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The latest state score in NY-20 shows Democratic candidate Scott Murphy ahead of Republican Jim Tedisco by 167 votes, a margin of 50.05%-49.95%, up from an 86-vote lead at the close of business yesterday -- making it appear more likely than not that Murphy will be the winner when all is said and done.

The big question now is how the roughly 1,200 challenged absentee ballot envelopes will play out, as they are currently being kept out of the count -- including the vote of U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. The ruling yesterday by Judge James V. Brands means that the vast majority of these challenges will be rejected out of hand, and the envelopes will be opened and the votes counted.

The numbers from Columbia County, for example, show that there have been 249 ballots challenged by the Tedisco campaign, compared to only 22 from Murphy. There are 740 challenges in the Tedisco stronghold of Saratoga County, but it's not been publicly disclosed what the breakdown is of who challenged how many ballots.

Overall, it seems like more ballots were challenged by the Tedisco camp across the district than were challenged by Murphy. And since a basic assumption is that a ballot that gets challenged is believed to be a vote for the other guy, this would mean that Murphy could gain a little bit when the votes are counted, assuming that more ballots were indeed challenged by Tedisco.

Prompted by that New York Times report that the NSA "went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress" in intercepting Americans' communications in recent months, Russ Feingold -- who has been the point man in the Senate for efforts to rein in warrantless wiretapping -- has released a statement :

Since 2001, I have spent a lot of time in the Intelligence Committee, the Judiciary Committee, and on the floor of the Senate bringing attention to both the possible and actual effects of legislation that has dangerously expanded the power of the executive branch to spy on innocent Americans. Despite these efforts, Congress insisted on enacting several measures including the USA PATRIOT Act, the Protect America Act, and the FISA Amendments Act, embarking on a tragic retreat from the principles that had governed the sensitive area of government surveillance for the previous three decades. Congress must get to work fixing these laws that have eroded the privacy and civil liberties of law-abiding citizens. In addition, the administration should declassify certain aspects of how these authorities have been used so that the American people can better understand their scope and impact.

Check out this passage buried at the end of a pretty shocking New York Times report on out-of-control wiretapping by the National Security Agency:

And in one previously undisclosed episode, the N.S.A. tried to wiretap a member of Congress without a warrant, an intelligence official with direct knowledge of the matter said.

The agency believed that the congressman, whose identity could not be determined, was in contact -- as part of a Congressional delegation to the Middle East in 2005 or 2006 -- with an extremist who had possible terrorist ties and was already under surveillance, the official said. The agency then sought to eavesdrop on the congressman's conversations, the official said.

The official said the plan was ultimately blocked because of concerns from some intelligence officials about using the N.S.A., without court oversight, to spy on a member of Congress.


Who was this mystery congressman? Which "extremist" was he in contact with? And how does he feel about almost having been spied on by his own government?

Seems worth finding out...

For the past couple weeks, events have drawn our attention to Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), who's serving his second term in Pennsylvania's seventh congressional district. Specifically, he's been taking the lead in support of Defense Secretary Robert Gates' budget proposal, which I discussed with him at length earlier this week.

Neither he nor his staff are shy about the fact that he's trying to position himself out in front of this issue, and it's a big one--sure to result in a bruising political fight in the weeks ahead. In a way, he's the natural surrogate for it--a former Navy rear admiral, who's been arguing for similar reforms, both within and outside of the military for years.

But there's also the question of Pennsylvania politics. As my colleague Eric Kleefeld reported yesterday, former congressman and conservative's conservative Pat Toomey has announced that he'll be challenging Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) in the 2010 primary. Specter is very popular in Pennsylvania, but not particularly popular among its conservative residents. If he wins that primary challenge, he'll be a formidable challenger for any Pennsylvania Democrat. But if Toomey wins, it's a whole new ball game.

And that's where Sestak (may) come in.

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U.S. Master Sergeant John Hatley murdered four Iraqi prisoners execution style, a military court ruled Wednesday. The eight-member panel said that after a 2007 firefight with a set of Iraqi insurgents, Hatley acted as "judge, jury and executioner" when he blindfolded the prisoners, shot them one after the other, and dumped their bodies in a nearby canal. Two soldiers in Hatley's unit were convicted in connection to the killings earlier this year and two pleaded guilty and were sentenced to jail last year. If convicted on all counts of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder, Hatley could face life in prison. (AP)

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Obama: We Will Deal With Drugs Coming From Mexico -- And Guns From The U.S. President Obama is headed to Mexico today, where he will offer U.S. solidarity in the Drug War. Speaking to CNN en Espanol yesterday, Obama explained: "We are going to be dealing not only with drug interdiction coming north, but also working on helping to curb the flow of cash and guns going south."

Obama's Day Ahead: Discussing High-Speed Rail, Traveling To Mexico President Obama will be speaking at 9 a.m. ET this morning, discussing proposals to build a high-speed rail network. He will then leave for Mexico City, and is scheduled to arrive there at 2:10 p.m. ET. At 3:10 p.m. ET he will meet with President Felipe Calderón, and the two will hold a press conference at 4:45 p.m. ET. Obama will meet with U.S. Embassy employees at 5:40 p.m. ET, and will hold a working dinner at 9 p.m. ET.

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Tea party protest in Washington, D.C. - one of many across the nation held on Wednesday, April 15, 2009.

Photo by Jeff Malet/maletphoto.com

Tea party protest in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Jeff Malet/maletphoto.com

Tea party in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Ray Skwire/http://phillybits.blogspot.com

Tea party in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Ray Skwire/http://phillybits.blogspot.com

Tea party in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Ray Skwire/http://phillybits.blogspot.com

Tea party in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Ray Skwire/http://phillybits.blogspot.com

Tea party in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Ray Skwire/http://phillybits.blogspot.com

Tea party protest in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Jeff Malet/maletphoto.com

Tea party protest in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Jeff Malet/maletphoto.com

Tea party protest in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Jeff Malet/maletphoto.com

Maggie Curry takes part in a tea party tax protest in Washington Park in Dubuque, Iowa.

Newscom/Rapport Syndication

Protesters gather near the White House in Washington, D.C.

Newscom/UPI

Tea party protest in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Jeff Malet/maletphoto.com

Tea party protest in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Jeff Malet/maletphoto.com

Tea party protest in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Jeff Malet/maletphoto.com

Tea party protest in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Jeff Malet/maletphoto.com

Tea party in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Ray Skwire/http://phillybits.blogspot.com

Tea party protest in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Jeff Malet/maletphoto.com

Protesters gather at the court house in Kerrville, Texas for a tax day protest.

cc: Well Tea

Tea party protest in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Jeff Malet/maletphoto.com

Tea party in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Ray Skwire/http://phillybits.blogspot.com

Tea party in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Ray Skwire/http://phillybits.blogspot.com

Tea party protest in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Jeff Malet/maletphoto.com

Tea party protest in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Jeff Malet/maletphoto.com

Tea party in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Ray Skwire/http://phillybits.blogspot.com

Tea party in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Ray Skwire/http://phillybits.blogspot.com

The satirical "Billionaires for Bush" join in the tea party protest in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Jeff Malet/maletphoto.com

The satirical "Billionaires for Bush" join in the tea party protest in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Jeff Malet/maletphoto.com

The satirical "Billionaires for Bush" join in the tea party protest in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Jeff Malet/maletphoto.com

There's another big reason -- besides AIG -- that Wall Street trading desks have been booking such fat profits lately: fees they're collecting closing out interest rate swaps that have been exploding in the faces of cities, states, towns and public utilities over the past year.

Put another way: they're not just booking those billions soaking the government, they're booking them soaking...the government. Along with hospitals, utilities, park authorities, pretty much every other realm of the public or nonprofit sector...

Including Harvard! In December the university raised $2.5 billion dollars in a bond offering partially designed to give them the capital to buy out of $570 million in underwater interest rate swaps it had invested in back in 2005. The swaps were expressly endorsed by then-president Larry Summers, now head of the National Economic Council.

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Here's a fun footnote to the Tedisco campaign's challenge of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's absentee ballot in the special election for her old House seat. It turns out that even if the GOP's reason for objecting to the ballot is true, the governing case law in New York says the ballot still should be counted.

The issue here is that New York requires absentee voters to have a good reason to vote this way rather than on Election Day -- in this case, Gillibrand planned to be outside of her home in Columbia County, voting at the Senate in Washington. But the GOP claims she was in the district anyway, seemingly rendering her excuse for a ballot null -- that she should have gone to the polls to cast her vote there, they say.

Gillibrand spokesman Matt Canter says she was not in the district at all on Election Day, but only arrived that night after the polls closed. This can get a bit confusing, so pay close attention: Gillibrand started the day in Albany (outside the district), went down to Washington to cast votes as she'd intended (and it turned out she missed the votes, arriving after they were held), then travelled to the district, arriving after the polls had closed to attend Murphy's Election Night party.

But what if she really was in the district? It turns out she's still covered, provided that she'd honestly expected to be out of her county, and things just worked out differently.

Read More →

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