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We knew Bernie Madoff was living large. But maybe not this large.

The Associated Press reports:

Newly filed court documents show Bernard Madoff and his wife had a net worth of more than $823 million at the end of last year.

The document detailing the Madoffs' assets was contained in papers his lawyers filed Friday in an effort to get him freed on bail.

The document shows the Madoffs owned four real estate properties worth $22 million and had $17 million in cash and a $7 million yacht, among other assets.

Reader CT Voter notes that John Negroponte, Bush's ambassador to Iraq, and another much esteemed career diplomat--although his tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Honduras came under criticism--didn't have Mideast experience. He'd been at the U.N. dealing with Mideast issues as part of his tenure there but that's not the kind of specific expertise Graham and McCain seem to want. It's all very odd. TPM readers are encouraged, though, to search for more examples of McCain and Graham not asking for regional expertise for a major appointment.

The Democratic National Committee released a "Party of No" clock today that tallies how much time Republicans have spent criticizing President Obama's budget without offering an alternative of their own.

And it's a good thing that there's no limit on how high the clock can go, because Senate GOPers have no intention of ever offering an alternative budget this year. As senior Budget Committee Republican Judd Gregg (NH) tells the Times:

The responsibility of the majority is to produce the budget, and we think it is more constructive to point out how we would improve their budget.

Good plan! Seriously, though, the senators' task may be complicated by their House GOP counterparts, who -- to their credit -- are planning to unveil an alternative budget proposal.

This all may sound like political back-and-forth, but alternative plans put forward by the minority party often get an actual vote; Sen. Jim DeMint's (R-SC) alterna-stimulus, for example, won the support of all but four Republican senators last month.

It's too bad that Senate Republicans aren't prepared to come together on a budget they can believe in ... but perhaps a Democratic senator would be kind enough to submit the House GOP's alterna-budget to a vote in the upper chamber? I'd love to see how many on Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) team would be willing to vote for it.

Here are the line-ups for the Sunday talk shows this weekend:

• ABC, This Week: Lawrence Summers, Director of the National Economic Council, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

• CBS, Face The Nation: Lawrence Summers, Director of the National Economic Council, and Thomas Friedman of the New York Times.

• CNN, State Of The Union: Former Vice President Dick Cheney, in his first TV interview since leaving office.

• Fox News Sunday: Austan Goolsbee, White House Council of Economic Advisers; Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN); Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA); Mark Zandi, Moody's; and FDIC Chair Sheila Blair.

• NBC, Meet The Press: House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA), and Dr. Christina Romer, Chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisers.

Rep. Maxine Waters is stepping up her campaign to show she took no inappropriate action on behalf of OneUnited bank.

Waters' office has released to TPM two letters sent by the National Bankers Association (NBA), a trade group for minority-owned banks, to the Treasury Department, in reference to a September 2008 meeting Waters had helped set up between NBA and Treasury. The letters appear to back Waters' contention that the meeting, at which OneUnited's CEO reportedly asked explicitly for bailout money, was not set up exclusively to help OneUnited, but rather on behalf of minority-ownded banks more broadly.

That doesn't contradict anything the New York Times reported, it's worth noting. But it does appear to bolster Waters' claim, made in a statement she put out earlier today, that she wasn't looking out for OneUnited's interests above those of other minority-owned banks. Waters has long been an advocate in Congress for minority-owned banks.

Waters also released a 2007 document showing that she disclosed her ties to OneUnited -- her husband had previously served on the board, and owned stock -- before questioning witnesses at a House hearing on minority-owned banks.

It seems clear that Waters should have disclosed those ties again when she set up the 200 meeting. But it also appears that that meeting, which Waters has said she didn't attend, was arranged on behalf of minority banks broadly, not as a way to benefit OneUnited.

Given the general level of greed and hypocrisy we've seen in regard to the bailout, this looks at this point like a minor misstep.

One of the biggest flashpoints in the coming congressional health care debate will be how much money can be saved by reforming the nation's presently broken system. The White House budget included $634 billion over 10 years for health reform, paid for by in part by trimming the system's existing payments to insurance companies, doctors, and drug-makers.

Not surprisingly, the same industries in line for a fiscal whacking to help fund the health care bill are hoping that Congress gets a little more creative with its attempts to pay for the measure.

Read More →

Newly-appointed Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is flexing some of her political muscle back home in her upstate House district, cutting this ad for Democratic candidate Scott Murphy:

"I hope you'll join me in voting for Scott Murphy," says Gillibrand. "We need him in Congress."

On paper, the Republicans started out with some advantages to pick up this marginal seat, given the lead they have in voter-registration -- though on the other hand, the GOP brand is in pretty bad shape, and the district voted narrowly for Barack Obama last year. If Murphy wins, expect Gillibrand's supporters to say that her image, as a local woman done good, provided at least some significant help.

Meanwhile, Republican candidate Jim Tedisco has announced that he wants the NRCC out of his campaign, after a recent poll said that Murphy has nearly erased Tedisco's initial lead, with a drastic turnaround among independent voters. He'll manage it himself, and seek to refocus the race in a positive direction.

In a move that represents both a formality and a historic gesture, the Obama administration has announced that it's withdrawing the designation of "enemy combatant" for Guantanamo detainees. The Bush administration had drawn widespread criticism for its use of that designation, which allowed it to deny detainees rights they otherwise would have been entitled to.

In a press release, the Justice Department said it was submitting a new standard to hold detainees at Gitmo. Rather than relying on the president's authority as commander-in-chief, the department explained, the new standard "draws on the international laws of war to inform the statutory authority conferred by Congress."

It also said that the governent is conducting a review of detainee detention policy which could lead to "further refinements."

President Obama has already announced this intention to close Gitmo within the year. In a sense, today's announcement is an equally important step in winding down the "War On Terror" concept that the Bush administration announced, and shifting to an approach that sees the fight against terrorism as an effort to be conducted within the bounds of international and domestic law.

In other words: change we can believe in.

Just to add to what my colleague, Elana Schor had earlier on Chris Hill: At his press briefing today, Robert Gibbs stood behind Chris Hill as the President's choice to be the next Ambassador to Iraq. So for the moment at least, there's no backing down to the McCain-Graham assault on Hill as being unready for Iraq. Hill is one of the most accomplished career diplomats at State but his assignments have all been European and Asian. He speaks Polish and Serbo-Croatian, according to the State Department web site.

But here's something interesting. McCain and Graham had no problem voting for Hill to be come George W. Bush's Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs even thought his previous experience was overwhelmingly European with one tour in Seoul. In general the country's supported the idea that senior State Department officials can move around the world and not have to prove their credentials each time they're assigned to a new region. McCain and Graham are imposing a new standard that seems odd. It's not wildly irrational to want an Iraq ambassador with Mideast experience but it's a bar that I've never heard Senators ask of any other career diplomat before. Perhaps TPM readers can think of other examples where Graham and McCain had no qualms about supporting a nominee for a key diplomatic post who had no previous experience in the region?

Tony Perkins, the president of the religious-right activist group the Family Research Council, has just announced that he will not challenge Senator David Vitter (R-LA) in the 2010 Republican primary.

Not only that, but he's endorsing Vitter: "I am grateful for those who've encouraged me to consider returning to elected office, but this is not the right time. Along those lines, I would like members of the State Central Committee to know that I support Senator David Vitter's bid for reelection in 2010."

Perkins is also a former Louisiana state Representative, and he ran for Senate in 2002, winning 10% of the vote in the all-party primary that the state used at the time. Had he run, Perkins might have posed a real threat to Vitter's renomination -- after all, one of them is a top-level social-conservative activist, and the other is a social-conservative politician whose career got bogged down in the D.C. Madam prostitution scandal in 2007.

Of course, there was a serious risk in any potential candidacy: That he might run against Vitter, lose the primary, and have only succeeded in softening up the incumbent against a Democratic challenger.