Nation editor-at-large and host of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes.
Stocks of private equity companies, most notably Blackstone, are tanking.
Of course the magic of leverage is that a little bit of up front capital can be turned into massive profits. But on the way down, it means very little margin for error if the companies you snatch up start hemorrhaging value.
SEIU has been attempting to shine the light of accountability on Blackstone, which is one the nation's largest employers.
I try not to post here too much about the campaign, mostly because I don't quite trust myself to be completely fair at this point, but it must be said that the recent jive from the Clintons about Obama as veep is unbearably condescending. It's basically saying to all the Obama supporters (the party's black base, and young voters particularly) that you kids can get in the back of the bus, just let us drive.
But as Obama , it's a bit rich for the candidate who's won a) less states b) less votes and c) less delegates to be offering the other candidate a spot on her ticket. And it's even harder to take when you consider that the Clinton campaign spends half its time saying Barack Obama isn't ready to be Commander in Chief and the other half of their time saying what a great Vice President he would make.
Well, I don't have much to add to all the frenetic speculation and schaundenfraude following word that Eliot Spitzer has been linked to a prostitution ring. But the whole sordid mess reminded me of this Mark Twain quote:
Every one is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows anybody.
Te-Ping and I were just discussing this, and wondering whether it's the case a)that success in electoral politics requires a degree of hubris and ego-mania that also leads high-profile politicians to transgress and believe they won't be caught or b) any random sampling of people subjected to the scrutiny of elected officials would yield a roughly similar amount of improprieties, and sins.
This week, the House is scheduled to take up HR 895, which would establish an independent Office of Congressional Ethics. (No guarantee, however, on whether it will actually go to a vote, as the same proposal has been pulled for the past two weeks running.) Also on the table are possible considerations of FISA and the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2008, which would ban the CIA from waterboarding detainees. President Bush vetoed the latter measure this weekend, citing fear that it would prevent the White House from deterring terrorist attacks: "This is no time for Congress to abandon practices that have a proven track record of keeping America safe," he said. (For the current issue of the Washington Monthly, which interrogates the moral failings of torture, as well as its track record of producing false confessions, see here.)
Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary will vote on nominations and mark up a bill to set new parameters around the state secrets privilege. Senate committees will mark up two mortgage bills, legislation on hurricanes Katrina and Rita recovery, and a bill reauthorizing Bush's global AIDS plan. The Senate will host hearings on appropriations, waste and fraud in Iraq, armed forces readiness, national infrastructure improvement and voter disenfranchisement. The House hosts hearings on net neutrality, Bush's signing statement on the 2008 Defense Authorization bill, the U.S. response to Iraqi refugees, homeland security and the Congressional perspective on war powers.
Both the House and Senate will also begin debating their respective budget resolutions this week. The debates will center largely on whether to let Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts expire--expect the proceedings, as well, to serve as a Republican platform for assault on issues like Sens. Obama and Clinton's proposed healthcare spending.
Today, the WSJ reports that NSA--once confined to foreign surveillance--has built a domestic surveillance program that can sift through individuals' phone records, email subject lines and destinations, financial transactions, Internet searches and sites visited. All without judicial warrants.
It's like the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness program (eliminated in 2003 over concerns it was too intrusive), except with even less privacy protection.
With the House continuing its tussle over ethics reform this week, now seems like an apt moment to pause and highlight the simultaneous, ongoing Senate refusal to evolve on issues of campaign finance disclosure.
While House and presidential candidates are required to file their disclosures electronically (enabling anyone to readily search them online within 24 hours through databases like Opensecrets.org), the Senate ploddingly continues to insist on filing in paper form. Accordingly, to see Senate disclosures before they're entered in the FEC electronic database (a process that can take weeks or months), anyone feeling inquisitive must make a special pilgrimage to leaf through a candidate's paper trail--some that run as long as 3,400 pages.
It's tough to defend the absurd system (which requires the government to pay $250,000 for a contractor in Fredericksburg, Virginia to laboriously re-type candidate reports); not surprisingly, few Senate members vocally defend the practice. Nevertheless, while Sens. Feingold (D-Wis.) and Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced electronic filing legislation last spring, their bill was stymied by secret Republican holds (a rather ignoble parliamentary move, banned last fall, that permitted any member object to legislation while remaining anonymous--for details, see Slate's run-down on the practice here).
In the House….Over a decade after its initial introduction, the Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equality Act--which requires more generous coverage for the 113 million Americans suffering from mental illness and addiction--won passage in a 268-148 vote. Though the vote is a substantial victory for Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), who suffers from bipolar disorder and was the bill's chief sponsor, resolving differences with the less stringent Senate-passed legislation, backed by business and insurance groups (as well as Kennedy's father), remains still another battle. (President Bush opposes the House-passed bill.) Meanwhile, the House skirmish over an independent ethics office continued, as amendments to Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.)'s proposal failed to placate Democratic or Republican concerns about the agency, and Speaker Pelosi again pulled a scheduled floor vote to decide its creation.
In the Senate…After four days' emotional debate (in which the mother of two boys poisoned by toys containing lead testified), members joined the House in an overwhelming vote to overhaul the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The Senate bill increases the commission's funding, bans lead from children's toys, allows manufacturers to be sued for up to $20 million and creates a public consumer database for logging faulty products. The White House objects to the creation of such a database, but with this week's 78-21 vote, overhaul legislation has passed both chambers by veto-proof margins.
In another development this week--and a possible signal that the impasse over confirmations is lifting--the Senate confirmed Mark Filip as deputy attorney general. The decision to award a $40-billion Air Force contract to the European parent of Airbus (and not Boeing, which has held similar contracts for the past 50 years) touched off controversy, with House lawmakers threatening to quash the contract unless the Pentagon explained its rationale. As the House GOP continued to heckle Democrats for their pro-pork proclivities, Speaker Pelosi declared she wouldn't stand for the assault--which Democrats call hypocritical--any longer. Since the Democrats took the Congressional reins, they've imposed a one-year earmark ban, reduced earmarks by 43 percent and created new earmark disclosure rules. "My patience is running out on earmarks,'' she told reporters waspishly. "We'll have them or we won't have them. We won't spend a lot of time talking about them.''
Meanwhile, Senate and House Budget Committees backed a $3-trillion budget blueprint, which ratifies Bush's proposed 7% increase in Pentagon funding, but allows the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts to expire. Both blueprints--passed in a party-line vote--would additionally award greater-than-inflation increases to domestic programs, a proposal that Bush swiftly responded to by threatening to veto future spending bills.
Also this week, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced a resolution that classifies any Bush attempt to forge a long-term military and diplomatic agreement with the Iraqi government as a treaty, and accordingly in need of Congressional approval. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) demanded an investigation into how a multi-billion dollar loophole that exempts companies working on U.S. government projects overseas from reporting contract abuse was slipped into DOJ-proposed rules last May.
Here in the United States, overseas tax evasion enjoys a bizarre degree of acceptance, with some tax avoidance purveyors even going so far as to try and patent some of their fancier schemes. But today's Boston Globe report, which details how Kellogg Brown & Root--the nation's top Iraq War contractor (financed with $16 billion in public funds)--has neatly sidestepped some $500 million in Medicare and Social Security taxes through use of shell companies in the Cayman Islands, should hopefully raise some eyebrows.
In the meantime, for more on KBR's pernicious backstory (involving bribe-taking, charging $45 per can of soda and receiving prostitutes as presents), check out last month's investigation from the Chicago Tribune. You can also read about the Levin-Coleman-Obama bill to curb overseas tax evasion here.