Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

It may not have been the most eye-popping piece on the Condit craziness but this article in today's USA Today may turn out to be one of the more significant. The article reports that the obstruction of justice investigation of Gary Condit seems to be focusing in on two of his long-time aides: Mike Lynch, Condit's Modesto-based Chief of Staff, who's been with Condit since his days in the California State Assembly back into the early 1980s, and Mike Dayton, Condit's Washington-based Administrative Assistant.

We'll be saying more about this very soon. But remember, it's a classic prosecutorial tactic to indict the small-fry on ancillary charges and then squeeze them into rolling on their higher-ups.

And, yes, this probably has a lot to do with that watch-box tossed in the trash can in Arlington, Virginia and the person who drove him there to do the tossing.

If you want some good fact-packed backgrounders on the Bush Social Security Commission's interim report, here's where to find them.

The Century Foundation has been carrying the ball on the anti-privatization front for several years now and they've got a series of papers online refuting, responding to, and rebutting various arguments and assertions put forward in the interim report. The folks TCF has doing this work -- Henry J. Aaron, Alan S. Blinder, Alicia H. Munnell -- are unparelleled experts in this field. (Peter R. Orszag I'm not as familiar with, but I'm sure he's top-flight too.) Trust me, these folks are the superstars, the Estella Warrens and Elle MacPhersons of dry-as-bones, but important, public policy wonkery.

And, in case you're wondering, I was an editor for three years at The American Prospect, so I know my dry-as-bones, but important, public policy wonkery!

From the beginning of the Chandra Levy case, some of the best reporting on the subject has been done by Mike Doyle, the DC reporter for Condit's hometown newspaper The Modesto Bee. Today he's got a thoroughly reported piece in the Fresno Bee on the woman who gave Gary Condit the now-infamous watch (later ditched over in Virginia). The story of their affair is strikingly similar to that Condit carried on with Chandra.

Okay, let's walk this through. Soon after being sworn into office President Bush sent a $1.6 trillion tax cut package to Capitol Hill. The bill was made up of cuts in marginal rates (heavily weighted toward high-income earners), an end to the marriage penalty, and a repeal of the estate tax.

Democrats pressed instead for an immediate tax rebate which would a) be more progressive and b) have a more immediate stimulatory effect in a decelerating economy. The administration lampooned the rebate concept and resisted it strenuously. In late March Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill ridiculed the rebate- for-stimulus idea as a once-tried gambit that "just didn't work." (Wash Times, 3/28/01) Democrats forced the rebate into the president's bill and it soon became the most popular part of the tax cut package.

Now the administration is holding carefully choreographed rebate celebrations around the country. At the rebate pep rally in Kansas City on Friday O'Neill (now a born-again rebateer) marvelled at how the rebates were coming "at exactly the right time to give the softening economy a much-needed shot in the arm. This is a rare instance when fiscal policy hits exactly when it was needed most." (Gannet, 7/20/01) In other words Republicans are harvesting the political benefit of a policy initiative forced upon them by the Democrats.

This is:

a) A shameless hypocrisy on the part of Republicans.

b) Extremely shrewd politics on the part of Republicans.

c) An inexplicable public relations failure on the part of House and Senate Democrats.

d) All of the above.

How many guesses ya need?

It's a bit of a mystery why everyone thinks the the fact that Vice President Cheney provides an alibi for Gary Condit at midday on May 1st is news. Newsweek played it as a big revelation in this July 20th 'web exclusive'. "Not until today," the authors wrote, "did Cheney’s name surface as a potentially important witness in establishing a precise accounting for Condit’s activities during the moments that Levy is believed to have vanished."

Really? Not until today? What about this sentence from a Daily News article on June 29th?

"On the day she disappeared, according to the Condit schedule given to ABC, the congressman met with Vice President Cheney at 12:30 p.m., spent the afternoon in meetings at his congressional office and went to a 5 p.m. doctor's appointment."
The excuse for calling this news seems to be the idea that we only now know that 1 PM was the last time Levy's whereabouts can be accounted for. But even that's been known for weeks.

All Newsweek has is Cheney's office finally confirming the meeting on the record -- but the reality of this meeting was, as nearly as I can tell, never really doubted.

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 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.

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, 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 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?