Editors’ Blog

Finally Finally Finally As

Finally! Finally! Finally! As regular readers know, Talking Points’ usual MO is slashing or biting political criticism and satire, which is, needless to say, entirely inappropriate at the moment.

(Note: I will be getting back to some constructive criticism momentarily; but more of that in a moment.)

In any case, in such a moment of national crisis it’s hard to find people who are easily skewered and entirely appropriate to skewer. But I think I’ve found one.

As you may remember, during impeachment a law professor with a specialty in environmental law named Jonathan Turley became one of the most ubiquitous faces on chat shows high and low. He became the impeachment maven even though he had no clear expertise related to the questions at hand.

Well, now it turns out that there’s no end to Turley’s expertise! When I stopped by the website of The Hill — the Capitol Hill newspaper — today I noticed that today at 3 PM Hill editor Al “Eisele’s guest will be terrorism expert Jonathan Turley, professor of law at George Washington University Law School.”

Who woulda guessed?!?!?!

Now obviously when I saw this the first thing that came to my mind was, hey, I haven’t had a good post in days, and this could be it! But I didn’t want to let my cynicism get the better of me. So I did a Nexis search of how many times Turley’s name has shown up within 25 words of the word “terrorism.”

Answer? Ten Times. Ever. And seven of those came after last Tuesday. Turley’s website doesn’t seem to mention the terrorism expertise either.

Now the old cynical Talking Points would have accused Turley of being a self-promoting hack. But that was then. And this is now. What I am thinking now is that it’s possible this expertise may have been based on undercover work Turley has been doing since impeachment. Perhaps even work undercover amongst the mujahids of Afghanistan. This would after all explain his absence from the airwaves since not too long after Bill Clinton sicced the CIA on bin Laden back in late 1998. It’s either that or Turley is shamelessly repackaging himself as a “terrorism expert” to grab a bit more TV face time.

Say it ain’t so, Jonathan!

Just a thought. Quite

Just a thought. Quite a bit is being made of the fact that Pakistan is one of only three countries to have recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. But you don’t hear so much about the fact that the other two are Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The cable nets have

The cable nets have been widely reporting Osama bin Laden’s purported denial of involvement in the horrific attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon. Now obviously there’s no reason to believe anything bin Laden says for any number of reasons.

But, in context, the denial isn’t even a denial. The key line is “I would like to assure the world that I did not plan the recent attacks.”

But according to many area experts and ex-intelligence types I’ve spoken to recently bin Laden’s role is seldom to “plan” these events, as in exerting operational control. It’s more a matter of funding them, okaying them, training the perpetrators, and so forth.

I mean, not like we’re going to get into parsing with this #$%&@$*. But, you know, just FYI.

Alack TPM has a

Alack! TPM has a rep for indicting others for being pitiful and lame. But this will have to be a TPM self-denunciation. Once before, a breakdown in the complex protocols used to update the Talking Points website resulted in the tragic loss of a week’s worth of postings. Regrettably, it has happened again! That would explain the lack of a link in the archive below for the week of September 8th-14th.

Now in the earlier incident last June I discovered, to my great surprise and gratification, that quite a few readers had either saved the page in question or had it cached on their machines. A few committed Poinsters sent these copies in and this led to the eventual recovery of said Points. (hint, hint …)

We’ll see if that happens again.

With the horror and

With the horror and trauma unfolding in our midst it may seem too trivial or crass to venture some media criticism. But allow me this. Huge events often bring new reporters or commentators to the fore. In this case, I think it’s an anchor: CNN’s Aaron Brown.

Brown’s not a new face. He’s been around for a couple decades and mainly at ABC as far as I know. He recently got hired by CNN and he was the first person on the air for the network within minutes of the original WTC attack.

(This may make it seem like I’m sort of Aaron Brown watcher. But actually I just got this info from this page. When I saw him on Tuesday morning I only had the vaguest sense of ever having seen the guy before.)

In any case, he’s just really, really good. In his TV manner he has an ingenuousness that feels, well … quite genuine and elicits or explicates new information that more stuffy or programmed questioners and anchors would never arrive at. He’s got this way of thinking aloud on air which, for me at least, really works.

In short, he rocks.

Many highbrow news commentators cultivate a rep for insight, wisdom and perspective but actually put out a product you might call ‘insightfulism’ – not insight, but a stylized way of talking about the obvious so that it seems penetrating, a way of packaging decent points with oblique language so that they seem like grand pronouncements.

Come to think of it, I think Brown’s got one of these characters as a new colleague. But let’s not go there.

The point is that CNN made a dynamite pick when they hired Brown.

This TPM post will

This TPM post will likely be more undirected or
unfocused than usual. Let me try to get out a few thoughts, though.

First are the video feeds (now wall-to-wall on the cable nets) of these
family members with hastily pasted together xeroxes
of their loved ones
— a picture, a name, a few vital measurements —
straining to get these images in front of TV cameras to spread the word —
and always with the word “missing.”

I must say this was more than I could take. I don’t mean that this as
the accustomed phrase or as a euphemism. I mean it was more than I could
take. Partly out of personal concern and also because I now have to write
about this awfulness, I have like many of you been watching this coverage
almost non-stop since Tuesday morning. But these images were too much. I
found myself repeatedly, literally, lurching to grab my remote control and
turning the television off.

What is it about these images? I guess it’s the pure desperation of
these people. And their human and terribly understandable unwillingness to
come to fully recognize that desperation. It’s their denial. There is just
something (and I mean this in the most sympathetic sense of the
) pitiful about them, for those of us who are at least insulated
from immediate personal loss in this case can immediately recognize that
these people are “missing” only in the most grave and technical sense.
They’re dead. They’re all dead.

Certainly there will be a few miraculous stories with grieving families
who find a relative is one of the few John or Jane Does in a New York
hospital. But only a very, very few.

And it’s this denial, this desperation that just makes this stuff so
unbearable because it is a pain beyond grieving. When you see families in
full grief you have the sense that they have at least passed a first
threshold, and in some unfathomable sense their grief has begun to find
its way into graspable proportions. But these family members with these
pictures have … well it’s just too much to describe. Hope against hope,
at a certain point, becomes too searingly painful to watch, because the
disconnect between the glimmer of hope and the inevitable grief is just
too dissonant. And the presence of false hope just makes the true
hopelessness more difficult to defeat or overcome.

For us, the rest of us, all these pictures just bring the awfulness of
this to life in a way that goes completely beyond the numbers. And there
are so, so many. They overwhelm you in the watching.

I thought I’d be less fatigued than it turns out I am. So the rest will
come later this morning. Next up, the international reaction. And a few
comments from politicians that make you wonder.

As it happens when

As it happens, when this horror began I had been
doing reporting for a piece about Osama bin Laden for a couple months. A
bit of this went into an article
I wrote about bin Laden in Salon.com this afternoon. The following,
though, is a combination of information from a number of sources I spoke
with today and just thinking the matter through myself.

It’s been commonly stated over the last forty-eight hours that the twin
attacks on the the WTC and the Pentagon were of sufficient sophistication
that they necessarily required state support or the backing of a large and
extremely sophisticated terrorist organization.

But is this really true? Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying there
aren’t state sponsors of terrorism or that one wasn’t involved in this
tragedy. But was it necessary? I’m not so sure.

What was really needed. As nearly as I can figure, that would be …

a) perhaps a dozen people with the ability to fly a
commercial jetliner

b) some crude and easily obtainable weapons

c) detailed schedules and flight plans of commercial airlines

d) $500,000 or $1,000,000 to pay for miscellaneous expenses primarily
including housing and board for a few dozen individuals

e) sophisticated organizational skills to coordinate the activities
of a few dozen people while presumably keeping many of them unaware of
the activities of the others

Of course, one could easily
argue that the real issue is what superintending authority could bring all
these people together. That’s an extremely good question. And the point of
bringing this up is not to exonerate anyone, of course. But I think it’s
worth noting that at least from what we’ve heard what was really needed
here was not so much complex infrastructure, facilities, or resources as
several knowledgeable, experienced individuals and lots and lots of time.

Ive gotten a few

I’ve gotten a few critical letters calling me out for
praising our president too fulsomely, or rather too reflexively in the
last post, particularly when I said he “came through with flying colors”
in his Tuesday night address to the nation.

There’s probably something to this. It’s probably more honest to say, simply, that he didn’t disappoint.
And that’s really no mean thing.

In any case, in moments like this (if one can use that phrase) I try to
adopt what I call the Clinton rule. If Bill Clinton were being attacked in
such and such a way would I think it was fair? I find this an instructive
rule in cases, for instance, like the time it took for President Bush to
make his way back to Washington.

The White House’s cryptic (but conspicuously open) announcement
that the White House and Air Force One were targeted seemed like a pretty
transparent effort to knock down criticism of how long the president staid
outside DC.

On the other, give the guy a *$#@%& break.

I mean, I’m sure whatever thinking went into keeping the president
hopping around the country wasn’t something that started with him or Karl
Rove, but rather the Secret Service and the military. But if this were
Clinton in this situation, I think I’d consider this sort of criticism
crass overkill. And it’s seems the same to me in this case.

Coming up next: if this is ‘war’, what could this require from us, and
what must it require of us? And perhaps most importantly, how
should our response differ — not quantitatively but qualitatively
— from earlier retaliations to terrorist attacks?

Im not accustomed to

I’m not accustomed to watching George W. Bush give a
speech and hoping he hits it out of the park. But that was certainly my
feeling last night as the president addressed the nation about yesterday’s
bombing. And on balance I’d say he came through with flying colors.

And for all his faults — and, yes, he certainly has them — you can’t
have watched Rudy Giuliani over the last 36 hours without thinking that in
many important ways he has been a truly great Mayor of New York —
something many Dems like myself have long thought. And certainly moments
of stress and tragedy, which require steel and grit, are his best

And it’s been pleasing to see how many Republicans and Democrats — all
of them as nearly as I can tell — have focused only on the requirements
of the moment, and resisted every opportunity to push even peripheral
partisan advantages.

Regrettably, though, there seem to be at least a few examples of the
cheapest, most craven opportunism. In this
in National Review Online, Larry Kudlow says that rising
to the challenge of the moment will cost of “hundreds of billions of
dollars” in new defense expenditures.

That may be debatable but certainly the impulse is legitimate and
understandable. And you can even cut Kudlow some slack for the cheap shot
implied by his charge that “terrorist invasion of the U.S. mainland
underscores the urgent need to rebuild the defense and national security
structure that has slowly but steadily eroded in recent years.”

This is after all a man with the vision and integrity of a
double-breasted suit.

But, according to Kudlow, this tragedy also means busting the lockbox,
ditching debt reduction, and having another round of massive tax

Phony lockboxes must be thrown out the window. Unnecessary
obsessions over debt retirement must be driven away. Now is the time for
aggressive fiscal and monetary stimulus to promote growth and finance
freedom. Substantial tax cuts on individuals, businesses, capital
investment, and equipment depreciation should be immediately put into
place … Steps to promote energy production must be taken
In other words, the only patriotic response to
this horror is to enact the complete Bush legislative agenda!

What a shameless gambit.

David Horowitz trots out some similar
. (“It’s time for those on the political left to rethink their
alliances with anti-American radicals at home and abroad.
“) But he’s
unworthy of mention; beneath contempt.

Nothing real to report

Nothing real to report beyond the obvious, horrifying
tragedy unfolding on your TV screen or computer monitor. My immediate
observations from DC have been posted
at Salon.com toward the bottom of the page.

TPM, of course, is normally all about arguments among us, among
Americans. But all of that falls deep into the background now. And my
support, and I’m sure yours too, is with our president, our armed
services, and all of those struggling mightily to save those who can still
be saved.

Heres some news that

Here’s some news that should buoy Democrats and send a
chill through Republicans’ spines.

According to this newly-released
ABCNews-Washington Post poll
, 57% of Americans support trimming the
Bush tax cut to keep the budget in balance. Two-thirds oppose using
across-the-board cuts in discretionary spending to keep the budget numbers
in line. And a staggering 92% oppose using Social Security funds to pay
for other programs — precisely what the administration is now trying to
argue it is alright to do.

A close look at the poll’s methodology reveals that the measure isn’t
of likely voters or even registered voters, but merely adults. And that
should effect a slight Democratic tilt. But the overall results are
sufficiently decisive that this is just a footnote.

What does it mean? That the president and his party are in a lot of
trouble. And Democrats would seem to be taking exactly the right approach
by forcing the president to take the first stab at solving the problem he
created. As we noted here a little more
than two weeks ago
, this debate may seem like a jumble of numbers. But
it’s actually all about values, responsibility and trust – which is
precisely the sort of debate Democrats should want to be having with this

The favored White House strategy is to tell the Democrats that
they should come up with their own way to solve the problem. But
this is a tack Democrats should welcome because the rejoinder is
elementary: This is the responsibility
. Don’t pass the buck. Don’t blame everyone else. Take

I have to admit

I have to admit this new
by Charles Babington in the Washington Post sorta
pisses me off. The article (“Tax
Cut Plan Filled With Dubious Spending Predictions
“) gives a bracingly
frank run down of all the false premises, implausible assumptions,
dishonest budget scoring gimmicks, and simple lies that went into making
the Bush budget appear (to the very credulous, mind you) to add up.

Here’s one brief passage from the article:

Why did congressional and White House negotiators adopt
these spending projections? Because without them, there was virtually no
way they could come up with numbers suggesting the nation could afford
to forego $1.35 trillion in revenue over 11 years.

The legislation is more political creature than fiscal plan. It
originated in George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. He called for
a $1.6 trillion tax cut, which the Senate eventually whittled to $1.35
trillion. Once they agreed on the targeted amount, negotiators juggled
projections and assumptions ­ several of them quite implausible ­ until
the numbers fit.

The problem is that there’s nothing in
Babington’s article that wasn’t completely obvious six months ago when the
Budget was being debated. So why wait till now to spill the beans?

I fear the answer is that during the actual debate the (foolish, to my
mind) canons of newspaper journalism (i.e., presenting both sides of the
argument) mandated that both sides’ arguments be presented with equal
merit, even though one was more or less false on its face.

Now that the whole thing has fallen apart after only a few months it’s
okay to state the obvious.

Great journalism.

Jacob Weisberg has an

Jacob Weisberg has an excellent
in Slate unpacking the unfolding anomaly of Democrats as the
party of fiscal discipline and Republicans as the party of scroungers and

But there’s one point he doesn’t bring up; and it’s one that, as far as
I can see, hasn’t been mentioned much during the budget debate at all.

It’s true that Democrats historically have been the party unafraid of
modest deficit spending while Republicans were the ones who worshipped at
the altar of the balanced budget. But the present-day turnaround on fiscal
policy isn’t the only one that has taken place.

Unlike what we know today, the Democrats also used to be the party with
its strongest roots in the country’s hinterlands — the Mountain states,
the Prairie states and the South. Conversely the Republicans were the
party of the Northeast, the industrial Midwest, and social-capital rich
states like Wisconsin.

(The classic example of this change comes in a comparison of last year’s
election map
and the map of the
1896 election
. Bryan, the Democrat, won virtually all the Bush states.
And McKinley, the Republican, won pretty much all the Gore states. More
recently, when Harry Truman won his upset
victory over Tom Dewey in 1948
the one region in which he was pretty
much shut out was the Northeast, the region which is now the Democratic
heartland. If you’ve got a moment you can see the trend over the course of
the century in this helpful list of
election maps

The party of the Northeast and Upper Midwest has historically tended to
be the one favoring more disciplined fiscal policy while it’s the party
with its base in the South and the West which has preferred more
loosey-goosey financing.

In this current article
in the New Republic Robert Reich argues that Democrats got on the
fiscal discipline bandwagon by way of incidental or opportunistic
political calculations by Bill Clinton during the late 1990s (perhaps even
because of Monica). But I suspect this is something more fundamental, and
tied to the parties’ changing geographical bases.

If you want to

If you want to read an article that combines
schadenfreude, back-stabbing, disloyalty, pitifulness and pettiness in the most pleasing way
imaginable then by all means READ THIS

It’s about the bum’s rush Texas Republicans are giving to departing
Republican Senator Phil Gramm (“Texas
Republicans want Gramm out, Hispanic In.
“) As David Plotz makes clear
in this article,
Gramm is pretty far down the list of people who deserve sympathy for
anything. But this comes pretty close.

The story goes like this … Gramm’s departure creates several
opportunities and potential pitfalls for Republicans. The most obvious
opportunity is to hold the seat with an Hispanic Republican – thus
validating and augmenting the president’s efforts to create a more
Hispanic-friendly GOP. On the downside, Republicans could a) lose yet
another Senate seat and b) thoroughly embarrass the president by having an
Hispanic Democrat elected in 2002 from Bush’s home state.

So Texas Republicans want Gramm to resign and allow Gov. Rick Perry (an
unelected Governor, mind you) to appoint Rep. Henry Bonilla to replace
him, thus giving Bonilla a running start in his effort to win a full term
next November.

The Dallas Morning News correctly
that this would avoid “a potentially brutal and costly
Republican primary.” But it would be more accurate, though admittedly
impolitic, to say that such a primary could be brutal, costly and
thoroughly discredit the notion that the Texas Republican party is built
upon a happy marriage of Hispanics and post-segregationist freaks. But,
you know, if they want to use the shorthand, that’s cool by me.

Anyway, what’s really striking about this situation is just how
publicly a handful of relative upstarts within the Texas GOP (Bush, Perry,
Bonilla) is telling
Gramm to get the hell of out of town. President Bush met with Perry at the
White House on Wednesday to discuss ways to get Gramm to resign and at
least one Texas Republican media consultant with close ties to Bush has
publicly told Gramm to pack it in.

Coming from a sitting president of Gramm’s own party the message Bush
is sending to the too-slowly departing senior Senator comes through pretty
clearly as:  GET THE *#$& OUT!   Go! Be Gone! LEAVE!
Enough with you! Go Away forever! NEVER COME BACK!!!

Meanwhile the shoving from Perry has become almost obscene, leading to
exchanges such as this one in today’s
Houston Chronicle

Gov. Rick Perry said Friday that U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm,
despite repeated denials from the senator’s office, is still considering
resigning so that Perry could appoint a successor and avoid a Republican
brawl over the plum political seat.

“Senator Gramm is still going through a thought process of whether or
not he would resign early. So I don’t think there’s been any change,”
Perry told reporters.

There certainly wasn’t any change in Gramm spokesman Larry Neal’s

“Senator Gramm is not going through a thought process about
resignation. He has no intention of resigning,” Neal said.


Compassionate Conservatism was always, rightly, taken as a finger in
the eye of gloomy, nasty Republicans like Phil Gramm. But you’ve gotta
figure Gramm would like a little more compassion right about now.

Okay as you must

Okay, as you must know, Talking Points has a network of spies across the country constantly sending in intelligence reports on all manner of political bigwigs and smallwigs. And I’ve been collecting a dossier of information on the semi-secret peregrinations of one-time nominal head of the Democratic party, Al Gore.

Now as long time TPM readers will know, I’ve been a longtime Gore supporter who’s of late become rather more skeptical. But as long as I’m going to hook you up with some quality info I thought it would make sense to get the ball rolling with some utterly trivial info about Gore and then we’ll move on to substance as we go.

So here’s the deal. I’m told he always refers to the prez as W. He’s packed on no more than ten pounds. No more. And when he talks to the assembled groups of former staffers and supporters what he really gets animated about is the environment (i.e., reverting to form).

Hey, what’s your problem? I said it we’d start trivial, didn’t I?

Lets read another postcard

Let’s read another postcard from the responsibility era, shall we? Here are a couple key grafs from an AP story from yesterday:

Bush said trimming the capital-gains tax rate – now 20 percent for most people – “would pile up some revenues” for the government. That would be a huge help for the administration as it scours the tight budget for money to pay for its proposals to boost defense, education and other spending.

Many economists say the government could make money in the early period of a capital-gains tax cut – as additional people sell their property to take advantage of the lower taxes – but the reduction would be a money-loser for the government in the long run. Republicans say it is a moneymaker because it prompts property sales that would not have occurred otherwise.

Trent Lott pushed the same idea the day before when he told the AP that a temporary capital gains tax cut “would help with revenue that we would have available to the government to spend for our top priorities: education and defense.”

Democrats and Republicans have been batting around the capital gains tax for years, with Democrats arguing equity (and less often, but perhaps more cogently, economic rationality) and Republicans arguing that reducing the tax will make the economy more dynamic, spur growth, and thus (mirabile visu!) perhaps in the long run actually increase tax revenues.

But look closely at these remarks (or even not that closely) and you’ll see that that is not what’s being discussed here. The idea here is to get the quick infusion of revenue which all concede a capital gains tax cut would likely produce in the short term, with little regard to the long-term loss of revenue, and thus long-term fiscal health. Or put another way, it’s stealing from tomorrow to make up for the improvident ways of today.

The real world analogy to this sort of behavior is when you tell your spouse that the mortgage ain’t so hard to manage because, hell, you can probably get a quick $500 selling junior’s coin collection on EBay, right? Or how much easy money you can save if you don’t change the oil in your car.

I guess that’s why they call it the responsibility era.

Why Mitch Daniels Heres

Why Mitch Daniels? Here’s one of the lines circulating around Washington.

You may remember that many Republicans and many Bushies put much of the blame for the original President Bush’s 1992 defeat on the independent-minded then-OMB director Dick Darman. So in this administration the idea was, let’s not take any chances. The new director of OMB had to be a genuine hack who not only toed the party line but jumped at the chance for assignments involving public subterfuge and dissimulation.

But you have to wonder whether confidence men and charlatans don’t have some beef with this man for diminishing their reputation. In his recent article in TNR Ryan Lizza quotes Daniels as “derid[ing] debt reduction as paying off ‘foreign’ bondholders.”

Waiter, could I have that ‘responsibility era‘ now please?

Ryan Lizzas new article

Ryan Lizza’s new article in The New Republic debuts the White House’s new angle on the budget battle: in an era of declining surpluses and worsening economic numbers the public doesn’t care about the budget or the surplus nearly so much as it cares about the economy. That means that all the Democratic carping about the surplus and the Social Security lockbox will pale in comparison to the White House’s arguments that more spending (from the Social Security surplus) and perhaps still more tax cuts are just what the economy needs to get back on track.

At least that’s what the White House hopes.

This is all grist for the mill for the things we’re going to be talking about during this just-beginning budget battle. But let’s start with a few points. I’m willing to concede that the Democrats, as yet, have been remarkably slow-footed in framing this debate. But it seems to me that there is a pretty clear problem with the White House’s apparent strategy.

According to Lizza, one White House aide says that in contrast to Democratic yapping about the by-gone surplus the Republican line will be “`Where did the prosperity go and how do we get it back?”

The real problem here is timing and perception. Presidents don’t do well blaming Congresses for economic hard times. That’s just in the nature of the American political system. And it’s even more so when the economy went bad on the administration’s watch.

Yes, I know, I know, we now know the economy was decelerating rapidly even before the President took the oath of office. For my money, the primary culprit is Alan Greenspan’s Fed, which ramped up interest rates during an energy shock in a quest to fight off inflation which (outside the volatile energy sector) showed every sign of being utterly non-existent.

But tell me, are your eyes starting to glaze over? If so, that means you’re like most voters. Because all of these details are utterly beside the point. The bottom line is that the previous administration presided over one of the best economies in decades — and one with astonishingly low levels of unemployment. So the current administration is just not in a position to make the case, as the Reagan White House did, that it needs time to fix the dreadful economy the previous administration created. (In fact, look at the 1982 election returns: it didn’t even work for Reagan.) To the public, Clinton was good economic times, Bush is worsening economic times. Simple as that.

There’s something else that follows from this. If the economy ran so well under Clinton’s economic policies how credible is the argument that the economy can only be revived with a completely different set of economic policies? Answer: not very credible.

There’s more to say about this (and we’ll be saying it), but for the moment just keep in mind that this administration has a reputation for confidently spinning out wildly improbable political scenarios, thinking they can pull it off with just a big bluff. So far it hasn’t worked and I doubt it will this time either.

And of course we haven’t even gotten to the massive hit to the president’s credibility from the lies and broken promises about the tax cut and Social Security. But let’s leave that till the next post, because I want to go eat breakfast.

Im no fan of

I’m no fan of Bill O’Reilly and his comically self-titled “spin free zone” The O’Reilly Factor. But I have to give him credit for this bracingly frank outburst on Wednesday night’s show, which took place while he was interviewing Art Torres (head of the California Democratic party) about Gary Condit and Chandra Levy:

O’REILLY: Do you think Davis was correct in saying that he’s disappointed in Condit’s not being forthcoming?

TORRES: Yes, I think so. And I said that early on, right after the interview of Mr. Condit and I’ll say it again. But the fact of the matter is that we really need to, again, concentrate on trying to find this young woman.

O’REILLY: No, but what do you mean, we need? What are you going to do? We can’t find her. She’s dead. All right? I mean, she’s dead.

TORRES: Well, I don’t know that.

O’REILLY: Well, I do. She’s dead.

TORRES: I hope that’s not the case.

O’REILLY: And she’s at the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay or someplace like that. And that’s where she is. And we can’t find her. The FBI can’t find her. And nobody can find her. So we need to concentrate on…

Did someone say Social Security? Lockbox? Yada?

In case the web

In case the web just doesn’t provide a sufficient Talking Points fix for your daily needs I’ll be on CNN’s Reliable Sources this weekend talking about … well, you know.

The show’s on Saturday at 6:30 PM EST and then Sunday morning at 11:30 AM EST.

Talking Points quote of

Talking Points quote of the day:

In truth, anybody who really knows Jesse Helms should acknowledge him as an amiable Southern gentlemen totally uninterested in racial politics.

— Robert Novak
August 30, 2001

Can someone pass me mah mint julep?!

I just got done

I just got done watching Bill Bennett sounding off about Condit and character on the Wolf Blitzer show. Bennett, of course, has made a career of public moralizing and jawboning about the decline of the culture since getting off the public payroll a decade or so back. But my beef with Bennett is his own indirect responsibility for the decline of contemporary spoken English.

I’ve always chuckled as I watched interviewers try to come up with adjectives or labels to describe just what Bennett does or what sort of fellow he is (morality czar? character expert? values meister?).

But didn’t we used to have a whole crop of words and phrases to describe this sort of character? You know, like stuffed shirt, bluenose, comstock, blowhard. They’re not just punchy and euphonious (to my ears at least); they’re also examples of those Anglo-Saxon-derived words to which Strunk & White rightly tell us we should always gravitate.

Where’s H.L. Mencken when you need ’em?!?!

Ive had a number

I’ve had a number of folks writing in over the last couple days asking, why — oh why oh why oh why — aren’t you talking about the fact that the Bush administration is dipping into the Social Security surplus monies to fund the tax cut? Well, it’s a good question, I suppose. But the real reason is that it’s just so transparently obvious, and the administration has been caught so totally red-handed that it’s hard to know quite what to say.

You start to see now why the Mitch Daniels and company put so much time in rejiggering the budget numbers to make them seem like the administration wasn’t dipping into Social Security funds. Even with a billion dollars over the Social Security surplus funds the White House could hold the line on spending and try to argue that the president was trying to save the Social Security trust fund against raids by big spending Democrats.

But now the truth is out. The president’s budget used up the non-Social Security surplus before the Democrats even got to sit down at the table. No degree of subterfuge or dishonesty can hide the fact that the president broke his pledge entirely on his own. Not even a master prevaricator like Mitch Daniels can undo the damage.

So that’s what we know. But let’s consider another part of the equation that’s getting very little attention. Quite apart from how using the Social Security surplus affects the long term solvency of Social Security, using these funds also changes just who carries the burden of funding the government.

Income taxes are progressive — that is to say, you pay a higher proportion of your income the more money you make. But payroll taxes are not only flat, they’re actually regressive (very high income earners pay a lower percentage than folks at the poverty line) — since they cut off at around $80,000 a year of income.

There is a reasonable argument (one which I and some other policy types don’t entirely agree with) for Social Security being funded this way. But not the normal functioning of government — which we’ve long seen fit to fund with graduated, progressive taxes.

So the net effect of floating the tax cut with Social Security revenues is to take the burden of funding the government off the most privileged (who carry the biggest burden paying for general revenue funds) and place it on the least privileged (who carry the greatest burden paying for payroll taxes).

Just another point to consider about the priorities behind the Bush tax cut.

Next up, how payroll taxes from the 1980s helped win the Cold War!

How well do most

How well do most reporters and Sunday morning talking heads understand the Social Security debate? Consider this example from this past Sunday’s Meet the Press. Commenting on the Social Security surplus debate NBC’s Lisa Myers said:

Tim, one thing, though, we should add about the Social Security surplus, until two years ago, Congress and the president spent every dime of that money … including the Democrats. And it is–now, it’s being treated as though it’s politically sacred. But economically, it makes almost no difference.

Myers’ first point is accurate enough. But the second? No difference? Does Myers understand this debate? Or did she just get off the phone with Mitch Daniels?

Normally, I’m not a big fan of David Broder. But in this case, luckily, Broder was there to chime in (and gently correct Myers’ foolery) by providing at least an outline explanation of why it actually does make a difference.

Well, the big fact is that 10 years from now, the boomers are going to be retiring. And unless we are saving money in this next decade, we are not able to afford the retirement and health care for that generation. That’s the big fact which people need to keep in mind.

Maybe Myers should stick to the Juanita Broderick interviews.

As youll see in

As you’ll see in this article, Condit lawyer Abbe Lowell is now saying that Condit’s aides lied to the press without Condit’s permission or knowledge.

Congressman Condit did not tell his staff to go out and lie,” Condit’s attorney, Abbe D. Lowell, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Congressman Condit did not authorize those statements to be made. Those staff people spoke about what they hoped was the truth and what they thought the truth was.

Now obviously this is a proposition so inherently ridiculous as to not really be intended to be believed. But I’ve been feeling a bit sorry for Lowell so let’s play along for a moment, shall we?

The problem with what Lowell is saying is that, at the time, Mike Lynch — the staffer in question — was telling reporters that he was talking to Condit regularly and getting his go-ahead and direction about statements to give to the press. In fact, I’ve even got an example of it in an article I wrote in Salon two months ago.

When I asked Lynch, Condit’s press secretary, whether Levy had ever spent the night at Condit’s apartment, he responded that Levy didn’t spend the night at Condit’s apartment “that night.” No press account has ever discussed a specific night that Levy spent at Condit’s apartment. When I pointed this out, and asked if Levy had ever spent the night at Condit’s apartment, he fell back on Condit’s denial of having told anyone of a Levy visit.

“I asked him directly,” Lynch said, “is this story true? Did you tell the police that? And he said, ‘Absolutely not.'”

When I pointed out the obvious fact that denying only that he had told police the story implied that Condit would not, or perhaps could not, deny the underlying allegation, Lynch said, “To the best of my knowledge she never spent the night.”

When I asked if he had asked Condit that question directly, he said, “I won’t go there.”

Is Lowell exploring the outer regions of ridiculousness? Or am I missing something?

In Mike Isikoffs Newsweek

In Mike Isikoff’s Newsweek interview with Gary Condit, the California Congressman said:

I never had a cross word with her. The kind of conversation we had would be—[when Timothy] McVeigh was executed and Juan Garza was executed. She seemed to have a lot of interest in those two things and a lot of more interest in them than I did. So she would talk about that.

That’s hard to figure, since Levy disappeared on May 1st and McVeigh and Garza were executed on June 11th and 20th, respectively.

Mike, maybe a follow-up woulda been a good call on that one.

Well I hate to

Well, I hate to say I told you so. But, my God, I told you so. The real debate today seems to be (and bear with me, because this is technical insider political talk) over whether the magnitude of Condit’s public relations catastrophe is more appropriately compared to the 12.5 kiloton blast that leveled Hiroshima in 1945 or the 15 megaton hydrogen bomb which gouged a mile wide whole in Bikini Atoll in 1954.

I was gonna call Condit spokeswoman Marina Ein to get comment on whether they’re officially in the Hiroshima or Bikini Atoll camp. But as far as I know, she’s no longer returning my calls.

For those whove followed

For those who’ve followed the Condit case closely this is likely the most revealing passage from the congressman’s letter to his constituents.

Some suggest that not talking with the media could mean I had something to do with Chandra’s disappearance. I did not. I pray that she has not met the same fate as the other young women who have disappeared from the same neighborhood.

— Gary Condit
Aug. 22nd
Letter to Constituents

This sounds a bit like he’s looking for the real killers. Perhaps it’s just because I live in the aforementioned neighborhood and thus feel oddly defensive about this. But it’s important to keep in mind that there is not the slightest bit of evidence that Levy’s disappearance is connected to the disappearances of two other young women in the DuPont Circle neighborhood during the late nineties. In fact there is plenty of evidence pointing to their not being related.

This is just a canard, pure and simple.

P.S. By the way, if you can’t wait to read the People Magazine article, here it is.

Many people are raising

Many people are raising an obvious and regrettable point about the current brouhaha over the shrinking budget surplus. Democrats can pin the blame on President Bush for causing this problem with his extravagant and improvident tax cut. But at the end of the day they still find themselves in precisely the position Republicans wanted to put them in: either take the politically dicey tack of scaling back the tax cut, push for spending which puts the budget further into deficit, or live within the fiscal straightjacket Bush created — precisely what the Bushies had in mind from the start.

The answer I think is that the Democrats will not, indeed cannot, win this debate as a matter of fiscal policy — at least not at first. But that’s not really so problematic as it may seem. Why this issue is potentially devastating for Republicans and the Bush White House is that this is at heart an issue of values and responsibility.

Democrats shouldn’t look at this as a fall-back from a more promising debate over fiscal policy number-crunching. This is actually just the sort of debate they should want to be having. The values and responsibility front is the Republicans’ strong suit and a point of vulnerability for Democrats — as the last election demonstrated. This renders vulnerable one of the Republicans’ strongest selling points to voters. That’s what makes this so potentially devastating for the GOP — if it’s handled correctly.

Okay let me say

Okay, let me say that I’m a bit conflicted. I’d rather leave the post below as the headline post for Thursday morning, seeing as it explains a case of the Bush White House really getting caught with its metaphorical hand in the cookie jar. Especially since the press has thus far shown distressingly little interest in the story.

Having said that, though, look: I don’t think I can resist the temptation of another Condit post. So here goes.

Yesterday I said that logic and experience told me that Condit was going to, if not blow this interview, at least put in a very weak performance. It’s just his MO. I’m not going to prattle on about how this provides some insight into his character or that it shows that he thinks the rules don’t apply to him or anything like that. But what it does show is this: Condit and his advisors seem to lack a sense for what looks good for him to do and what looks imbecilic and offensive for him to do. And tonight’s news reports seem to confirm it. According to those reports, Condit will not even admit to having an affair with Levy — which tends pretty strongly to confirm the pattern.

There’s no reason in the world that Condit needs to go on TV and spill his guts about any affair he had, at least as far as I’m concerned. But if he is planning to go on the air and deny even what amounts to the innocent explanation of his recent behavior then obviously he could scarcely be a bigger moron.

Pundits continue to assume he’s holed up somewhere with a clutch of media wizards who are spinning him into prime form. The truth is that he has no wizards. And I don’t think he’s even taking the advice of the wanna-be wizards who’ve flocked to him since this mystery began.

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