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On July 29, 2005, after both houses of Congress had passed a massive transportation bill, someone changed the language of a $10 million authorization for Florida to read just how Rep. Don Young (R-AK) wanted it. Who? How? It's not clear, and Don Young's not talking. But we do know one thing for sure: it was a unique case.

The 800-page, $286.4 billion bill included $24.2 billion for 6,371 special earmarks, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Out of those 6,371 earmarks, only one underwent a substantive change after it passed Congress. How do we know? We checked. Our, rather, our tireless (and by now nearly blind) researchers Will Thomas and Tanvir Vahora checked. Every single one. Lawmakers tucked 6,371 projects into the bill, and sure, there were minor differences between the conference report that passed Congress and the bill that the President signed, such as an extra word here or there, different punctuation, etc. But the only earmark that underwent a substantive change was Young's pet Coconut Road project:



As Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense explained to us, Young had a motive for making the change. Local authorities had signaled that they didn't want to spend the money on the I-75 Coconut Road Interchange and would rather have it for a more general highway widening project. But Young's rainmaker, businessman Daniel Aronoff, wanted the interchange. And so Young made sure that the money was targeted to that project.

The question remains, of course, how this happened.

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It seems like everyone down in Florida is teaming up to undo what Rep. Don Young (R-AK) has done.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL) have taken up the cause of Lee County officials who want to use Young's infamous $10 million Coconut Road earmark for a broader project.

Mack, congressman for the district where the projects sit, sent a letter to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure asking the committee to allow Lee County "flexibility" in how it may use the money. Lee County officials voted last week to send back the money to Congress in hopes of having it reauthorized for I-75.

The county wants the money to widen I-75, as was originally described in the bill approved by the House and Senate. But as Mack writes, "at some point after the conference report passed Congress but before the bill was signed by President George W. Bush, this language was changed." Despite Mack's tactful employment of the past tense, all signs are that Young or someone on his staff was behind the change.

The Coconut Road interchange would benefit a real estate developer who helped raise Young $40,000 a few days before he slipped the earmark into a 2005 highway bill.

Some distortions are so massive and so deliberate as to constitute outright lies. See if you can spot the dishonesty in this line in President Bush's speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars' national convention today:

U.S. forces have killed or captured an average of more than 1,500 al Qaeda terrorists and other extremists every month since January.


That "and other extremists" line sure does a lot of work here. No order of battle for the insurgency is available, but all credible estimates peg al-Qaeda in Iraq as by far the smallest contingent. One rough assessment, cited byThe New York Times last month, put AQI at possessing perhaps 5,000 fighters. Yet Bush suggested this morning that the U.S. has captured as many as 12,000 members of AQI so far this year.

Since the surge began, the U.S. has had between 17,000 and 23,000 Iraqis in custody each month, according to the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index (pdf). Last month, Ned Parker of the Los Angeles Times reported that of the 19,000 detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq, only 135 were foreigners -- the most likely indicator of membership in al-Qaeda. Military and intelligence veterans of the Iraq war typically say that determining Iraqi membership in AQI is extraordinarily difficult, and not something that lends itself particularly well to flat, quantitative statements.

No wonder the president picked the artful qualifier "and other extremists" to lard his presentation of who the U.S. is capturing in Iraq. It's impossible to disprove the statement, since it conceals precisely how many of the 1,500 monthly captures are in fact AQI. But an inability to disprove a statement doesn't ever make that statement true -- rather, that makes it gibberish.

If Major John Cockerham had only known Thomas Kontogiannis, maybe the whole sordid story would have turned out differently.

Cockerham was an Army contracting officer in Kuwait who, a criminal complaint alleges, is at the center of the largest corruption case yet to emerge from the Iraq war. It's a picaresque story involving crooked Kuwaiti and Emirati businessmen with codenames like "Mr. and Mrs. Pastry." In 2004 and 2005, according to the complaint, Cockerham, his wife and his sister, took $9.6 million in bribes, kept in safe-deposit boxes in a number of Persian-Gulf cities, in exchange for contracts for things like drinking water.

According to the Washington Post, the Cockerham family could be formally indicted as early as today. While investigators have only been able to locate $415,000 of the nearly $10 million the money that the Cockerhams allegedly took from their business partners, they face charges for money-laundering, bribery and conspiracy.

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An ad war over the Iraq war is about to begin. Freedom’s Watch, a pro-Bush group co-founded by Ari Fleischer and other high-profile Bush supporters, will spend $15 million on an ad campaign (including radio and television ads featuring military veterans) that will try to garner support for Bush’s troop “surge” in Iraq. (The Politico)

A former lawyer at the Texas secretary of state's office has filed a lawsuit claiming that she lost her job because of political pressure. Elizabeth Reyes appeared in an article discussing Karl Rove's voting record; she was fired shortly after Rove called her boss to ask about quotations from the story. (Think Progress)

Yesterday a federal judge ruled that the Bush administration broke the law when it failed to create two environmental reports, an updated climate change research plan and an impact assessment plan. The administration has until March 1st to create the first of the two plans. (Associated Press)

The power of the probe. Congressional Democrats are using subpoenas and public investigations to pursue their agenda, according to AP. The article details the various subjects Congress is pursuing through its oversight powers, while House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) said Congressional investigative powers could be “more important than legislation.” (Associated Press)

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We've noted before this administration's extraordinary talent for secrecy. A growing number of agency reports, fact sheets, databases, and records have been re-classified, discontinued, or simply withheld.

And it seems that sometimes the administration surprises even itself. On the White House website, a trip to the Freedom of Information Act page about the Executive Office of the President gives you a list of the agencies subject to FOIA:



Right there, you can see that the Office of Administration is listed as an agency subject to FOIA. But apparently that's because the administration never gave it much thought.

In a motion filed yesterday, Justice Department lawyers argued that the Office of Administration is not subject to FOIA. Their reasoning: the office is not an "agency," by the definition of FOIA.

The motion was triggered by a suit from the D.C. watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, seeking documents relating to the disappearance of at least 5 million missing White House emails between 2003 and 2005. The White House has suggested that the problem stemmed from a move from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Outlook.

But the Office of Administration's non-agency status hasn't stopped the office from processing plenty of FOIA requests up until now -- as many as 65 last year alone, the AP reports.

The Department lawyers admit as much in their motion, but say that doesn't matter. "To be sure," they write, "OA currently has regulations implementing FOIA and has not taken the position in prior litigation that it is not subject to FOIA." But every day is a new (secret) day in the Bush White House.

Karl Rove made sure that agency and department officials were busy, busy, busy come election time, The Washington Post reported this weekend. And now House oversight committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) wants to figure out just how busy.

Waxman sent out a request to 19 different agencies/departments today (take a deep breath: Departments of Justice, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Treasury, Veterans Affairs, Labor, State, Agriculture, Commerce, Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, Small Business Administration, General Services Administration, United States Agency for International Development, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy), all of which apparently took part in Rove's scheme to use agency officials to help vulnerable Republicans.

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The Quakers can sleep easier. This morning, the Pentagon announced that it's canceling a database created to monitor threats to Defense Department installations in the U.S. that ended up compiling lists of citizens engaged in peaceful, constitutionally-protected protest speech. For good measure, the Talon database was run by an intelligence office that doled out millions to crooked defense contractor MZM.

Talon, which compiled unverified threat information related to domestic Pentagon-run facilities, will go out of business on September 17. That's a long-planned obsolescence: in April, Defense intelligence chief James Clapper stated that the Pentagon needed to "lay to rest the distrust and concern about the department's commitment to civil rights." And for good reason. Internal DOD memoranda obtained and disclosed by the ACLU revealed that Talon had ensnared information on over 2,000 American citizens, some for posing little more of a threat than "the possibility" of "some type of vandalism."

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Sure, the FISA Court has been reduced by the Protect America Act to a rubber stamp for the Justice Department and the Director of National Intelligence. But don't weep for the court. As a kind of consolation prize, it's getting new office space!

The nation's spy court is moving from its longtime home at the Justice Department to a nearby federal courthouse, a move that some hope will assert the court's independence even as Congress shifts some of its authority to the Bush administration.

Since its inception in 1978, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has been located in a secure area at Justice Department headquarters, where government attorneys armed with secret evidence seek permission to conduct surveillance.

"It's always been an anomaly and it suggested to critics that the court was subordinate to its Justice Department hosts," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.


Now that's a new vista in cynicism: moving the FISA Court out of Justice right when it really does become an adjunct of executive power.

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