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At this point it's all but certain that the Democrats will be able to ratify the new START treaty before the end of the week. Yesterday was a breakthrough, as key on-the-fence Senators announced their support or near support. But the dam fully broke this morning when Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) -- the Senate's third-ranking Republican -- broke with his leadership team, including anti-START ringleader Jon Kyl, to announce his support.

"I will vote to ratify the new START treaty," Alexander said on the Senate floor. Even after the arms reductions the treaty demands, Alexander said, the US will still have enough weapons to blow "enemies" to "kingdom come."

He joins Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) as the most recent Republican to announce their intent to support the treaty; Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) is widely expected to solidify his support for the treaty as well.

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Through a Freedom of Information Act request, TPM obtained government reports on the plane crash that killed Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), which included these photos of the wreckage. Some have been published before, and some haven't. Several are available below.

[TPM SLIDESHOW: The Senator From Alaska: Ted Stevens' Political Career]

Much of the information included in the reports obtained by TPM were included in the Washington Post's comprehensive story of the plane crash, which included interviews with survivors of the accident. Selections from the preliminary report and follow up report on the crash -- which took place on Aug. 9 about 10 miles northeast of Aleknagik, Alaska -- are available here.

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Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced his support for the START nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Russia, becoming a key Republican backer who brings some momentum to the Obama administration's efforts to get to the Constitution's required 67 votes for ratification.

"Madam President, I will vote to ratify the new START treaty with Russia -- because it leaves our country with enough nuclear warheads to blow any attacker to Kingdom Come, and because the president has committed to an $85 billion, ten-year plan to make sure that those weapons work," Alexander said on the Senate floor just now.

"I will vote for the treaty because it allows for inspection of Russian warheads, and because our military leaders say it does nothing to interfere with the development of a missile defense system. I will vote for the treaty because the last six Republican Secretaries of State support its ratification. In short, I'm convinced that Americans are safer and more secure with the new START treaty than without it."

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When the Federal Election Commission decided in November to close a complaint against Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), it ignored the recommendation of its general counsel.

According to just-released documents, in March the general counsel -- a non-partisan office of the FEC -- found that there was "reason to believe" that Ensign's parents had broken campaign finance law by giving the family of Ensign's former mistress and staffer $96,000 in April 2008.

That means the general counsel believed that a further investigation was warranted. In November, the full commission, which is made up of partisan commissioners, declined to do a further investigation and closed the matter. The FEC is not bound to follow the recommendations of its general counsel.

You can read the general counsel's report here (PDF).

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Last night was there was a rare total lunar eclipse, which occurs around once a year.
This is when the earth blocks the sun from the moon. The result, which can be seen from many places around the world for over an hour, is a darkening moon as the eclipse begins and a red moon when the sun is mostly eclipsed and the reddish reflection of the earth shows on the surface.

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FCC Expected To Approve Network Neutrality Today The Associated Press reports: "New rules aimed at prohibiting broadband providers from becoming gatekeepers of Internet traffic now have just enough votes to pass the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday. The rules would prohibit phone and cable companies from abusing their control over broadband connections to discriminate against rival content or services, such as Internet phone calls or online video, or play favorites with Web traffic. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski now has the three votes needed for approval, despite firm opposition from the two Republicans on the five-member commission."

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama and Vice President Biden will receive the presidential daily briefing at 10:05 a.m. ET. Obama will meet with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus at 10:45 a.m. ET. He does not currently have any public events scheduled for today.

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Sen. John Ensign (R-NV). Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA). Former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX). Rep. Don Young (R-AK). Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV). What do all these politicians have in common? Despite being embroiled in scandal, all have announced in the past year that the Justice Department wouldn't be pursuing charges against them.

That has put DOJ in the crosshairs of good government groups, who say they've appeared weak by shutting down high-profile investigations of members of Congress.

"Exactly what will a politician have to do for the Department of Justice to sit up and take notice?" Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said this month. "The department might as well disband the Public Integrity Section for all the good it does."

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South Carolinians literally had a ball last night celebrating the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. The secession ball, organized by the Confederate Heritage Trust -- and sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans -- reportedly featured a 45-minute theatrical play re-enacting the signing of the Ordinance of Secession, where South Carolina declared its intention to secede from the union.

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The city of Bell, CA is nearly broke after city officials used public funds to inflate their salaries, and is now facing painful cuts to the city's budget, including possibly disbanding its police department and slashing other city services.

Some of the officials in this blue-collar Los Angeles-area city made up to $96,000 a year for part-time elected positions -- 20 times the national average for a city Bell's size. Former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo, who was charged with 53 different counts, made nearly $800,000 a year. Eight Bell officials pleaded not guilty to the charges in October.

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Fox News' Shep Smith is continuing to hammer Republican senators who wouldn't pass the 9/11 first responders bill, this time calling out by name those who wouldn't appear on his show to discuss the issue.

"We called a lot of Republicans today who are in office at the moment," he said Monday afternoon. "These are the ones who told us 'no': Senators Alexander, Barrasso, Cornyn, Crapo, DeMint, Enzi, Grassley, Kyl, McConnell, Sessions, Baucus, Gregg, and Inhofe. No response from Bunning, Coburn, Ensign, Graham, Hatch, and McCain."

"Why does no one want to talk about this?" Smith asked.

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