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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

And now for something totally different. We haven't gotten much into the subject of guns at TPM - a subject that I'm very into.

My interest isn't so much along the standard gun control politics lines. I'm more interested in way the debate is structured in contemporary American politics. Particularly, the way conservatives push a return to traditional values as the antidote to gun violence while these conservatives themselves come from the parts of the country with the highest murder rates. Where? Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina. Places like that.

Anyway, last year a history professor named Michael Bellesiles wrote a book about America's gun culture in which he made the argument that the American obsession with guns really only goes back to the mid-19th century. The myth of a Colonial and Revolutionary America chock full of guns is just that - a myth. Anyway, that was his argument.

The book received generally good reviews within academia and often savage reviews outside academia.

Now today I picked up the February issue of Brill's Content in which Michael Korda did what amounts to a review of the reviews of the Bellesiles book. Korda's argument is basically this:

Elite editors and book reviews and media types have confirmed anti-firearm views. And thus they gave the Bellesiles book warmly positive reviews even though the book could be shown, and was shown, to be misleading and based on poor scholarship. The article is a morality tale about East Coast elitists who are biased against the gun culture of the country's heartland. And so they got suckered in by Bellesiles book.

Now Brill's is a magazine about media criticism - and thus about fact-checking, and making sure your authors know what they're talking about, in addition to much more weighty issues of bias, credibility, professional integrity and so forth.

Anyway, Korda was allowed to write this article even though he obviously had no idea what he was talking about. I'm not just saying I disagree with him. He says things that show he simply has no idea what he's talking about.

Let me give you an example.

Much of Bellesiles research is based upon a review of probate inventories from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These are the catalogs of what a person owned at death, taken for probate purposes. Bellesiles found that very few people actually had guns in their inventories.

Follow me so far?

For Korda, this is a key example of Bellesiles bogus research methods. "But this seems to me a dubious method," writes Korda, "since in the 18th century it seems unlikely that Massachusetts or any other state would have tried to inventory the ownership of privately owned weapons, as opposed to those owned by or on loan to members of the militia…"

Really? It's seem like a dubious method to Korda? Really? It so happens that I've read literally hundreds of probate inventories from 17th and 18th century New England. And, yes, they do routinely list weapons and other pieces of property far more menial and of far less value.

This method may have seemed like a dubious method to Korda. But that's because he's clearly never looked at the documents in question.

Now I know this is all getting a bit technical. But why did Brill's let Korda write something that's transparently ridiculous on its face to anyone who has the vaguest understanding of the topic? And why do authors with pro-gun views get such leeway to talk about things they obviously know so little about?

The new twist in the campaign finance reform battle is Senator Chuck Hagel's decision to introduce a watered-down "compromise" bill, which the president has signaled his willingness to sign.

What's interesting here is that Chuck Hagel is a good friend of John McCain's. He's at least been a supporter of campaign finance reform. He supported McCain's presidential bid last year. And he's one of only two or possibly three others in the Senate who might be considered a McCain bloc. So why is he -- or why does he at least seem to be -- cutting McCain off at the knees?

Now that's rich. As you know, the closest thing Talking Points has to a recurring feature is when he takes some particularly boneheadian post on Andrewsullivan.com and makes fun of it on TPM.

(Does that mean TPM is a weblog parasite? Sort of, I guess. On the other hand, I gave Sullivan one of the ideas that appeared in this article. So, hey, I do my part! -- Lunch with Talking Points for the first person who can identify which part of the piece it is -- Got the email to prove it? You bet.)

Anyway, today on his site Sullivan picks up on a piece in the Post about how the top 400 taxpayers pay as much income tax as the bottom 40 million taxpayers.

"Interesting piece today in the Washington Post, pointing out that the richest 400 tax payers pay as much to the feds as the poorest 40 million in taxes," he says.

The first point here is that Sullivan either misstates or misunderstands the actual case. What the Post is talking about is income tax, not all taxes. And as every good Talking Point reader knows, the poorest Americans often pay no income tax but a relatively high rate of payroll taxes. Only the top quarter of tax payers pay more income taxes than payroll taxes.

So apparently Sullivan is with George W. Bush in not considering payroll taxes to be "real" taxes. Just thinking over the statistics I wouldn't be surprised if the bottom 40 million pay much more in payroll taxes than the top 400 do in income taxes - since every one of those 40 million pays 15 percent of earnings in payroll taxes. But that may be wrong since a few of the very top payers pay insanely high amounts. Anyway, I'll leave that to someone who knows how to add.

But here's the real kicker. For Sullivan, the tragedy of this statistic is how rough it is for the insanely wealthy in today's "lopsided" economy. For most Americans the increasing level of wealth inequality (as opposed to income inequality) is a fairness issue for working Americans who hold a declining relative share of the nation's wealth. For Sullivan, it's a fairness issue for plutocrats.

The more the "dependent" classes can squeeze the lords and high gentry for social services, the more irresponsible they'll become!

"If we have one-person-one-vote and you can always vote for higher taxes and spending, knowing you won't ever have to pay for it," says Sullivan, "why not do so?"

And you wonder why they call them Tories.

Here's another instance of Dick Armey's egregious lying -- straight from the Talking Points oppo research department.

As described on this web page (and more exhaustively in a February 21st, 1995 article in the Washington Post) Armey used to pepper his speeches with a cloying tale a mildly retarded university janitor who lost his job and got tossed onto food stamps because those heartless congressional Democrats went and raised the minimum wage.

Turns out there never was a Charlie. Armey made the whole thing up. As James Carville said a couple years later, "if a man is willing to lie about a retarded janitor, what would he tell the truth about?"

P.S. Special thanks to the member of the TPM oppo research department that clued me in to this gem.

-- Josh Marshall


(March 15th, 2001 -- 12:09 AM // link)

Shouldn't President Bush be held to account for spreading uncertainty and even panic about the economy?

I'm not saying he's responsible for what's happening. There have been numerous concrete factors leading to this downturn -- energy prices, trillions pulled out of the economy by the burst stock market bubble, ill-considered interest rate hikes last year.

But there's almost no way to figure that the president's promiscuous pessimism hasn't further depressed the quickly dropping rate of consumer confidence. (This column by Paul Krugman gives a good run-down of the delicate competition of forces now operating in the economy -- and, implicitly, how susceptible the economy may be to small influences, even to the president's jaw-boning.) Bush's influence may be a major cause of the problem or a minor one -- we can't really know. What's significant, though, is that he's making the situation worse in order to fulfill the short-term political goal of generating support for his tax cut.

Presidents' soothing words in times of economic difficulty may not have much effect. But when a president throws gas on the fire he takes on a certain responsibility for everything that happens afterward because he was part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. And we can't really know how far his malign influence has spread.

The fact that we can't know how much damage his recklessness has caused doesn't obsolve him, it implicates him.

Doesn't this self-serving recklessness suggest a character flaw, a lack of seriousness, some failure of judgement?

Hmmmmm … Doesn't seem like there've been too many posts recently on Talking Points, have there? Some big changes are coming to TPM. Stayed tuned.

Hmmmmm … Doesn't seem like there've been too many posts recently on Talking Points, have there? Some big changes are coming to TPM. Stayed tuned.

A number of readers have written in to ask whether I knew of another place on the web where they could find Paul Krugman's article on Dick Armey's book about wealth inequality which I linked in this earlier post.

(Phew! sort of an ungainly sentence, wasn't it?)

Regrettably the answer is 'no'. But apparently it's contained in his book The Accidental Theorist. So if you're really interested, pick it up in a book store. Or if you're only kinda interested, keep trying the link and it'll probably come up eventually.

Democrats are making a lot of the 1981 Reagan tax cut as a cautionary tale -- leading as it did to a generation of budgetary red ink.

But isn't there an even better example more close at hand? A few years back Governor George W. Bush passed a hefty tax cut in Texas.

(No doubt Bush was into the bill on its own merits. But passing the bill was a key part of proving his tax-cutting, conservative bona-fides going into the 2000 Republican presidential primaries. So we can call it the Rove-Bush bill.)

In order to push through this whopper cut they low-balled estimates for future spending requirements, relied on fanciful budgeting projections, and assumed continued swollen tax receipts from a roaring economy.

And now, you guessed it, the chicken has come home to roost. According to this helpful article in Time the state faces a potential budget shortfall of some $700 million dollars. The Texas state constitution bars deficit spending. So state budgeteers are going to have to cut spending on all sorts of programs for road construction, health care, education. Or even conceivably raise taxes. (But don't bet on that.)

Any of this sound familiar? Doesn't the comparison seem really on point? And, if so, why aren't DC Dems talking about it more?

So I guess the Bush strategy is to do the best they can getting a bill out of the Senate - whatever compromises Bush needs to make to get 51 votes. Then the repubs will take the bill into conference and rewrite it like they want. And then they'll bring it back and figure that pretty few of those Republican Senate moderates have the guts to vote against Bush's bill when it comes to an up or down vote. This is what I hear from a very astute conservative in DC. It could work.

Wow, the Talking Points oppo research department is just churning out examples of Dick Armey's public policy dishonesty.

Here's a great column by Paul Krugman in which he neatly unpacks and explains numerous instances of intentional distortion and simple, out-right lying in a book Armey published a few years back. And as Krugman points out, Armey has a Ph.D. in economics. So Armey isn't just the average congressional rube who may not even know that what he's saying isn't true.

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