Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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The bamboozlepalooza begins!

From the Boston Globe: "President Bush, facing a chilly reception on Capitol Hill on his plan to overhaul Social Security, said yesterday he would take his case directly to the American people, crisscrossing the nation to galvanize support for partially privatizing the 70-year-old federal retirement system."


Sen. Kent Conrad (D) of North Dakota a stealth member of the <$NoAd$>Fainthearted Faction?

'Fraid so. Or at least he's signed up on a stand-by basis.

Just off the Bloomberg wire ...

Senator Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, said he told Office of Management and Budget Director Josh Bolton that the Social Security discussion needed to be expanded to include Medicare funding problems and a tax-code overhaul.

Conrad, who said he didn't listen to Bush's comments, praised Thomas for suggesting alternatives to using the payroll tax to fund Social Security. ``There's been an over-reliance on payroll taxes,'' he said.

Conrad is part of a bipartisan group led by Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, that is trying to develop fixes to the Social Security system.

And the Associated Press picks up from there ...

Conrad said Wednesday that he has already being heavily lobbied: Treasury Secretary John Snow phoned to talk Social Security; the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Josh Bolten, came to visit; and breakfast is scheduled next week with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

"If this is just one of those things where the president says, It's my way or the highway ... I can't be for that," Conrad said. But he added: "I think there is a kernel of a good idea in creating accounts that individuals can control."

He said he wants Social Security addressed along with tax reform, long-term care and the solvency of Medicare -- big issues in their own right -- and he said he opposes borrowing large sums to pay for the private accounts, which many think will be necessary.

The backstory here, of course, is the four-state campaign swing President Bush is planning right after the State of the Union, to two states represented by senators from the Fainthearted Faction (Arkansas and North Dakota) and two (Florida and Montana) with senators who have been holding firm.

More soon ...

NYT, down for the count.

First line of David Rosenbaum's piece on the Bush phase-out plan from Thursday's paper: "If individual investment accounts become an integral part of Social Security, as President Bush is proposing, what will happen to workers who become disabled before they retire?"

At this point I guess you can't blame the individual reporters, some of whose reporting is superb. It's just that the editors seem to have given the stylebook to Rove and Luntz for a scrub, or done it themselves on R&L's behalf.

The episode page has already been pulled from the PBS website, but with the help of TPM reader LC and Google we've located the now lost episode of Postcards from Buster in which Buster the Rabbit visited Vermont and met "Emma, David, and James, who live with their two moms."

Another strike against Buster may have been that, as he admits in the segment promo, "Karen [one of the two moms] and my mom [who is presumably also a cartoon rabit] used to work at the same newspaper together."

Anyway, see it while you can. It's sure to become an underground classic like those bootlegs of SpongeBob's 'lost appearances' in Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City that 'the suits' pulled before the final cut.

It seems that right after Ed. Secretary Margaret Spellings got through with her sapphic cartoon to-do list, she announced the appointment of -- inter alios -- Emily Kertz Lampkin as one of two deputy chiefs of staff.

This press release on the department website says that prior to this appointment Kertz Lampkin "served as the Department's director of No Child Left Behind communications and outreach for the past two years."

Doesn't that mean she handled the Armstrong Williams account?

Oh, a moment rich in schadenfreude for the TPM faithful everywhere.

Here in the transcript of today's presidential press conference our man Carl Cameron (he of the Kerry-manicure imbroglio) tries to oblige but momentarily forgets the new party-line (emphasis added with great pleasure) ...

A question on Social Security, if we may, sir. There has been, as you move forward to making your plan -- your ultimate proposal, growing concern among Republicans on Capitol Hill. We had Chairman Thomas last week with some concern about the process, and Senator Olympia Snowe on the other side suggesting that she's concerned about an absentee guaranteed benefit -- excuse me. Are you prepared today to say that those who opt into a potential private account -- personal account could, in fact, have a guaranteed benefit, as well? And what do you say to Republicans who are beginning to worry?

If any covert TPMer should happen to <$NoAd$> encounter Cameron in the next twenty-four hours, please take a moment to inspect the knuckles for the tell-tale bruise.

[ed.note: Our cup of thanks runneth over for TPM reader LG who just won himself a shirt.]

Yesterday we mentioned that the rapid deterioration of Republican support for President Bush's Social Security phase-out plan had necessitated a revision of the bylaws of the Republican Conscience Caucus.

The entry today of Sen. Gordon Smith (R) of Oregon made the need for a new system of classification even more pressing.

In a subsequent post we will go into more detail about the Caucus's new bylaws. For now, however, with the entry of Sen. Smith, we are adding a new subdivision of the Caucus. As you know, "L&P" Caucus members are those who appear "Loud and Proud" in their opposition to the president's phase-out plan. Our new designation "FIW" ("Finger In the Wind") designates those representatives or senators who have publicly made more or less clear, as Sen. Smith has done, that they are happy to begin phasing out Social Security so long as the president can make it safe for them to do so.

See the revised Conscience Caucus list here.

Late Breaking Margaret Spellings Lesbian Update!

Earlier we noted that fast on the heels of the SpongeBob controversy, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings had come out swinging against another well-known cartoon character (Buster the Rabbit) for associating with lesbians.

In our earlier post, however, we incorrectly stated that she was attacking "lesbian cartoon characters." Not so. In fact, I'm told now by several TPM readers, the lesbians with whom cartoon character 'Buster' met were living, breathing, human lesbians.

Apropos of this point, the topic of cartoon-human interaction itself appears now to be emerging as a source of some controversy and press attention. Here, for instance, is a photograph of a recent meeting between SpongeBob and The Rev. John H. Thomas, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ at the Church's world headquarters in Cleveland.