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Several credit card companies are enjoying quite the holiday season, as their effort to transform themselves into banks has successfully allowed them to access TARP funds. American Express, Discover and Capital One are all getting billions from Santa Paulson.

Also, if you want to see Obama appoint a special prosecutor for torture, Ari Melber gives you an opportunity to make your voice heard at change.gov.

And, does anybody else think it is a little ironic that the United States is prosecuting the son of the former Liberian leader for torture, while Dick Cheney is on television defending the use of torture in the Bush administration?

The Treasury Department just bought a $5 billion stake in GMAC, and lent an additional $1 billion to GM, according to Bloomberg News:  

Treasury said it will purchase a $5 billion stake in GMAC, and lend $1 billion to GM so the automaker can participate in a rights offering at GMAC to support the lender’s reorganization as a bank holding company. The loan is in addition to $13.4 billion the Treasury agreed earlier this month to lend to GM and Chrysler LLC.

The fresh capital from the Treasury’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program will enable GMAC to expand lending to car buyers, which in turn may help save GM.

My eyes are starting to glaze over with all this talk of billions and bailouts. A few billion here, a few billion there... but as I'm reading along, I come across this:

American Express Co., the biggest U.S. card company by sales, and CIT Group Inc., the biggest independent commercial lender last year, won capital infusions last week after converting into banks.

Uh... what? Did you just say that a credit card company is getting money from TARP?

I didn't hear anything about American Express getting a bailout but then again, I wasn't really paying much attention last week because of the holidays. But yes, in fact, American Express announced on December 23rd that they would be receiving $3.39 billion from TARP. Ho! Ho! Ho! Santa came early for AmEx. Apparently they are not the only credit card company to get a nice big chunk of our tax dollars for the holidays - Discover and Capital One are getting in on the action too.

What makes this even more infuriating is that the CFO of American Express says publicly that they probably could have paid off their debt without TARP funds:

American Express Chief Financial Officer Daniel Henry said in October that that company had $24 billion of debt maturing over the next 12 months. While the lender would probably have been able to pay that off, gaining access to TARP removes any concern, said Shane from Jefferies.

Yes, let's throw billions at a friggin' credit card company to spare them from any "concern." But don't worry about them too much. AmEx's third-quarter profit was still a hefty $815 million. And, a compensation report filed by AmEx in March 2008 shows that the CEO's total compensation package was worth about $26.2 million.

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Do you think any of the consumers paying sky-high interest rates will get a bailout as well? Mmmm, I doubt it. In fact some credit card companies are raising rates, even for those who pay on time. That includes at least two credit card companies that are benefiting from the government bailout:

The Citibank unit of Citigroup and American Express have been notifying groups of cardholders that they will raise their regular interest rates by 2 to 3 percentage points. In addition, AmEx is raising its rates on cash advances, late payments and defaults, increasing its foreign-exchange fees to 2.7% from 2% on its consumer and small-business cards, and eliminating ways to earn rewards on one of its popular cards.

My reaction? We - the American taxpayer - are getting Fucked. With a capital F.

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Change.gov is apparently open for comments again, although I wasn't aware that they had ever stopped taking comments and questions. Ari Melber at The Nation urges you to go to Change.gov and vote for the question regarding a special prosecutor for torture. Apparently only the top 5 questions receive answers and this question was #6 last time:

Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor (ideally Patrick Fitzgerald) to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?

That question ranked sixth in voting last time -- out of over 10,000 submissions -- but the transition team only answered the top five questions. Now that Vice President Cheney confessed his support for waterboarding on national television, flouting the rule of law, the issue is even more urgent. Activist Bob Fertik, who has submitted the question twice, explains how you can vote to press this issue on the transition team:

Sign in at http://change.gov/...
Search for "Fitzgerald" [...and] find our question
Look right for the checkbox, mouseover it so it goes from white to dark, then click to cast your vote

I just did it and it is pretty easy, although you have to have an account at change.gov to search and vote on questions. There are a few questions about Fitzgerald now, so I searched for "Fitzgerald torture" and it was easier to find.

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Isn't it interesting that the U.S. Justice Department is prosecuting the son of a former foreign leader for torture, while at the same time Dick Cheney is defending the Bush administration's use of torture on national television?

U.S. prosecutors want a Miami judge to sentence the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor to 147 years in prison for torturing people when he was chief of a brutal paramilitary unit during his father's reign.

Charles McArthur Emmanuel, also known as Charles "Chuckie" Taylor Jr. is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 9 by U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga. His conviction was the first use of a 1994 law allowing prosecution in the U.S. for acts of torture committed overseas.

A recent Justice Department court filing describes torture -- which the U.S. has been accused of in the war on terror -- as a "flagrant and pernicious abuse of power and authority" that warrants severe punishment of Mr. Taylor.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to see prosecutions occurring for the atrocities committed in Liberia. It is just rather ironic that it is our Justice Department doing the prosecuting. Human Rights Watch applauded the conviction and said that it sends the signal there can be no impunity for serious crimes such as torture. I guess we'll see about that, huh?

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Speaking of Guantanamo and torture, Vanity Fair has an interesting "oral history" of the Bush administration. If you are looking for some reading material for the long holiday weekend, this would be a good one. From the intro:

The threat of 9/11 ignored. The threat of Iraq hyped and manipulated. Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. Hurricane Katrina. The shredding of civil liberties. The rise of Iran. Global warming. Economic disaster. How did one two-term presidency go so wrong? A sweeping draft of history—distilled from scores of interviews—offers fresh insight into the roles of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and other key players.

Bob Herbert argues that the man who created all those problems shouldn't be allowed to slip quietly out of town.

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The New Yorker reports that Laura Bush is quite busy (when she is not publicly hyping the Bush Legacy Project) meeting with potential publishers for her memoirs. However, I guess the response is somewhat... uninspired:

The reception to Mrs. Bush’s pitch has been mixed so far. “She was not forthcoming about anything that I would consider controversial,” the publisher who met with her said. “We questioned her rigorously, but it was one-word answers. I considered it the worst, or the most frustrating, meeting of its sort that I’ve ever had.” He added, “But she really couldn’t have been nicer.” He said that his company would not be making an offer on the book, which was expected to sell for a couple of million dollars.

“I chose not to meet with her,” a publisher at another company said. “I got the impression that everyone was totally underwhelmed by her. That’s why there’s so little buzz.”

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The Presidential Inaugural Committee is announcing an essay contest today. 10 winners will receive tickets to the inauguration, as well as airfare and lodging in Washington:

To qualify, entrants must submit an essay at www.pic2009.org/tickettohistory that answers the question: "What does this inaugural mean to you?"

The deadline is midnight (ET) Jan. 8. The winners will be chosen by the inaugural committee's staff.

Participants will also be "encouraged" to donate to the Inauguration, although organizers say a donation is not required.

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Chris Cillizza, political reporter for the Washington Post, believes that Kay Hagan ran the best Senate campaign of the 2008 election cycle:

Hagan got into the race as a virtually unknown candidate both in North Carolina and nationally, but quickly showed a capacity to raise money that opened the eyes of many people in Washington. On her first trips to the nation's capital, she wowed even the most cynical of party operatives with a charisma about campaigning and a no-nonsense approach to what needed to be done to beat Dole.

His runner-up is Susan Collins, whose 23-point victory is pretty impressive in what was a very bad year for Republicans.

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Speaking of Senate campaigns, what on earth is going on in Minnesota? The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the recount "spiraled deeper into confusion and bickering" yesterday:

Campaign lawyers held dueling news conferences, accusing the other side of trying to prevent an agreement. And even Gelbmann, who at one point asked lawyers from both campaigns to remain "civil," said a late proposal from Coleman -- to review 654 more votes atop the 1,346 absentee ballots that local officials had already agreed were mistakenly rejected -- threatened to derail the process.

Is it really any wonder that Coleman wants to "derail the process" when he no longer has the advantage? Local election officials will meet today across Minnesota to examinee the absentee ballots mentioned in the article. The Star Tribune believes Franken will have the advantage from those ballots, based on their analysis. Will Minnesota get a Senator for the New Year?

TPM reports that Harry Reid has not stated whether or not he would seat Al Franken on a provisional basis, if he is declared the winner of the recount. Senator Klobuchar first suggested it over the weekend.

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So what's on your mind this morning? I'm thinking about my credit card and how I wrote to Citibank a few weeks ago asking them to reduce my interest rate because I have been a long-time cardholder in good standing. Of course, they said no. Can I say no to giving them any of my tax dollars?  

Originally posted to Kula2316 on Tue Dec 30, 2008 at 12:35 AM PST.

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