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Contaminated spinach, suspicious green onions, E. coli-laden lettuce -- it seems like green vegetables are the newest threat to America.

Turns out there may be a reason: the Food and Drug Administration, charged with ensuring the country's food safety, hasn't gotten the funding to do the basic studies it needs to draft appropriate regulations. From today's Baltimore Sun:

Recurring outbreaks of food-borne illness from contaminated produce are "unacceptable" in today's society, the government says. But the Food and Drug Administration hasn't done much of the basic research that would let it write regulations to fix the problem.

Six years after the FDA first issued general guidance to the produce industry on how it might prevent contamination from microbes such as E. coli 0157:H7, experts say federal regulators still can't answer key questions. . . .

Without such specifics, FDA talk of regulations to protect consumers from more outbreaks like the recent ones involving fresh spinach and Taco Bell restaurants could be little more than bureaucratic saber-rattling. . . .

In a business-friendly administration, many new regulatory efforts advance slowly, if at all. But the FDA's predicament is more acute because an agencywide budget squeeze is putting disproportionate pressure on its foods program. . . .

An internal budget analysis prepared this summer, "FDA Financial Realities," concluded that the FDA's food program budget would need $176 million more in 2007 to provide roughly the same level of service as it did in 2003.

Pentagon Moving Forward on Gitmo Courthouse "Although the Pentagon estimates that no more than 80 of the 400 or so terrorism detainees here will ever be tried, it is moving forward with plans for a $125-million legal complex.

"Air Force Col. Morris Davis, chief prosecutor of the suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban supporters, says he expects to file charges against 10 to 20 prisoners soon after new trial rules are presented to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates next month.

"The Supreme Court in June found the Bush administration's military tribunal system unconstitutional, and Congress passed the Military Commission Act in September to replace it. But less than 20% of the prisoners held here are expected to face charges under the new commissions. 'At the end of the day, I think the total will be about 75, give or take a few,' Davis says.

"Much of the legal work is done in Washington or in other U.S.-based offices of the military's judicial network — not at Guantanamo Bay.

"Still, Davis says, there is just one courtroom here, in a converted air terminal that also houses legal staff and a high-security lockup. The new compound would have three courtrooms, restaurants, parking and accommodations for at least 800 people." (LATimes)

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A Florida-based Republican political firm with circumstantial ties to at least two nasty robocalling efforts this year isn't quite as obscure as we thought.

In the last days of the 2006 elections, Direct Strategies, Inc. of Tallahassee saw its name connected to dirty-tricks robo calls in Nebraska and Pennsylvania. Run by two state-level GOP operatives, the firm did not appear to cut a swaggering figure in national politics.

Here's the thing: according to filings with the state of Florida, "Direct Strategies, Inc." doesn't exist. It voluntarily dissolved in April 2005. In its place rose a new company, "Dutko Direct Strategies, Inc.," which appears to be controlled by one of Washington's largest lobby firms.

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The Chicago Sun-Times has steadily efforted to chip away at the pedestal on which supporters and the media have placed Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), the perch from which he happily mulls a run for the White House.

In its latest piece, the paper seems to have knocked away some plaster: last year, Obama gave an internship in his office to the kid of a big-money donor who's alleged to have taken a $250,000 kickback as part of a state-level graft scheme.

Worse, the paper says Obama did the favor on the advice of Illinois Democratic moneyman Antoin "Tony" Rezko, currently indicted for his role in the aforementioned graft scheme.

Now, Obama gave the internship to the young man -- John Aramanda, son of Joseph Aramanda, whom the paper ID's as an unindicted co-conspirator in Rezko's scheme -- in the summer of 2005, before news of the Rezko investigation came out.

But some might say that the alleged crimes aren't what make the story so disheartening. Rather, it's that Obama, who is seen by many as a modern-day Horatio Alger -- "proof that this country affords equal opportunities to anyone who works hard enough," as New York magazine described him in October -- would apparently give a such a coveted position to a kid on the basis of how much his rich dad ponied up for the senator's election.

Perhaps young Mr. Aramanda is bright and talented. Perhaps he demonstrates the "audacity of hope." Still, was he really the most deserving candidate for such a beneficial gig?

A new investigation into harassing robo calls from November´s election may lead to the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC).

The Nebraska Public Service Commission has launched an investigation into one of one of the more egregious examples of attempted voter suppression this year. In the 3rd District there, voters reported receiving repeated (often back-to-back) calls featuring a recorded voice that seemed to belong to Democrat Scott Kleeb. The calls, which went out to an unknown number of Nebraskans, prompted a flood of complaints to Kleeb´s campaign office.

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As more details come out about the federal raids on six meatpacking plants two weeks ago, union officials continue to voice concerns about the agents' methods.

In particular, the Feds' habit of detaining legal workers, and denying detainees access to lawyers, are drawing closer scrutiny. In their defense, a spokesman for the bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement say they followed the law to the letter.

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The Baltimore Sun reports:

President Bush is bracing for what could be an onslaught of investigations by the new Democratic-led Congress by hiring lawyers to fill key White House posts and preparing to play defense on countless document requests and possible subpoenas.

Bush is moving quickly to fill vacancies within his stable of lawyers, though White House officials say there are no plans to drastically expand the legal staff to deal with a flood of oversight. . . .

in the days after the elections, the White House announced that Bush had hired two replacements to plug holes in his counsel's office, including one lawyer, Christopher G. Oprison, who is a specialist in handling white-collar investigations. A third hire was securities law specialist Paul R. Eckert, whose duties include dealing with the Office of the Special Counsel. Bush is in the process of hiring a fourth associate counsel, said Emily A. Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman.


The Sun quotes Lawrimore saying "it's nothing special." But my favorite quote, particularly in light of this and this and this -- is:

"They just think it's inevitable that there will be some investigations that will tie up some time and attention," said Charles Black, a strategist with close ties to the White House. But there's no panic in the ranks of Bush's team, he added. "They don't think they have anything to hide."

Fraud, Katrina Contracts Could Waste $2 Billion "The tally for Hurricane Katrina waste could top $2 billion next year because half of the lucrative government contracts valued at $500,000 or greater for cleanup work are being awarded without little competition.

"Federal investigators have already determined the Bush administration squandered $1 billion on fraudulent disaster aid to individuals after the 2005 storm. Now they are shifting their attention to the multimillion dollar contracts to politically connected firms that critics have long said are a prime area for abuse.

"In January, investigators will release the first of several audits examining more than $12 billion in Katrina contracts. The charges range from political favoritism to limited opportunities for small and minority-owned firms, which initially got only 1.5 percent of the total work." (AP)

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Christmas may be saved.

On ABC's This Week, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) took issue with Rep. Virgil Goode's (R-VA) recent comments urging a curtailment of immigration to the United States by Muslims from Middle Eastern countries.

Graham said he didn't think Goode's comments, prompted by the furor over whether newly-elected Muslim congressman Keith Ellison (R-MN) would use a Koran in a private swearing-in ceremony, were "the appropriate line for a congressman to take," according to a transcript by Raw Story.

"We need immigration reform, but not for the reasons that Mr. Goode cited," Graham added later.

Update: Josh has the transcript of the exchange here.

Capitol Hill is all but empty, and I have to admit defeat in my effort to find one Republican lawmaker to substantively address Rep. Virgil Goode's (R-VA) argument to reduce legal immigration and end visa policies which have "allow[ed] many persons from the Middle East to come to this country."

Our final long-shots -- calls to Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Ray LaHood (R-IL), both grandchildren of Lebanese immigrants -- garnered nothing.

Of course, it's the Friday before Christmas, so many offices were empty, press aides were unreachable, or members were traveling. And who knows -- a couple flacks said they'd respond by 5 p.m., so they've got a few minutes. But I think it's pretty safe to say that no GOPer wants to touch this issue. Calls to the RNC, the NRCC, all GOP presidential candidates, the House GOP leadership, and a number of rank-and-file Republicans garnered not a single response. Were it not for a snoring dog here at the D.C. bureau, I would say I could hear crickets.

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