TPM News

The Pulitzer Prize Board announced today that it is loosening restrictions for online-only entries. Any entries that come from a text-based news site that publishes at least weekly can now be considered.

Last year, only entries from sites "primarily dedicated to original news reporting and coverage of ongoing events" were eligible, disqualifying sites devoted largely to aggregation.

The board has been widening eligibility requirements for online-only material since 1999, according to the press release.

Private contractors employed by the Defense Department in Afghanistan will continue to outnumber the size of the American troop presence, even after President Obama sends 30,000 more soldiers to fight in the war, according to the military's most recent contractor count.

The latest figure on DOD contractors in the country is a whopping 104,100, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command tells TPM. That number, which is expected to grow, is already greater than the 98,000 U.S. troops that will be in the country after the new deployments.

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White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that social secretary Desiree Rogers will not testify before a Congressional panel investigating the security breach at the state dinner.

Gibbs also said that starting last night when the first of the White House holiday parties began they implemented new procedures for a second level of checks.

He said that as the Secret Service reviewed its procedures that allowed Michaele and Tareq Salahi to get into the dinner last week without an invitation, White House staffers did a review of the internal process to make sure their own system supports the Secret Service.

At the party last night there were social office staff at security checkpoints to verify invitees in case there was confusion, he said.

"We've made those changes as of last night," Gibbs said.

Reporters pressed whether Rogers was in any trouble for the security breach since social office staffers weren't at the gate last week.

Gibbs said the president and first lady "think she has done a terrific and wonderful job," and mocked the reporter who asked about Rogers, saying the scribe was like his young son.

In a short, light-hearted segment this afternoon, Fox News anchors Jon Scott and Jane Skinner talked about West Point cadets who were dozing during President Obama's speech on a new Afghanistan war strategy.

They were wearing hot wool uniforms, Scott said, and they had been sitting in the auditorium for four hours. Skinner pointed out that cadets typically get up before dawn.

Oh, and this:

"Sitting in those suits with a lot of hot air going around in there," Skinner said.

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David Hoffman, a former Chicago Inspector General and candidate in the Democratic primary for President Obama's former Senate seat, has a new TV ad trumpeting his anti-corruption credentials.

"As Inspector General, I stood up to City Hall, exposing corruption and taxpayer ripoffs. And as a federal prosecutor, I stood up to gang leaders and corporate crooks," says Hoffman. It's a message that could potentially have some appeal in a state that has been reeling from the scandals surrounding impeached former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and the appointment of Sen. Roland Burris.

The primary will be held February 2. The other Democratic candidates are state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and Chicago Urban League president Cheryle Robinson Jackson.

Three of the candidates in the Massachusetts special election for Senate have new ads out -- with a lot of invocation of the late Ted Kennedy.

The primary is being held this Tuesday -- in a state where the Democratic nomination is tantamount to election -- with state Attorney General Martha Coakley currently in the lead in public polls. The race is a once-in-a-generation event for Massachusetts. The last time they had an open-seat Senate race was in 1984, and before that the last time was 1966.

Rep. Mike Capuano talks about the lessons he's learned from the Kennedy. "I'm proud to have voted in favor of health care reform, keeping Ted's dream alive," says Capuano -- a shot at Coakley's attacks against the bill due to the Stupak Amendment.

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If you were wondering what the White House views as the most pernicious distortions in the health care debate, a new fact check might shed some light on that.

"As the Senate debate gets into full swing this week, we thought we'd address a half dozen of the myths you will most certainly hear from critics of health insurance reform," writes White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer "If it feels like you have heard these arguments before, it is because you have... you have heard them over and over and over again. You heard them during the mark ups in the House and the Senate, you heard them at townhalls this summer, and you heard them on the House floor. However, repetition does not equal veracity. These claims have been proven false by independent fact checkers time and again."

The reality check, posted on the White House website, hits back at some of the most common Republican claims about the health care bill. Specifically it address their claims that reform will cut Medicare benefits, require government funding of abortion, burden small businesses with a new mandate, cost the country jobs, and raise insurance costs.

You can read the entire post here.

In a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. will encourage members of the Taliban to denounce al-Qaeda and join normal community life in Afghanistan.

The members will have to denounce al-Qaeda and violence, Clinton said, and vow to become a part of life in the community. They may be encouraged to join the Afghan security forces or other groups.

Asked by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) how they could tell if such a person was sincere, Clinton said it would be done on a case-by-case basis.

"It's a very painstaking process," she said.

Gates added that, because many join the Taliban because foot soldiers are paid, part of the strategy will focus on creating more economic opportunities for Afhganis.