TPM News

Remember Ted Haggard, the politically powerful megachurch pastor from Colorado who's career came crashing down in a male-prostitution scandal in late 2006? Haggard has since moved on -- he's no longer a preacher, but is instead working as an insurance salesman -- and seems to be adjusting to an undesired place in pop culture.

Time Out New York reports that Haggard attended the performance of a play called The Beautiful City, all about evangelical culture in Colorado. And an important plot point in the play is...the downfall of Ted Haggard.

Haggard kept a low profile, with the cast not knowing he was there, although the crew knew about it. Artistic director Steven Cosson said: "And they would come back and say, 'Oh, he laughed at this line. He smiled at that. He's sticking around for the second act.'"

Haggard and his wife were also accompanied to the show by a friend of theirs: Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of Nancy Pelosi, who made the HBO documentary The Trials of Ted Haggard, plus Alexandra's husband.

Haggard didn't bask in any limelight, though. He, his wife and the Pelosis were the first to leave the theater after the play was over, and Pelosi was overheard saying, "I didn't understand the point."

In better days, Allen Stanford was, by most accounts, a loqacious and charming figure, wooing clients, lawmakers, and foreign dignitaries alike with the sheer power of his personality.

Now, not so much.

In court documents filed today, Stanford took the fifth, declining to testify in the SEC's complaint against him, in which he is accused of orchestrating an $8 billion Ponzi scheme.

His former college roommate and Number 2 at Stanford Financial Group, Jim Davis, is likewise staying mum, it was reported last week.

Three House Democratic committee chairmen -- Henry Waxman (CA) at Energy & Commerce, Charles Rangel (NY) at Ways & Means, and George Miller (CA) at Education & Labor -- have just sent a letter to President Obama vowing to work together on health care reform legislation that can become law this year.

The letter is notable for its emphasis on a uniform, coordinated timetable to ensure that turf battles over committee jurisdiction do not slow down the debate over health reform. The still-unwritten climate change bill, by contrast, is already the subject of some jockeying for position by Rangel and Waxman.

Also, the House chairmen's letter contains stronger indications of a coordinated effort than a similar missive sent to Obama by the Senate's key chairmen on health care, Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA).

The senators declared their "continuing commitment to enacting comprehensive health care reform this year," while their House counterparts committed specifically to "work from a harmonized approach [in their committees] to ensure success." There was some initial concern on the Hill that Baucus and Kennedy would butt heads as both committees moved forward with health care, but the Boston Globe reported this week that the two are working well together.

You can read the House chairmen's full letter after the jump.

Read More →

Bernard Madoff is set this week to plead guilty to orchestrating a massive Ponzi scheme. But could we be in line for more guilty pleas before this is all over?

The Daily Beast reports:

[T]he [Madoff] investigation ... has broadened to include a number of suspected co-conspirators, according to federal officials involved in the case.


The Daily Beast story -- written by Lucinda Franks, whose byline identifies her as a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist who was formerly on the staff of the New York Times -- also reports that, according to sources, "several members of Madoff's inner circle transferred assets to their wives, transactions thought to be laundered through an English bank."

There are said to be three groups of possible co-conspirators, who could potentially be charged either criminally by the Justice Department, or civilly by the SEC.

In the first group are employees of Madoff's firm who concocted false trades and sent out phony statements to thousands of unsuspecting clients.

The second group is comprised of principals in feeder funds such as Cohmad Securities Corp. and Fairfield Greenwich Group, which funneled investor dollars to Madoff and received large fees for steering this business. If they were aware of Madoff's fraud, they could face criminal charges; if they were not, they could be hit with civil charges for a lack of due diligence.

The third group is the target of an investigation that's still in its early stages into money laundering through British banks, in which US and British authorities are cooperating. This group consists of solicitors, accountants, and others in London who may have assisted Madoff in transferring funds from client accounts to a Madoff entity that lists Ruth Madoff, brother Peter Madoff, and sons Mark and Andrew Madoff among its board members.


It's not clear from any of this that any specific members of Madoff's family, or his inner circle, are in immediate legal jeopardy.

But the Wall Street Journal appears to be thinking along similar lines (sub req). It notes:
Prosecutors alleged Tuesday that Mr. Madoff hired numerous employees with "little or no prior pertinent training or experience in the securities industry" and caused them to "communicate with clients and generate false and fraudulent documents."


Its report doesn't go as far as the Daily Beast's. The Journal says it's still unclear whether prosecutors believe these people knew they were involved in a fraudulent scheme, and doesn't explicitly say that the investigation has broadened beyond Madoff himself.

But it's noticeable that the paper does take the time to lay out what's known about the possible involvement in the scheme of five of Madoff's relatives and associates -- including his wife Ruth, who has hired her own lawyer, and his brother Peter, who was the chief compliance officer for Madoff's firm.

With Madoff's guilty plea soon to be safely in the bag, are these reports an indication of where prosecutors are going next?

Has Michael Steele's bumbling reached a critical mass that it will cost him the chairmanship of the RNC -- or will he just keep on bumbling instead?

The latest bad news for Steele is a report that certain Republicans may be plotting a coup against him, a no-confidence vote to be held after the March 31 special election for Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat is out of the way.

In an interview with Cal Thomas, Steele dismissed any call for a resignation. "No!" he shouted. "And shame on [those] who should have the cojones to at least come and talk to me." And here's how he characterized his detractors: "The mice who are scurrying about the Hill are upset because they no longer have access to the cheese, so they don't know what's going on."

Meanwhile, Mike Allen thinks Steele isn't leaving any time in the immediate future. However, the real test will be when the fundraising numbers come in for the next two quarters.

Granted, there have been some foul-ups so far. It's been just under a month and a half since Steele became RNC chairman, and in that time he has, among other things:

• Promised a new "off the hook" image for the Republican Party, appealing to "hip-hop settings."

• Gone back and forth on threatening to cut off financial support for pro-stimulus Republicans, and attracted criticism from Senators for doing so.

• And of course, he disassociated himself from Rush Limbaugh, was then attacked by Limbaugh, and then apologized to Limbaugh and praised his leadership. And he was later denounced by Joe The Plumber.

The question, then, is to what degree the anti-Steele push may be coming from people who were against him to begin with, and thus see an opening, and how much political capital there may be among the rest of the GOP to either keep or dump him.

Read More →

TPM alum Spencer Ackerman points to a genuinely inexplicable revenue-raising move being considered by the Obama administration: charging veterans through their private health insurance companies for injuries suffered during their service.

Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki confirmed yesterday that the administration is weighing whether to start charging veterans for their combat-related injuries -- an admission that got strongly shot down by both Democratic and Republican senators.

It's worth noting that progressives hammered Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) during his presidential bid last year for suggesting that veterans should be able to seek private treatment for health problems unrelated to their service. Should the Obama VA follow through with the plan it's now considering, it would arguably be moving farther right than McCain on the sensitive question of privatizing veterans' health care.

Late Update: The Navy Times offers more background on the private-insurance proposal under consideration by the Obama VA, explaining:

Whether private insurers would pay anything [on service-related claims] would depend on their policies on serving as the second payer on medical expenses. Some insurance policies cover such costs and others do not.

If at first you don't succeed....

In what looks like a second bite at the apple, Michael Steele's RNC has put out a new Request-For-Proposal for the redesign of its website -- after its original two-page effort was widely panned as sketchy and unprofessional.

That first RFP, which was circulating earlier this week, was so lacking in detail that one prominent right-wing blogger suggested it could mean Steele already had a favored contractor in mind, and was just going thru the RFP process for show. We offered a suggestion for who that favored contractor might be here.

The new RFP, posted by the site Tech President, is a bit longer -- five pages -- and a bit more specific about what the committee is looking for.

One interesting detail: the RNC says it wants a site that, in Tech President's words "functions as the backbone of a distributed network of sites populated by state parties and campaigns -- nonetheless connected back to the mothership at RNC headquarters." It's unclear whether that means it might subsume the state party sites, which currently are independent.

And, unlike before, there's a budget: $250,000 for the main site, plus $200,000 for the network of sites.

Neel Kashkari, the assistant Treasury Secretary for financial stability who has run the bailout since the Bush administration, took some frustrated questions today from Democratic Reps. Diane Watson (CA) and John Tierney (MA) during his appearance before a House oversight subcommittee.

Watson and Tierney were searching for a way to prevent banks that take bailout money from planning lavish parties and sales conferences before repaying the taxpayers -- an embarrassing pattern that has been seen at Northern Trust, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo in recent weeks.

Kashkari said the Obama administration would seek approval from bailed-out banks' boards of expense standards that would govern spending on resort conferences, private jets, office re-decorations, and other goodies.

Those standards will be made "clear and public for the world to judge," Kashkari told the lawmakers -- though he acknowledged that the new standards would be in effect going forward as opposed to retroactively. There is one exception, he said ...

Read More →

The Democratic polling/strategy firm Democracy Corps, James Carville and Stan Greenberg's outfit, is continuing to push the message that Rush Limbaugh is a political winner for Democrats -- and an inescapable loser for Republicans.

When asked if they agree with the statement, "Rush Limbaugh shares my values," or the opposite statement that he does not share their values, all voters break out at 32% yes, to 57% no. Among independents, it's 30%-58%.

But here's the thing: Limbaugh scores 60%-29% with Republicans. "There is a reason why," the polling memo says triumphantly. "Limbaugh ranks very high as a leader of the Republican Party's ideas and direction."

When asked if Limbaugh has too much influence over the Republican Party, too little influence or about the right amount, all voters put it at 49%-15%-26%. Republicans, however, weigh in at 27%-20%-43%, and independents are at 50%-12%-29%.

There is one silver lining: Voters do not agree with the idea that Republicans are following Limbaugh's lead because they want to see Obama fail, with only 32% agreeing.

The memo concludes: "With Rush Limbaugh's vision and values so strong among the conservative Republicans who are the heart of the party's base, Republican leaders carry a heavy weight when they attempt to position themselves to act for the broader electorate."

Looks like you can add Elizabeth Warren to the growing list of people who want the federal government to tell us more about that latest AIG bailout.

Warren, who chairs the panel that's monitoring bailout spending on behalf of Congress, went on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show last night, and all but demanded more disclosure from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

Maddow raised the fact that AIG has reportedly passed bailout money onto its counterparties on those credit default swaps, and that it currently has four PR firms on its payroll. In response, Warren, appearing perhaps more frustrated than in any of her other numerous media appearances over the last few most, responded:

It doesn't seem strange to me, and the fact that it doesn't seem strange to me tells you something really awful about what it's been like to be in Washington for the last few months.

These financial institutions have figured out that they're bleeding red ink, and their best solution is to persuade the Treasury Department to give them lots of money. And when the Treasury Department starts to say, there may be some problems here, the American people don't want to go along with this, then lets see if we can spin the American people on it.

The Treasury Department has not asked for the critical information about where this money has gone, from AIG. We've poured the money into AIG, and it has somehow poured it out the other end. The Treasury Department has not asked, and has not revealed, what it is that's happening with that money.

And so as long as that's the case, maybe some of the money is going to other financial institutions. Maybe some of the money is going to pay off these credit default swaps that are essential for saving other institutions that have counted on it for credit and insurance. And maybe some of where this money is going is just off to speculators, who just played the game of speculation, and would now like to collect a hundred cents on the dollar form their speculations, and collect it indirectly from the American taxpayer.


You can see the video here. (The excerpt quoted above begins around the 9:00 mark.)

The Federal Reserve, which has been at the center of the latest AIG bailout, has declined to reveal much information about the maneuver, including the identity of AIG's counterparties, saying that doing so could affect confidence in the institutions at issue.

Reports by Warren's panel have grown increasingly critical of Treasury's level of transparency and accountability in regard to the bailout.

TPMLivewire