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Washington Calling

Nobody home at the FEC ... Call of the wild ... More
Scripps Howard News Service


January 14, 2008

WASHINGTON -- Yoo-hoo, anyone home at the Federal Election Commission?

We're in the midst of the most expensive campaign season in recorded history but the panel that is supposed to keep watch over contributors and spending -- and spank those who break the rules -- has so many vacancies it can't even meet.

Currently, only two of six commission seats are filled, and an ongoing spat between the Democratically controlled Congress and the White House over the qualifications of one nominee means there's no end in sight to the vacancies.

It takes a quorum of four for the commission to act. So, while staff members continue to collect campaign finance reports, the commission cannot conduct probes, order reviews or issue rulings to campaigns and political action committees on what's legal and what's not. So much for oversight.


As if cell-phone ring tones are not annoying enough as it is, the National Zoo now is offering 25 different animal grunts and bellows for you to download. For $2.99 each, you can have your phone signal a call with, among others, the bark of giant panda Tai Shan, a howl from a gray wolf, bald-eagle screeches and the roar of an African lion. Proceeds go to the zoo's conservation and education programs. Find out more at


If you've had enough of cell phones, or are moving up to the newest model, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants you to recycle your old device. It has launched a publicity campaign, in concert with T-Mobile, Motorola, Sprint, Staples and other phone and service providers, to tell you how easy it is to drop one off at a store or mail it to a recycler. The EPA estimates fewer than 20 percent of unwanted cells are recycled each year, leaving perhaps 100 million of the devices sitting idle in drawers nationwide.


NASA is inviting the blind to reach out and touch the cosmos, literally. On Tuesday, Jan. 15, the space agency will unveil "Touch the Invisible Sky," a book presenting Braille descriptions and tactile images of celestial objects photographed by NASA's Hubble telescope and ground-based telescopes.

In the book, planets, nebulae, stars and galaxies are translated into lines, bumps and other textures that the blind can use to "see" the colors and shapes depicted in the breathtaking pictures.


The American Association for the Advancement of Science calculates that members of Congress slipped $4.5 billion in research and development pork into spending bills for this fiscal year. That translates into more than 2,500 special projects getting funds even though government agencies didn't request the money or the projects. States getting the most R&D pork: California, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Florida and Texas.


To show his "solidarity" with U.S. troops at war, Texas congressional hopeful Brian Klock has announced he will dine only on Meals Ready to Eat for lunch through the March 4 primary election. Klock, a Republican from the Galveston area, says his stunt will draw attention to the sacrifices of those in the armed services.

It might also draw note to his expanding belly given the caloric punch most of these MREs carry. Designed for young, active soldiers who need to consume 3,600 calories a day or so, the packaged military meals provide 1,000 or so calories each, with 35 percent coming from fats and 55 percent from carbs.



E-mail Lisa Hoffman at hoffmanl(at)
SHNS correspondent Lee Bowman contributed to this column
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Ketchikan, Alaska