Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Some Senate Republicans seem intent on conducting an intelligence test on their Democratic colleagues. Only they mean to eschew the normal square pegs and round hole approach and instead use a new gambit in the Social Security debate.

Says the AP's David Espo: "Senate Republican leaders are considering whether to seek Democratic support for Social Security legislation without the personal accounts sought by President Bush, aiming to restore them later, officials said Thursday."

So given that privatization now seems dead in the water, these senate Republicans want to enlist Democratic support for enacting what will no doubt be highly popular benefit cuts and tax increases because this will smooth the way for them to partially phase out Social Security with private accounts, as part of a two step gambit.

And to structure the experiment so as to get a clear read on whether we're talking about mere substandard intelligence or some more profound sort of incapacitation they're telling the reporter from the Associated Press that this is their plan.

Setting aside this foolery, why would any Democrats agree to do anything on Social Security before getting agreement from Republicans -- embodied, where appropriate, in legislation -- that phase-out is off the table for good and that the Treasury notes in the Social Security Trust Fund will be repaid in full.

The Democrats' priority here is to protect Social Security. And the most pressing dangers to Social Security are not deficits in the 2040s but the present threat of privatization and President Bush's effort to renege on the promise that money loaned out of Social Security payroll tax funds will be paid back.

The headline in the Dallas Morning News tells the tale: "DeLay defense fund donations slow."

The article notes how John Podesta and the folks at the Center for American Progress have now chosen to rain down still more woe upon the unfortunate and ignoble bug man by starting a campaign to embarrass big corporations out of writing all those checks to cover his legal expenses.

As they should.

It's such a bummer to know that some small sliver of my monthly cell phone bill has to go to the DeLay legal defense fund just because I do business with Verizon.

Yeah, that Verizon.

Head over to DropTheHammer.org to find out more and soften the hammer down into a mallet.

Oh, have I criticized her.

But I'm willing to do homage to Maureen Dowd for these three peerless sentences: "Before, Republicans just scared other people. Now, they're starting to scare themselves. When Dick Cheney tells you you've gone too far, you know you're way over the edge."

(ed.note: Special thanks to TPM Reader (and father-in-law) II for sending the link.)

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.