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Over at TPM, Josh has been doggedly highlighting the refusal of both AIG and the federal government to reveal the identity of AIG's counter-parties in its disastrous credit default swaps. And several lawmakers have in recent days pressed Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke on the issue.

The question matters, of course, because AIG needed to make its most recent multi-billion dollar trip back to the public trough (that's over $160 billion in all for AIG, if you're counting) in order to pay back its creditors on those disastrous swaps -- and thereby, we're told, prevent a wider financial collapse. So identifying who those swaps were made with will tell us, in effect, who this latest portion of our money is ultimately going to.

It's worth noting, then, that, thanks to some great reporting from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, we do in fact have some preliminary information about who AIG's partners were on the swaps.

This Journal story from October 2008 names the following nine American and foreign banks as having bought swaps from AIG: Goldman Sachs; Merrill Lynch; UBS of Switzerland; Credit Agricole SA of France; Deutsche Bank of Germany; Barclays, and Royal Bank of Scotland Group, of Britain; and CIBC, and Bank of Montreal, of Canada.

Merrill is described by the Journal as a "big client" of the AIG unit that did the swaps.

By the end of 2007, with the value of the underlying assets plummeting, many of these banks had asked for collateral on the swaps, according to the Journal. For instance, the paper reports that Goldman held swaps that insured about $20 billion of securities. In August 2007, Goldman demanded $1.5 billion in collateral from AIG. It ultimately got $450 million, then another $1.5 billion last October. At that point, says the Journal:

Goldman hedged its exposure by making a bearish bet on AIG, buying credit-default swaps on AIG's own debt.

That picture of Goldman's exposure jibes with a New York Times story from September 2008 about the credit default swaps, which reported that Goldman was AIG's "largest trading partner," and likewise gave a figure of $20 billion for Goldman's exposure to AIG.

The Times also implicates another domestic firm: JP Morgan (now JP Morgan Chase). In fact, it recounts that it was derivatives traders from that company that a decade ago, first brought to AIG's London-based financial products unit, run by Joseph Cassano, the ill-fated idea of doing credit default swaps.

It reports:
Ten years ago, a "watershed" moment changed the profile of the derivatives that Mr. Cassano traded, according to a transcript of comments he made at an industry event last year. Derivatives specialists from J. P. Morgan, a leading bank that had many dealings with Mr. Cassano's unit, came calling with a novel idea.

Morgan proposed the following: A.I.G. should try writing insurance on packages of debt known as "collateralized debt obligations." C.D.O.'s. were pools of loans sliced into tranches and sold to investors based on the credit quality of the underlying securities.

It's not 100 percent clear, then, that JP Morgan Chase is a current counter-party of AIG on the swaps -- but it certainly wouldn't be surprising.

That same Times story offers another hint, albeit a vague one, about the identity of the counter-parties.
While clients and counterparties remain closely guarded secrets in the derivatives trade, Mr. Cassano talked publicly about how proud he was of his customer list.

At the 2007 conference he noted that his company worked with a "global swath" of top-notch entities that included "banks and investment banks, pension funds, endowments, foundations, insurance companies, hedge funds, money managers, high-net-worth individuals, municipalities and sovereigns and supranationals."

What to make of all this? Well, here's one thing. As Josh has noted, the usual argument given against disclosing the identities of the counter-parties is that it would reduce public confidence in the banks that were named, with potentially disastrous consequences for their positions. But there's little evidence we're aware of that any of the banks named above suffered such an effect when, for instance, the Journal and the Times published their stories -- whose accuracy have not been questioned.

In fact, Geithner and Bernanke haven't deigned to explain their position in even this much detail -- so it's difficult to know whether there are factors we're not considering. But in the absence of a fuller explanation, we'll keep pressing...

One of the many amusing lines from President Obama's wrap up of the health care summit at the White House. Here's something of note: Obama pointed to Rep. Jim Cooper saying we can get health care done. This is something we noted here the other day and it belies easy stereotyping of fiscal conservatives as obstinate. Here are some highlights from the Obama Q & A:

Ted Kennedy looked great and talked about the importance of the issue. Mitch McConnell asked about the Conrad-Gregg proposal on reforming Social Security. The prez kicked it back to Congress saying that Medicare and Medicaid is the 800-pound gorilla. Henry Waxman talked about the importance of trade offs and willingness to negotiate. Rep. Joanne Emerson, the kind of moderate Republican Obama will need on many issues going forward, was very complimentary about the discussions as was Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the pivotal Senate Finance Committee.

Most interesting was Dan Danner of the National Federation of Independent Business. The group was a key opponent of the Clinton plan in 1994 and while he didn't pledge to support Obama he wasn't hostile either. For Obama's part he told "bleeding hearts" they needed to take cost control into account just as fiscal conservatives needed to know they couldn't control costs just by "throwing seniors off of Medicare."

No shortage of critics on the left have whacked Obama for being too bipartisan but I don't see how a conference like this can do anything but it's hard to imagine how today's session was anything less than helpful in promoting universal health reform. It's not impossible to imagine meetings like these become a practice that's continued by future presidents.

You get the feeling that Norm Coleman's legal team really doesn't like the appearance of having spent five weeks in court to get more of their own ballots counted, in the name of enfranchising all voters, and now having to watch the Franken attorneys take a turn at bat.

In court just before, Franken lawyer Kevin Hamilton was going over some rejected absentee ballots with Jeffrey Cox, the elections director for the Democratic stronghold of Duluth. On one envelope, Hamilton asked if the ballot had been rejected by the Coleman campaign, under the state Supreme Court's controversial decision to give each campaign a veto power over individual ballot envelopes during the review this past December.

At this point, Team Coleman objected to Hamilton's attempt to establish this, based on the forms in front of him.

"I'll take that back," Hamilton said. "All we know here is that someone named Frederick Knaak signed the rejection form, correct?"

Frederick "Fritz" Knaak is one of Norm Coleman's lawyers, and actually headed up his effort during the recount proper. Apparently, Team Coleman doesn't want it to be aired out that they'd personally stopped individual ballots from being counted.

Hamilton later asked Cox if a ballot should be counted. At that point, lead Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg objected. Hamilton then pointed out that Friedberg had spent five weeks asking local election officials if ballots he'd picked out should be counted. Hamilton then continued asking the question, with just a slight modification in his phrasing to make it clear that he was asking for Cox's individual, professional judgment.

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When asked whether she could support the call for a "truth commission" to investigate the civil liberties and human rights abuses committed under George Bush, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said that she expected to be doing similar work on her panel ... and she wasn't kidding.

The Intelligence panel announced today that it would conduct a year-long inquiry into the scope and performance of the CIA's interrogation program, including "whether the CIA accurately described the detention and interrogation program to other parts of the U.S. government" and "whether the CIA implemented the program in compliance with official guidance."

This investigation has the potential to unearth much more detail about the conduct of Bush's "war on terror" than we already have, but it is likely to be conducted largely in private. (The "truth commission," by contrast, is intended to operate in the public eye.)

Unfortunately, the Intelligence panel doesn't have the best track record when it comes to bipartisan investigations. The committee's reports on pre-war use of intelligence on Iraq (a.k.a. "Phase One" and "Phase Two," which was delayed by several years) were panned by progressive analysts for succumbing to White House pressure and ignoring crucial evidence.

It's worth noting, however, that Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) was the chairman senior Democrat on the panel at the time of those reports, not Feinstein.

Late Update: Sen. Russ Feingold's (D-WI) statement on the inquiry is after the jump.

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Conservatives on and off Capitol Hill are pointing to a new study released today in their fight to derail the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).

Produced by Dr. Anne Layne-Farrar, an economist with LECG Consulting, the study asserts that EFCA would cause the U.S. to shed 600,000 jobs in the second year after the bill's enactment, as a consequence of increased union membership. Sounds scary -- but what's scarier still is who paid for the study: the Alliance to Save Main Street Jobs, a front for the business lobby's heaviest lobbying hitters.

Its members include the Retail Industry Leaders Association, the HR Policy Association, American Hotel and Lodging Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Real Estate Roundtable. The same group paid for another ostensibly independent take-down of EFCA last month, written by University of Chicago law school professor Richard Epstein.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is at it again. In an appearance today on Bill Bennett's radio show, she gave the now-standard Republican line that the GOP has to do everything they can to stop President Obama's agenda -- and managed to slip in a line that Obama is enacting the policies of Ward Churchill:

Said Bachmann: "But what I think we're seeing is an implementation of all of the radical ideas that Bill Ayers and Ward Churchill -- the radical ideas that we've seen on some college campuses, they're now being implemented in our government, and they're taking a nefarious route when it looks at the economic recovery."

Ward Churchill, you might recall, is the radical former college professor who wrote an essay saying the victims of 9/11 had it coming. And Michele Bachmann, a member of Congress, thinks the President of the United States subscribes to Churchill's ideas and is working to enact them into law.

(Via Think Progress.)

Joe Biden addressed the AFL's Executive Committee in Miami this morning. Transcript of the event is finally out. Here are Biden's comments on the Employee Free Choice Act. Does not sound like any backing down:

So, folks, that's why there's no one thing we have to do. This is all going to be difficult, and one of the most difficult things will be to reinstitute that basic bargain. And I think the way to do that is the Employee Free Choice Act. (Applause.)

Folks, let's get it straight -- we're not asking -- we're not asking for anything we don't deserve. And we're not asking for anything that wasn't intended when the NLRB said we should be encouraging -- encouraging -- unions. We just want to level this playing field again.

Ladies and gentlemen, I think President Obama said it best when he said -- I'm quoting -- "I don't buy the argument that providing workers with collective bargaining rights somehow weakens the economy or worsens the business environment." If you've got workers who have a decent pay and benefits, they also are customers for your business. (Applause.)

So let me add to that and say that I have a simple, basic belief, one that we're going to work hard to put into action: If a union is what you want, a union you're entitled to have. (Applause.)

Thanks to the White House's excellent live streams of today's health care summit, anyone could hear the remarks of senior members of Congress and administration aides as they discussed the political realities of the issue.

And I sat up straight in my chair once Rep. Joe Barton (TX), the senior Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, started speaking towards the end of his session. (Committee Chairman Henry Waxman [D-CA] was also in the room.) Barton began fairly predictably, remarking that "I don't consider what happened in the '90s to HillaryCare as a failure ... The Clinton administration took a bunch of real smart people behind closed doors, presented a plan to Congress, and said 'take it or leave it.'

Then he took it to an interesting place (emphasis mine):

This is a different approach. [Sen. Chuck] Grassley and [Sen. Max] Baucus working together in the Senate is great ... we can get a different result. You can't oppose the president's principles. It's in the details, though, and how you put the plan together. But this is a good step.

Caveat aside, that approach to President Obama is a long way from wanting him to fail. Here's hoping Barton won't have to apologize to Rush for his openness...

Are we still a center-right nation, as many Republicans continue to insist? And can the GOP revive itself through a return to the spirit of Ronald Reagan, as Rush Limbaugh has said?

Check out this question from the new Fox News poll: "What do you think the nation's economy needs more of right now -- the economic policies of Ronald Reagan or the economic policies of Barack Obama?"

The answer: Obama 49%, Reagan 40%.

Late Update: Some other interesting observations about this whole poll, after the jump.

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The potential field of candidates for President Obama's Senate seat -- for which Roland Burris may or may not be running -- keeps on growing.

The Hill reports that Bill Daley, former Commerce Secretary under Bill Clinton, is on the verge of entering the race for President Obama's former Senate seat. Daley is the brother of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, and son of the late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley.

Daley was also a co-chairman of Obama's presidential campaign, and has reportedly spoken to top political talent including Larry Grisolano -- who works for David Axelrod and David Plouffe's campaign firm, AKPD Message and Media.

Meanwhile, state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias has already filed paperwork for an exploratory committee, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky has also been mulling a bid in the Democratic primary.