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The acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms And Explosives (ATF) and the U.S. Attorney for Arizona have resigned their posts in the wake of a scandal involving a program aimed at stopping gun trafficking on the Mexican border. ATF Director Ken Melson and U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke announced their resignations on Tuesday.

An Obama administration official told TPM that the White House and Justice Department were not prejudging the investigations of Operation Fast and Furious being conducted by DOJ's Inspector General and the House Oversight Committee. But the official said that both ATF and the federal prosecutor's office in Arizona had critical public safety missions they needed to carry out and that it was important for proper leadership to be in place.

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DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is planning on disbursing a $500,000 grant in November for interstellar starship research.

Though the agency's plan sounds more like subject matter for a prequel episode of Battlestar Galactica, the agency is hoping starship research will lead to very real advances in science and industry.

The $500,000 award on November 11, 2011 will be the culmination of a year-long project that was designed to make researchers think big about issues with long time horizons in space travel.

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The local AFL-CIO council in Wausau, Wisconsin, is getting some pushback for its decision to disinvite local Republican politicians from the upcoming Labor Day parade as a result of Gov. Scott Walker's anti-public employee union legislation. Now, the mayor of that city is demanding that the unions re-invite the Republicans -- or reimburse the city for the costs it has agreed to bear for the public event.

On Monday, Wausau Mayor Jim Tipple released the following statement:

The City is a co-sponsor of the Labor Day parade event, because we provided the payment for the insurance premium for the event, and we agreed to erect a stage and provide city services at no cost to the Marathon County Central Labor Council.

The banning of a political party from participation at any event co-sponsored by the City is against public policy and not in the best interest of all the citizens of the City of Wausau. And therefore, we encourage the event organizer to invite all interested parties, or reimburse the city for other costs.

In an interview with TPM, Tipple said that the city's costs for the parade could vary, based on the parade route, but typically range from $1,500-$2,000.

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President Barack Obama on Tuesday pushed back against GOP charges that he is saddling the nation with costly and overly burdensome regulations. In fact, Obama argued, he has led the way in trying to reduce the federal government's regulatory costs on individuals and businesses across the country.

In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Obama said his efforts to reduce the government's regulatory burden will save $10 billion over the next five years, adding that he hopes to find billions more in additional savings. Earlier this year, Obama issued an executive order imposing a series of requirements designed to reduce burdens and costs and called for a government-wide review of rules now on the books.

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If you're trying to institute a new paradigm in the field of federal disaster relief, you could use a better ally than former FEMA Director Michael Brown, better known to most of you as "Heckuva Job" Brownie.

He's the former International Arabian Horse Association Commissioner and the guy many blame for bungling the federal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He's also the first high-profile person in with experience in the field of disaster management to back the new GOP requirement that federal disaster aid be offset with federal spending cuts.

On Fox News Tuesday, Brown gave the policy his seal of approval.

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With four national polls in the last week showing Texas Gov. Rick Perry ahead of the field in the race for the GOP presidential nomination, it looks more like the contention that former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney was a weak frontrunner has proved true. But as the primary season prepares to kick into high gear, how has Perry moved to the front so quickly? Numbers released on Tuesday from a Public Policy Polling (D) poll of crucial primary state South Carolina tell the story not just of Perry's new dominance of conservative voters, and Romney's weakness on the right, but of more concern for him -- they show a real vulnerability in the center as well.

The fact that Perry is now dominating in South Carolina, a conservative state, is probably not news to campaign watchers. The PPP survey shows him with 36 percent of the potential vote, followed by Romney with 16 and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) at 13, the second poll in five days to show Perry with a big lead. But the crosstabs show that Romney, the presumed "moderate" candidate (or at least more moderate), cannot even defend his own turf in the middle of the GOP electorate in a conservative state. He faces an implacable right wing of the party, which is fully in Perry's column, and moderate sect that is willing to support Perry despite his more strident views.

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Mitt Romney took a pointed dig at Rick Perry in his own home state on Tuesday, alluding to his lack of business experience in an address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in San Antonio.

"I am a conservative businessman," Romney told the VFW audience, which Perry had addressed the day before. "I have spent most of my life outside of politics, dealing with real problems in the real economy. Career politicians got us into this mess and they simply don't know how to get us out."

Romney has been playing up his private sector experience in the 2012 race, hoping to distinguish himself from fellow governor Perry, and it's likely the "career politicians" line is going to get a lot of spin before the race is over.

Romney began with a riff on the economy, but the audience was there for a foreign policy speech and that's what he delivered. Expanding on the themes of his "No Apologies" book, Romney repeatedly painted President Obama as a weak and ineffectual leader who kowtowed to tyrants.

The Obama administration, Romney said, "leaves us with the belief that America should become a lesser power. It flows from the conviction that if we are weak, tyrants will choose to be weak as well; that if we could just talk more, engage more, pass more U.N. resolutions, that peace will bill break out. That may be what they think in that Harvard faculty lounge, but it's not what they know on the battlefield."

But Romney crafted his anti-Obama message long before the president initiated a bombing campaign against Libya, which has all but destroyed dictator Moammar Qaddafi's regime and killed many of his family members. He also crafted it before the President ordered the death of Osama Bin Laden in an operation where he deliberately kept US ally Pakistan in the dark.

The president's increasingly hawkish resume sits uncomfortably with the "weak" message, but Romney did his best to square the circle. He detached Bin Laden's death from any White House action by playing up the Navy SEAL mission as a bipartisan affair, telling the crowd that "the final image that Osama bin Laden took with him straight to Hell" was not an elephant or donkey but an American flag. For Romney, it seems, that if on 9/11/01 we were all Americans, then on 5/2/11 we all ordered the Abottabad raid.

On Libya, Romney repeated a familiar GOP line that Obama had failed to explain the mission to the public or define its goals. Speaker Boehner has employed similar rhetoric, which has the benefit of appealing to both pro- and anti-intervention Republicans. Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul firmly opposed the NATO operation, while Romney supported the decision to attack Qaddafi's forces.

"Today, Qaddafi is on the run and we congratulate the Libyan people and the extraordinary professionalism of our men and women in the armed services," Romney said. "But when a president sends our men and women into harm's way, he must first explain their mission, define its success, plan for their victorious exit, provide them with the best weapons and armor in the world, and properly care for them when they come home." Unmentioned was the fact that so far not a single American soldier has died in the Libya operation.

While Romney pledged to cut waste in defense, he accused Obama of endangering the military by agreeing to "a budget process that could entail cutting defense spending by $850 billion." The number refers to the debt ceiling agreement between President Obama and House Republicans, which cuts defense spending $350 billion over the next decade but also includes a trigger that will automatically cut an additional $500 billion over the same period if a bipartisan committee can't agree to savings elsewhere. As Romney noted in the speech, incoming Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned the triggered cuts would be severe if enacted.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Romney and Perry's two VFW speeches is that the party does not have a clear post-Bush consensus on foreign policy at the moment beyond unconditional support for Israel and a general suspicion of international institutions. It's an economy-focused election so this isn't entirely surprising, but it also speaks to real disagreements within the GOP. Conservative commentators took note that Perry winked at both the more neoconservative and isolationist camps in the GOP in his VFW speech on Monday, condemning "military adventurism" while also calling on Americans to "renew our commitment to taking the fight to the enemy wherever they are before they strike at home." And that's nothing compared to some of the lower-tier candidates' contortions.

"Super Committee" co-chairs Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) have announced that the panel's top staffer will be senior Republican Senate Finance Committee aide Mark Prater.

"The know-how and experience Mark brings to this difficult task is exactly what we agreed must be the top priority for the staff serving all the members of this Committee," Murray and Hensarling said in an official statement. "Mark has a well-earned reputation for being a workhorse who members of both parties have relied on. We look forward to working with him and are confident that his approach and expertise will be valuable as we weigh the difficult but necessary choices ahead."

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