Editor’s Blog

This article in Sundays

This article in Sunday’s Washington Post reports that Hillary Clinton has already raised more than $650,000 for her ‘leadership PAC’ since she was sworn in last January. If true, this would, of course, run afoul of the rule which says that there’s something unseemly about anyone named ‘Clinton’ raising political money.

A reader writes in

A reader writes in to ask why I think Social Security privatizers are irredeemable slime rather than people who simply disagree with me. It’s a good question. And I think I have a good answer. I don’t think badly of everyone who supports privatization, but I do think poorly of those on the Bush Commission, because I think they’re dishonest. Here’s why.

The question of Social Security privatization isn’t really an arithmetic or computational problem; it’s an ideological one. And there’s a very good argument to be had over the ideological assumptions underlying each approach. That argument is essentially about the distribution of risks — how much it should be individualized, how much socialized; how much it’s every man and woman for him or herself, and how much there should be a basic bedrock allotment of guaranteed income in retirement for everyone.

That’s a good debate, one I personally feel very clear on, but not one in which I think my opponents are bad people. Again, though, the Bushite privatizers are obscuring the real questions involved and being dishonest on several counts. I’ll be talking more about this. But for the moment, let me mention a few key examples.

Honest proponents of privatization willingly acknowledge the massive transition costs which would be needed to go from the current pay-as-you-go system to one based on individual propertized accounts. Here’s why.

At the moment current workers’ payroll taxes go right to current beneficiaries. Under the privatized framework a big chunk of that money would go into their own individual accounts. So you’d basically have one generation where we’d have to pay twice — once to current beneficiaries and once into the private accounts of current workers.

The dollar figure for these transition costs vary. But one number you hear is $1 or $1.5 trillion.

That number sound familiar? It should. It’s right about the size of the Bush tax cut. Honest privatizers know that that much money would be needed in transition costs. Anti-privatizers like myself believe that money should be put into strengthening the trust fund by retiring government debt and so forth. One way or another that money was needed to preserve Social Security. But Bush spent it on a big tax cut which went disproportionately to the wealthiest Americans. I take this as a sign that Bush (or, perhaps better to say, Larry Lindsey — that’s him in the picture) really isn’t serious about saving Social Security — privatized or not. And just between you and me, I’m right.

So you have a situation in which the Bush administration has greatly imperiled Social Security through reckless fiscal policy. And now they say that it’s so imperiled that it needs to be privatized.

The second point is the Bush Commission’s unreasonably pessimistic assumptions about Social Security’s future solvency. In fact, these assumptions are not just unreasonable. For anyone with a solid grasp of the policy issues involved they are almost laughable — some of the particulars are covered in today’s Paul Krugman column. The reason for this kind of fear-mongering is obvious: it’s a way to gin up support for radical reforms. But it’s dishonest, very dishonest. And frankly shameful.

This doesn’t mean there are no problems with the current system. There are. We’ll talk about those next.

Ive gotten no end

I’ve gotten no end of flak for ignoring weightier issues in favor of the Gary Condit craziness in recent weeks.

(This, of course, is to be distinguished from flak from flacks — like Rep. Gary Condit’s flack who falsely denied the accuracy of the quote I attributed to her in my recent article in Salon.com … Okay, okay, I’ll stop.)

As a general matter I’ve always thought it’s possible to walk and chew gum at the same time — following a human interest story, a mystery, doesn’t mean you can’t also keep up on important political issues as well.

But here’s one instance where something of very real importance seems to have been almost entirely lost in the rush of Condit coverage. As Amy Goldstein reported on Friday in the Washington Post, President Bush’s Social Security Privatization Commission is readying to release its preliminary report. This tract does much more than repeat the standard doomsaying one normally expects from those who support privatizing Social Security. It also repeats one of the most shameful and dishonest slurs against the current system: that it is especially unfair to blacks, minorities, and women.

It is difficult to convey just how ugly and craven a deception this is, since it is precisely these groups who arguably benefit most from the current system. We’ll be talking about this and other matters pertaining to the President’s reform commission in the coming days and weeks. But there’s such a quantity of bad policy, bad facts, and bad faith piled together here that, for the moment, let’s focus on just two points.

First is the basic contention — endlessly pushed by the administration — that the government bonds in which the Social Security surplus is invested are no more than mere paper. Just empty promissory notes, not actual assets, they say. This is not only a foolish assumption. For those who make it, it’s also a very dishonest one.

Wealthy Americans have long invested a good part of their assets in government paper precisely because it is the safest investment to be had. That after all is why bond investors are willing to accept relatively low rates of return compared to equities — precisely because these investments are so safe.

There are of course further complexities to this question — some of which I discussed here. But as a general matter this is the truth of it.

The second point is the odious behavior of former Senator, and current Commission Co-Chairman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Moynihan has lent considerable stature to Bush’s endeavor, since the former Senator is widely viewed as an expert on Social Security. All this makes it even more critical to point out the fact that for anyone who follows this subject closely, Moynihan has lost almost all the credibility he once had on the subject. Over the last half dozen years Moynihan has used the cloak of his reputation to cover over a series of comical flip flops and ludicrous assertions about Social Security. Some of these fooleries are discussed in this article by Jon Chait and this article by your truly. Let’s get the ball rolling with this one:

Moynihan was part of the 1983 Social Security commission that took the program off a purely pay-as-you-go basis and set up a trust fund that could later be drawn upon as baby boomers reached retirement age. Now he says the whole concept is foolish and unworkable and, even more inexplicably, that he hadn’t even realized this was being done.

Supporters of Social Security should not hesitate to expose Moynihan’s credibility and credentials on this issue for what they are: non-existent.

Much more to come on this subject.

Alright lets take a

Alright, let’s take a quick look at the Condit grab bag.

A number of folks have said that the police could not have been more aggressive with Gary Condit in the early days because they simply didn’t have any tangible evidence tying him to Levy’s disappearance. All they had were suspicions tied to his relationship with her. This is true as far as it goes. But it misses the point. If police departments had their training manuals written by the ACLU this might make sense. But, needless to say, they’re not. If you were a middle-aged married man carrying on a secret relationship with a twenty-four year old and your paramour suddenly went missing, I guarantee you, your local police department would turn your life UPSIDE DOWN. There’s no question about it. Nor is there any surprise why — since more than three-quarters of the time it would turn out that you were in fact the murderer. This sort of calculus may be troublesome from a civil liberties perspective — but it’s standard police procedure. And it’s the treatment that would have been given to anyone else.

The next point is this matter of Condit dumping a watch from another girlfriend in a dumpster in Alexandria, Virginia mere hours before his house was searched by police. Apparently, what Condit tossed — a watch he was given by another girlfriend — had nothing directly to do with Levy. But it’s worth considering for a moment just how bizarre this is.

First, Abbe Lowell clearly has little if any control over his client.

Secondly, who drove Condit to Alexandria? And did they know what he was going there to do? I suppose he could have taken the Metro (the DC subway) but that’s a little hard to figure. The point is that it seems like someone near Condit was willing to help him dispose of evidence prior to the police search of his house. And it would seem worthwhile to find out who that person is — for pretty obvious reasons.

Thirdly, doesn’t this stunt make you wonder just what universe Gary Condit is living in? When I first heard this report I was sure it would be quickly batted down as false, just as an earlier report that Levy had been spotted on a 7-11 surveillance camera the day before her disappearance later turned out to be a misindentification. I mean, the guy’s apartment is staked out 24-7 by the media. He’s discussed relentlessly on cable and talk radio. His face is plastered everywhere. And it seems like a good plan to head out to the suburbs and toss a mysterious package in a trash can? It’s not even so much that this inculpates him as it throws into question — and I say this in all seriousness — his very soundness of mind. I mean, just what was he thinking?

Needless to say, once you’ve gotten caught getting rid of one piece of evidence in a dumpster … well, you know where that goes.

In the department of

In the department of reassurances that aren’t that reassuring, tonight we find this gem from tonight’s Wolf Blitzer show:

BLITZER: Is the D.C. police department qualified — knows what it’s doing in this kind of investigation in your experience?

HENNESSY [Former DC Detective]: As a matter of fact, I think that D.C. police department is probably more suited to handle these types of cases. I mean, there’s probably been — there’s no department in the country probably has more experience handling murders than D.C. because of the murder rate that we had in the 90s. So the investigators certainly are very qualified.

What’s that line about an ounce of prevention?

I plan on making

I plan on making this the last post on this question, but this is instructive.

Here’s the key portion of Marina Ein’s second statement on my July 16th Salon article; it’s dated July 18th.

I did not, and would not, make the statements that have been attributed to me … I am the mother of a daughter who is approximately Chandra Levy’s age, and I am a female professional. The suggestion that I would make comments like those attributed to me is abhorrent.

Here’s a clip from the New York Daily News’ Thursday article about the Chandra Levy investigation, with emphasis added:

Ein released a statement denying she told reporters DePaulo was working on a story about Levy’s alleged one-night stands, calling the suggestion she would say such things “abhorrent.”

But the Daily News has confirmed that Ein made the comments to reporters for at least three news organizations.

She did not return calls from The News but told The Washington Post: “I’m so exhausted, and frankly I’m at the end of my rope with this whole thing.”

I guess it turns out that this is one of those suggestions that is both “abhorrent” and true.

At least so says The Daily News.

As a devoted fan

As a devoted fan of HBO’s The Sopranos I wasn’t just disappointed, I felt almost insulted, when I heard that HBO’s next drama series would be about a family of undertakers, Six Feet Under. This seemed like a classic example of network execs trying to carbon copy a good idea and failing pitifully rather than daring to use the same originality and abandon that got them a blockbuster in the first place.

Oh, you think the show about the crime family is good? Well, hey, this one’s gonna be about a family of undertakers! It can’t lose! They’re handling dead guys all the time. It’ll be great! That or like, you know, a sitcom about a hapless serial killer who’s got a heart of gold. You get the idea. Anyway, it turns out this new show is really good. Dark, and muted, and anxious, with a mix of clotted emotion and deathly detachment. No, Sopranos it ain’t. But then what is? It’s an impossible standard. Definitely give it a try.

Talking Points Memo Anglo-American

Talking Points Memo Anglo-American diplomacy George W. quote of the day.

America and … Britain have got a special relationship. We both have pledged to keep the relationship as special as possible …”

What would Winston say?

I believe I can

I believe I can tell you with some assurance that today was the weirdest day of my entire life. I’ve had better days, I suppose. And I’ve certainly had worse. But for sheer immersion in the surreal, this one pretty much takes the cake.

As I write it is about 3:15 AM on the East Coast and I am watching the final rerun of tonight’s Larry King Live. The topic thus far is one in which I have to say I have a great deal of interest and no little expertise. That is, whether or not I am a liar.

(The issue at hand here of course is the article I published in Salon about Condit flack Marina Ein, in which I quoted her saying that “Chandra Levy has a history of one-night stands.” She has now issued a press release insisting that she never said any of the things attributed to her in my article, and thus presumably didn’t say what I quoted her as saying. Needless to say, that is absolutely false.)

Luckily (and accurately) the consensus seems to be that I am not a liar. Although Mark Geragos — one-time lawyer for Susan McDougal and Roger Clinton — keeps raising the possibility, or suggesting that the panel consider the possibility, that I am lying about what Marina Ein said to me when I interviewed her on Monday afternoon. Sitting at the very desk where I did the interview, and typing on the very computer on which I wrote the article, I assume you can imagine how hearing all this on my TV set might constitute a rather bizarre experience. To Mark I can only say, well, actually why don’t I not say, so as not to offend …

I’ll come back to this in some more detail, but there’s one more thing I need to mention. During the first segment of Larry King Live I watched with great pride and affection as my friend and Salon editor Kerry Lauerman resolutely defended me and my article when King asked if Salon had any doubts about the piece or any plans to pull it. Let me take this opportunity to publicly thank Kerry and the rest of the folks at Salon.com for their immediate and unwavering support during this whole episode.

Ive had a slew

I’ve had a slew of emails over recent days asking why I haven’t or when I would comment on the New York Times article on overseas absentee ballots. I will very soon.

As you might imagine I’ve been buried under an avalanche of Chandra-related stuff in recent days. And then there’s that added matter of defending myself against Gary Condit’s spokeswoman who has falsely accused me of including falsehoods in my article about her and her client. (Be not afraid loyal Talking Points readers: the facts are very much on my side.) But I will soon be discussing the Times article at some length. Also soon to come is comment on the stunning political news out of Great Britain.

On Talking Points I

On Talking Points I usually dish out comment and speculation with a mix of sarcasm and jest. But some issues require more seriousness and precision. This is one of them.

As you may have heard, or may yet hear, Gary Condit’s spokeswoman Marina Ein (the subject of my article which appeared today in Salon) has publicly accused me of including multiple falsehoods in my article. Particularly (and here I quote from Ein’s letter to Salon), she says:

“As it is, these statements, and others attributed to me in Mr. Marshall’s piece are false and destructive. Further, the premise of the piece – that I was somehow engaged in an effort to cast aspersions on Ms. Levy’s character or past – is entirely false.”

It is worth noting that in her letter (which I assume Salon will publish tomorrow) Ms. Ein never denies having said what I quoted her as saying. That one quote being: “What about the fact that Lisa DePaulo is working on this article for Talk magazine and it turns out Chandra Levy has a history of one-night stands?

I understand that there will be at least a couple articles written on this mini-controversy in tomorrow’s papers. So when I read them I will comment on whatever Ein or anyone else is quoted as saying.

But for now let me state the following clearly and unequivocally: I stand behind the article 100%. The quotation in question is a word-for-word quotation from Ms. Ein from an on-the-record phone interview yesterday afternoon. Anything anyone states to the contrary is untrue, period.

P.S. If you’d like to see me say the same thing on TV, I’m on O’Reilly tonight on Fox News. And then on some other Fox show — I’m not completely sure which — at approximately 9:30 AM EST tomorrow morning.

I wrote a piece

I wrote a piece tonight in Salon detailing how Gary Condit’s press spokesman Marina Ein told me that “Chandra Levy has a history of one-night stands.” Were this true, it might be relevant to police trying to figure out how she came to harm and, so forth. But let me be clear: I have good reason to believe that this is actually not true. Not that I don’t know it to be true, but that I have positive reasons to believe it is false.

In any case, as I noted in the piece, this really isn’t very effective PR, to put it mildly.

Certainly this isn’t going to make Condit look very good. But it goes beyond that. Gary Condit’s biggest problem thus far hasn’t been the police, for better or worse. It’s been Chandra’s aggrieved and heart-broken family who’ve dogged his every step with an endless stream of anecdotal tidbits, morsels, and veiled accusations.

And that was before his flacks started trashing their daughter.

On another matter, this article in Tuesday’s Washington Post says the Condit team has still not turned over the polygraph results they trumpeted last Friday. Chief Ramsey mentioned this on the Sunday shows. Ein told me on Monday afternoon that one portion of the test results had been sent to police on Friday and that the remainder had been sent on Monday monring. Are they really still holding on to those records? And if so, why?

Andrew Sullivan called me

Andrew Sullivan called me to task for not publishing the name of the ABC News reporter discussed in this article in Salon. I refused to do so, and explained why at some length. I guess he must have found my argument irrefutable.

No time to go

No time to go into too much detail on this now, but the aspect of this story which has yet to get a lot of attention is the DC police department’s general reputation for incompetence and boobery, and how much their rep, not just Gary Condit’s, is on the line in how this whole situation turns out.

You may have seen the computer-enhanced pictures the police released which allegedly show what Chandra might look if she was in disguise.

It might be more accurate to say that this is how Chandra might look if someone took a picture of her and gave the photograph to a six year old with a bottle of paste and some pre-school clip-art. I mean, you don’t want to be overly jocular about this, but these enhanced photos don’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence in the folks heading up the investigation. If this is computer-generated, what’s the computer? The Atari 400 my Dad bought me when I was like twelve?

Anyway, the point is that the DC police department has a very bad reputation, and though the current leadership, Ramsey et.al., were brought in to clean the place up, they’ve clearly still got a lot of work ahead of them. The local Fox affiliate just reported Friday night that a slew of officers were just taken off the beat and given desk duty because they didn’t know how to load their weapons. If the mystery of Levy’s disappearance is simply never solved — or if the evidentiary trail just grows cold — the DC police department is going to start looking a lot like the Boulder PD after the JonBenet case. And they know that.

So it’s important to see all the conspicuous aggressiveness of the investigation in recent days — like arranging for TV crews to be there when they search vacant buildings — in this light. This doesn’t mean all the searching isn’t necessary, or that they shouldn’t be leaning so hard on Condit, but it’s just important to keep this part of the story in mind.

You start to understand

You start to understand after a while why Mitch Daniels — Director of the Office of Management and Budget — got his post in the Bush administration. He excels at the sort of macho head-butting and white boy trash talk that is apparently the coin of the realm inside the second Bush White House.

Here’s Daniels yesterday on This Week denouncing the idea of the Medicare Trust fund as set forth by Senator Kent Conrad:

You know, raising four daughters has taught me a little about patience, but I’m starting to lose mine on this issue of Medicare. The point of view that the senator has expressed was described this week by various journalists as ‘ridiculous, false, Orwellian, and an attempt to confuse the public, deserving of our contempt.’ And let me tell you why …

And here’s Daniels explaining why giving the surplus back to the American people, as conservatives like to say, is the right thing to do. And how giving the surplus back to the American people is also the best way to protect the surplus.

First of all, let’s note that the surplus is smaller very much on purpose. That’s because President Bush and a bipartisan majority chose to share some of this large overcharge with the American people

The president chose … to share a large part of the remaining surplus with the taxpayers who sent it in. It’s a refund of a big overcharge … And we now know a sputtering economy needs that money to revive and protect the surpluses of the future.

So the surplus is the people’s money, and they should get it back. And that’ll protect the surplus.

Okay.

And here’s Daniels on the finer points of tactical dishonesty …

I think frankly that Medicare lockbox fiction, which is what it is, was of some value early on in its life during a time of deficits, when it’s [Republican] authors, I think, believed they were going to prevent the then Clinton administration from spending all that money …

Like I said, you start to understand why he got the assignment.

Ive already noted some

I’ve already noted some questions regarding the track record of Barry Colvert, the former FBI polygraphist who administered the lie detector test to Gary Condit. Cokie Roberts seemed to refer to those questions on This Week — guess they’re not that upset about the Salon article after all. Anyway, what’s the deal with Abbe Lowell not turning over the test results of the test to the DC Police or the FBI, as he said he would last Friday?

Ill have to wait

I’ll have to wait for the transcript to go over this in more detail, but Mitch Daniels’ appearance today on ABC’s This Week really cements his reputation as administration point-man for double-talk, deception and hyperbole. Trying to save the Medicare Trust Fund is “orwellian.” (A quote he apparently agrees with.) The tax cut is the best way to preserve the surplus. Where’d they get this guy? More later.

As some of you

As some of you may know, Andrew Sullivan has called me to task for not naming the ABC News reporter at the center of the article I published last Friday in Salon.com.

If you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, I’ll briefly explain. If you already know the story, skip ahead by clicking here.

In the July 13th article I described how ABC News received a timeline from Gary Condit’s office detailing the congressman’s activities on the days surrounding Chandra Levy’s disappearance. Producers at ABC knew that key facts in the timeline were wrong because parts of the timeline had to do with one of ABC’s own reporters. The timeline said Condit had met with the reporter on the day of Levy’s disappearance (May 1st) when in fact he had not. ABC confronted Condit’s legal team only to be told that the timeline was just a work-in-progress, a rough draft, and so forth. They eventually decided to give Condit’s office the benefit of the doubt – assuming that this was just an honest mistake, rather than a deliberate attempt to create a false alibi for the congressman. Further complicating the situation for ABC was the fact that the reporter has been alleged to have had a romantic relationship with Condit. (This run-down obviously omits a lot of key details. So if you want the whole story do read the whole article.)

So the question is why didn’t we name the reporter? Andrew says that the media has one privacy rule for its own and another for everyone else. It’s a pretty good point – and one that I was thinking myself before I even started reporting the story. Frankly, I think it’s true. And this case is a pretty good example of that fact. I don’t have much doubt that – given even her minor role in the case – you’d know this woman’s name if she weren’t a reporter for ABC News. ABC has a story to report; but it’s implicated in the story on a number of levels. So they’ve essentially put the reporter on ice, and squelched the story. (This was the gist of my article – and thus in a sense Andrew and I aren’t that far apart.)

But where do Salon and I fit in?

I found out the name of the reporter while reporting the article. And her name was confirmed to me by a source with impeccable knowledge of the situation – just not on the record. And that’s the point: no one would go on the record with this woman’s name.

If this were just a question of her as a reporter that might not have been a problem. But it’s central to this story that there are rampant rumors about her alleged romantic involvement with Condit. And a major metropolitan daily, The New York Post, has published the allegation.

Normally, a mere allegation counts for nothing. But in this case it’s different, because true or not these allegations have affected ABC’s willingness to confront the story, or at least that’s what I argue.

But we didn’t have any confirmation that this affair allegation was true. In fact, we had a firm denial from an ABC News executive.

So the question we faced was this: do we name this woman in the context of allegations of an affair when no one will go on the record identifying her, and we have no evidence validating that the allegations of an affair are true?

Framed that way, the question doesn’t seem that hard to answer.

I wouldn’t publish an article alleging that two people were having an affair unless at least one of them was willing to confirm it. And I feel pretty confident saying that since I publicly criticized the Washington Post for doing so just last Friday.

Andrew says that “If ABC News is right about their reporter’s relationship with Condit, this is one instance in which there are no real privacy considerations. As long as ABC News says there was no affair, then the reporter has nothing to be afraid of in disclosing her name.”

But this isn’t an argument so much as a logical trap, a cleverly packaged catch-22 from which the folks at ABC could never escape. I think Andrew may be right when he says that the reporter and/or ABC News have a duty to come forward with this information (that was really the point of my article, after all) but that’s obviously a bone he has to pick with ABC and the reporter, not me.

Having said all this, though, there’s still a problem: there really is a lot more solicitousness for this woman’s privacy than there is for many others who aren’t in the media. To make a point we could have cut through all the reportorial niceties noted above and simply named her. And in a sense I suppose that would have made things more fair. But this would just be a ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’ situation or a case of (the wingers’ favorite phrase) defining deviancy down.

Now there’s one other point Andrew brings up that I’d like to address. He says that spilling the beans on this reporter woman is precisely what a me-zine is for. I don’t agree. I’ve written a lot of things in these virtual pages that I probably couldn’t have gotten an editor to go along with. But I think that when I write an article for a magazine and we come to some sort of agreement about how to proceed on an editorial question that I have an obligation not to do an end-run around them and take some information that we agreed not to publish and spill the beans on Talking Points. It would depend on the situation, of course. If the magazine did something really egregious I might use my site to get out some important information. But that doesn’t apply here.

So as you’ve probably surmised by now, I’m not going to post this woman’s name. In his email to me Andrew said that if I had “the balls” I’d publish the woman’s name. Frankly, if this is a test of my editorial manliness, I don’t think I’ve got much to prove – given all I’ve published here. And since the whole issue here is tying a man and woman together sexually in print, I’ll just stand before you in the spirit of the moment, wag my finger and say: my balls have nothing to do with that woman, the un-named off-air reporter from ABC News.

Response to Andrew Sullivan

Response to Andrew Sullivan to follow this evening.

Regarding the Condit lie

Regarding the Condit lie detector test, here’s some other morsels to keep in mind.

In his post tonight Mickey Kaus notes that Aldrich Ames, the notorious CIA spy, passed a number of lie detector tests. So clearly the technology is not infallible.

But this only scratches the surface of the story.

The polygraph expert retained by Condit attorney Abbe Lowell is named Barry Colvert, a former FBI lie detector expert. One of the bullet points on Colvert’s resume is that he did the interrogations of Aldrich Ames. Now I don’t know if the tests Ames beat were administered by Colvert. But it seems like a definite possibility. So it’s not just that Ames beat a lie detector test. It may be that he beat this expert.

But there’s more. A lot more.

Back in January 1998 when former Teamsters’ President Ron Carey was trying to fight off an indictment and expulsion from the union over the campaign donation-swapping scandal, he decided to take a lie detector test to clear himself. He passed the test.

The test was administered by none other than Barry Colvert.

Now this is a little painful for me to say, because I always liked Ron Carey, but the bottom line is that he was eventually indicted. So Colvert’s results look a little iffy in retrospect.

More striking though is the way that test was apparently administered. Read this snippet from a January 21st, 1998 AP story and see if the Carey test doesn’t sound very similar to the one Abbe Lowell described Colvert administering to Gary Condit.

Barry Colvert, an agent for 35 years who interrogated Aldrich Ames and other high-profile spies, asked Carey two crucial questions about the scheme.

“I did not find any indication of deception in either of those primary questions,” Colvert said. He added that, “If the readings were close and flat, I wouldn’t have rendered that opinion.”

Colvert’s questions and the questions posed to Carey by his attorney, Reid Weingarten, were limited to charges that about $735,000 was donated by the Teamsters to generate contributions to Carey’s re-election campaign.

Carey was not asked if he knew that other labor leaders, including AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rich Trumka, allegedly had funneled prohibited donations to his campaign.

Sounds similar, doesn’t it? Highly restricted questioning … “two crucial questions” … “the primary questions” etc. And apparently no follow-ups on the factual nitty-gritty of the case.

(Carey seems to be the only other high-profile case Colvert has handled since he went into private practice in 1997 — I base this on a Nexis search on Colvert’s name which revealed no mentions beside those tied to Carey.)

And then there’s one more detail.

My understanding is that, at approximately this time, Carey had working for him a PR consultant by the name of Marina Ein. (I do not know whether she was still working for Carey at the time of the test in January 1998 — but I know she was shortly before that.) And as you’ll remember, if you’re following the case, that’s the same Marina Ein who is now working for Gary Condit.

What does this all mean? I’m going to let the information speak for itself. But it does make you wonder.

Response to Andrew Sullivan

Response to Andrew Sullivan to follow this evening.

Regarding the Condit lie

Regarding the Condit lie detector test, here’s some other morsels to keep in mind.

In his post tonight Mickey Kaus notes that Aldrich Ames, the notorious CIA spy, passed a number of lie detector tests. So clearly the technology is not infallible.

But this only scratches the surface of the story.

The polygraph expert retained by Condit attorney Abbe Lowell is named Barry Colvert, a former FBI lie detector expert. One of the bullet points on Colvert’s resume is that he did the interrogations of Aldrich Ames. Now I don’t know if the tests Ames beat were administered by Colvert. But it seems like a definite possibility. So it’s not just that Ames beat a lie detector test. It may be that he beat this expert.

But there’s more. A lot more.

Back in January 1998 when former Teamsters’ President Ron Carey was trying to fight off an indictment and expulsion from the union over the campaign donation-swapping scandal, he decided to take a lie detector test to clear himself. He passed the test.

The test was administered by none other than Barry Colvert.

Now this is a little painful for me to say, because I always liked Ron Carey, but the bottom line is that he was eventually indicted. So Colvert’s results look a little iffy in retrospect.

More striking though is the way that test was apparently administered. Read this snippet from a January 21st, 1998 AP story and see if the Carey test doesn’t sound very similar to the one Abbe Lowell described Colvert administering to Gary Condit.

Barry Colvert, an agent for 35 years who interrogated Aldrich Ames and other high-profile spies, asked Carey two crucial questions about the scheme.

“I did not find any indication of deception in either of those primary questions,” Colvert said. He added that, “If the readings were close and flat, I wouldn’t have rendered that opinion.”

Colvert’s questions and the questions posed to Carey by his attorney, Reid Weingarten, were limited to charges that about $735,000 was donated by the Teamsters to generate contributions to Carey’s re-election campaign.

Carey was not asked if he knew that other labor leaders, including AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rich Trumka, allegedly had funneled prohibited donations to his campaign.

Sounds similar, doesn’t it? Highly restricted questioning … “two crucial questions” … “the primary questions” etc. And apparently no follow-ups on the factual nitty-gritty of the case.

(Carey seems to be the only other high-profile case Colvert has handled since he went into private practice in 1997 — I base this on a Nexis search on Colvert’s name which revealed no mentions beside those tied to Carey.)

And then there’s one more detail.

My understanding is that, at approximately this time, Carey had working for him a PR consultant by the name of Marina Ein. (I do not know whether she was still working for Carey at the time of the test in January 1998 — but I know she was shortly before that.) And as you’ll remember, if you’re following the case, that’s the same Marina Ein who is now working for Gary Condit.

What does this all mean? I’m going to let the information speak for itself. But it does make you wonder.

I think my attempt

I think my attempt at subtlety in my last post left me a bit misunderstood. So let me try to clarify.

I’m still trying to sort out what I think of the in-house lie detector test that Abbe Lowell arranged for his client Gary Condit. Opinion on that point seems to have evolved pretty quickly, even over the half-dozen hours or so since Lowell’s press conference.

But for the moment let’s take the answers to these three questions wholly at face value and assume their veracity. If you boil down the three questions they asked of Condit they basically come down to this: a) were you involved in, or did you cause, Levy’s disappearance? and b) do you know the current whereabouts of her or her remains?

Those two questions leave some pretty obvious questions unasked. Like, Do you know what happened to Chandra? Do you know who harmed her / is responsible for her disappearance?

In any case, for now, suffice it to say that even if you completely buy that this was a legit test, it leaves a pretty big and obvious question unanswered, especially because it’s not too difficult to speculate about who some potential other suspects might be.

Now, on to other matters.

There seems to be some anti-Talking Points mojo in the air tonight because I’m being called on the carpet by fellow me-ziners Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan — for two entirely different things. Kaus says I’m going soft because I criticized the Washington Post’s story on Condit’s alleged affair with the then-18 year old woman from back home in Modesto. Sullivan is on my case or, perhaps better to say, putting me on the spot for not providing the name of the ABC News reporter discussed in this article I wrote yesterday in Salon. I’m going to come back to the matter of the unnamed reporter. But first let’s deal with Kaus.

I went back and read the July 12th Washington Post article about the minister and his daughter and I think I was in part wrong to question its relevance. Now this will get kind of complicated so bear with me (it’s also four o’clock in the morning so incoherence is a real possibility as well).

My initial concern was the combination of how distant this affair seemed from anything to do with the Levy case and the fact that the alleged paramour herself denied the affair took place. Hardly a small matter. The combination, I thought, made it not ready to publish.

However, what’s really key is not the relationship itself but Susan Levy’s alleged phone call in mid-April confronting Chandra with news of the earlier relationship, and Chandra’s alleged subsequent discussion of that relationship with Condit. This chain of events seems quite relevant to what was happening in Chandra’s life in the last two weeks before her disappearance — even if you allow the possibility that the other affair didn’t happen. For the purposes of understanding what was up with Chandra, what matters is that she and her mother believed it was true and that she discussed it with Condit.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that I think I was at least partly incorrect on the question of relevance — though I still have misgivings about the fact that they went with the story while the woman herself denied that the affair had even taken place. Perhaps it would have been better to front the combustible conversations between Susan and Chandra Levy, and Chandra and Condit, rather than the alleged affair itself. Though this probably wouldn’t have made for such a charged headline. Make sense? I’ll get to Sullivan’s very legitimate point (and challenge) tomorrow.

Maybe its just my

Maybe it’s just my underlying innocence and naivete, but it’s hard for me not to look at this case in a rather different light now that Rep. Condit has submitted to a lie detector test, even one in a highly controlled setting, and with questions contrived with precision by his attorney.

The questions asked of Condit, according to various media outlets, were:

Did the congressman (you) have anything at all to do with the disappearance of Ms. Levy?

Did he (you) harm her or cause anyone else to harm her in any way?

Does he (do you) know where she can be located?

But I would have wanted to ask just one other question … Do you know who else may have harmed Chandra Levy?

Gary Condits flacks have

Gary Condit’s flacks have to look pretty long and hard these days to find something — anything — which will let them go on the offensive against the media avalanche of stories adverse to their client (like plowing the sea, as Bolivar famously said). But yesterday’s Washington Post gave them a pretty good shot at it.

The Post has done what I think is a pretty admirable job reporting this story thus far — even though they do seem to be working in pretty close concert with the Levy’s PR firm. But their story about an affair Condit allegedly carried on with a then-18 year old woman is a textbook example of a story that just doesn’t seem to have any relevance to this case.

We already know that Gary Condit is … well, how shall we say it? … a bit of a man about town? Unlike the Anne Marie Smith case, which has an arguable relevance to the Levy story, this one seems to have none. Plus, the alleged paramour herself first wouldn’t confirm the relationship and then actively denied it.

The entire evidence for the affair apparently hinges on the woman’s father’s say-so. A lot of other news outlets apparently had a shot at this story and took a pass — a number with reputations far beneath that of the Post.

Did Condit have this affair too? Who knows? But more to the point, who cares?

Wow. Talking Points hasnt

Wow. Talking Points hasn’t just cracked the Grey Lady. He’s practically got her swooning. First the Monday article about Me-zines and then Paul Krugman’s column on Wednesday about the Bushies’ shameless lockbox climb-down.

Krugman didn’t mention the Talking Points site by name. But he quoted from it, or rather borrowed a quote from Mitch Daniels, which appeared here on this site, and was kind enough to give credit. Something that hasn’t been done by some others who shall remain nameless.

In any case, let me try to salvage this self-promoting post with something approaching substance.

Krugman made a point which I had intended to cover in a follow-up to the original post, but he made it with far greater elegance and authority than I could have mustered. That is, while the concept of a ‘lockbox’ is of course a fiction, it is a very important fiction, or rather one with very real consequences and effects.

Simply put, Social Security’s incoming revenues will not cover its outflows in the coming decades. There is a decent argument put forward by some liberals that the economic forecasts on which these assumptions are based are too pessimistic — and we can largely grow our way out of the problem, if you make certain assumptions based on long-term gains in productivity and so forth. But even if this is true, it’s still sensible and prudent not to base our plans on the rosiest of possible outcomes.

So you come back to the basic point that income won’t cover outflow. Some of that difference will likely have to be made up by some mix of benefit cuts and perhaps tax increases — though I’m very dubious about further raising payroll taxes on workers — or perhaps supplementing Social Security payments with funds from general revenue, i.e. not from payroll taxes.

But the bottom line is that some more money is probably going to have to be found somewhere. By paying off debt now we reduce the amount of money the government currently pays in interest on that debt. That frees up general revenue funds which could go to propping up Social Security down the road.

But the more basic point is that reducing our burden of debt today will make it easier to do some borrowing to shore up Social Security tomorrow. Though the mechanism for all this is complicated by the intricacies of government bond issues, and one part of the government owing money to another part of the government, the essence of the matter is that some of it will likely have to be borrowed. And paying off debt today will make that potential borrowing tomorrow far more feasible.

However this may be, as Krugman notes, the sort of funny-business the Bushies are now engaged in makes it far more likely that Social Security really will go off a cliff in a few decades and that the problem will have to be solved through draconian benefit cuts.

In any case, this is the point I was going to make but Krugman beat me to it. But if Krugman wants to keep up with this Talking Points-Krugman vs. Daniels-Bush tagteam action, what can I say, I’m game.

Along other lines, for the real Talking Points die-hards, I’ve got three new articles which might strike your fancy. This one in the American Prospect details the story behind the Social Security privatization group Treasury Secretary O’Neill spoke to recently. This one in the New Republic Online argues that you need only look at the legislative docket in Congress to see why time is on the Democrats’ side. And this one in Salon.com details an as-yet-untold story about ABC News and the ‘timeline’ Gary Condit’s office made available at the end of June. Here’s a hint: one of the meetings the original timeline described on May 1st (the day Chandra disappeared) never happened.

You might look at this blizzard of words (running the gamut from polemic, to commentary, to investigative reporting) and say to yourself: This is the sign of a fabulously prolific up-and-coming young writer with acute insights on contemporary politics! Actually, the real lesson to be drawn is a touch different. And that would be? That supporting yourself as a freelance writer is *#$%&@ hell on wheels!!!

With no new Condit

With no new Condit posts since the congressman admitted to his affair last Friday, a reader wrote in and asked if maybe my silence was because someone had ‘gotten to me.’ The funny thing is I’m not completely sure he was kidding …

Anyway, a number of papers are reporting on their websites tonight that the police will be giving Congressman Condit a lie detector test. But they’re getting way ahead of themselves. The police have asked. Abbe Lowell told them he’d get back to them.

And that gets back to the point I raised earlier: whether Gary Condit, whatever other legal difficulties he may face, may have a malpractice case against Abbe Lowell.

It’s difficult to imagine that Lowell realized just how quickly and eagerly the DC Metro Police Department would go for his offer to provide various pieces of evidence. When DC Police Chief Ramsey gave his press conference this afternoon he had the look of someone whose quarry had fallen into a trap.

Ramsey accepted Lowell’s ‘offer’ of a lie detector test for Condit. But, as I note in an article to be published tonight in Salon.com, that was an offer that Lowell never really made. He said he’d be willing to talk to police about it. Nothing more. In fact, if you look at Lowell’s news conference yesterday it looked very much like he got maneuvered into the lie detector remark in an impromptu exchange with reporters.

Lowell quite clearly intended to offer the search of the apartment and the phone records. But there was no mention of a willingness to take a lie detector test in his original prepared statement. That only came up in response to two reporters’ questions. And Lowell’s willingness to have his client undergo a lie detector test seemed to increase over the course of each answer and from one response to the next.

Here’s the first

QUESTION: Does that include a lie detector test?

LOWELL: I have just said that I will work with the police and I will do with the police what they find useful. And the congressman will be as cooperative as he can possibly be. With respect to lie detectors, I know there is a great public appeal to lie detectors, but I know from my own practice that they leave a lot to be desired.

If the police call me and tell me that at some point they think that, no matter how suspect it might be, can be helpful, I will discuss it with them, but I will discuss it with them, and not with you.

And here’s the second

LOWELL: You heard my statements today and my statements today were that the police have said that he has answered all questions to their satisfaction, they have said that he has been cooperative, they have said that they are comfortable with his answers, there is no question to test. There is nothing that a lie detector could test. He has not been inconsistent to the police and he has answered their questions.

So let me reiterate, that if the police get back to me say, you know what, even though we think as you think, lie detectors don’t really work very well, if they find that useful at some point, I will listen to them, and we will respond accordingly. But let me say today that the congressman is going to make available what the police ask for that they think is helpful. And if it is a search of his apartment, if it is something as somebody said, a sample, if it is anything else, let it come.

It’s impossible to say what was in Lowell’s mind. But listening to his impassioned press conference, it was hard not to wonder whether he didn’t let the passion of the moment (his deep desire to communicate his client’s lack of anything to hide) get the better of him and lead him to say more than he wished to or should have.

He didn’t really offer to let Condit take a lie detector test. But he came close. Apparently close enough for Chief Ramsey to feel he could pounce. If Condit can take that lie detector test there’s no problem. If he can’t, he’s in a hell of a bind. And so is Abbe Lowell.

Remember that Social Security

Remember that Social Security privatization group Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill spoke to a while back? Well, turns out there’s a story to tell. The Coalition for American Financial Security is actually pretty tight with the Bush administration. And the outfit is a product of a company involved in social insurance privatization efforts all over the world.

Think I spill this kinda reporting for free on Talking Points? Please!!! I’ve gotta get paid for this kind of work. Check out the article in the new issue of The American Prospect.

Does Gary Condit have

Does Gary Condit have a possible mal-practice suit against Abbe Lowell? More on this later this evening.

For months Ive wanted

For months I’ve wanted to write a post asking what should be (or should have been) one of the great questions of contemporary American journalism: why is LATimes.com the most pitiful website in the history of the universe?

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mean the LA Times. Talking Points grew up near Los Angeles and well knows that the LA Times is one of the nation’s great newspapers. Certainly at least the equal of any other in the country — save the New York Times.

No, I’m talking about the website. And what I always wondered was why this big-time national newspaper would have a website more pitiful and impossible to navigate than your average 4th tier small-time paper like the Podunk Crier or the Lametown Gazette.

Well, you know what they say: carpe diem! I’ve missed my chance. I just noticed the LAT has redesigned their site. It’s still far from the best newspaper website design I’ve seen. But it’s not chaotic and pitiful either. And that’s a big improvement.