TPM News

The former Chief Information Officer of the city of News Orleans testified in federal court on Wednesday that for several years, starting in 2002, he directed millions of dollars in taxpayer money to vendor Mark St. Pierre, The Times-Picayune reports. In return, Greg Meffert told the court, St. Pierre provided kickbacks including, eventually, access to a yacht and cash with which to gamble, buy booze and hire strippers. The strippers were also paid "to perform sex acts on Meffert, St. Pierre and others in the city's technology office," according to the paper.

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It's hard out in Arizona for a liberal. From recently announced deep cuts to health care and education, to the now infamously tough immigration law currently tied up in court battles, Arizona remains one of the country's more reliably conservative states. However, a group of Arizonans from the Tucson area are looking to distance themselves from the more conservative policies of their state, literally, by seceding. Headed up by Tucson attorney and former state Democratic Party Chairman Paul Eckerstrom, SOS or "Start Our State," is calling for the progressive alcove of Pima County, located near the Mexican border, to break off from the rest of Arizona and form the 51st state, tentatively called "Baja Arizona."

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Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who's become a national figure thanks to his role as budget guru for the House leadership in the 112th Congress, says he's considering making a run for the U.S. Senate being vacated by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI).

"I was surprised by Senator Kohl's announcement," Ryan said in a statement posted to his Congressional campaign website. Ryan said he's going to "take some time over the next few days to discuss this news with my family and supporters before making any decision about how I'm best able to serve my employers in the First Congressional District, our state and nation."

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On a conference call with reporters just now, Wisconsin Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate predicted that the party would have one or more strong candidates in the race to succeed Dem Sen. Herb Kohl, who announced his retirement earlier on Friday. Indeed, Tate directly named some key potential candidates who are already looking at it, or might soon be doing so.

Chief among the names that Tate listed were former Sen. Russ Feingold, who lost re-election in the 2010 Republican wave after three terms in office, and seven-term Rep. Tammy Baldwin from Madison and the surrounding counties.

"I think the next 6-8 weeks are going be an important timeframe for people to at least make a decision about whether they're gonna run," Tate said.

"I've already spoken with some people this morning who indicated there are serious people thinking about getting in this race," Tate also added, saying that at least for Friday focus should be on Kohl himself and his record of serving the state.

When a reporter asked who Tate might have been talking to, or what names might have come up, Tate said there could be many great candidates. "Obviously Russ Feingold looms large if he were or were not to run again," Tate said. "And I've spoken to people very close to her that Tammy Baldwin is seriously considering running for the Senate seat."

Tate also said that people who might be looking at the race include Rep. Ron Kind, Milwaukee Mayor and 2010 gubernatorial nominee Tom Barrett, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, and biotechnology executive Kevin Conroy.

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The White House confirmed Friday that Pakistan has allowed U.S. officials to interview three of Osama bin Laden's wives, all of whom were living with him at his Abbottabad compound before a Navy SEAL team stormed it and killed bin Laden nearly two weeks ago.

In the aftermath of the U.S. raid on the hideaway, U.S. lawmakers and officials have accused at least some elements of the Pakistani government of helping harbor bin Laden and have been watching Pakistan's reaction to his killing closely. The wives, one of whom was injured during the raid, were taken into custody by Pakistani security forces after the SEALs left the compound.

White House spokesman Jay Carney was tight-lipped about the interrogation aside from confirming that it had occurred. He would not say who questioned the women or whether they cooperated.

"I can't characterize the interaction except to say that we have had access," Carney said, "And we obviously appreciate the cooperation we've received from the Pakistani government."

The White House and the Pentagon have not said exactly when this week U.S. officials questioned the wives. The Pakistani Taliban on Friday took credit for twin suicide bombings that killed at least 80 people outside a paramilitary training center in Shabqadar, Pakistan earlier in the day. A Taliban spokesman said the explosions were in retaliation for the killing of bin Laden.

Carney said the U.S. government remains in a "state of high vigilance" since the raid.

"We take very seriously the fact that while al Qaeda is weakened, it is not dead," Carney said. President Obama plans to deliver a major speech on the events in the Middle East and North Africa and U.S. Policy in the region Thursday at the State Department.

From Carney's descriptions, the speech will be "fairly sweeping and comprehensive" focused on the democratic uprisings in the region that have taken place since January and how the U.S. has responded to the upheaval.

"[The President] has always viewed the future of the region through the prism of democratization and the yearning of the the region for greater political freedom, participation in their government, desire for responsive governments that address their grievances," Carney said. "I'm sure he will call as he has in the past on the governments in the region to respond to those demands through peaceful political dialogue."

Obama plans to focus on the irony he sees in some leaders' violent crackdowns in the name of stability when those brutal actions are only leading to great instability in the country and the region, Carney told reporters.

At one point during the press briefing, Carney was asked whether he had information about Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's whereabouts and reports that he was no longer in Tripoli and is likely injured.

"Nothing I can share," Carney replied.

Senate Democrats have spent the week dismissing GOP claims that ending tax breaks for the oil industry would result in higher prices at the pump. Republicans argue that the big five would simply pass along those added costs to consumers.

"It's Economics 101," a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told TPM earlier this week when asked for an explanation for the assumption.

Democrats brushed aside the claim as baseless, lame excuse for keeping the subsidies intact.

On Friday, the Democrats called in some economic expertise as backup to prove their point. Alan Krueger, an economic and public affairs professor at Princeton University joined Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA), chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on a conference call with reporters. According to Krueger's analysis, ending tax breaks for big oil will do nothing to increase prices, or produce such infinitesimally small increases as to have no palpable impact whatsoever.

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Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) has officially announced his retirement. Kohl's decision to not seek reelection in 2012 opens up a potential top-tier Senate race, in a swing state that has become the center of a polarizing political debate over labor unions in the wake of Republican Gov. Scott Walker's anti-public employee union legislation.

"I've always believed that it's better to leave a job a little too early than a little too late," the four-term senator said in his opening remarks. "And that's how I feel today. The interest and energy I have for this job will find a new home at the conclusion of this term."

Kohl told reporters that he believed the divisions in the state, triggered by Walker's legislation, would make it easier for the Democrats to hold the seat. "I think whoever we nominate is going to have a very good chance of winning," said Kohl. "To some extent the Republicans have overreached, and people have recoiled, and the landscape will be more favorable.

"Not that I'm happy it's happened -- I'm not happy that it's happened. But I think the landscape will be more favorable to Democratic candidates than last year."

(Thanks to the CBS affiliate in Milwaukee, for live-streaming Kohl's press conference.)

According to a Gallup poll released on Friday, a 47% plurality of Americans don't want Congress to raise the debt ceiling. However, Americans appear to be largely ill-informed on the debt ceiling debate, as a a full one-third of respondents said they didn't know enough about the issue to form an opinion about it.

In the poll, 47% said they wanted their elected representatives to vote against raising the debt ceiling, while only 19% said Congress should raise the debt ceiling. But at the same time, 34% said they hadn't heard enough about the debate to decide either way.

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