Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

More on Elizabeth Todd, the San Diego real estate broker who set the wildly-inflated price which defense contractor Mitchell Wade paid for the then-home of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R).

A local paper -- the North County Times -- confirms a detail we've been trying to nail down for much of the day.

As earlier reports have noted, Todd was paid nothing to set that inflated price. But that isn't the end of the story.

Todd was also the agent of record and bagged a nice commission when Wade later resold the house for $975,000 -- a $700,000 loss. More importantly, she was also the agent for the new house that the Cunninghams turned around and bought with the $1,675,000 Wade paid them for their old house. And the new place went for a cool $2,550,000.

Now, I don't know just what sort of commission Todd would have gotten for sales like that. But I figure it would be a tidy sum. And it sounds like a decent incentive to make sure the whole three-way transaction went off without a hitch.

Canned for falsifying data about global warming? Or just reporting back to central command after an assignment in the field?

The lede from AP: "A former White House official and one-time oil industry lobbyist whose editing of government reports on climate change prompted criticism from environmentalists will join Exxon Mobil Corp., the oil company said Tuesday."

Did these three grafs really appear in the Times? (emphasis added)

Social Security now takes in considerably more money than it pays out in benefits. But as legions of baby boomers retire and begin to collect benefits, instead of paying for them, the retirement system will move toward a deficit. Some actuaries have projected that there will be more money going out than coming in by 2017, although full benefits will be payable for some time because of the surplus being accumulated now. But in 2041, Mr. Bush said, the system will be "bankrupt."

Actually, beginning around 2041 the system would be able to pay about three-fourths of the benefits due retirees, assuming there are no changes in the formula before then. Critics of Mr. Bush's proposals have said there are enough ways, and enough time, to fix the system without a drastic change like a shift to private accounts.

The president drew a laugh when, in arguing that big changes are needed, he spoke disparagingly of "the paper i.o.u.'s in a file cabinet in West Virginia" that make up the $1.7 trillion Social Security trust fund. He did not point out those i.o.u.'s are Treasury securities backed by the full faith and credit of the United States, and that the government has never defaulted on its obligations.

Credit where credit is due: David Stout in today's paper. <$NoAd$>Lucky for him Okrent's not around anymore.

Still no real pick up of the Randy "Duke" Cunningham home sale of a lifetime story. But when cruising through Google News we did notice that the Duke has this OpEd in today's USAToday supporting the flag burning amendment.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero has more on the flag burning amendment today at TPMCafe's Table for One and how close it apparently is to passage in Congress.

Yes, I know, a Randy "Duke" Cunningham -- TPMCafe guest-blog harmonic convergence. But, hey, what can we do.

More later on the Duke's adventures in real estate.

Yet another Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R) update ...

San Diego's North County Times has a follow-up on Cunningham's response to the article which appeared over the weekend regarding the questionable sale of his home.

Apparently neither Cunningham or his staff would take calls. But his office did release a statement. And in that statement he cuts to what has to be the central issue: Was $1.675 million a reasonable market value for the house or not?

The fact that it sold again for well under a million dollars less than a year later points strongly to the conclusion that the price was inflated. But was there an appraisal at the <$Ad$>time? And what were the comps?

In his statement Cunningham says: "Mr. Wade was interested in purchasing our home. He received comparables from an independent source establishing the value of the home. He made an offer based on that evaluation. Nancy and I accepted that offer. I have no reason to believe the value of the house was inflated then, and I have no reason to think so today. (emphasis added)"

But other news accounts seem to suggest that the 'independent source' was Elizabeth Todd, who happens to be a major campaign contributor to Cunningham.

Now, just because she gave Cunningham large campaign contributions in the past doesn't mean the comps she assembled weren't legit. And it is probably fair to say that major real estate operators are often contributors to their local member of Congress.

But her independence is certainly open to question.

As far as I know, none of the reports on this question that I've seen have had a look at the actual comps Todd assembled, which suported the $1.675 million purchase price.

Isn't that the next obvious place to go in this story?

We learn today from the Carpetbagger Report that Roll Call has now followed up (sub.required) on the story of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R) and the apparent 3/4 million dollar favor he got from a defense contractor with business before two of his committees.

We've been doing some of our own reporting on this. And Roll Call reports one detail we were working: the real estate agent who arranged the deal, though handled it as a non-listed private transaction, also happens to be a major campaign contributor to Cunningham. In the 2001-2 cycle, Elizabeth Todd and her husband donated $3000 to Cunningham's campaign.

And we think there's more still to be told.

Given the central role of Ahmed Chalabi in 'unearthing' documents which triggered the UN oil-for-food scandal, can someone tell me why the New York Times still has Judith Miller covering the story?

I know Judy Miller-bashing is a full-time employment for many media critics and bloggers. But this isn't just a swipe at Miller or a throwaway smack at the paper of record. It's a pretty practical point: I'd actually like to follow what's happening in these investigations.

But if you know any of the history of the last five years it's simply impossible to read Miller's articles on this subject and have any confidence that what you're reading is anything that, by any measure, can be considered the straight story.

You're forced to discount all of it.

This may seem like a totally off-topic post for this site. But twice over the last year I asked readers for advice and suggestions about Tablet PCs, which they liked or didn't like, whether they found them useful, etc. I got a slew of very candid and helpful emails, in which many of you shared your experience and so forth. So I wanted to take a moment to report back on my experience to repay the favor.

If this isn't a subject that interests you, by all means, hope down to the next post for more of the standard TPM fare.

For those of you who aren't familiar with what I'm talking about, a Tablet PC is basically a laptop that is only a screen -- no keyboard. Instead of using a keyboard to input commands and text, you use a special pen that 'writes' on the screen. The computer then interprets your handwriting and converts it into text or simply stores it as your handwriting. In the later case it's pretty much like using a paper tablet. The screen has a virtual lined piece of paper and there you have all your words and doodles and all the rest.

I wanted to get one for two reasons. The main one had to do with how I keep notes. When I was more of a full-time reporter back in the earlier part of this decade I had a whole system in place for how I took my reporting notes. I typed them all into Word documents as I did the reporting. Any other system I found unworkable since it's critical to be able to do searches back through what are often copious notes.

But I would still find myself writing a lot of my notes out in longhand on real paper tablets. And more and more so in recent years. The problem was that after a few days all that information was pretty much lost to me because there was no ready way to access it.

So for that and related reasons I wanted to see if there was some way for me to take longhand notes -- in a way that really felt and functioned like taking notes on a scratch pad or tablet -- that I could save and later access electronically.

The other reason was specific to TPM. I still haven't really gotten around to it as much as I'd like. But I've wanted to do more on the site with posting documents -- often public records. And what's helpful is to be able to actually mark them up to highlight points of interest for readers. So again, my interest in having a way to be able to mark-up or write on electronic documents -- images, pdfs, etc.

I got hundreds of emails from readers. And from a mix of their advice and my own research I decided to get the Motion Computing 1400. Some manufacturers make Tablets with keyboards that you can swing into place when you need to use one. But Motion specializes in 'slate' tablets, that is, just a screen that you write on. No keyboard. (You can of course attach one separately.) From what I could tell, and from the majority of readers told me, when it comes to slates, Motion is really the premier designer and manufacturer.

(I bought mine from Infocater, which seems to be the best place for buying these things by mail order.)

So how did it go?

Well, in so many words, the technology more than exceeded my expectations. And that's probably both a comment on the particular hardware I bought and the state of the technology in general. Over the last four or fives months mine has become completely integrated into almost all the work I do. And I can't imagine not using one.

Having used one for more almost half a year now, I'm actually quite surprised that the technology hasn't been more widely adopted -- a factor, I suspect, of computer economics which I'll try to touch on in another post.

I don't think I'd ever want to have a Tablet PC as my only computer. When I write at length I almost always use a keyboard. I'm writing on a desktop with a keyboard right now, for instance. The simple fact is that I can write a lot faster on a keyboard than I can with pen and paper. So when I'm writing a post or working on an article I usually use the keyboard. But for taking notes on a phone conversation or while I'm reading a book or an article or for editing my own writing, I now invariably use the Tablet.

One question I had before I got one is just how well it would be able to read my handwriting. If I had to stylize my handwriting in a particular way or write super-neatly, then that would defeat the purpose. In practice, though, the handwriting recognition is almost amazingly good. I don't have the worst hand-writing in the world. But my script is certainly not neat. And it can accurately interpret pretty much everything I write -- without my making any particular effort to write slowly or legibly.

And the key thing is the computer can quite easily search through your hand-written text for a particular word or combination of words. That for me was really the key, reams of handwritten notes that my computer can search through in a split second.

Here, for instance, is an example from the notes I took for the review I wrote of David McCullough's new book 1776 in The New Yorker. This is probably neater than my normal note-taking handwriting. But stuff that's far more of a scrawl the thing can easily get through.

The other thing I find the Tablet most useful for is editing my own posts or columns. In the past I would always have to print them out and then work over them with a pen. Now I just do it all on the Tablet.

Most manufacturers sell Tablets mainly through 'vertical' markets, to sales forces, hospitals, etc. So it's actually quite difficult to find more than one of them on display on at your local computer store. Often there aren't any. And without getting your hands on one it's hard to shell out the money since you really don't know how or how well the things work. I think that's one of the main reasons they haven't taken off yet with consumer and non-specialist business purchasers.

(ed.note: I hope it goes without saying. But in case not, I paid full freight for the machine I described in this post. And I received no payment, preference or inducement to write any of the above. Strictly my candid opinion.)