They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker

When is a reporter not a reporter?

The answer: when he/she writes for a blog, according to Kentucky officials.

Back in June, Kentucky's administration abruptly banned state employees from reading blogs. They claimed that it wasn't censorship -- but the proprietor of the blog, Mark Nickolas, sued (pdf) in July, claiming that the government censored Nickolas and other blogs because they were critical of Gov. Ernie Fletcher's (R) administration.

A recent motion (pdf) by Nickolas discloses emails between Kentucky administration officials showing what is an apparently very low opinion of blogs. In deciding whether to reply to one reporter's query, one official wrote to another, "John prefers that I not to respond to bloggers since they not reports (sic)." When another official figured out that whoever was calling was actually from a publication of the National Journal Group, and thus deemed worthy of their response, the other responded, "I'll call him then."

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We're nearing the first anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe. Two Wall Street Journal reporters have a new book out, and it gives some necessary attention to an under-appreciated figure in the debacle: the former director of the Homeland Security Department's 24-hour watch command with the unlikely name of Matthew Broderick.

As head of the 24/7/365 Homeland Security Operations Center (HSOC), Broderick controlled the "eyes and ears" of the Department. As reporters Christopher Cooper and Bobby Block point out, administration officials relied on his reports of events unfolding in the Gulf. Focusing on Broderick, the authors attempt to explain one of the key frustrations of the Bush administration's response: Why did it take them so long to figure out what was going on?

The answer: Broderick. (To his credit, Broderick has accepted blame for failing to properly inform his superiors. He resigned in March to take "an offer I couldn't refuse" from a private company, according to CQ.)

The ops center Broderick ran features 24-hour watchstanders, 16 50" flat-panel monitors, and access to real-time information from all over the government and the nation. DHS describes it this way:

The Homeland Security Operations Center (HSOC) serves as the nation’s nerve center for information sharing and domestic incident management. . . . [T]he HSOC provides real-time situational awareness and monitoring of the homeland, coordinates incidents and response activities. . . . HSOC staff can apply imagery capability by cross-referencing informational data against geospatial data that can then pinpoint an image down to an exact location.

As the world has since learned, New Orleans' levees and floodwalls were collapsing in the early morning of Monday, Aug. 29, 2005. However, Broderick insisted for the next 30 hours that no breaches had occurred, and the levees had merely been "overtopped" -- "normal, typical, hurricane background stuff," he later told Senate investigators.

It wasn't until noon the next day when he confirmed news of the catastrophe to DHS Secretary Mike Chertoff.

Block and Cooper write (excerpted by the Wall Street Journal):

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AP reports that outed CIA undercover operative Valerie Plame is mulling whether to add a former Deputy Secretary of State to her suit against Bush administration figures involved in leaking her identity.

The wire service revealed yesterday that Richard Armitage, who served under former Secretary of State Colin Powell, met with the Washington Post's Bob Woodward in June. That's "the same day Woodward met with a confidential source who spoke to him about Plame," AP reports, surmising that Armitage is likely Woodward's leaker.

Qwest Joins White House Push for Mandatory Data Retention Law The telecommunications company that was recently hailed by civil libertarians for resisting the NSA's demands for domestic call data is now drawing criticism from those same groups. Qwest has endorsed a Bush administration proposal to force internet companies to keep lengthy records of their subscribers' surfing habits, so federal authorities could review them. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says the law would help fight terrorism and child exploitation. (

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From The Austin-American Statesman:

"The law that helped drive U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay from office and put two of his allies under criminal indictment can't be understood by the "man in the street," defense lawyers argued this morning.

Lawyers for Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, two DeLay lieutenants who operated Texans for a Republican Majority during the 2002 campaign, argued that the 3rd Court of Appeals should throw out indictments brought against their clients because the state's ban on corporate campaign money is confusing."

Via The Stakeholder.

After Tom DeLay dropped out last week, the Texas GOP was forced to try a Hail Mary, throwing their support behind a write-in candidate. But the candidate's name -- Shelley Sekula-Gibbs -- may be a problem.

In short, the Republican strategy is now this: tens of thousands of GOP voters will go to the polls on November 7, ignore the names printed on the ballot, and write in a hyphenated name of 20 characters (counting spaces). A long shot, for sure -- as the AP noted, only four candidates in U.S. electoral history have ever succeeded with a write-in campaign.

But it gets trickier. Voters in Texas' 22nd District will use the eSlate electronic voting machine. I decided to take it for a test drive and experience the thrill of democracy myself -- which you can do on Hart Intercivic's website.

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UPI reports:

"If we could conserve even 5 percent of gasoline we would see in a period of six to eight weeks a significant difference in the price of gas," [Shell Oil President John] Hofmeister told the Infragard National Conference, a critical infrastructure protection convention in Washington. "The political leadership has chosen not to actively promote conservation. So we continue to produce to demand and that's what keeps prices up," Hofmeister said. . . . .

Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed conservation as a viable government strategy to the nation's energy problems in a speech in 2001, when gas was reaching about $2 a gallon.

"Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy," Cheney said.

Cheney said the issue had to be addressed by increasing the supply of energy.

Tom DeLay's former aides continued to make millions off their access to the onetime majority leader even after major scandals broke, new filings show.

Alexander Strategy Group may be no more, but they had their biggest year ever in 2005 -- before abruptly closing their doors in January of this year due to the Jack Abramoff probe.

The small firm, known for its unrivaled access to Tom DeLay, pulled down $8.13 million in 2005 from big-time clients like Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), UPS, RJ Reynolds, and the U.S. Telecom Association, making 2005 the firm's biggest year yet, according to lobbying disclosure records filed last week.

$170,000 of that came from Brent Wilkes, one of the defense contractors fingered for bribing Duke Cunningham in the congressman's guilty plea.

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Is the White House mulling regime change at the Pentagon?'s Laura Rozen thinks so. "Bush has put out a quiet feeler to replace Rumsfeld in recent weeks," she wrote this morning. "He was politely turned down by at least one candidate he personally called."

Turns out bin Laden hasn't always been the ascetic figure we've come to know. For a while in the 1990s, he appears to have gone through a rather unpleasant 70's-swinger phase.

The latest Harper's Magazine has an excerpt from the autobiography of novelist Kola Boof, onetime sex slave of the al Qaeda leader. She's the same woman quoted by the London Daily Mail that we noted earlier.

So what made bin Laden's disco ball spin? Smokin' some weed, listenin' to some Van Halen or the B-52's, checkin' out the booty, and talkin' government conspiracies, according to Boof. "To this day I hear the song 'Rock Lobster' in my sleep," Boof wrote.

The man could get going on his crazy government theories, too! "He said the U.S. government was made up of 'fanatical crusaders' and that he'd once been a mind reader for the U.S. government and trained secret agents for the CIA," Boof recalled.

He loved the badonkadonks: "Everywhere I went, his eyes followed my buttocks," Boof wrote. "His lust was thick." But he still found grounds for criticism. "Your ass is too big, show me the front," he once told her.

Despite all this, his Whitney Houston obsession stayed foremost in his mind:

He explained to me that to possess Whitney he would be willing to break his color rule and make her one of his wives. I tried to hide my outrage at his racist remarks, but it would come to pass that for the entire six months that I would be trapped in his palm, Whitney Houston's was the one name that would be mentioned constantly.

"Anyway," Boof wrote, "it would later come to the point where I was sick of hearing Whitney Houston's name."

Update: Harper's has posted the excerpt here.