TPM News

A great catch from our old friend Greg Sargent over at the Plum Line...

Barack Obama's campaign website still cites the fact that "the Bush administration has ignored public disclosure rules and has invoked a legal tool known as the 'state secrets' privilege more than any other previous administration to get cases thrown out of civil court." The site declares: "Secrecy Dominates Government Actions."

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The latest score in NY-20 shows that Democrat Scott Murphy is currently ahead in this nail-biter of a result -- but if GOPer Jim Tedisco doesn't like it, he could just wait 15 minutes.

The official state results show that Murphy has taken an eight-vote lead as of 4:30 p.m. ET yesterday, as absentee ballots begin to be counted. However, there is some more recent data that shows Murphy's lead is actually somewhat larger at the moment.

Columbia County has provided their latest numbers to TPM, showing Murphy picking up another 15 net votes, on a 99-42 margin, compared to the 55-13 in the state's current tally of absentees from here. In addition, the Albany Times Union reports that Murphy has picked up 26 votes, an 88-62 margin, in Essex County.

So as of right now, Scott Murphy leads by 49 votes -- though there are still plenty of ballots left to count. (Late Update: Murphy's newest lead is 46 votes.)

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A congressional investigation released Thursday into a 2004 NASA study, which interviewed 30,000 pilots and was allegedly shut down by the FAA, failed to elaborate on the pilots' statements. The FAA reportedly stopped the study, claiming that the pilots over-reported instances where they hit large flocks of birds in the air, which caused a US Airways jet to land in the Hudson River in January. The investigation came to light in 2007, when the AP reported that it was shut down to avoid harming the FAA's image and profits. Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) told the AP that the study failed partially because it "didn't have the support it needed from the primary customer - the FAA." (AP)

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Obama Requests $83.4 Billion For Iraq And Afghanistan President Obama has requested $83.4 billion from Congress, for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which would raise the total costs of the two wars to almost $1 trillion. The Associated Press notes that the request will disappoint the more anti-war Democrats, but at the same time the continued commitment to the withdrawal of combat troops means it is sure to pass without the legislative battles that occurred during the Bush Administration in 2007.

Obama Meeting With Top Economic Officials President Obama will be meeting at 11 a.m. ET with Treasury Sec. Tim Geithner, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, FDIC Chair Sheila Bair, SEC Chair Mary Shapiro and Comptroller of the Currency John Dugan. The group will update Obama on the current efforts to stabilize and repair the financial system, and afterwards Obama will deliver brief remarks to reporters after the meeting.

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Is the Obama administration mimicking its predecessor on issues of secrecy and the war on terror?

During the presidential campaign, Obama criticized Bush for being too quick to invoke the state secrets claim. But last Friday, his Justice Department filed a motion in a warrantless wiretapping lawsuit, brought by the digital-rights group EFF. And the Obama-ites took a page out of the Bush DOJ's playbook by demanding that the suit, Jewel v. NSA, be dismissed entirely under the state secrets privilege, arguing that allowing it go forward would jeopardize national security.

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In 2007 and 2008, when George Bush was still President, Democrats took a lot of heat from their supporters for their inability or unwillingness to end the war in Iraq. To the extent that they tried, though, the challenge within the party fell to leaders to convince their right flank to sign on to the efforts.

Now that a Democrat is president and the war in Iraq is (or at least seems to be) coming to an end, the situation's somewhat flipped. Obama wants to ramp up U.S. efforts in a different war and--with most Democrats in support, but without an exit strategy--the new challenge may lie in convincing their left flank to play along.

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The April 8 attack on the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama took place in waters off the East African coast, about 380 miles east of the Somali capital of Mogadishu. It is the latest by the Somali pirates, who have been in the national spotlight on and off over the last year. In late January, French marines received a distress call from The African Ruby alerting them to the presence of pirates in the Gulf of Aden, near Yemen. The marines intercepted the pirates' skiffs and arrested those on board (pictured here).

Newscom/Sipa

One of the suspected Somali pirates that was handed over by the French navy to Somali authorities is seen at the port of Bossaso, Somalia, on January 29.

Newscom/PTS

The MV Faina - pictured here off the coast of Somalia on September 29, 2008 - is a Belize-flagged cargo ship carrying Ukrainian T-72 tanks and related equipment. The ship was attacked on September 28.

U.S. Navy

In April 2008, Somali pirates hijacked a luxury yacht with a crew 30-men strong. The French military launched a daring helicopter raid to release the hostages and seized six of the pirates. Here, crew members of the Ponant yacht make their way to boarding the Jean Bart navy frigate on April 11, 2008.

ECPAD/Sergent Dupont Sebastien/Abaca Press

French marines arrest a Somali pirate. The French naval presence in the area is part of an EU operation named "Atlanta," aimed at protecting merchant ships in the area from the mounting threat of pirates. According to the International Maritime Bureau, attacks increased by nearly 200% last year.

Newscom/Sipa

A U.S. Navy helicopter keeps watch on suspected pirates as the visit, board, search and seizure team prepares to apprehend them February 11, 2009, in the Gulf of Aden.

U.S. Navy/Jason R. Zalasky

French soldiers arresting presumed Somali pirates in the eastern part of the Gulf of Aden off the Somali coast. Eight pirates were apprehended while trying to hijack the Panamanian cargo vessel S. Venus.

Newscom/Sipa

A British journalist joins the HMS Northumberland in the Gulf of Aden on an anti-piracy operation. The frigate led an EU naval force hunting Somali pirates.

Newscom/Zuma

Suspected pirates surrender on February 11, 2009, in the Gulf of Aden.

U.S. Navy/Jason R. Zalasky

A sailor of the Ukrainian Faina ship captured by Somali pirates is welcomed home by relatives at the Kiev International Airport on February 13, 2009. Ukrainian sailors from a hijacked cargo ship arrived in Kiev after more than four months in the hands of Somali pirates.

Newscom/Zuma

Crewmembers from Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship Motor Vessel Polaris climb aboard guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf on February 11, 2009, in the Gulf of Aden, to identify suspected pirates.

U.S. Navy/Jason R. Zalasky

Seven suspected Somali pirates were handed over to the Kenyan authorities in the port city of Mombasa by the German navy on Wednesday, April 8, after being arrested on Sunday for attempting to hijack a German tanker.

Newscom/Sipa

U.S. Sailors aboard the USS Vella Gulf conduct bridge operations on February 11, 2009. Suspected pirates were apprehended by the ship's visit, board, search and seizure team in the Gulf of Aden.

U.S. Navy/Jason R. Zalasky

Richard Phillips, Captain of the U.S.-flagged Maersk, was taken hostage by pirates on April 8. The missile destroyer USS Bainbridge, pictured, was patrolling in the region and headed to the lifeboat to attempt to extract him. As of early afternoon on April 9, Captain Phillips is still captive.

U.S. Navy/Paul Farley

Credit rating agencies are coming under fire from Congress again -- but this time it's for being too pessimistic. After Moody's issued an unprecedented across-the-board negative credit outlook on all American cities and towns yesterday, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank issued his own negative assessment of Moody's, and scheduled a hearing to investigate:

I am troubled by the action of Moody's Investors Service to issue a negative outlook across the board on America's municipalities, which could raise the interest rates on cities and towns making it more expensive to borrow funds for infrastructure improvements.
On the face of it, this seems like a perverse round of messenger shooting. But last March, as cities and towns across the country started getting flooded with demands for huge payouts rooted in arcane details of "swap" contracts they'd inked with banks that managed their bond offerings, Frank discovered something truly perverse: the public sector was being scammed on multiple fronts by the investment banks underwriting their bond offerings -- and the profits directly fed the disastrous trade of risky mortgage-linked credit default swaps that hastened the financial meltdown.

The scheme started at the credit ratings agencies, which keep two sets of standards for grading corporate and municipal bonds -- and municipalities are held to a much higher standard, as Frank explained in a hearing using Moody's own data:
I will be giving out this chart, sectoral breakdown of Moody's rated issuers and defaulters, 1970 to 2000, general obligation bonds, there it is. Number of issuers 14,775. Number of defaults, 0.

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Earlier this week, Judge Emmet Sullivan formally dropped the charges against former Alaska senator Ted Stevens, thanks to prosecutorial misconduct. And Sullivan also announced that he's appointed a special prosecutor of his own to investigate contempt charges against the six Justice Department lawyers whose string of missteps -- the most serious of which involved withholding key evidence -- doomed the case. That misconduct is also the subject of an internal DOJ probe.

Since then, there's been a tangle of competing claims from all sides. We've seen some critics of the Bush administration suggesting that Justice intentionally sabotaged the prosecution, in order to let Stevens, a Republican, off the hook. Meanwhile, some of the more paranoid figures on the right are arguing that the entire prosecution was an (ultimately successful) effort by liberal DOJ bureaucrats to use bogus charges to create a cloud of suspicion around Stevens and thereby win another Senate seat for Democrats.

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They just can't help themselves! In a live Q&A session today, a reader asked Washington Post Congressional reporter Paul Kane a question that's been on our minds for days now. "I keep hearing the term 'budget cuts,' but the defense budget isn't being cut at all," the reader writes. "Money is being redirected to other defense priorities, but the overall budget is increasing by 4%.... So why is it that certain pols are allowed to spout this inane lie with impunity."

Kane didn't respond to that question, but he did explain that Gates is trying to spend money more wisely...albeit amid a four percent budget cut that's not actually happening.

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