Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Just to keep the record <$NoAd$>straight ...

"I am confident that this economic recovery will now be sustained and will produce loads of new jobs. Everything we know about economics indicates that the sort of economic growth expected for next year, 3.8 to 4 per cent, will translate into two million new jobs from the third quarter of this year to the third quarter of next year. That’s an average of about 200,000 new jobs a month ... What gives me confidence? Everything we know about economics and history. Consumption and housing remain strong. Now capital spending is clearly coming back and inventories are at astonishingly low levels. Jobs are always a lagging indicator which follows economic growth. I would stake my reputation on employment growth happening before Christmas. I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that we are going to see a pick-up in employment in 2004."

Treasury Secretary John Snow
interviewed in July 2003
quoted in the London Times
October 20th, 2003

"U.S. employers added a paltry 21,000 workers to their payrolls last month, according to a surprisingly weak government report that appears certain to weigh on President George W. Bush as he seeks re-election ...

The report also showed job creation in December and January was weaker than previously thought, adding to the gloomy tone of the report. The department revised lower its count of jobs gains in January to 97,000 from 112,000 and for December to just 8,000 from 16,000."

"U.S. Jobs Growth Surprisingly Weak"
March 5th, 2004

"This Administration is not satisfied with today’s job creation numbers. Although our economy added jobs for the sixth straight month and the unemployment rate remains at a level below the average of the past three decades, the recent pace of job growth is not as strong as we'd like to see. This is particularly true given the recent rapid rate of economic growth.

The critical issue as we move forward is what must be done to encourage job creation through continued economic growth. One thing we know for certain – raising taxes on millions of American families is not the answer. It is imperative that Congress act to make the tax cuts permanent."

Treasury Secretary John Snow
Treasury Dept. Press Release
March 5th 2004

Special thanks to TPM reader JS.

Scott McClellan finally got asked the 5th amendment question this afternoon with respect to the Plame investigation.

He said that he had "no knowledge" of anyone taking the 5th.

He said he checked with the Counsel's office too; and their response was apparently the same, i.e., no knowledge.

I'm told part two of the question (i.e., whether President Bush's order of cooperation would be consistent with members of his staff taking the fifth) got asked in some form. And McClellan's response was simply to restate in general terms the president's "policy" that everyone should cooperate with the investigation.

We'll bring you more details later.

A reader wrote in this morning noting CNN's report that US forces will "soon implement high-tech surveillance tactics in the region [where bin Laden is thought to be], enabling them to monitor the area 24 hours a day, seven days a week." He said this sounded like a pretty good idea since the 9-5 M/F approach hadn't panned out so far.

That's a cheeky line; but it does point to a valid question. Why now?

Now, one of the dangers of any sort of opinion commentary, and blogging in particular, is that you're constantly tempted to comment on or venture an opinion on a topic that you know something about, but yet not all the relevant details. And this is certainly one of those cases. But this sudden rush of new resources into the bin Laden hunt really does seem to cry out for some explanation about timing, doesn't it?

There does seem to be a certain post-winter seasonal logic to the ramping up of the effort. But then this is the third spring since 9/11, not the first.

Why didn't we throw all these resources into the search in early 2002 or early 2003?

We know that too few resources were put into the search for bin Laden in the months just after the fall of the Taliban. At a minimum it seems we left too much of the effort in the hands of local allies -- the Northern Alliance, tribal allies, the Pakistanis -- whose motivation to capture bin Laden wasn't as clear or strong as ours, though that is, to be fair, probably more clear in retrospect than it was at the time.

We also know that we were drawing forces out of Afghanistan over the course of 2002 to build up for our invasion of Iraq. And making a full-court press in the spring of 2003 likely would have been difficult while we were focusing so many resources on Iraq.

But that's an argument the administration is presumably wary of making since it would show, in the most direct way, that the rush to invasion in Iraq sidetracked our battle against al Qaida. The decision-making in 2002/2003 is arguably more problematic since, unlike what may have been the case a year earlier, the trade-offs in that decision should have been clear at the time.

One possible answer to the 'why now' question is that it's now possible because of the deal we just cut with Pakistan. But that begs the question of why that deal happened now as opposed to two years ago and what we had to give up to get it.

In any case, as I say, I don't want to presuppose the answer to this question. The timing may be tied to changes in the internal political situation in Pakistan or the deal we just cut over the A.Q. Khan nuclear network.

But I think we do have to ask this question. We've been after bin Laden for more than two and a half years. Why the rush of new ground forces and high-tech gizmos in the lead-up to the presidential election?

Now that the Newsday article -- discussed below -- has provided a new hook for the Plame story, it's really time for some member of the White House press corps to pose the 5th amendment question to Scott McClellan.

The question has two parts.

First: Does the White House know whether any White House appointees or employees have invoked their fifth amendment rights in the Plame investigation?

Second: Is the president's order to his staff to cooperate with the investigation consistent with his aides or appointees invoking their fifth amendment rights while remaining on the White House payroll?

The first question probably won't generate much of an answer because he may well not know. And he could credibly say that he has no way or knowing what's going on in confidential interviews and grand jury sessions.

But the second question should clarify just how much cooperation the president is calling for.

File this one under friggin' unbelievable.

You'll remember the much-touted mobile biological weapons labs which now seem never to have existed. The overwhelming consensus within the US Intelligence Community now seems to be that those trailers we found soon after the war ended were actually for making hydrogen for weather balloons.

That didn't stop Dick Cheney from claiming less than two months ago that they were in fact for making biological weapons. But, alas, I digress.

In any case, in all the investigations now underway, we're trying to retrace our steps and see how we went wrong on these trailors.

According to an article by Walter Pincus in tomorrow's Post, it turns out that the main source for the claim -- an Iraqi chemical engineer -- was never even interviewed by American intelligence officers.

In fact, we didn't even know his name. We relied entirely on a foreign intelligence agency -- in whose custody he then was and in which he apparently remains -- to vouch for his credibility.

Really, this goes beyond issues of credibility since we'd want to have our own people interview the guy to get an idea whether he even had any idea what he was talking about, let alone whether he was on the level.

The only other person who could support or confirm this guy's story was another defector, a Iraqi major supplied to the US by Chalabi's folks at the INC.

He, it turns out, had already been "red-flagged" by the DIA for having provided unreliable information about Iraq's mobile bioweapons program. But DIA analysts, it seems, hadn't circulated that judgment widely enough through the rest of the Intelligence Community.

Now we know the engineers name. And that's only made us more eager to have him sit down with our guys. Because it turns out that the engineer is related to a senior member of the INC.

Imagine that.

It's bad enough that Chalabi and the INC helped scam us into war. But the ultimate indignity they've subjected us to has to be forcing us to endure investigations of our own intelligence services that read like Monty Python scripts.

Big Trouble? An article <$Ad$>in tomorrow's Newsday reports that the Plame grand jury has subpoenaed Air Force One's phone records for the week prior to July 14th, 2003, the day Robert Novak published his original column outing Plame as an undercover CIA operative.

That's the sizzle, certainly. And it's the headline of the piece.

More interesting, and I suspect ultimately more consequential, though, is the Newsday article's discussion of the subpoena's focus on something called the White House Iraq Group, something which -- as the article notes -- has only been discussed previously in an August 10th, 2003 article in the Washington Post.

The Post article describes the group thusly ...

The group met weekly in the Situation Room. Among the regular participants were Karl Rove, the president's senior political adviser; communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin and James R. Wilkinson; legislative liaison Nicholas E. Calio; and policy advisers led by Rice and her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, along with I. Lewis Libby, Cheney's chief of staff.

That's an interesting list of names. And, two of them, Hughes and Matalin, had already left the White House by last summer, when all the activities under investigation took place.

Now, another matter.

I've noted previously in TPM and on Thursday in my column in The Hill some key issues about the pressure the White House was facing in early October 2002 to come up with evidence about the alleged Iraqi nuclear threat and the timing of the appearance of the forged Niger uranium documents in Italy on October 7th.

This all gets rather deep into the arcana. But if you've already read either that post or that column, the Post article from August 10th provides some helpful context.

As long as we're talking about Slate, Will Saletan has a very nice piece on the problem with President Bush on the site this evening. The gist of it is that President Bush is such a man of principle that he sticks to his principles even when the facts say they don't apply or when the facts show that applying those principles produced completely different results than he said they would.

A more devilish way to put this might be to say that President Bush and his team have given a new turn to John Maynard Keynes famous response when challenged for changing his opinions so often.

Quipped Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do, sir?"

For the Bush White House, when the facts change, you just change them back again. Why get distracted?

A note from what I take to be a new and perhaps temporary TPM reader, Timothy N. ...

hey you lazy piece of liberal crap, get a job, and get out of the greatest country in the world, people like you ruin it. President Bush is one of the best presidents we've ever had if no the best. You dont like him , dont worry, we dont like you, leave and stop taking this beautiful country for granted!

Yet another hateful Democrat, I guess.

A note I got tonight from a friend and bona-fide Gore insider ...

We took Nader too lightly in 00. We didn't challenge him. We didn't point out his sizable personal fortune, his complete lack of assistance on any environmental cause for decades, his sources of funding. Oh progressives do not make this mistake twice in your lifetime or Nader's.

Hear, hear.

I'm not certain I agree on this, though I certainly do at the level of sentiment. I still suspect that Nader will be such a relatively minor factor this fall that he's better left ignored. But who knows?

I'm still marvelling at how tendentious and, in at least some cases, sloppy Slate's scorecard of Kerry's "waffles" is.

Kerry's been in the Senate for twenty years. He has shifted on issues. And he has, in recent years, shifted toward the center. A friend of mine who I respect as much as anyone in this business -- and who is a confirmed opponent of President Bush's -- expressed concern over just this point a few days ago, calling Kerry a "positioner" and basing that on experience dealing with him as a reporter.

But some of these "waffles" are really pretty weak. Let's start with one under the header "Social Security" ...

Kerry's Original Position

During the 1996 campaign, when I was a Globe reporter, Kerry told me the Social Security system should be overhauled. He said Congress should consider raising the retirement age and means-testing benefits and called it "wacky" that payroll taxes did not apply to income over $62,700. "I know it's all going to be unpopular," he said. "But this program has serious problems, and we have a generational responsibility to fix them."

Kerry's Revised Position

Kerry no longer wants to mess with Social Security. "John Kerry will never balance the budget on the backs of America's seniors," his Web site promises.

Let's take this apart.

Is Kerry saying that any consideration of means-testing or raising the retirement age is off the table? I'd say someone should ask him. <$Ad$>Because if he's now making a categorical statement ruling this out, that would be a shift in his position. And going into a presidential election he might not want to be entirely clear.

But all the author includes is a website bromide about not "balanc[ing] the budget on the back of America's seniors."

(Here's the page on the Kerry site where it says this. The full statement is: "John Kerry will never balance the budget on the backs of America’s seniors. Many politicians have supported major cuts that cause premium increases and cutbacks in benefits. John Kerry won’t.")

All the author is doing here is comparing a specific statement with a broad and essentially meaningless statement. He should have called up Kerry and tried to see if he still thinks those things should be on the table.

The rest of the before and after makes even less sense.

The author recounts how Kerry told him that it was "'wacky' that payroll taxes did not apply to income over $62,700." The author then says this contradicts the later website pledge about not balancing the federal budget "on the backs of America's seniors."

In this latter case the author may just be confused. I'm honestly not sure.

What Kerry is talking about here is raising or removing the cap on payroll taxes, which was then $62,700 and is now, I think, over $80,000, because of fixed yearly increases.

Getting rid of the cap is something usually put forward by people who don't want to touch benefits because this is a change on the support side rather than the pay-out side.

So, for instance, if you wanted to balance the federal budget and get Social Security in check without touching so much as a hair on Social Security's balding head, the most obvious thing to do would be to remove the payroll tax cap because that amounts to a payroll tax increase on upper income people to put more money into Social Security and thus avoid benefit cuts.

There are all sorts of policy-wonkish arguments for why this would probably be a good thing. But for the moment, suffice it to say, that the author simply seems to have confused a tax increase for upper income earners who pay into Social Security with a benefit cut for those who are recipients of the program.

Phrasing it that way, of course, assumes that we grant the author's seeming premise that the website bromide amounts to forswearing any benefit cuts to Social Security. It can hardly be an example of trying to "balance the budget on the backs of America's seniors" when it's actually a demonstrable example of trying to balance it on the backs of the young, the middle aged and the wealthy.