Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

In the coming Social Security debate, Democrats should dust-off Clinton's 'mend it, don't end it' rhetoric. I can't take credit for this idea; I heard someone suggest it in an email exchange. If it's a bad idea I take the grief for pushing it forward. But I think it is very shrewd since it frames the debate in advance as equating privatization with abolishing Social Security, which of course it does.

I'm not saying the phrase should be adopted intact without any adjustments or that it's a perfect fit. But this debate is a classic case where framing the issue is key -- the strategic choice that determines who wins the battle before it even begins.

The strength of the Republican privatization argument -- and all their rhetoric and strategy point to this -- is the contention that privatization is just a reform, a way to improve or save Social Security, or to put it simply, a way to make sure people get their checks when they retire. But what this is really about is abolishing Social Security; and that fact needs to be taken as granted -- not even a subject of debate -- in the way Democrats frame the debate and how they talk about the subject.

To look at this debate in any other way is to be willfully ignorant of history. Republicans -- particularly the party's conservative wing which now entirely dominates the party -- have wanted to abolish Social Security for half a century.

This is a delicate topic. But I think it's worth asking.

If you look in today's Reliable Source column in the Washington Post, the final item is identified as a verbatim press release ...

On Nov. 21, Vice President Dick Cheney (along with approximately six Secret Service agents) visited the Johnston & Murphy retail store at Tyson's Corner Shopping Center in McLean. Cheney has been a longtime Johnston & Murphy customer, but recently found it necessary to make a personal visit to the store because his shoe size changed to a size 10EEE. Cheney selected the Lasalle wingtip loafer in brushed mahogany. He also bought a pair of shoe trees to keep his 10EEEs in top shape. Bob Ciuffoletti, store manager, has helped Cheney with his footwear needs in the past. . . . 'It was such a pleasure to see him again and help him select a pair of shoes that fit,' said Ciuffoletti.

The item does not identify <$Ad$>who the press release is from. But it turns out that it came from the shoe store chain, not the White House.

But why is the Vice President's shoe size getting bigger? Of course, it doesn't explicitly say they've gotten bigger only that his feet have changed sizes. And 10EEE is a rather large size.

Here's why I say this. Swollen feet is a symptom of congestive heart failure, particularly when the enlargement is in both feet (thus signalling a systemic cause.) It is by no means the only thing it can mean. Ankle and foot swelling can also be caused by fluid build-up due to renal insufficiency, among other causes. And, of course, even later in life one's shoe size can simply change for entirely benign reasons.

But Cheney's history of severe heart disease at least points to the possibility of a heart-related cause.

If you look around on the web you'll find many descriptions of foot and ankle swelling as a possible symptom of congestive heart failure. And this afternoon I spoke to a physician to whom I described an unnamed man in his mid-60s with a history of heart disease and newly-enlarged feet. Congestive heart failure was the first possibility he suggested, particularly if the enlargement was in both feet.

Now, diagnosis by press release is a rather inexact form of medicine. And this doctor made clear that he simply lacked enough information to make even a tentative diagnosis, let alone his not being able to examine the patient. I should also make explicitly clear that I know nothing else about Cheney's health beyond what is already publicly known. Perhaps the shoe chain PR folks are just wrong that the size of the Vice President's feet has changed. Or perhaps they have changed, but they've shrunken. But given the Vice President's medical history and his position in the line of succession to the presidency, it seems like a question worth asking.

Rep. Ernie Istook, a very sorry congressman. From The Hill: "Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) sent a written apology this morning to GOP lawmakers whose transportation projects he stripped from the omnibus appropriations bill in retaliation for their endorsement of additional funding for Amtrak."

What a pleasant surprise. CBS's and NBC's rejection of the UCC's church inclusion ad got big billing in the Boston Globe and the Chicago Tribune. (If you're in Chicago or Boston, drop us a line telling us exactly where the story ran in the paper.) Let us know how your local paper covered it.

Coming soon: Sen. Bill Frist test-drives Social Security privatization with his own campaign warchest and comes up half a million short.

Late Update: It turns out the Trib and the Globe both ran the story on page 1 below the fold. The Austin American-Statesman, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Providence Journal-Bulletin (the 'Projo') and the Des Moines Register also seem to have gone with it on the front page

In case you didn't know, there's a tight House race still going on down in Louisiana's 7th District. The Democratic candidate is former Lake Charles Mayor Willie Landry Mount. And the run-off election is on Saturday.

Check out her site here and media coverage of the race here.

This is an important race. Majorities are built one seat at a time.

Late Update: My bad, my bad. Louisiana's got -- count 'em -- two House races still going on. In the third district Democrat Charlie Melancon is battling to stop retiring Rep. Billy Tauzin from handing off his seat to his son, thirty-year-old Billy Tauzin III.

I don't know what else to make of Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns nomination as Agriculture Secretary. But Johanns is now the second cabinet secretary appointment of the second term whose current office is more than a hundred feet from the president's. So I guess this marks a new phase of reaching out.

Today a reporter asked me whether I'd noticed, as he had, the sudden drop-off of interest in things political since the election and whether I'd seen this drop off registered in the traffic at TPM. I gave the matter some thought and looked over the traffic logs. And having done so and given him an answer, I thought I'd share what I told him with you. (And I assume, though I have no direct knowledge, that similar sites have had roughly similar experiences.)

The answer turns out to be that, yes, traffic is down substantially, but not nearly as much as I'd expected. And if you set aside the furious final month of the campaign, October, the viewership of the site hasn't fallen at all.

A few examples ...

In the last two weeks, the average number of weekday visits has hovered around 140,000. That is close to indistinguishable from the average in September and markedly higher than August.

In October, weekday daily visit totals never went below 165,000 and often went over 190,000. But it was only in the last week or so of the campaign that the real pre-election updraft began. Visits hit 223,000 on Monday, October 25th, the first day (I believe) they'd ever gone over 200,000. And they never went below 200,000 again until after the election.

So, I've tossed out a lot of numbers here. But the upshot seems to be that traffic to center-left political websites like TPM has been relatively unaffected by either the end of the election cycle or the Kerry defeat.

Another update from the JTA on the FBI's investigation of AIPAC.

Their latest update reveals ...

Sources close to the investigation told JTA that the four [AIPAC staffers] ordered to appear before a grand jury were Howard Kohr, the group’s executive director; Raphael Danziger, the research director; Richard Fishman, the managing director; and Renee Rothstein, the communications director. An FBI spokeswoman confirmed the search, but had no further comment.

Various knowledgable sources tell me that this investigation is heating up and that AIPAC, and specifically Steven Rosen, are the primary targets, rather than Larry Franklin.

Another JTA update on the FBI search at AIPAC headquarters today.

The Bureau also got subpoenas for grand jury appearances by four AIPAC staffers.

I hear the investigation remains quite active and continues to focus almost entirely on Steven Rosen, AIPAC's Director of Foreign Policy Issues.

A wonderful piece of magazine journalism in the current New Yorker, "God Doesn't Need Ole Anthony." Unfortunately, it's not online, only in the print version.