Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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You may remember that John Edwards got pulled into the recent flap over Howard Dean's remarks about Republicans and their ... well, work habits. Edwards has a follow-up on the whole situation in a post on the blog at his One America Committe website.

Can she tell us where she stands on phasing out Social Security?

Today Katherine Harris (R), in her continuing and remarkably rapid climb up the greasy pole of public office, announced she was running next year for the senate seat currently held by Sen. Bill Nelson (D).

Nelson has turned out to be an adamant supporter of Social Security. And you'd imagine that in Florida of all places phasing out Social Security is a salient issue.

But Harris has never given a clear answer on whether she supports phase-out or not. We have her listed in our Conscience Caucus with the FIW (Finger in the Wind) designation for her shifting positions.

I would think she'll have to stake out some clear position on phase-out now.

Over at TPMCafe today I discussed some of the implications of the so-called Downing Street Memo. And Thinkprogress gives their run-down here.

As per the previous post we're getting all sorts of information coming in about Americans for Prosperity and their new orders to take down groups that oppose phasing out Social Security.

We'll try to put a lot of it together for later today.

For now, they also seem to be the ones who were behind this apparently-now-abandoned anti-AARP site from earlier this year.

And just how does former House Majority Leader and arch-phase-out man Dick Armey fit in to the picture?

In 2003, the last year for which records are available, AfP paid Armey $429,583 for 'consulting' services.

Some consulting ...

Here's an intersting project.

Rock The Vote has been a real thorn in the side of the pro-phase-out crowd in Washington, DC -- the Bushes, the Roves, the Santorums, the sundry Norquists, et al.

So they seem to have set up one of their standard brass-knuckle operations to bloody the RTV folks up to get rid of an obstacle in the way of their phasing out Social Security.

The chop-shop du jour is an outfit called Social Security for All. SSA is "run" by Americans for Prosperity. And Americans for Prosperity also has a new project called Rock the Hypocrisy, which actually sounds a bit more like a project of SSA, seeing as it's run as a subdirectory off the SSA website.

But I digress.

Back to our aforementioned project: Who or what is Americans for Prosperity?

According to this page at the Center for Media and Democracy's Source Watch website, it was essentially set up as a pet 501c3 of Koch Industries and then 'colocated' with the Independent Women's Forum, with which it also seems to share a rather substantial number of staffers. (They share a president and a COO, for starters.)

In any case, this is the long march phase of the battle to end Social Security. They'll dig in and tear away at the defenders of the program, figuring they can outlast them.

Now, politics is a contact sport, as they say. So I don't think anyone's complaining. But, to my eyes, this group has all the earmarks of a classic 'astroturf' outfit. And I suspect we'd find all the usual suspects involved -- of course, along with a gaggle of twenty-something ne'er-do-wells ready to make a couple bucks in rent-a-crowds and probably more than a few operatives looking to get their ticket stamped in the DC machine so they can move up a couple rungs on the ladder.

So let's find out.

A few thousand eyes are a whole lot better for finding out what these folks are up to than just these two. So, if you're game, take a few moments and try to find out more about these groups. What they're up to? Who's behind them? What have they been planning and so forth? And let us know what you find out. Send emails to socsecturfers@talkingpointsmemo.com. We'll be giving out TPM Privatize This! T-Shirts for folks who come up with particularly choice details.

The phase-out crowd didn't get knocked on its heels out of the blue. A lot of folks worked awfully hard to do it. So let's find out who's trying to get revenge and recover lost ground.

Our friend Noah Shachtman has a bizarre and unsettling story up on his DefenseTech blog about a Los Alamos whistleblower who was beaten senseless over the weekend by a group of thugs who apparently told him he'd better keep his mouth shut as they were knocking him around. I'm not quite sure what to make of this and I don't know much of the backstory. But I do know Noah. He follows this stuff pretty closely and he knows his stuff. So I pass it on on that basis.

Contrary to almost everyone else who's ever reported on the matter, Rep. Tom DeLay claimed that he saw no evidence of sweatshops, forced labor or forced abortions when he went on a junket to Saipan in the mid '90s. Now a filipino woman who worked there at the time has come forward to say that she can attest to it all first-hand and that DeLay must not have been looking very hard.

Just to provide a little backstory on this, back in the day (that is, the day(s) when DeLay was there) garment factories could import cloth and workers to Saipan to work in the island's garment factories free of US labor laws, minimum wage laws and tariffs. Then they could ship the stuff off with "Made in the USA" labels.

DeLay was there courtesy of Jack Abramoff to fight the good fight against efforts to make the garment industry on the island come into line with US labor laws.

Steve Clemons has some new details about what was contained in one of those John Bolton NSA intercepts. Apparently the intercept was of Asst. Secretary of State William Burns and turned on US dealing with Libya -- after Bolton himself had been dropped from the team dealing with the matter.

This looks interesting.

So following up on the post below, is it really true, as Thomas Beaumont of the Des Moines Register says, that public support for private accounts has been gradually increasing?

The short answer is, no. Not even close. But there's a bit more to the story.

PollingReport.com has most of the relevant data available here. And as you can see pretty clearly, across the board support for private accounts is lower now than it was when President Bush got started on this last December. In fact, in most cases, back then private accounts had at least plurality support when the question was asked, just private accounts, yes or no, without noting the loss of guaranteed benefits that inevitably go with them.

A couple of the polls, however, do show either a very small or even statistically insignificant bounce back for private accounts in the late spring.

For instance, here are the numbers over the last six months for the CBS poll's generic, private accounts question.

May For 47 Against 47 N/O 6 April For 45 Against 49 N/O 6 February For 43 Against 51 N/O 6 January For 45 Against 50 N/O 5 November For 49 Against 45 N/O 6

That is the most pronounced example <$Ad$> of this pattern, while most of the others show continued deterioration. A few show entirely different patterns.

The ABC/WaPo poll, for instance, started 53% for and 44% against in December. It actually showed them even more popular (56% to 41%) in March. In late April, however, support was at 45% and opposition had bumped up to 51%.

It's also worth pointing out that these numbers are always much lower when pollsters add any information about the benefit cuts that go along with private accounts or the debt necessary to incurr to finance them. And general questions about "the Bush plan" continue to poll worse and worse.

My own hunch is that the decreased prominence of the debate may have buoyed the numbers for private accounts because a quick look at all the numbers seems to show that the numbers were the worst when the topic was garnering the most attention.

But even this slight uptick showing up in some polls bears watching.

Saturday's Des Moines Register ran a piece on Sen. Grassley's first comments suggesting that he may not be able to get any Social Security phase-out bill through his committee this year.

What jumped out at me, though, was this passage ...

Bush says allowing workers younger than 55 to invest a portion of their tax in private accounts would provide a better return and allow them to pass the account on to heirs.

And while public opinion polls have shown that a minority of Americans support Bush's handling of the issue, support for the concept of personal accounts has gradually increased, although no polls have shown a majority in favor of the idea.

"We are pleased with the progress Senator Grassley is making on Social Security," White House spokesman Allen Abney said. "The president is fully committed to <$Ad$>personal accounts."

What polls is he looking at?

I haven't watched the numbers as closely recently as I was earlier this year. But it's hard for me to believe this can be true if for no other reason than that the first polls in December and January actually showed narrow majority support for private accounts. Since the author of the piece, Thomas Beaumont, seems to agree that they don't show majority support now, I don't see how that can be a gradual increase.

Can any poll-watchers provide some guidance on this one?