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Washington Calling

Meltdown misses Congress ... Watch that sub
Scripps Howard News Service


October 18, 2008

WASHINGTON -- The financial meltdown may have taken a chunk of change from as many as 100 members of Congress who, in 2007, were invested in some of the biggest of the early casualties of the ongoing collapse.

In all, 49 House and Senate members reported they owned Wachovia stock, 32 had American International Group shares, and 21 were invested in Washington Mutual -- companies being sold, taken over by the feds or shut down, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Last year, lawmakers' AIG holdings were worth as much as $14 million, while their Wachovia stock totaled as much as $6 million. This week, the comparable total worth was $578,000 for AIG and $981,000 for Wachovia.

There's no telling until they file their personal financial reports for this year whether the House and Senate members bailed out before the Dow tanked.

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Regardless of how often they say they feel our pain, most Capitol Hill lawmakers have a comfy financial cushion to help them through the likely recession ahead.

U.S. senators had a median net worth of about $1.7 million in 2007, the most recent year for which complete financial data is available, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. U.S. House members had a median net worth of about $684,000.

Though the impact of the Wall Street collapse isn't yet reflected in their financial disclosure reports, members of Congress saw their wealth soar from 2004 to 2007, when their average net worth swelled by an average 57 percent, the center calculated.

One big gainer was Sen. Barack Obama, who jumped from being the 70th richest senator in 2006 to the 31st last year, when he racked up a net worth of $4.7 million. Sen. John McCain lost ground over the same span, when his 2007 reported fortune of $28.5 million left him the 12th richest instead of the 10th.

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It's now illegal for private submarines to operate in international waters and the Coast Guard or other federal authorities now have the power to interdict them wherever they are spotted.

Until now, a growing number of subs and what are known as "semi-submersible vehicles" were being employed -- with virtual impunity -- by drug traffickers, who loaded the self-propelled vessels with contraband on both South American coasts and sent them north. They generally travel just below the water's surface.

This year so far, about 60 subs or semis have been spotted; between 2001 and 2007, just 29 were, federal agents say.

The Coast Guard estimates that about 30 percent of all Colombian cocaine is now transported to the U.S. by these vessels. President Bush signed the measure Oct. 13.

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Soon to begin is a really cool expedition led by U.S. scientists to one of the globe's last unexplored stretches of landscape. In their sights is an Antarctic mountain range that, according to current scientific knowledge, shouldn't even be there.

The team, which will include experts from five other nations, will bring to bear sophisticated airborne radar and other high-tech tools to plumb the origins of the Gamburstev mountain range in the eastern Antarctic. The existence of that range defies all present-day geologic assumptions, and unlocking its mystery could yield insights on climate change, the National Science Foundation says.


E-mail Lisa Hoffman at hoffmanl(at)
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