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I understand that you must stand for re-election as a Democrat in the very conservative state of Oklahoma. But when you said this week that the stimulus bill

became a Democrat bill and not an American bill, because [Obama] didn't use any of the Republican ideas

what were you talking about? In addition to your fondness for using the offensive, GOP-created term for your own party, you appear to believe that "American" bills are only those that Republicans help write.

SEIU National Political Director Jon Youngdahl makes a good point, saying in a statement today that you "apparently [need] a dictionary lesson in what's 'American,' and what's just 'hypocritical,'" but he may be too kind in this case. You voted this afternoon to approve the very stimulus bill you believe is un-American.

Please take some time to re-think this. And while you're doing so, repeat after me: "Democrat-IC, Democrat-IC..."

Love, Elana

In an interview with, Norm Coleman bemoaned the political limbo status created by the Minnesota election trial. That is, he lamented that he is unable to take his seat and serve in the Senate right now.

"It's frustrating," said Coleman, "because you would hope as I humbly do that you have something to add to the debate and be apart of the discussion, both back in DC and also back home."

Remember that Minnesota is currently short one Senator, as the seat is vacant because of Coleman's lawsuit and a threatened filibuster by Republicans against provisionally seating Al Franken.

This should do the trick.

Blackwater Worldwide, the contractor that emerged over the last few years as Exhibit A for ugly Americans in Iraq, has decided that the best response is to ... change its name.

And check out the name they picked: "Xe." (Apparently it's pronounced like the letter 'Z.' Raising the question: Why not just call it "Z"?)

They've also renamed Blackwater Lodge & Training Center, the subsidiary that does much of their controversial overseas operations. It's now the "U.S. Training Center Inc." (Which doesn't exactly mesh with "Xe," but whatever.)

According to the Associated Press, Blackwater (or should we say "Xe"?) president Gary Jackson said in a memo to employees, announcing the changes, that they reflect a shift in the company's focus away from private security and toward operating training facilities around the world.

You can see how "Xe" would be the obvious name to reflect such a shift.

It's not hard to guess why Blackwater (or wait, Xe) wants to get out of the private security business. In 2007, Blackwater guards opened fire in a Baghdad square, killing 17 Iraqis. Five ex-Blackwater guards were charged with voluntary manslaughter and are awaiting trial.

And recently, thanks largely to that incident and other cases where Blackwater has been accused of using excessive force, the Iraqi government declined to renew the company's contract to operate in the country. Soon after, the State Department announced that, in any case, it wouldn't renew Blackwater's contract to operate in Iraq.

No word yet on whether Iraq and State will reconsider now that that the company is called "Xe."

If you need proof of how obsessive the right-wing media gets about Democratic congressional recess, look at the "story" that was leading the Drudge Report for most of the day.

Oh, that Speaker Pelosi and her high-class, jet-setting habits! She's just the Antoinette-ish type who would oppose health care for disadvantaged kids or leave the middle class in the dust. The headline of "Hurry, Fellas, Let's Vote..." adds a nice ring of subtle sexism.

Yes, Pelosi is spending the recess meeting with Italian officials about the global financial crisis and addressing the nation's legislature. But three Republican officials are taking their own weekend trip to discuss NATO issues in Italy and Austria, as the WaPo reported. Congressional delegations abroad are a fact of recess life, and both parties embark on them.

If you want to see an extreme example of a lawmaker racing out of town after the stimulus vote, try Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). She could be heard by reporters outside the House chamber trying to book a flight out of D.C. before 3pm.

This just gets worse and worse...

Last week, as we told you, defense lawyers for Ted Stevens formally asked the judge in his case to hold the prosecution in contempt, after a string of incidents in which the government was found to have withheld information from the defense.

And now Judge Emmet Sullivan has done so, reports the Associated Press.

Last month, Sullivan ordered prosecutors to turn over FBI documents concerning a whistleblower complaint against the agent leading the investigation into the former Alaska senator.

But they didn't, provoking the wrath of Judge Sullivan:

"That was a court order," he bellowed. "That wasn't a request. I didn't ask for them out of the kindness of your hearts. ... Isn't the Department of Justice taking court orders seriously these days?"

He said he didn't want to get "sidetracked" by deciding a sanction immediately and would deal with their punishment later. But he ordered them to produce the material by the end of the day.

"That's outrageous for the Department of Justice -- the largest law firm on the planet," he said. "That is not acceptable in this court."

This is just the latest embarrassment for the Justice Department in the case. In late January, the head of the department's Public Integrity Section admitted in writing to Judge Sullivan that he erred when he said that a group of government employees, who were cited in the FBI agent's publicly-filed complaint wanted their story to be made public. Some didn't, it turned out.

Stevens, the former Alaska GOP senator, was convicted last fall of filing false disclosure reports to hide gifts from an oil-services contractor. He is appealing the conviction.

Whenever the Democratic Congress leaves town for a recess, GOPers like to take potshots based on the false notion that lawmakers are headed off for "vacations." (This past August's bizarre House Republican protest over high gas prices, in which the empty chamber floor was commandeered for the cameras was a perfect example.)

But in reality, lawmakers from both parties will use next week's recess to promote their policy goals, meet with constituents, raise money for their re-elections, and generally work their tails off. For anyone wondering what Democrats will be up to, here's an inside peek at caucus chairman Rep. John Larson's (D-CT) suggestions for promoting the stimulus bill.

The unstated goal of documents like these: generating positive news coverage of the economic recovery plan on a local level.

Looking through the vote tally at the seven House Democrats who opposed the final stimulus bill today, you see reliably right-leaning members of the party's Blue Dog Coalition: Reps. Heath Shuler (D-NC), Bobby Bright (D-AL), Walt Minnick (D-ID), Pete DeFazio (D-OR) ... hold on.

DeFazio is a stalwart liberal and member of the Progressive Caucus. Why would he vote against the bill his party and president backed so strongly?

As DeFazio explained following the vote, he believed in the bill's education and transportation goals -- though he has long decried the stimulus' shortchanging of infrastructure relative to highways. "I couldn't justify borrowing money for tax cuts," he said. Tax breaks make up more than 35% of the final stimulus bill.

"Come on, school construction?" he asked, visibly frustrated that money for that goal had been sliced from the bill. "Why did that have to come out for more tax cuts?"

When asked about the need to bridge the gap between the House and Senate bills in order to win over the three GOP votes needed to prevent a filibuster, DeFazio was as blunt as can be: "We all know that's a convenient artifice from the Senate ... do away with the filibuster or have a real filibuster. It's convenient for [the Senate]. It gives them clout to push around the House and the president."

Whether you agree with DeFazio or not, liberal Democrats have rarely felt free to buck their party on major votes in recent years. It remains to be seen how the Obama administration and DeFazio's leadership will view his stance.

It's official: Judd Gregg will vote against the stimulus package.

On the one hand this shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. His refusal to vote for it even while he was the Commerce Secretary-designate -- his recusal was effectively the same as a No vote on all cloture motions -- indicated he was never really on board.

But having him now officially against the bill, the day after he dropped his own nomination to join the cabinet, should tell us where things will be going forward. A week ago he was a bipartisan member of the Obama Administration -- and now he's a solid opponent.

The advertising campaign against them didn't matter. Entreaties from Republican governors didn't matter. House Republicans stayed united against President Obama's stimulus bill, and they looked plenty pleased about it today as the gavel came down and the measure passed despite their objections.

But don't tell Republicans that it's Obama's stimulus plan they're rejecting. GOPers are subtly aiming to capitalize on two very different numbers: the Democratic Congress' sub-30% approval rating and Obama's impressive 64% approval.

"The problem lies squarely with congressional Democrats," House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) told reporters after the vote. "My conversation with the president was clear; he said, 'it's the Speaker [Pelosi] and the Leader [Reid] running these chambers, they have the ability to control this process.'"

As the Church Lady might say, How conveeeenient.

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Earlier this week, Keith Ashdown of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, told The Hill that one troubled lobbying firm with ties to some Democratic lawmakers, "will become the majority's Waterloo on ethics."

Ashdown added: "If they do not tackle this example head-on they will look as bad as the Republicans on ethics in government."

Sounds serious! So it's worth taking a broad look at what Ashdown's talking about.

The firm under scrutiny here is the PMA Group, which was founded back in 1989 by Paul Magliocchetti, a former top aide to Rep. John Murtha.

It hasn't been a good week for the firm. On Monday, ABC News reported that, back in November, the FBI had raided the firm's northern Virginia office. The following day, the New York Times revealed that investigators were probing the possibility that Magliocchetti had funneled campaign contributions to Murtha and other lawmakers, in a quid pro quo arrangement. And the same day, The Hill added that the firm was "disintegrating," with several senior lobbyists leaving after being unable to strike a buyout deal with Magliocchetti.

PMA specializes in representing defense firms looking for federal money. And its employees are prodigious political contributors. Over the last three election cycles, they've given a total of more than $1 million to political campaigns, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics

And at the top of its list of recipients over the last two decades are two Democratic lawmakers who sit on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee: Murtha of Pennsylania, Rep. Pete Visclosky of Indiana.

Murtha appears to be most closely implicated. Aside from Magliocchetti, at least one other former Murtha aide, Julie Giardina, also works at PMA. And Dan Cunningham, another PMA staffer, is a former Hill aide who has a close relationship with Murtha, according to The Hill.

Roll Call found earlier this week that, over the last three election cycles, Murtha had received around $1.75 million from PMA and its clients. Last fall, when Murtha faced an unexpected re-election challenge after calling his constituents racist, PMA and its clients came to his aid, contributing $110,000 to Murtha's last-minute fundraising effort.

What did PMA get from Murtha? Roll Call also found that in the last two years, Murtha has steered earmarks totaling around $93 million to PMA clients.

It's also worth noting that a second company linked to Murtha, defense contractor Kuchera Indstries, was raided by the FBI in January. Over the years, Murtha has funneled over $100 million in earmarks to the firm and a related company.

It's not hard to see why Ashdown told Roll Call: "This investigation is moving in the direction of Jack Murtha."

As for Murtha's friend Visclosky, he too has personal ties to PMA. Rich Kaelin, a PMA lobbyist, was Visclosky's chief of staff in 2003.

Visclosky has raked in $196,950 from donors with ties to the firm. PMA has been Visclosky's top donor every year since 2004. And the Post-Tribune of Lake County, Indiana has found that in 2008, the congressman secured more than $20 million in earmarks for the firm's clients -- a quarter of the total earmarks he got.

So that's what we've got. So far, there's no evidence that either Murtha or Visclosky are themselves are focuses of the investigation. What this amounts to, at the moment, is a firm contributing alot of money to certain lawmakers with authority over the sphere it works in -- as well as hiring some of their former aides -- and getting earmarks from those lawmakers.

That's not evidence of a quid pro quo. But it doesn't look good, especially given the president's call for a new kind of politics. And something tells us we haven't heard the last of it.