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On Star Trek they

On Star Trek they call it 'synaptic breakdown,' the fatal, final, flickering of neural firing that marks the collapse of coherent brain wave activity and the onset of death. Media marathons often end in a similar manner. And the long-running Gary Condit-Chandra Levy saga has apparently arrived at just that point.

Need some examples? Well, how about Greta Van Susteren's show tonight about how the foreign media is reporting and interpreting the Chandra story ... (Hmmmmmm. What do the Sri Lankans make of all this. The Nepalese?) Or the running stories across all the cable nets today about parents getting leery about sending their fetching daughters off to be interns in Washington (Hint: don't do the fifty-something pol, and you'll be just fine).

Yesterday's apparently-now -discredited report of Levy's body being buried down on a military base near Richmond, Virginia seems less like the much-awaited third act and much more like one of those cliched scenes from a mid-century Hollywood melodrama where the on-the- edge-of-death hospital patient rouses him or herself for one final revealing utterance before finally giving up the ghost entirely.

There are a few good things out there worth watching still. Larry King has the wonderful Lisa DePaulo on tonight. Her much awaited Talk magazine article will be out next week (you'll definitely hear some new and revealing info from her tonight). For at least part of the show Lisa will have to share the stage with the motley crew of Garegos, Olson, Epstein, et.al., who have little if any idea of any of the facts of the case. But Lisa is one of the few folks in this whole media circus who is chock full of info and has a pretty clear understanding of everything that is knowable about the case.

There's certainly more facts to discover about this whole ugly, sorrowful story. And no end of leads worth following up. But the prospect of ever truly knowing what happened to Chandra Levy is beginning to look distant indeed. And the chances of justice for whomever did her harm look bleaker still. We may never know with absolute certainty whether Chandra Levy is alive or dead. The fate of this story, though, looks much more clear.

The story late this

The story late this afternoon is that President Bush managed to ink a deal with Patients' Bill of Rights pooh-bah Charlie Norwood. The story is a little less than meets the eye, though. Not only did Norwood not have his House and Senate allies on board for this compromise; but those allies seem to think Norwood just got rolled -- squeezed until he popped by the folks at the White House, my Senate sources tell me.

Of course, this could suit the White House's purposes just fine, because the chief goal for the White House is not to pass its own bill. That might be nice. But their paramount goal is to prevent the existing PBOR bill from getting to the president's desk, and thus forcing him either to sign it or veto it. If Norwood's defection helps bring over enough moderate Republicans to pass a Bush-acceptable bill through the House then maybe they can just let the whole thing languish and die in conference and be done with it.

Maybe we should be calling this an ABR administration -- anything but reform. How's that sound to you, Marshall?

Ive had a number

I've had a number of folks write in commenting on the glories of private accounts and the wonders of individual ownership of assets. This seems like a good opportunity to dispel a widespread myth.

Looking at the current Social Security debate you could easily get the impression that the debate is over private accounts. That's actually not true. There's a pretty wide consensus in support of private accounts -- stretching across most of the ideological spectrum from the right to the left. The Clinton administration had a private accounts proposal called USA accounts.

The debate isn't really over private accounts so much as it's about where the money comes from. Or more specifically, whether private accounts are instituted on top of Social Security or whether they replace Social Security. A very big difference.

More on this later.

Ive seen a number

I've seen a number of published responses, rebukes, and so forth, to my article in Salon over the weekend about Republicans conflating the Condit drama with impeachment. And I've just noticed Andrew Sullivan posted a response too.

You can read it yourself to decide what you think. But this sentence jumped out at me.

"Condit has been accused of no crime whatsoever, and his sex life has been conducted entirely with individuals (so far as we know) who don't work for him."
Really? The woman's name is Joleen McKay. She had an affair with Condit in the mid-1990s when she was a low-level staffer in his Capitol Hill office. She's discussed this with the FBI and several news organizations. The watch box disposed of in Virginia was a gift from her.

Andrew, maybe it's a bogus story. But if you're going to criticize, you've at least gotta keep up.

Let me make this

Let me make this site true to its name for a moment and suggest a pretty obvious question for any intrepid political reporter or Democratic pol or flack:

Mr. Lindsey (note: insert name of other administration mouthpiece as appropriate), why should Americans trust the Bush administration to protect Social Security when the administration has already broken its promise not to spend the Social Security surplus on tax cuts?
It's a difficult question for them to answer. So why not ask it? Over and over and over.

There was a rumor

There was a rumor swirling around Washington last week that Abbe Lowell might be out as Rep. Gary Condit's attorney. I mention it now because nothing seems to have come of it. And presumably the rumor was unfounded.

But if it had been true it would have had some obvious implications quite apart from Mr. Lowell's professional prospects. Sometimes when a defense attorney bows out of a case it is because he or she has either come to know too much, has said too much, or has committed him or herself to too much to effectively defend the client.

No, don't worry. This isn't another Gary Condit post.

But the logic suggests a connection to Talking Points' other big obsession: Social Security.

I've wondered for a while why Mitch Daniels has been out front and center on the administration's efforts to justify dipping into the Social Security surplus funds. After all Larry Lindsey is the big privatization guru and he's the one who penned the tax cut bill. So why not Larry?

Could it be because he'd already committed himself too squarely and fulsomely to keeping those funds off-limits (the promise Daniels has now said the administration will break)?

Here's a clip from a Jules Witcover column of March 14th:

some Democrats argue that as the Bush administration spends more for defense, education and other programs, it may have to dip into Social Security surpluses to give Mr. Bush's cuts to income tax payers. Larry Lindsey, Mr. Bush's presidential assistant for economic policy, denies it, saying Social Security money will "never" have to be touched for this purpose.
Ask not for whom the box locks, Larry. It locks for thee!

Ive had a number

I've had a number of letters on my article which appeared in Salon, asking, frankly, what I was saying. This is an ambiguous comment on my writing skills; but I appreciate the interest. So here goes.

Anti-Clinton Republicans always said that defending Bill Clinton was just a matter of defending anyone with a 'D' after their name from any charge whatsoever. Or perhaps defending anyone named Clinton from any charge whatsoever. Speaking for myself at least I can assure that wasn't the case. It would be better to say that it was about defending a good person against a politically motivated witch-hunt even if that person had himself had done some boneheaded things which had greatly complicated his situation.

Do I think Democrats should jump on the self-righteous Bob Barr bandwagon? No.

Do I think Gary Condit should resign because he had one or a hundred extra-marital affairs? No.

Do I think Gary Condit should resign because he's impeded the investigation into Levy's disappearance? I'm uncertain on this; but I don't think so. Not yet at least. (I'll explain more on that in a later post).

Do I think (given the larger factors in play here) that congressional Democrats should be giving any consideration to the fact that this could lead to the loss of Condit's congressional seat? No.

Do I think elected Democrats should (without moral posturing or grandstanding) say that Gary Condit should cooperate in every way possible with the police investigation (personal embarrassment and political fallout notwithstanding) and that to date he doesn't appear to have done so? Absolutely.

Another splendid column today

Another splendid column today by Paul Krugman about the Bush tax cut in the NYT. By all means read it. By two grafs are so important that I'm going to reproduce them here:

On the other hand, there are some people who think very hard about the future budget picture, like bond traders — which brings us to Alan Greenspan. On Tuesday Mr. Greenspan was trying to explain to a Senate hearing why repeated interest- rate cuts have not yet turned the economy around. An important part of the explanation, as he noted, is that while the Fed has reduced short-term rates, long-term rates have stayed stubbornly high. Why?

An obvious answer is that bond traders, who not long ago expected the government to rapidly pay down its debt, now see the projected surplus dwindling rapidly because of the tax cut. So it's just supply and demand: estimates of the future supply of bonds are rising, so bond prices are falling — and that means higher long-term interest rates (including mortgage rates). When asked by Senator Charles Schumer whether this was a factor in the economy's sluggish response to Fed policy, Mr. Greenspan replied, "Oh yes, no question."

This could scarcely be more important. And we'll be saying more about why. But suffice it to say it not only relates to our current predicament but also touches directly upon Bill Clinton's 1993 deficit reduction/tax increase bill, and why folks on the right and the left have been wrong to ignore the role it played in spurring and sustaining the boom economy of the 1990s.

I couldnt have asked

I couldn't have asked for a better foil for my Salon article about Clinton-bashers comparing Condit to Bill Clinton in an effort to lay one more layer of spin on impeachment. Tucker Carlson's column in New York Magazine takes the argument a step further, though. Clinton isn't the same as Condit; he's much worse!

From my experience, this sort of thing is like the blue spot appearing on the home Clinton-hating test you can buy at your local drugstore: the ability to compare Bill Clinton to almost any other malefactor and find him not only a far more egregious evildoer but in some degree also contributing to the other fellow's undoing and suffering.

I remember a former boss once telling me how Bill Clinton was an unpardonable sleaze and (in the same breath) how Jack and Bobby Kennedy were great guys who inspired his generation. Never mind, of course, that Jack Kennedy did so many women in the White House that his exploits make Clinton look like the wallflower at the high school dance. What was even worse about Clinton, he said, was that his peccadillos had retrospectively tarred the Kennedy brothers. (No, I'm not sure I can explain that one either.)

Anyway, in Carlson's piece the superficial similarities between the Condit and Clinton cases belie the deeper reality: Condit is an essentially blameless rube caught in the headlights of a media firestorm bereft of all of Bill Clinton's advantages. He has no army of mindless, shillifying defenders, no media machine to crunch the bones of his adversaries, and no army at his beck and call to commit war crimes abroad to cover up his troubles at home. And thus Gary Condit is a sort of tragic figure, paying the price, as we all seem to do sooner or later for Bill Clinton's sins.

Am I missing something here? Bill Clinton's 'crimes' were manufactured ones; Gary Condit is under legitimate suspicion of involvement in the disappearance of his girlfriend. I've noted before that I think obstruction charges should be handed down only very sparingly. But if you want to talk about obstruction, Gary Condit has apparently obstructed a real investigation, not a cooked-up, bogus one headed up by Ken Starr. Could anything better expose the factual and moral myopia of Clinton's Monica-era critics?

Lets do a little

Let's do a little due diligence on our friend Mitch Daniels, shall we?

Here's a quote from Daniels' appearance on NPR's Talk of the Nation last Wednesday (7/25/01):

It's very fascinating to me that people who argue against, for instance, this tax cut, have little or nothing to say about the payroll tax, which is a flat tax on the first dollar of income that the poorest American makes, essentially. It's very regressive, weighs much more heavily on people at the bottom than on the wealthy. And yet it seems to be fiercely defended by the same people who argue for higher taxes on the income side.
Really? Nothing to say about the payroll tax?

This is the sort of blithe dishonesty that seems to role off Daniels' tongue with distressing ease. I don't want to call Mitch a liar or anything (it's such an ugly word); but let's agree to call this a tour de force of disingenuousness.

Here's why.

During last Spring's tax cut debate the centerpiece of the Democrats' alternative tax cut plan was tax relief for Americans who pay most or all of their taxes in payroll taxes rather than income taxes -- roughly three-quarters of Americans.

The proposed mechanism for accomplishing this was a refundable income tax credit against a portion of payroll tax liability. This would have limited the bite of payroll taxation without harming the funding base of Social Security. Republicans vigorously resisted this approach by arguing that payroll taxes are somehow not real taxes in the way that income taxes are. As top economic advisor Larry Lindsey dismissively put it, "the tax cut proposal is designed to cut taxes for people who pay taxes ... if you don't pay taxes, it's very hard to get a tax cut." Or in Daniels' boss's slightly more candid phrase, the administration supported "tax relief for everyone who pays income taxes."

Which Democrats supported tax relief aimed at those who pay payroll taxes? Oh ... Joe Lieberman, the New Dem Democratic Leadership Council, the liberal Economic Policy Institute, basically all of them.

Or take another example. Ted Kennedy, who, in case you hadn't heard, opposed the Bush tax cut, has for several years been trying to reduce payroll taxes from 6.2% to 5.3%. He would fund the cut by eliminating the cap on payroll taxation which allows high-income earners to avoid payroll taxes on much of their income.

(It's fair to note that liberal Social Security wonks have in the past been leery about fiddling with payroll taxes for fear of either harming the fiscal integrity of Social Security or eroding popular support for the program -- something I've criticized in the past. But the trend among Democrats in the last few years has been very much in the opposite direction.)

I could cite numerous other examples. But suffice it to say that for anyone who's followed tax policy debates over recent years Daniels' comment is utter crap -- which suggests a pattern.