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In a new appeal to the Christian right, Newt Gingrich told OneNewsNow that President Obama's proposed changes to the charitable deduction for top earners amounts to a "war against churches and charities," deliberately designed to discourage the successful from donating money to churches and make us all dependent on the government.

"I think there's a clear to desire to replace the church with a bureaucracy, and to replace people's right to worship together with a government-dominated system," said Gingrich.

The proposal itself is to lower the deduction that people making over $250,000 receive for itemized charitable contributions, from its current 33% or 35% down to 28%. Obama has defended the proposal by saying: "I'm assuming that that shouldn't be the determining factor as to whether you're giving that $100 to the homeless shelter down the street."

What's next? Will we be hearing that Obama intends to ransack the Notre Dame cathedral, and convert it into the Temple of Reason?

Yesterday, the website Consortium News published an article by Charlotte Dennett pouring some cold water on the hope many liberals have that Congress will form a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate Bush-era torture and other instances of wrongdoing. Dennett reported that, at a meeting with Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary committee chairman had said the idea was dead in the water. "[I]t's not going to happen," Leahy reportedly said.

Today, Leahy released a statement addressing that article: "In contrast to reports circulating on the Internet, Leahy said he is continuing to explore the proposal."

"I am not interested in a panel comprised of partisans intent on advancing partisan conclusions," Leahy said. "I regret that Senate Republicans have approached this matter to date as partisans. That was not my intent or focus. Indeed, it will take bipartisan support in order to move this forward. I continue to talk about this prospect with others in Congress, and with outside groups and experts. I continue to call on Republicans to recognize that this is not about partisan politics. It is about being honest with ourselves as a country. We need to move forward together."


That leaves open the questions of Senate math--will any Republicans support the formation of such a commission?--and whether the committee will exercise any of its other options. As Daphne Eviatar wrote in the Washington Independent "Leahy and the Senate Judiciary Committee could still initiate a comprehensive inquiry into the role of the Justice Department in potentially illegal conduct under the Bush administration.... There's no need for a truth commission to get the investigative ball rolling."

I'll follow up with Dennett and will let you know what I find.

Here's one more interesting extended exchange from Hank Greenberg's testimony, in which the former AIG honcho is being questioned by Rep. Paul Kanjorski about regulation of the firm's financial products unit London office, and about how AIG should be regulated going forward.

At one point, the witness, clearly not used to being ordered around, asks Kanjorski exasperatedly, "May I finish?" -- a request the congressman ignores.

Watch:

More nuggets of news from Hank Greenberg's testimony before Congress....

Greenberg, with the prominent Washington lawyer David Boies at his side, declared that government efforts to rescue AIG -- taxpayers now own almost 80 percent of the insurance giant -- have failed. He said that that stake should be reduced to 15 percent, and that the company should be restructured, and current management should be removed.

Greenberg has been embroiled in legal wrangling with AIG almost since his 2005 departure from the firm, amid allegations of accounting improprieties.

He also quarreled with AIG's decision, apparently blessed by the government, to pay back in full its counter-parties on the credit default swaps.

It would have been more beneficial for the American taxpayer if the federal government had walled off AIG Financial Products...and provided guarantees to AIGFP's counterparties rather than putting up billions of dollars in cash collateral to those counterparties.


And asked by Rep. Rep. Elijah Cummings whether he took any responsibility for the firm's collapse, Greenberg replied flatly: "No I don't."

AIG has allegedly stopped paying many of its bills in spite of its $180 billion in bailout cash, and a lawsuit filed against the firm by a Pennsylvania real estate developer managing 16,800 apartments owned by the global real estate arm paints a disturbing portrait of goings-on at the failed insurer that give emphatic new meaning to the term "zombie bank."

In his complaint, King of Prussia, Pa. property developer Mitchell Morgan alleges numerous counts of fraud and breach of contract, and depicts AIG as an absentee landlord to its multibillion dollar real estate portfolio, halting maintenance and renovation fees to hundreds of properties and potentially deepening the real estate crash further, sabotaging its own investments at the expense of taxpayers. Striking a populist tone notable for an outspoken Republican who once hosted a Rick Santorum fundraiser featuring George W. Bush in his own (generously-sized) home, Morgan's suit paints a portrait of a company that manages largely by never returning phone calls and blaming the Fed for everything:

There are real-world consequences for AIG's financial irresponsibility and its failure to honor its commitments. Employees whose jobs depend on the project renovations will be faced with loss of jobs in an economy whose unemployment rate continues to rise dramatically... Unlike many of the large real estate transactions that were occurring at the time, the goal of this Limited Partnership was not to purchase and "condo convert" or "flip" the properties, but to renovate them and continue to rent them to low income and middle class families...Because of the failure to timely approve and fund the required capital contributions, the Partnership's vendors, if not paid on time, which will constitute an immediate event of default under the Partnership's loan agreements. To be clear, these are real loans, not federal bailout loans that can simply be restructured.
Morgan is far from the only partner AIG has stiffed, but thus far he appears to be the only one to have sued, perhaps because he remembers how the insurer ran things in the boom years.

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Asked about whether Joe Cassano was given a free hand at AIGFP, Hank Greenberg, the former AIG CEO who stepped down in 2005, told Congress:

I'm sorry if you can't believe it, but I'm telling you, we had no problem controlling Cassano.

Republicans won't be changing their story on the cost of climate change legislation anytime soon. I just spoke with Michael Steel, spokesman for John Boehner, about the letter the House Minority Leader received from M.I.T. scientist John Reilly. By way of background, Reilly wrote to Boehner yesterday and gently informed him that he and other Republicans had "misrepresented in recent press releases" an M.I.T. study, which estimated that a cap and trade program would likely cost the average family $340 per year. The GOP is claiming, based on the same study, that the legislation would cost the average family $3,128 per year.

"We stand by our analysis," said Steel.

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A quick update on McCain's budget. His office hasn't sent out any related materials yet, and haven't released a statement, but a quick perusal of its terms over at Thomas reveals a few interesting details.

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The Hill reports that DSCC chairman Bob Menendez is fully standing behind Chris Dodd and predicts he'll be re-elected, despite the poll this morning showing Dodd behind Republican candidate Rob Simmons in a landslide:

Q: "Does the DSCC still support Chris whole-heartedly in light of these new numbers, and do they surprise you?"

Menendez: "Are you serious? Chris Dodd is going to be re-elected. He's a great senator."

Q: "So the DSCC still supports him all the way?"

Menendez: "Absolutely."

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