TPM News

"They haven't earned their paycheck, and they need to be replaced."

The whistleblower on the Madoff case, Harry Markopolos, just gave his oral testimony, in which he ripped the SEC in unusually direct language. More to come.

Whatever you think of George W. Bush, I think you have to concede that, in some respects, he's been personally gracious towards Barack Obama and his family since election night. I say this with the obvious, massive caveat of the Blair House incident in which the government-owned guest residence across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House was not made available to the Obamas when they decided to move to Washington a little more than two weeks before the inauguration so their daughters could start at Sidwell Friends as soon as the Quaker school's winter break ended. Still, in its public pronouncements Bush has been generous towards Obama and the interaction between the families seems to have been nice, what with Jenna and Barbara showing Sasha and Malia their favorite hangouts in the residence.

The Obamas have said how much they appreciated the Bushes hosting them at the White House. Until now, one might have said the same about DIck Cheney who, along with his wife Lynn, hosting Joe and Jill Biden at the Vice Presidential residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory.

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Your eyes do not deceive you -- that was indeed Joe Wurzelbacher, a.k.a. Joe the Plumber, visiting the Capitol yesterday in coat and tie (tie and leather jacket, to be more exact).

Joe told reporters that he had met with Republican aides, ostensibly to offer his astute political messaging advice, but that no lawmakers were present for his visit.

When asked whether he had plans to see old pal Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Joe was non-committal. And when asked, wholly in jest, whether he planned to lay any pipe during his day in D.C., Joe was downright incensed. A moment of awkward silence followed the question. "All the puns have been made," Joe warned the reporter who queried him.

I don't know, Joe ... sometimes the puns deserve to be made again.

Disgraced Chicago businessman Tony Rezko was quietly moved out of solitary confinement last December, the U.S. Marshal in Chicago confirmed. Rezko, who has been cooperating with prosecutors in a massive corruption investigation, was moved after complaining about the conditions of his imprisonment. The move is something of a reward for his cooperation. (Chicago Sun-Times)

A campaign ad from former Sen. Tom Daschle's 1986 Senate run shows that the South Dakotan once prided himself on driving his own beat-up Pontiac around Washington D.C. Obama's nominee for the Secretary of Health and Human Services withdrew his nomination after tax problems relating to his use of a car and driver provided by a private equity firm came to light. (ABC News)

An upcoming report by the Migration Policy Institute will target a popular program run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The program, designed to capture illegal immigrants with outstanding criminal records, padded its numbers by shifting its focus towards easier targets. (New York Times)

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A glimmer of hope for something other than business-as-usual legislating emerged in the Senate last night. The proposed "repatriation" tax break, a major gift for multinational corporations with questionable stimulative value, was defeated on a 42-55 vote.

Seven Republicans, including some of the most conservative senators, joined the majority of Democrats to beat back the repatriation proposal -- which would have largely benefited a handful of corporations that are among the biggest job-outsourcers in the nation. A tip of the cap to those 55 senators.

Cheney: "I Worry" When Washington Cares More About Terrorists' Rights Than Protecting America In an interview with the Politico, Dick Cheney gave a dire warning that terrorists will try to attack America again, and their success or failure depends on keeping his policies in place. Said Cheney: "When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry."

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama and Tim Geithner are speaking at 11 a.m. ET, where they will deliver remarks on their expected plans to curb executive pay at $500,000 for financial institutions receiving bailout funds. Obama will then meet with Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell at 11:50 p.m., will have lunch with Biden at 12:15 p.m., and will sign legislation to expand the SCHIP program at 4:30 p.m. He will meet with Ken Salazar at 5:05 p.m., and then he and Michelle Obama will attend a caucus leadership cocktail reception at 7:30 p.m.

Biden Meeting With Indonesian VP, Teamsters Head Joe Biden will be meeting this afternoon with Jusuf Kalla, the Vice President of Indonesia. He will then meet with Teamsters president James P. Hoffa. Both meetings are closed press.

Obama, On Daschle: "I Screwed Up" President Obama very bluntly told CNN, "I screwed up," regarding the Tom Daschle mess. "Ultimately, I campaigned on changing Washington and bottom-up politics," Obama added. "And I don't want to send a message to the American people that there are two sets of standards -- one for powerful people and one for ordinary folks who are working every day and paying their taxes."

Minnesota Trial Keeps On Going; State Dems Propose Legislative Way Out The Minnesota election trial goes into Day 8, while state Democratic legislators are proposing a bill to change the law immediately and award Al Franken a certificate of election while the litigation is still pending, but it does not appear likely to succeed -- GOP Governor Tim Pawlenty indicated he won't support the bill, calling it an attempt to change the rules retroactively.

WaPo: Dems Don't Have The Votes For Current Stimulus Plan The Washington Post reports that Democratic leaders don't have 60 votes to pass the stimulus bill as it now stands, with both Democratic and Republican Senators putting forward amendments to strip various spending items. On the other hand, new spending items and tax breaks are being put in -- so the cost is now at over $900 billion.

Joe The Plumber Gives Political Advice To GOP Staffers Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher visited Capitol Hill yesterday, giving his political advice to a key group of Republican staffers. Wurzelbacher spoke of the importance of stopping the stimulus bill, and for the GOP to take a hard line. "I don't believe there's two sides to every story. It's black and white," he said. "There's right and wrong."

Blago Goes On Letterman Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich appeared on the David Letterman show last night. "I've been wanting to be on your show in the worst way for the longest time," said Blago. To which Dave replied: "Well, you're on in the worst way, believe me."

Harry Markopolos, the fraud investigator who blew the whistle as early as a decade ago on Bernard Madoff, if only the SEC had had ears to listen, slammed the agency in written testimony made public last night.

Markopolos, who will answer questions in person before a House committee this morning, decried the SEC's inadequate efforts to detect financial fraud in response to detailed written complaints he submitted on Madoff's operation.

"There was an abject failure by the regulatory agencies we entrust as our watchdog," he wrote. According to (sub req.) the Wall Street Journal, Markopolos added that the agency's enforcement staff "made little effort to understand the derivative instruments Mr. Madoff said he was using."

Markopolos continued:

[T]he SEC securities' lawyers if only through their ineptitude and financial illiteracy colluded to maintain large frauds such as the one to which Madoff later confessed.


He even confessed that he and his team had submitted some documents anonymously -- because they feared for their safety in going after Madoff, given their target's powerful status on Wall Street.

Last month, we documented the SEC's shift away from enforcement here at TPMmuckraker.

We'll bring you more form Markopolos' live testimony after it starts this morning.

The Minnesota election court has just handed down a major ruling, completely denying Norm Coleman's motion for summary judgment that would have opened up and counted a set of roughly 4,500 rejected absentee ballots that his campaign insists were wrongly rejected and ought to be counted.

Earlier today, the court similarly rejected Franken's attempt to have the ballots set aside entirely and to limit Coleman to a pool of 654 ballots, which at the time the Coleman camp was hailing as a major victory that will ensure votes are counted. But it turns out it's not that easy.

The upshot of the two decisions is that Coleman may argue on behalf of these voters, but there is no guarantee that they'll be counted. Instead, he'll need to argue for them one by one. And of course, the Franken campaign will have a full opportunity to cross-examine Coleman's witnesses -- many of whom have demonstrated that they in fact committed clear errors in filling out their ballots -- and to also play this same game down the road.

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About a month ago, before the economic recovery debate started on Capitol Hill, I wondered aloud about the wisdom of setting clear, public deadlines for Congress to pass a stimulus bill.

When a politician starts the clock on a major initiative, the resulting flood of media coverage and public expectation makes it well-nigh impossible to avoid losing momentum after even a small stumble. And given the lack of consensus in the Senate -- even among Democrats -- on how to move forward, it's hard to see the stimulus bill being approved by the end of the week, as the White House and congressional leaders had hoped.

Now, anything can happen. There could be a breakthrough on infrastructure spending tomorrow that creates a palpable shift. Sens. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) could win enough fellow centrists to downsize the legislation, with the president's blessing.

But in order for the stimulus to pass the Senate by Friday, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) would need to move to cut off debate on the bill ("filing for cloture," in Senate parlance) by tomorrow. And given how many Democrats are holding back from full support right now, I suspect that Republicans would answer that move with a successful filibuster.

Still, everything changes quickly in the Capitol. We'll keep you posted.

Check out the latest episode of TPMtv, on the investigation into possible pay to play in New Mexico, which last month forced Bill Richardson to withdraw his bid to be Commerce Secretary, and has now seemingly ensnared the Democratic Governors Association.

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