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Timothy Geithner's speech laying out the Treasury's plan for bailout 3.0 struck us as devoid of key details that might have settled some of the uncertainty and confusion surrounding the Obama administration's approach.

That's how it struck Simon Johnson, the former chief economist for the IMF, too.

Johnson told TPMmuckraker that the Treasury Secretary's speech laid out some important principles, especially in regard to the need for transparency and accountability. And he said that Geithner's willingness, in contrast to his predecessor, Henry Paulson, to criticize bankers and policy-makers -- implicitly himself -- was also welcome.

But then, said Johnson, the speech went into "Paulson-land," as Geithner said he would take input from the public on the public-private investment fund the Treasury is considering creating.

That lack of specificity, said Johnson, isn't helping restore confidence, pointing to a sharp drop in the market today, especially in the financial sector. "The market is responding to vagueness," said Johnson. "This is not a plan. In the annals of plan-announcing, this is very vague."

The "stress test" that Geithner discussed today, said Johnson, is a promising idea, but again wasn't fully enough fleshed out to know whether it'll be effective. The proposal, used effectively by Sweden in the early 90s, would require banks to lay their cards on the table, allowing the government to make a rough -- and conservative -- valuation of their assets. That would then allow the government to take over those banks that are truly insolvent, rather than continue to try to prop up failing institutions and suffer a "death by a thousand paper cuts."

Johnson had harsh words for the administration's plan, announced late last week, to modestly limit executive compensation. He called it "a joke," and said Geithner had lost credibility because of it. "No one in the markets is buying those [limits] as meaningful."

Geithner will testify before Senate committees this afternoon and tomorrow morning. So we'll see how many more details we get then. But it looks like this is all still a work in progress.

If you've ever been to Sanibel Island for vacation or anywhere in the touristed parts of Lee County, Florida it's hard to think of the area as being in a recession. But as Barack Obama pointed out on his visit to Ft. Myers, Florida today, this once prosperous area is hurting.

"I know Fort Myers had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation last year," the President said, standing next to Charlie Crist, the state's Republican governor and a possible 2012 presidential candidate. He cited, Chico's, the women's clothing company whose headquarters is in Ft. Myers, as one of the local businesses that is reeling.

Once again, I think he did well stylistically and substantively--laying out the challenges facing the country, making the case that inaction or tax cuts alone, is not enough given the failed policies of the past and the gravity of what faces the country. In terms of raw salesmanship, he's doing fine. Wonk for wonk, he was Clintonesque in his handling of policy questions from the audience.

Obama may be doing well but the problem is what's going on in the lower right hand corner of your TV screen where the Dow is plummeting in reaction to the Geithner bailout plan. Following the markets' gyrations can be utterly misleading. But the market is going to dictate what happens with this latest bailout just as the plummeting Dow changed the politics in Washington last fall. Republicans and Democrats who stood against George W. Bush's bailout reversed course when the Dow plummeted and the thing to watch in the coming days is whewther a plummeting Dow will force Congressional Republicans to reconsider their opposition to the stimulus--probably not--and whether it will force the Obama administration to recalibrate its bailout plan or even to come back to Congress for a second stimulus in a few months. In other words, this is all very much a work in progress.

Especially with the Dow now down almost 350 points at 1:23.

The House Blue Dog Coalition continues to wield outsize political power, thanks to a canny willingness to leverage its votes on key issues, while the Congressional Progressive Caucus must fight to be heard.

Case in point: the Blue Dogs are meeting directly with President Obama this afternoon on the stimulus bill. The Progressives have yet to hear back about their request for a meeting, which was issued almost a month ago.

But that doesn't mean the Progressives are staying silent as the Senate proposes stimulus cuts to education and health insurance for the unemployment. Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chairs of the group, have fired off a letter to the House Speaker protesting the Senate's cuts. Here's an excerpt:

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Yet another poll is showing that Americans are blaming Republicans, not Barack Obama, for the impasse on the stimulus bill.

The new Pew poll has 51% of respondents saying the stimulus plan is a good idea, with only 34% who say it's a bad idea. The poll also shows 43% saying Obama and Republicans have worked together, while 45% say they have not. Within the group who say they have not worked together, 61% blame Republican leaders, only 16% blame Obama, another 10% blame both, and 4% blame the Democratic Congressional leaders.

The survey also shows Republicans squarely losing the popularity contest. Obama's approval rating is at 64%, with only 17% disapproval. Democratic leaders in Congress are in positive territory at 48%-38%, while the Republican leadership is at only 34%-51%.

There's one number in here that can be read in a favorable way for Republicans: Respondents believed tax cuts are a more effective stimulus over spending by a 48%-39% margin. So expect the GOP leadership to play this number up, if they do cite the poll.

(Via Greg Sargent)

The overall dynamic of stimulus negotiations between the two chambers of Congress, which Democrats are aiming to finish by the end of the week, involves senators pressing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to accept the $100 billion or so in cuts that were insisted upon by three GOP centrists.

But Pelosi's side of the Capitol isn't going totally unheard by the Senate. Democrats are growing confident that the final stimulus package will include some, if not all, of the $16 billion in school construction aid that was sliced by centrist senators last week.

"We feel that the wind is at our back on that one," one Democratic source told me. And there's good reason to think so -- President Obama made a strong case for preserving the schools money during his press conference last night. Here's how Obama put it:

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Could the Feds be closing in on Jack Murtha?

Late last month, federal agents raided the offices of a Pennsylvania defense contractor with close ties to the longtime Democratic congressman.

And now, ABC News has reported that, back in November, the FBI raided the Virginia headquarters of a lobbying firm founded by a former Murtha aide.

The firm, known as the PMA Group, specializes in winning earmarks for its clients. ABC reports that last year, "it brought in $13.8 million in revenue representing dozens of defense companies and contractors, many of which have donated heavily to Murtha." Murtha has helped the firm win millions in earmarks, according to ABC. And much of PMA's business comes from small defense contractors based in Murtha's district.

The former Murtha aide who founded the firm, Paul Magliochetti, has reportedly been talking to his colleagues about an arrangement that would see him leave. Reports ABC:

Asked whether these discussions were related to the raid, [a PMA spokesman] declined to comment.


And another former Murtha aide, Julie Giardina, also works at PMA.

Last month, the FBI and IRS raided the offices of Kuchera Industries and Kuchera Defense Systems. Murtha has reportedly channeled $100 million in earmarks to those companies.

A spokesman for Murtha denied that his boss had been contacted by the FBI, and said the congressman did not believe he was a target of the investigation.

Still, something tells us we haven't heard the last of this.

Late Update: The Hill reports that PMA is "disintegrating", with several of its top lobbyists telling colleages and associates they plan to leave and start a new firm.

And it looks like the issue of PMA founder and former Murtha aide Paul Magliocchetti's continuing presence at PMA is at the center of the move:
The lobbyists resigned from PMA last Friday after they were unable to strike a buyout deal with Paul Magliocchetti, the founder of PMA Group, who indicated earlier this year he wanted to retire.

The new group is called Flagship Government Relations and is being billed as a business development and lobbying firm, The Hill has learned.


The paper adds:
Among those who are starting the new consultancy are Kaylene Green, a former Senate Armed Services Committee staffer and congressional Navy liaison; Sean Fogarty, a former Senate Navy liaison; Rich Efford, a longtime appropriations staffer who worked for former Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.); and Dan Cunningham, who served as the director for the Army's congressional liaison team and has a close relationship with Murtha, according to multiple K Street sources.

Angering civil libertarians and others on the left Monday, lawyers for the Obama administration went along with a Bush administration policy designed to keep the details of controversial anti-terror policies secret. In a case filed by five detainees against Boeing and its subsidiaries for their involvement in extraordinary rendition flights, lawyers for the administration made the same state-secrets argument--that details of certain cases are too sensitive to national security to even be discussed in court--that was so controversial during the Bush years. Simultaneously, the administration announced that Attorney General Eric Holder has ordered a review of all claims of state secrets, "to ensure that it is being invoked only in legally appropriate situations." The controversial state secrets privilege was famously invoked by the Bush administration to fend off legal challenges to its warrantless wiretapping program. (New York Times, Associated Press)

In another piece of fallout from the Bush administration's war on terror tactics, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has proposed a "truth panel" to investigate Bush anti-terror programs. The panel would be designed to probe misdeeds by former officials relating to issues like torture and the use of intelligence in the lead-up to the Iraq war. At his press conference last night, President Obama appeared lukewarm to the idea, saying that he would rather "get it right moving forward." (Associated Press)

Jackson, Mississippi mayor Frank Melton may have his bond revoked for trying to personally serve a subpoena to a witness in his case. The mayor has pleaded not guilty to three felony charges that he violated civil rights during an incident in which he destroyed a suspected crack house with a sledgehammer. Melton said that he was simply keeping a campaign promise to root out crime in the city. (Associated Press)

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It's time for an amusing peek at a potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate: Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.

Check out what Pawlenty said to Minnesota Public Radio, firing back at a Democratic gubernatorial candidate who criticized him for traveling to the Munich Security Conference:

And when you're the commander in chief of the Minnesota National Guard, and you're going to deploy soldiers -- like we are tomorrow night at the St. Paul civic center, a thousand soldiers going off to Iran (Editor Note: Pawlenty said Iran on the air. His spokesman said he misspoke and corrected himself on the air later) and a month from now another thousand going to the middle east to fight in the war -- it helps to have an understanding of those issues, the dynamics, the security issues.


There are two things to consider here. First, Pawlenty apparently has a Palin-style belief that a governor's official role as head of the state National Guard has some importance in foreign policy. And while explaining this concept, he managed to get wrong which country his state's troops are actually being sent to.

No one doubted last night that the Senate's stimulus bill would clear the 60-vote hurdle it needed to move towards final approval today. But while cancer-stricken Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) summoned the strength to cast his vote, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) was the only active senator who missed the boat entirely.

As Ben Smith explains, Cornyn was in New York charming a group of conservative bigwigs -- and likely donors to the Senate GOP's 2010 campaign effort, which Cornyn is leading.

Cornyn's decision to prioritize donor outreach over Senate business is a pretty stunning display of chutzpah. Here's why ...

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If Joe Lieberman decides to run for a fifth term in 2012, a new Quinnipiac poll suggests that it may be a lost cause.

The new poll tests Lieberman as an independent against Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. The numbers: Blumenthal 58%, Lieberman 30%. Yikes.

Lieberman's active campaigning against the Democratic Party last year hasn't won him too many friends back home. Democrats go for Blumenthal by 83%-9%, and independents are for Blumenthal 55%-29%. Lieberman is the de facto Republican nominee in this match, and with GOP voters he scores 67%-23% over Blumenthal.

Lieberman's job approval is also at only 45%, with 48% disapproving. Among Democrats that's a 21%-70% rating, Republicans 75%-20%, while independents give him a narrow approval of 48%-46%.

A lot can happen in four years, but right now it doesn't look like Lieberman has too many options. He can't run as a Democrat, he would still lose as a Republican, and there's no reason to believe that staying as an independent will provide much more of an opportunity.

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