is no box, there is no mattress. Paul O'Neill doesn't have a hole in the backyard where this money goes. And all the dollars are fungible ... What's unfair is to mislead the American people into thinking this money's in a box somewhere. It isn't. That box has nothing but promissory notes in it."

- Mitch Daniels
Office of Management & Budget Director
CNN, Late Edition, July 8th, 2001

More on this later.

P.S. Special heads-up to Senate Democratic staffers reading TPM from their offices. There are much, much better Bush lockbox quotes out there. But the TPM oppo research staff is small and greatly overextended. So have at it!

P.P.S. Ahhhaa! Another example of Bush's lockbox talk from New Hampshire in January 2000:

"First, unspent surpluses in Washington, D.C. will be spent, you mark my words, you leave money sitting around the table in Washington, Washington politicians will spend it. Now, I believe there's enough money. If you lockbox the payroll taxes, there is $2 trillion to make sure the Social Security system is safe and secure-- $2 trillion. I intend to lockbox the payroll taxes and spend them only on what they're supposed to be spent on, and that's Social Security."
That's courtesy of PBS' NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, January 14, 2000

Reformist Democrats have many, many reasons for believing (rightly I'd say) that time is on their side. Demographics, ideological propensity ... many, many reasons. But the biggest and probably most obvious sign is the one sitting right under our noses.

That is this: on pretty much every major question of domestic policy these days you have one piece of legislation, supported largely by Democrats, and enjoying pretty broad popular support. Then on the other side you have a phony-baloney piece of legislation put forward by Republicans (more or less entirely reactive to the Democratic legislation) intended to scuttle the effort to pass the original reform. Is the Republican approach better? Sure, maybe. Would they ever have thought to propose it on their own without heat from the Dem bill? Of course not.

In most cases you'll find some deer-caught -in-the- headlights backbench Republican Rotarian you've never heard of before hustled up to affix his name to the bill.

The latest example of course is in the campaign finance debate, and the new bill-killer in the House sponsored by Rep. Bob Ney (OH-R) and (regrettably) Rep. Albert Wynn (MD-D). But pretty much the same logic applies to Patients' Bill of Rights, prescription drug benefit, and a slew of other current debates.

It didn't used to be this way. Remember welfare reform? Nor does it mean the Democrats are right and the Republicans wrong. But it gives a clear sense of the trajectory of our politics today.

It may not be the Dems' time. But time is on their side.

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