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It's hard to envision a president more sharply divergent from his predecessor than Barack Obama is from George W. Bush. But Obama seems to share at least one personality trait with Bush -- the propensity to bestow nicknames on his advisers.

In its profile today of White House economic counselor Larry Summers, the New York Times notes that Obama jokingly refers to the former Harvard University president as "Professor" and occasionally addresses his economic aides as "propeller-heads" (likely not a reference to the British pop-music act).

And Obama's team has embraced the nickname, according to the Times, with budget director Peter Orszag distributing "propeller-head hats" during a recent fiscal policy meeting. Aside from that piece of color, the profile is notable for the contentious questions it did not tackle: Summers was not asked about his reported shouting match with a senior House Democrat over infrastructure funding, nor about his efforts to remove stringent executive pay limits from the stimulus bill.

So how are the political fortunes right now for New York Governor David Paterson and the newly-appointed Senator Kirsten Gillibrand? The answer, according to a new Quinnipiac poll: Horrible, with both of them trailing potential challengers in the Democratic primary in 2010.

The poll says that Paterson would lose nomination against state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo by a whopping 55%-23%, while Gillibrand is behind Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, a champion of gun control, by 34%-24%.

In a general election, Paterson is tied 43%-43% with Rudy Giuliani, while Cuomo has a 51%-37% lead over Rudy. Gillibrand is still ahead in a general election against Republican Congressman Peter King, with a 42%-26% lead. Unfortunately, there is no match-up of McCarthy against King for comparison.

It gets worse for Paterson. Only 35% approve of how he handled the process of picking a new Senator, with 52% disapproving. Those numbers are distributed pretty evenly across all party lines. Gillibrand herself gets a better approval number on her own specific appointment, with 45% approving of her selection and 33% disapproving, again distributed evenly across party identification.

The primary is a certainly a while from now, and a lot of things can change. But this is not a good starting point.

Obama Signing Stimulus Bill Today, In Denver President Obama is scheduled to leave Washington at 10 a.m. ET, en route to Colorado. He will arrive in Colorado at 1:30 p.m. ET, where he will conduct a 2:15 p.m. ET tour of a solar panel installation in Denver -- and then at 2:40 p.m. ET, he will sign the stimulus bill into law at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Afterwards, he'll leave for Phoenix, Arizona, where he will talk about the housing crisis tomorrow.

Obama Giving Interview With Canadian TV, Ahead Of Visit This Thursday President Obama is also preparing for his first trip to another country, namely Canada, with an interview set for this morning at 9:25 a.m. ET with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. During Thursday's visit, Obama will meet Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal opposition leader Michael Ignatieff, with trade issues expected to be a major point of discussion.

Japanese P.M. Will Be First Foreign Leader To Visit Obama Hillary Clinton has announced that Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso will be the first foreign leader to visit President Obama at the White House. The meeting will happen next week.

WaPo: Geithner's Bailout Speech Spoiled By Last-Minute About-Face The Washington Post reports that Tim Geithner's speech last week on the revamped financial bailout -- which was heavily criticized for a lack of detail -- happened that way because of a last-minute decision to drop the whole plan he'd been working on: "They needed an alternative and found it in a previously considered initiative to pair private investments and public loans to try to buy the risky assets and take them off the books of banks."

NYT: Obama Fights With Congressional GOP -- And Gets Help From Republican Governors The New York Times says that the stimulus bill has shown a split between the Congressional Republicans and the party's governors -- that is, the GOPers who actually have real political power right now have almost entirely supported the stimulus bill. Florida Governor Charlie Crist told the Times: "As a governor, the pragmatism that you have to exercise because of the constitutional obligation to balance your budget is a very compelling pull."

Pope To Meet With Pelosi Nancy Pelosi will be meeting Wednesday with Pope Benedict XVI, as part of her official trip this week to Italy. The Pope is officially receiving Pelosi in her capacity as a head of state, but The Hill points out there could be some friction -- Benedict has endorsed religious sanctions, from denying communion to full-blown excommunication, against pro-choice Catholic politicians.

Steele Reaches Out To The Online "Rightroots" As part of his efforts to modernize the Republican Party's organization and reach out on the Internet, Michael Steele and former RNC rival Saul Anuzis held a meeting with 300 conservative techies this past Friday morning. "When we get to 2010, I want my campaigns here," Steele declared, holding up a BlackBerry. A tip for Steele: Don't seek out any advice from this man.

Here a footnote to Al Franken's speaking tour of Minnesota, in which the campaign is promoting him as "Senator-Elect Franken" as he speaks to crowds around Minnesota about the economy, and the need for him to get to Washington soon to help out.

Franken told CNN that he doesn't insist that people address him as Senator-elect -- but that it isn't inaccurate, either. "I won the recount," said the apparent-provisional-sort-of-Senator-elect. "You can call me Al."

"I don't think this is presumptuous at all," he added, when asked that particular question about his speaking tour. "I think that Minnesotans know that it's...very possible that I'll be in the Senate, and that I want to hit the ground running when I get there."

At today's post-court press conferences, Coleman lawyer/spin-man Ben Ginsberg was asked about Franken's speaking tour as Senator-elect. "I think it's a cute media stunt," Ginsberg replied with a smile.

A number of progressive scribes have recently restarted the debate over banning, or phasing out, the Senate's oft-abused filibuster power. (Ezra Klein's argument for burying the filibuster is found here.)

I'm not about to defend the nauseating eagerness of Republicans to filibuster at a record-breaking pace during the past two years. Nor am I prepared to defend the hypocrisy of now-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) insistence on 60 votes to pass even uncontroversial legislation -- with the support of his Democratic counterpart, Harry Reid (D-NV) -- when four years ago McConnell was ready to deploy the "nuclear option" to eliminate any filibuster threat to Bush judicial nominees with questionable qualifications.

The filibuster's checkered history as a weapon of pro-segregation southerners seeking to block civil rights bills is also utterly indefensible.

Despite the filibuster's frequent abused for undemocratic ends, I was initially eager to defend the need to keep it alive in some form. Reducing the number of votes needed to remove a block on legislation, from 60 to 55, is one good idea on the table. After researching the history of meritorious filibusters, however, I was amazed to see how few instances there are of a successful stalling of just-plain-bad legislation.

The Democratic campaign during 2003-05 to block grossly partisan Bush judicial nominees, such as mining industry lawyer William G. Myers, represents the most obvious argument in support of filibustering. Three more examples of worthy filibusters (or threats of such) follow after the jump. If I've omitted any compelling reasons to preserve the filibuster, let me know ...

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Talk about ironic.

Amid concerns over the integrity of their work, the Justice Department has removed the head of the Public Integrity Section and several other prosecutors from the Ted Stevens trial, according to court filings examined by The Politico.

Late last week, the judge in the case, Emmet Sullivan, ruled that four of the prosecutors, including William Welch, the Public Integrity chief, were in contempt of court for failing to turn over documents as he'd ordered them to do.

The documents at issue relate to allegations by an FBI agent in the case that another agent had an improper relationship with a key government witness, and that the prosecution concealed this from the defense.

Along with Welch, the lead prosecutor on the case, Brenda Morris, as well as several other prosecutors, are being ousted. They're being replaced by Paul O'Brien, chief of the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, David Jaffe, the deputy chief of the Domestic Security Section, and William Stuckwisch, senior trial attorney in the Fraud Section.

Stevens the Republican former Alaska senator, was convicted last fall of failing to report gifts on his Senate disclosure form. But defense lawyers have appealed, questioning the legitimacy of those proceedings, citing, among other things, the claim of withheld evidence.

It looks like Allen Stanford, the billionaire Texan banker whose investment firm is being probed by the Feds, has a positively Gatsbyesque yearning to be accepted into high society.

As we knew, Stanford calls himself "Sir" Allen Stanford, on account of a knighthood he was awarded by the former prime minister of Antigua, where his business is based. But it looks like maybe that wasn't quite good enough for Stanford, since until recently he was claiming, falsely, that the knighthood was presented by the British Royal family.

Check out this report (via Nexis), from last November in the Mail on Sunday of London:

Texan-born billionaire Sir Allen Stanford's corporate website claims that, after he became a citizen of the Commonwealth territory of Antigua, it appointed him a 'Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of the Nation'.

'He was presented [with] this honour by His Royal Highness Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex,' states the website.

However, The Mail on Sunday has learned that the Prince had nothing to do with the honour and that it was not approved by the Queen.


A Buckingham Palace spokesman said it was a coincidence that the knighthood ceremony, conducted by an Antiguan political appointee, took place during a celebration of the island's independence, at which Prince Edward was a guest.

'It is incorrect to say that the Earl of Wessex knighted this person while in Antigua,' said the spokesman.

Stanford's personal web site now says only that the Earl of Wessex attended the ceremony at which the "royal knighthood" was bestowed. (Though the "royal" part still seem dubious, since Buckingham Palace has disavowed any role in the proceeding.)

The whole tale is reminiscent of Stanford's claim to be descended from the founder of Stanford University. The school has denied the link.

Indeed, even the awarding of Stanford's title by the Antiguan government appears to have been pretty irregular. The paper explains:
His knighthood was bestowed in 2006 under an Antiguan law that allows its politicians to draw up an annual honours list.

But the decision to honour Stanford has caused an outcry on the island, where his ownership of a £1billion financial and property empire has made him a divisive figure. Critics deride the award as a 'mockery' and have gone to court to challenge the legislation.

Antigua's National Honours Act authorises the granting of titles to distinguished citizens, who are screened by a bipartisan committee.

But Stanford was knighted under a 2000 amendment to the act, which permits the island's most powerful politicians to allow their candidates to bypass the vetting procedure.

Phillip Abbott, a businessman who is descended from the island's first settlers, has contested in the Antiguan High Court that the amendment is invalid. 'The spectacle of Allen Stanford being knighted got up my nose,' he said. 'This amendment permits politicians to nominate anyone for a title without going through the vetting required by law.'

As we said, Gatsbyesque.

New details have also emerged about Stanford's business, and what might have tipped off regulators that something fishy was going on.

Reuters reports:
According to US regulatory filings, Stanford owns more than 10 percent stakes in three companies trading below $2 per share on the Bulletin Board or Pink Sheets: eLandia International Inc, a Coral Gables, Florida technology company.

Forefront Holdings Inc, a Brentwood, Tennessee provider of golf supplies; and Health Systems Solutions Inc, a New York technology and services company. "These were not exactly blue chip companies," said Bob Parrish, an accountant in Longboat Key, Florida, whose clients pulled roughly $500,000 out of Stanford last year.

The high rates for certificates of deposit, long considered safe short-term investments, seem to have caught the attention of U.S. regulators who began probing the company in mid-2008.

The wire service adds that the Texas Attorney General's office, and the Florida Office of Financial Regulations are also probing the company.

Fun fact: Every court in the state of Minnesota is closed today for the federal holiday -- except the Senate election court.

Today it was very much abbreviated, though. The attorneys spent the morning with the judges in closed negotiations over how to sort through the evidence, then the court held a short 18-minute session.

And even during that 18 minutes, it turns out, lead Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg was still looking for a loophole to allow forgery. Friedberg presented five ballot envelopes where he admitted a person other than the voter signed the ballot application form. But, he said, it had been done with the "knowledge and authority" of the voter, and was thus a legitimate, genuine signature.

Friedberg did not give any indication that the voters in these cases were disabled or otherwise physically unable to sign their forms, which is the specific statutory exception to allow someone else to sign in one's own name. Without that, the court's opinion from Friday forbade the counting of these votes -- indeed, they singled out one of Coleman's witnesses as an example of this kind of illegal voter.

But Friedberg still seems to be pushing ahead on forgery.

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During the 2008 presidential campaign, the Obama campaign famously ran circles around its opponents when it comes to digital technology and outreach. This item on TechPresident notes that Hillary Clinton's off to a pretty good start at State when it comes to technology. Some of that is owing to the digital outreach of James Glassman, the author and conservative publisher who ran public diplomacy under Condi Rice. (Okay, so my former New Republic colleague was a little off about Dow 36,000) Still it leaves Clinton with a powerful set of tools. Given the world financial crisis has become part of her purview, Geithner and who ever runs Commerce might want to get up to speed.

A funny thing happened this weekend, after congressional Democrats surmounted a fierce lobbying effort and maintained one of three executive-pay limitation plans that were being eyed for removal from the final stimulus bill.

It turns out that Wall Street wasn't the only opponent of more stringent limits on bonuses for bailed-out executives -- Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and White House economic adviser Larry Summers were leading the charge to keep CEO pay caps out of the stimulus.

Oops. Though Geithner and Summers wanted President Obama's loophole-riddled executive compensation limits to be the only game in town, they ultimately lost that battle with Congress. Now what can they do to make sure eminently qualified leaders at companies like AIG and Merrill Lynch don't have to forgo their lucrative pay packages?

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