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For practically his entire 18-month term directing the obscure Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation, Charlie Millard could not stop talking about his radical new plan to plow the majority of the agency's coffers -- which offer partial bankruptcy insurance to the retirement funds of 44 million Americans -- into stocks, real estate and private equity.

Well, that ended today.

Millard pleaded the Fifth three times before a Senate subcommittee convened to discuss the fund this afternoon, refusing to answer any questions about his controversial tenure, which began when Bush appointed him interim director in May 2007 and ended when Obama was sworn into office. There are some pretty good reasons for him to : last week four senators formally requested the Office of the Inspector General to open a criminal investigation into Millard's activities in response to a preliminary OIG report detailing the former Lehman Brother's executive's eyebrow-raising call logs during his time at the office. The report showed that Millard made hundreds of calls to Wall Street investment banks in line for lucrative contracts managing the fund's money under the new investment regime, and traded dozens of emails with a Goldman Sachs executive assisting Millard's post-D.C. job hunt after Goldman was awarded just such a contract.

The PBGC says most of Millard's planned asset reallocation had yet to be completed when he left, and that it is now considering tearing up some of the contracts under which it planned to farm out the funds to the likes of Goldman, JP Morgan, BlackRock and others. But the fund still managed to triple the size of its deficit in the six months between September 30 and March 30, according to numbers released by the Senate today -- meaning the fund currently owes $33.5 billion more than it has the money to cover.

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A new SurveyUSA poll in Virginia finds yet more evidence that former DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe is leading the pack for the June 9 Democratic primary for Governor.

The numbers: McAuliffe 37%, state Sen. Creigh Deeds 26%, and former state Del. Brian Moran 22%, with a ±4.5% margin of error. Three weeks ago, it was McAuliffe 38%, and Deeds and Moran tied at 22% each.

The pollster's analysis finds that 57% of likely primary voters could change their minds, so the race is still very much in a fluid condition, though McAuliffe sure seems to be the man to beat.

However, all three Dems currently trail the Republican candidate, former state Atty. Bob McDonnell, who leads McAuliffe 46%-40%, is ahead of Deeds 46%-40%, and beats Moran 47%-37%. Still, this formerly Republican state has officially become a swing state in the wake of Barack Obama's win last year, so there's no telling what will happen when the general election campaign really gets going after the primary.

The RNC has officially scrapped the much-ridiculed proposal to call for the Democratic Party to change its name to the "Democrat Socialist Party," which was originally set for a vote today.

RNC Chairman Michael Steele had opposed this cartoonish proposal from the start -- and in a sign that he is now exercising genuine leadership at the GOP, he has negotiated a much tamer change in language that simply calls on Americans to reject the Democrats' "socialist" agenda.

This deal had first been announced last night, and was formally carried out today.

Late Update: The resolution's original sponsors are still claiming victory in that the proposal generated publicity and educated the public. RNC member David Norcross of New Jersey said the effort here was to raise the public's awareness of the Democratic agenda, so that the people can be "properly fearful."

As you've heard, the New Hampshire state House just narrowly rejected a compromise gay marriage bill that Gov. John Lynch (D) was prepared to sign -- only two weeks after they'd previously voted in favor of gay marriage. So what happened?

The answer comes down to a term often used in politics, just not all that much in this context: GOTV.

To start with, little old New Hampshire has absurdly large lower chamber -- with 400 members for a state that has just two Congressional districts. Two weeks ago, the House voted 178-167 for the bill -- meaning that 55 members didn't vote. Today, the vote was 186 yes to 188 no, with 26 people not voting -- 29 less abstainers than last time.

Looking at the two votes, there don't appear to have been people switching from being pro-gay marriage to anti-gay marriage. The difference came from the anti-marriage equality forces doing a better job getting their folks to show up. This is probably not the last we've heard of this issue.

Late Update: Interestingly, there was at least one legislator who switched from yes to no -- a gay Republican who opposed the new concessions to religious institutions not wanting to honor gay marriages.

TPMDC's daily update on the biggest legislative initiatives on the Hill:

  • Guantanamo: The Senate stripped Guantanamo detention center closing funds from a war funding bill by an overwhelming vote of 90-6.


  • Credit Card Reform: The House passed--and the President will soon sign--legislation cracking down on credit card companies. House leaders split the bill in two because of a measure sponsored by Tom Coburn (R-OK) allowing people to take guns into national parks. Both parts of the bill passed, but the move allowed liberal Democrats to go on record against the idea.


  • EFCA: Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) tells potential EFCA opponents to get serious about compromise, or they'll have to go on record, one way or another, on the question of the original bill.


  • Defense Spending: Defense Secretary Robert Gates isn't backtracking on his decision to cancel the (well over-budget) presidential helicopter program. But he does envision the possibility of a "escape helicopter," to make the President's job seem more awesome.

A new CNN poll has yet more bad news for the Republican Party, directly contradicting recent declarations that they represent the American people with their attacks on President Obama and the less popular Democratic leadership in Congress.

The poll asked this straightforward question: "Do you think the policies being proposed by Barack Obama will move the country in the right direction or the wrong direction?" The answer was right direction 63%, wrong direction 35%.

Then two similar questions were asked about Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress, one half of respondents being asked about the Dems and the other half asked about the GOP. "Do you think the policies being proposed by the Democratic leaders in the U.S. House and Senate would move the country in the right direction or the wrong direction?" The answer here was right direction 57%, wrong direction 40% -- lagging a bit behind Obama, but still more than solid.

As for this one: "Do you think the policies being proposed by the Republican leaders in the U.S. House and Senate would move the country in the right direction or the wrong direction?" The result here was right direction 39%, wrong direction 53%.

Michelle Obama joins Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) at the ribbon cutting ceremony to officially re-open the Charles Engelhard Court, centerpiece of the newly renovated American Wing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Newscom/Sipa

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Michelle Obama.

Newscom/Sipa

Robert Jackson, District 7 Council Member from NYC, and First lady Michelle Obama.

Newscom/Sipa



Newscom/Sipa

A Cornell survey of trends in union intimidation released today is likely to provide labor supporters some critical talking points in their endless struggle to pass a "card check" bill aimed at making said tactics tougher to pull off.

It's called NO HOLDS BARRED: The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organizing and the first company it singles out for strongarm tactics is...a healthy baked goods company called Earthgrains!

Until relatively recently, the report says, the St. Louis-based Earthgrains had "a history of maintaining a stable collective bargaining relationship with the majority of [its] workforce." All that changed in 2000, when its Kentucky plant tried to organize -- and Earthgrains responded by videotaping employees talking to union representatives, publicly confiscating any union literature the reps distributed, interrogating employees about whether their co-workers supported unions, maintaining to know how other workers planned to vote, and outright threatening their jobs and retirement plans. Such tactics are now "standard practice," according to the study of 1,004 union organizing drives between 1999 and 2003, in which management threatened to close plants in 57 percent of the campaigns and threatened to cut wages and benefits in 47 percent. (Electronic surveillance and attempting to infiltrate the organizing committee were less common tactics, used in 11% and 28% of campaigns, respectively.)

What distinguishes the current organizing climate from previous decades of employer opposition to unions? The primary difference is that the most intense and aggressive anti-union campaign strategies, the kind previously found only at employers like Wal-Mart, are no longer reserved for a select coterie of extreme anti-union employers.
The report cites the campaigns for the ever-widening gap between the percentage of American non-managerial workers who say they would vote for a union -- higher than ever at 55% -- and the actual union density, which stands at 12.4%, and blames "deregulation, investor-centered trade and investment policies, and an underfunded and disempowered National Labor Relations Board" on what it terms "the rise of the union avoidance industry." But let's go back to Earthgrains for a minute.

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is solidifying her support throughout the Democratic Party -- especially after President Obama moved last week to clear the field for her and successfully urged a potential Democratic primary opponent not to get in the race.

Gillibrand's campaign announced today that she's received more endorsements from the New York House delegation, with Reps. John Hall and Michael Arcuri endorsing her, plus newly-elected Congressman Scott Murphy from Gillibrand's old House district. In addition, she's secured the support of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500, which has 23,000 members.

And yet another potential primary opponent, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, has pulled out of the race -- and cited Obama as the reason: "In light of President Obama's clear desire to avoid a Democratic primary in New York State, I have decided to focus on my re-election race for Manhattan Borough President and to suspend my exploratory committee and fund-raising efforts for the 2010 Senate race."

TPMLivewire