TPM News

A report by the Associated Press reveals that jobless workers have to pay fees on the benefits they collect. 30 states have made deals with large banks, many of which are taking bailout funds, like Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and US Bancorp that require the unemployed to pay bank fees just to get access to their money. In some cases, those collecting benefits have no choice but to use bank issued debit cards, which run the risk of incurring overdraft fees. "It's a racket. It's a scam," said one unemployed woman. (Associated Press)

An Orthodox Jewish Army engineer accused of spying for Israel is now suing the Departments of Defense and Justice, claiming that investigations into his actions damaged his career. The lawsuit also claims that David Tenenbaum was falsely accused of spying solely because of his Jewish heritage. An inspector general's report from the Pentagon supports these claims, finding that Tenenbaum faced unusual and unwelcome scrutiny because of his background. The lawsuit is the second filed by Tenenbaum, the first having been dismissed on a state secrets claim by a federal appeals court. (Associated Press)

Binyam Mohamed, a one-time resident of the United Kingdom, will be transferred home early next week, sources familiar with the matter said. The release may come as early as next Monday, the same day that Attorney General Eric Holder plans to arrive at the facility as part of a review. A second former British resident is also rumored to be on the edge of release, although U.S. officials have said that he is still regarded as "dangerous" and unlikely to be relocated. Mohamed would be the first detainee to be released under the Obama administration, sources tell the Washington Post.

Read More →

Biden: Bush Policies Gave Al Qaeda A Recruitment Tool Speaking yesterday at CIA Headquarters, Joe Biden told the assembled employees that the new administration will "reverse the policies that in my view and the view of many in this agency caused America to fall short of its founding principles and which gave Al Qaeda a powerful recruiting tool."

Today: Obama And Biden Talking Up Stimulus To Mayors President Obama and Vice President Biden will be speaking today at the White House to a group of mayors from across the country, to discuss the implementation of the stimulus bill. Mayors who will be in attendance include San Francisco's Gavin Newsom, New Orleans' Ray Nagin, Dallas' Tom Leppert (a Republican) and others.

Hillary On Global Listening Tour The Washington Post reports that Clinton's first overseas trip has essentially become a global listening tour, in an effort to repair America's image abroad. "My trip here today is to hear your views, because I believe strongly that we learn from listening to one another," she told students at Tokyo University earlier this week. "And that is, for me, part of what this first trip of mine as secretary of state is about."

New York Post Apologizes For Chimp Cartoon The New York Post has now apologized for the controversial "chimp" cartoon, but they're still, um, sticking to their guns. "It was meant to mock an ineptly written federal stimulus bill. Period," the paper says. But they do acknowledge that some have seen it as a racist depiction: "This most certainly was not its intent; to those who were offended by the image, we apologize."

Appointed Senators Hitting The Trail -- Except Burris Three of the four appointed Senators are spending the Congressional recess touring their states and discussing the economy, mostly in preparation for re-election -- and even Delaware's Ted Kaufman, who is serving as a caretaker, is meeting with constituents to discuss the issues. The one exception seems to be the embattled Roland Burris, who has canceled his public events and is holding private meetings to figure out his next move.

Report: Cornyn Approaches Pataki For New York Senate Race The Associated Press reports that NRSC chairman John Cornyn has approached former New York Governor George Pataki to run in the special Senate election in 2010. Pataki served three terms as governor of a Democratic state, so he could be a strong candidate if he runs, though his popularity did go down in the home stretch of his administration.

GOP Candidate In Gillibrand's Seat Won't Say How He Would Have Voted On Stimulus Bill The stimulus bill is quickly becoming a big issue in the special election for Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat -- namely, a refusal by Republican candidate Jim Tedisco to say how he would have voted had he been in the House. Tedisco has criticized the bill, but has responded to queries about his bottom-line vote by saying it's a "hypothetical question."

A funny thing has happened in the Minnesota election trial today -- they're actually making real progress!

After the judges handed down key rulings over the past week that finally established real rules -- they had heard enough from prior witnesses to rule what kinds of ballots would be admitted, and what standards to apply for any new pleas -- the campaigns are very quickly going through the motions with the election officials who do come through.

So far today they have fully examined -- that is, the witness is sworn in, direct-examined, cross-examined, re-direct-examined and excused -- election officials from several different counties, plus four municipalities in Hennepin County (Minneapolis) where the cities run elections. They also finished up an interview of another county official, which had begun yesterday afternoon.

Judge Denise Reilly even thanked and congratulated the parties for getting through "nine and a half" officials.

Who knows, at the rate they're now going they might actually be done by 2012.

Read More →

I'm not sure I agree with my boss's assessment of Washington.

You could argue that the entrenched interests stopped the Reagan and Bush administrations from doing what they would have liked, too.

I tend to think the town is more wired for inertia than anything, an entropy that stymies the ambitious goals of every president from Reagan to Obama. But I'm less despairing about it changing, too because crisis provokes change.

One sign of the crack is the Chamber of Commerce. They supported the stimulus plan and the morning after Obama's address to Congress next week, they'll be holding a panel discussion on how the money will be dispensed. Of course, the Chamber will fight Obama on the Employee Free Choice Act and any number of other issues but it's telling that they're not battling him on this.

On another matter I hear the Hilda Solis vote in the Senate could come as soon as Tuesday or at least an effort to invoke cloture and get it moving. It'd be nice to get the cabinet done by March.

Did the SEC fall down on the job by not paying closer attention to Allen Stanford, the billionaire Texas banker accused of orchestrating an $8 billion fraud? One former long-time enforcement director for the agency thinks it may well have.

Robert Fusfeld, who spent 31 years as an SEC enforcement lawyer, and for 15 managed the trial unit in the commission's Denver office before retiring in 2006, told TPMmuckraker that there was plenty of reason for the SEC to aggressively scrutinize Stanford's operation.

"A registered broker dealer and registered investment adviser is selling offshore Caribbean CDs in mammoth volumes, and nobody's looking at the bonafides of the bank," he said.

The New York Times reported today that the Stanford Group paid several fines over the last few years after regulators found that it did not have enough capital to meet the requirements of being a broker-dealer and used misleading sales literature. "There were numerous very significant red flags that included a history of violations," said Fusfeld.

The case, he said, contained the "same kind of red flags as Madoff" -- like consistently high returns -- but with the added red flag of the Antiguan CDs. "It's not Germany, France, or England," he continued, noting the history of "flagrant offshore CD frauds" over the last 10-15 years.

Because Stanford was a registered broker dealer and investment adviser, the SEC had full access to its operation, Fusfeld added. "They can walk right in."

The SEC was publicly flogged earlier this month for its failure to catch Bernard Madoff's alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme. Since then, its appears to have been making a special effort to show it's capable of acting aggressively -- a concern which may have affected the timing of the Stanford complaint filed Tuesday.

It would certainly be ironic if, in this case too, it was found to have fallen down on the job.

The latest Fox News poll shows an interesting way that respondent perceptions can be manipulated for a desired result -- in this case, to focus on those big-spending Democrats in Washington.

In the latest poll, three questions in a row referred to the stimulus bill as "the economic stimulus and spending plan," with two of them listing an $800 billion price tag. It should be noted that the poll falsely says the bill "includes spending nearly $800 billion dollars of taxpayer money," omitting the fact that the bill's price tag includes $350 billion in tax cuts.

Then question 19: "Do you think the economic recovery legislation that passed last week is better described as a stimulus bill or a spending bill?"

The answer was Stimulus 31, Spending 52.

On the other hand, many other questions show results roughly in line with the AP/GfK poll earlier today: Voters widely approve of Obama, just barely approve of Congressional Dems, widely disapprove of Congressional Republicans, and narrowly approve of the stimulus bill. Voters say Obama genuinely sought to work in a bipartisan way with Republicans while the GOP did not return the favor, etc.

Not surprisingly, though, people think the imaginary bill that spends $800 billion in taxpayer money is too big.

Reuters is reporting that Allen Stanford has been found in Virginia and served by the FBI with court papers.

MSNBC just confirmed that report moments ago.

Stanford has been accused by the SEC of orchestrating an $8 billion fraud, but still has not been criminally charged.

Late Update: ABC News has more Stanford details:

- According to one of his lobbyists, Ben Barnes, Stanford has turned in his passport and said he won't flee. He's described as "very depressed" and sought to end the manhunt by approaching DOJ officials himself.

- In addition:

In the meantime, the SEC has begun to seize an array of private property owned by Stanford and his firm.

Stanford's fleet of six private jets were recalled to the corporate hangar at Sugarland Airport outside Houston, including the Bombardier 500 luxury jet that was used exclusively by Stanford.

According to flight records, the Stanford jet flew into Washington, D.C. earlier this week and returned to Houston yesterday afternoon. Flight crews said Stanford was not seen on the plane when it unloaded.

- And Stanford has hired top DC criminal defense lawyer Brendan Sullivan, of Williams and Connolly. Sullivan represented Oliver North and Ted Stevens.

Separately, AP adds that Stanford was served with court papers in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

... because they may come out of your nose in the course of uproarious laughter. Here's the headline on a new interview from the Austin American Statesman: "Bush rules improved the environment, says former EPA administrator".

And the money quote from Richard Greene, a regional director in the Bush-era EPA who's attempting to defend the agency's environmental enforcement record:

[D]uring the course of the Bush administration, the rules and regulations governing the operations of American business and industry were tightened and improved more than they have ever been. The tendency by some in the media, to pick one or two out of thousands of regulations and to conclude the agency didn't achieve its missions, is just bewildering to me. There were one or two things of controversy. Every one of those items you mentioned, the agency has a response to. The Bush administration even gets reversed in court because it overreached in regulatory rule-making initiatives, in federal appeals.

Yes, judges have overturned Bush environmental rules as overreaching ... in their readiness to violate the Endangered Species Act.

Are things finally coming to a head in the long-running effort to get testimony on the US Attorney firings from key Bush aides?

A federal court has said that the Obama administration must file its brief in the case of Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten by next Wednesday, reports Politico.

The administration had asked to have until March 4th to get its position straight.

Miers and Bolten, both top aides to the Bush White House, were subpoenaed by Congress for testimony on the U.S. Attorney firings. President Bush had asserted executive privilege, sending the matter to the courts. Now the Obama administration must decide whether to back Bush's claim.

An executive order issued by the Obama White House on its first full day in office suggests it won't, in the view of some experts.

The issue of Karl Rove's testimony on the firings could also be at stake, since any ruling in the Miers-Bolten case could affect the stand-off over Rove. House Judiciary chair John Conyers has subpoenaed Rove, whose lawyer then kicked the issue over to the Obama White House.

Things are getting interesting...

In Rolling Stone's new interview with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), she embraces the notion of "collateral benefit" for major financial corporations that are benefiting from the $700 billion TARP bailout.

The "collateral benefit" idea was first elucidated by Barney Frank (D-MA), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. As Frank explained it to PBS last month, the inextricable intertwining of ordinary Americans' livelihood with Wall Street's livelihood makes it impossible not to help big banks while saving the U.S. economy:

[Y]ou can't help the whole system without some incidental benefits to people that want help. It is the reverse of something terrible that we have learned to live with, collateral damage. That's in a war. ... We have the reverse of this. We have something called collateral benefit. That is, you want to get the credit system functioning again, but you can't create a whole new one from scratch. You have to work with what you have got. So one effect of helping the credit system is you are going to provide some collateral benefit, literally to people you would rather yell at.

Frank's "collateral benefit" theory makes no attempt to get at why more and more Americans have entrusted their financial future to the market over the past two decades, thereby making it impossible to save the economy without keeping Wall Street afloat.

But conservatives know the source of this cultural shift -- themselves. Right-wing strategists have long attempted to solidify a long-term Republican majority through promoting stock ownership. Listen to conservative godfather Grover Norquist, telling Frontline in 2005:

Read More →