In it, but not of it. TPM DC

We know that Allen Stanford, the Texas financier accused of a multi-billion-dollar fraud yesterday, helped send several amenable members of Congress to soak up the sun in Antigua. But Stanford first got involved with Washington policy-making long before 2003, when the first reported congressional trips took place.

Our tale begins in the Clinton administration, when the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa helped jump-start a legislative push to crack down on international tax havens. At that time, Jonathan Winer, a senior State Department official under Clinton, was well aware of Stanford's offshore activities.

"In the late '90s, Stanford came to my attention ... because he was reaching out to people in our government to say he was a good guy and we should be comfortable with him," Winer, now a senior vice president at APCO Worldwide in Washington, told me.

"He hired people to reform Antigua's banking system, which was overwhelmed by offshore banks and shell banks [but] he was also regulated by the entity governing the sector that he was spending money to organize in what was characterized as a clean-up. We thought that was a conflict and inappropriate."

Meanwhile, as Time reported three years later, the attempt to tighten money laundering rules got pushback from ... guess who? (emphasis mine)

Read More →

Norm Coleman is off to a rough start this morning, with the Minnesota election court having just formally denied his request for them to reconsider their ruling last week to stop him from advocating for certain rejected absentee ballots.

This isn't a big surprise, but it has some interesting ramifications. The court handed down a ruling on Friday that Coleman didn't like, because it immediately cut off about a thousand ballots that he wanted to put in the count. He then immediately turned around and asked them to change their minds, arguing that other ballots like these are already in the count, and the court didn't do it.

The important part here is that Coleman is establishing a record of this court shooting him down on matters of law -- which he will be practically certain to appeal should the trial end with him still losing the race. And remember that the Coleman camp is already calling out the vote count as "fatally flawed," hinting that one contingency plan for after this trial could be to seek a do-over election.

Conservative commentators are going wild over the small number of journalists who have chosen to go into the Obama administration. It's proof, they say, of the media's liberal bias. Michelle Malkin goes into a rant on this. Oh, please.

We're in economic chaos and print media is in free fall. I have no doubt that if John McCain had won, you would have seen some journalists head into the administration. In case, you missed it, no shortage of reporters love the guy.

As for the bias of those who've gone into the administration, let's take them one by one. There's my old Time colleague, Jay Carney, who is working for Biden. I don't think I'm giving away a state secret to say that more than a decade ago, as I recall, McCain had some interest in hiring Carney and the two have been friendly personally even while occasionally battling it out in print. Carney is probably one of the least partisan people I know. Jill Zuckman of the Chicago Tribune, after all, went to work for Ray LaHood, the Republican Secretary of Transportation from Illinois who she knew well from writing for the state's largest daily. Peter Gosselin of the L.A. Times, the widower of the late and much liked New York Times reporter, Robin Toner, who passed away recently, should hardly be begrudged for giving up the maelstrom of the Tribune company and Sam Zell to go work for Tim Geithner who was Hank Paulson's partner as much as he is Barack Obama's. In other words, big deal.

And even if they'd gone to work for more partisan figures or had more partisan leanings themselves, so what? I'm not sure it's a bad thing.

Besides, I'm of the school that service in government is good for journalists. I worked at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights after college and the experience has always given me a more supple understanding of how government works. Many of my colleagues from the center-left The Washington Monthly where I began my career in journalism--James Fallows, Walter Shapiro, Paul Glastris, Steven Waldman and the magazine's founder, Charles Peters--have all worked in government.

I see no one on the right complaining about Michael Gerson having gone from U.S. News & World Report to the George W. Bush administration or William Safire's exodus from the Nixon administration to The New York Times. (I realize I'm conflating columnists and reporters here, but still, the point is the same.) Left and right can bitch about the MSM but I really don't think government service, whether it's Jay Carney or Tony Snow or Chris Matthews, should really be condemned. Geoff Morrell of ABC News went to work as the Pentagon spokesman under W. Now he's still there under Bob Gates who obviously stayed. Am I supposed to be alarmed by that?

Media bias is a perennial debate and I know how many TPM readers, I'm sure, see a right leaning bias in the MSM. But it strikes me that bias and government service are different questions, each worth parsing on their own.

Labor Group Airs Ad Celebrating Stimulus Passage The labor-backed political group Americans United For Change is already going on the air with this new pro-stimulus ad, seeking to claim the political narrative in the wake of the bill's final passage into law:

The ad is running on national cable and in the D.C. media market -- so it's essentially aimed at the political classes, with the key message that there remains more work to be done.

Obama Delivering Speech Today On Mortgage Relief President Obama is spending the morning in Phoenix, Arizona, where he will deliver a 12:15 p.m. ET speech on his mortgage relief plan, which would reportedly involve the government setting out to reduce foreclosures by providing subsidies and other incentives to help lower payments costs, and to encourage the renegotiation of loan terms. He will then head back to Washington, with a scheduled 5:45 p.m. ET arrival back at the White House.

Biden Meeting With Middle Class Task Force -- And Ryan Crocker Vice President Biden is having lunch today with members of the Middle Class Task Force, the White House effort chaired by Biden to study everyday economic conditions and make policy recommendations. Then in the afternoon, he will be meeting with Ryan Crocker, the Bush-appointed U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, for a closed-door meeting to discuss the situation in that country.

WaPo: Palin Caught Between Alaska, National Politics The Washington Post takes a look at Sarah Palin's political life these days, revealing a pol who is caught between the competing pressures of her state and national political lives, and whose every moved is analyzed with an eye towards 2012. "There's nothing we can do to stop it," said Palin aide Joe Balash. "People wonder why she's doing something or not doing something."

Two Ohio Dems Jump Into 2010 Senate Race Ohio Democrats now have a primary for the open Senate seat of retiring GOP Senator George Voinovich, with both Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and Lt. Governor Lee Fisher both declaring their candidacies yesterday. Both of them should be considered serious candidates for the primary and general elections, while the Republicans have rallied around former Rep. Rob Portman.

GOP Leaders Talk Up Pro-Life Issues, Ahead of Pelosi's Papal Visit Roll Call reports that John Boehner and Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) have sent a letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops praising Cardinal Justin Rigali for his work on pro-life issues -- and which just so happens to have been sent ahead of Nancy Pelosi's upcoming visit with the Pope. A GOP source told the paper that that the letter "certainly points to the very real difference" between political leaders who side with the church's teachings and those who ignore them.

GOP Candidate On The Air For Gillibrand's House Seat The Republican National Committee has launched this ad for Jim Tedisco, the GOP candidate for Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat:

Tedisco has a serious chance of winning the March 31 special election, as he goes into the race with much higher name recognition as the state Assembly minority leader than does Democratic businessman Scott Murphy. If the GOP can pick up the seat, they'll be able to claim a significant boost in their desired narrative of a party staging a comeback.

Today's developments in the Minnesota election trial make even clearer the extent to which the Coleman team are casting doubt on the whole election result -- indeed, they're using the sort of language that could lead one to believe they'll try for a do-over.

At Coleman lawyer/spokesman Ben Ginsberg's post-court press conference today (c/o The Uptake), unveiled this new line: "You saw today in the testimony of Scott and Carver counties, why Al Franken's current lead -- and I use that term euphemistically -- is based on illegal votes."

Ginsberg also said that the variation across the state in how absentee ballots were screened for acceptance or rejection made this "a fatally-flawed election."

Read More →

Poor House Republicans. They were pretty psyched yesterday about that new troops-rallying video from Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) that used Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle" to declare that "The House GOP is back" thanks to the party's unanimous opposition to the stimulus.

But unfortunately, Aerosmith wasn't feeling the love. Cantor's clip has been pulled from YouTube after a copyright infringement claim made by Stage Three Music, which owns the rights to "Back in the Saddle."

The GOP's use of the tune "was something we, as the publishers, didn't approve and would not have approved without going to the writers," Connie Ashton, director of copyright and licensing at Stage Three, told me. "Aerosmith did not approve of its use and also wanted to have it taken down," she added.

Ashton added that House Republicans never contacted Stage Three to put in a request for use of "Back in the Saddle." Maybe they assumed it was okay because Joe Perry endorsed McCain last year.

As the Los Angeles Times' report yesterday observing liberals' frustration with President Obama echoes elsewhere in the mainstream media, it's worth noting that some groups on the left are maintaining a healthy independence from the administration.

One good example: Obama announced today that he will send upwards of 10,000 troops to Afghanistan before the conclusion of his internal strategy review on the state of the so-called "forgotten war" in South Asia.

Former Maine Democratic congressman Tom Andrews, now the chair of the Win Without War coalition, thoughtfully asked Obama today to consider whether adding more troops amounts to "digging an even bigger hole" in Afghanistan despite diplomatic urging to reconsider a military escalation. Here's Andrews' statement in full (followed by Obama's statement on the troop increase):

Read More →

The much-touted website,, is up and running. I got some (somewhat deserved) grief for dissing the site, designed to track stimulus spending, when President Obama first mentioned it. The site was blank, reflecting the fact that the stimulus bill had yet to pass. My point, which I didn't articulate very well, is why waste the valuable, president-touted real estate with a blank page when you could use it to promote the bill before it becomes a lens into how the money is spent after the bill becomes law. That said, it's up and running now and meeting mixed reviews. Nancy Scola at techPresident has a take on what's working and what's not on the site.

The larger question of transparency in government and whether technology can bring a real change is being pursued by a lot of smart people including Ellen Miller at the Sunlight Foundation, Micah Sifry at techPresident, and Craig Newmark of Craigslist fame. Will be following all of this in the coming weeks because it's so essential to Obama's promises of changing Washington.

If you read the major news media's reporting this week on the executive compensation limits that were included in today's newly-signed stimulus law, you'd think the pay caps were one of those sneaky, dark-of-night maneuvers on the part of Senate Democrats.

The Chicago Tribune says the compensation rules were "inserted at the last minute" into the stimulus. USA Today goes with "thrown in at the last minute," while CBS News makes the dramatic claim that Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) "slipped in [the] little-noticed provision."

Incredible! If only it were true. Dodd's CEO pay limits were added to the Senate's stimulus plan by voice vote, with no objection from either party, more than 10 days ago.

It was only the fact that the pay caps survived an attempt to slice them from the bill that was at all unexpected. Two other strong proposals to limit compensation at bailed-out banks were yanked from the stimulus at the last minute -- not added.

In fact, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), the House Financial Services Committee member who first blew the whistle on the attempts to scrap the pay caps, reminded Fox Business Channel of the truth during a weekend interview. We've got the video for you after the jump.

Read More →

Some new figures out on the surge in the number of Americans losing health insurance: 14,000 a day, according to new post at The Wonk Room . On one hand this is not surprising because the number moves up pretty much in tandem with the unemployment rate but it is surprising in another sense because COBRA law which provides for health insurance for up to 18 months after being laid off should have kept the uninsured from surging. COBRA, though, is impossibly expensive. You have to pick up your health insurance cost and what your employer was providing and this is clearly too much for most of the newly unemployed. Some good news: The stimulus package being signed today includes $87 billion in health care related spending and a big COBRA subsidy, at least for now.