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FCW Insider: Davis prepping an exit... and other items

I'm taking a break from Fed 100 advice, although more of that to come, but I'm taking a break for a quick round-up of items.

One big buzz item is the future of Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.). There is always buzz about Davis' future, but there are real questions about whether he will stay in the House. There is some talk that he is considering a high-paying non-government job. Of course, we hope he stays because -- agree or disagree with him -- there is nobody on the Hill who has the same knowledge of government procurement. (In FCW's editorial on 2008 resolutions, we stressed that we sure hope he stays.)

A Davis departure would leave an enormous vacancy.

Other items:

* Earlier this week, I mentioned that the former program manager for the Mars rovers will be one of the keynote speakers at FOSE. I'm still reading the book, but in today's LAT, there is a story about a potential asteroid crashing on Mars... about a 1 in 75 chance.

Researchers say the object, about 160 feet across, has an unusually good chance of plowing into the planet Jan. 30.

Talk about your cosmic pileups.

An asteroid similar to the one that flattened forests in Siberia in 1908 could plow into Mars next month, scientists said Thursday.

Researchers attached to NASA's Near-Earth Object Program, who sometimes jokingly call themselves the Solar System Defense Team, have been tracking the asteroid since its discovery in late November.

The scientists, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, put the chances that it will hit the Red Planet on Jan. 30 at about 1 in 75.

A 1-in-75 shot is "wildly unusual," said Steve Chesley, an astronomer with the Near-Earth Object office, which routinely tracks about 5,000 objects in Earth's neighborhood.

"We're used to dealing with odds like one-in-a-million," Chesley said. "Something with a one-in-a-hundred chance makes us sit up straight in our chairs."

The asteroid, designated 2007 WD5, is about 160 feet across, which puts it in the range of the space rock that exploded over Siberia. That explosion, the largest impact event in recent history, felled 80 million trees over 830 square miles.

* Pogue column: Another FOSE keynoter, NYT tech columnist David Pogue, had a fun column yesterday rounding up some fun tech holiday gifts -- gems in the back of the closet, as he calls them. Of course, as soon as he writes about them, they are sold out., But... he's still worth reading.

* Coburn the gridlocker: The WSJ has a page one story about Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), who they describe as a "one-man gridlock."

One-Man Gridlock: Meet Tom Coburn
Senate's 'Dr. No' Oklahoma Conservative Specializes in the 'Hold'; Stopping 90 Bills in 2007

WASHINGTON -- On Tuesday afternoon, when most senators were preparing to leave Washington for the holiday recess, Tom Coburn was declaring his intention to stick around.

"The floor's going to be open," said the 59-year-old Oklahoma Republican. "I'm going to have to be here...to try to stop stuff."

Stopping stuff is Sen. Coburn's specialty. In a Congress that has had trouble passing even the simplest legislation, Sen. Coburn, who proudly wears the nickname "Dr. No,'' is a one-man gridlock machine. This year, the senator, who indeed is a medical doctor, single-handedly blocked or slowed more than 90 bills, driving lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to distraction.

He blocked a ban on genetic discrimination by health insurers. He thwarted a bill to set up a program to track patients with Lou Gehrig's disease. Also nixed: an effort to promote safe Internet use by children and a resolution to honor the late environmentalist Rachel Carson on the 100th anniversary of her birth.

A bill that would authorize government mapping of the ocean floor and coastal areas? No way. One that would require more data collection on the availability and quality of broadband service? Uh-uh. If Dr. Coburn had his way, there would be no new funding for a Justice Department office to investigate unsolved Civil Rights-era killings, no promotion of wild-land firefighter safety.

Sometimes, Dr. Coburn, an obstetrician who sees patients one morning a week, disagrees with the proposals. As a fiscal conservative, he usually objects to what he sees as excess spending. Sometimes, he just wants to force a debate or improve on items that would otherwise fly through the Senate. In a crowded legislative calendar, not everything gets the scrutiny voters might imagine.

Dr. Coburn's weapon of choice is the "hold," a procedural maneuver that allows a single senator to prevent a bill from being passed quickly without a roll-call vote or floor debate. Until a rule change this year, senators could keep their holds secret, and they usually did. Dr. Coburn notifies colleagues about his intentions.

To keep track, Dr. Coburn has four manila cards in the pocket of his suit coat. He pulls out the list, printed in tiny type on both sides, whenever colleagues approach to discuss their bills. In his office's intranet, which staffers jokingly call the "Write-Wing Portal," there's a section for aides to look at bills that have incurred their boss's displeasure.

* Finally, a bittersweet note. This week, Bill Strauss passed away. Struass was one of the co-founders of the political humor group Capitol Steps, which are something of a DC institution. Here is the top of the WP obit:

Capitol Steps founder Bill Strauss was a Harvard-trained lawyer and Senate subcommittee staffer when he broke through the chrysalis of Capitol Hill conventionality to become a musical satirist.

Mr. Strauss, who died Dec. 18 of pancreatic cancer at his home in McLean, recalled the breakthrough in a phone interview shortly before his death at age 60.

He is best known for doing these absolutely hysterical bits that Capitol Steps called Lirty Dies.

What the heck are Lirty Dies ?!

Lirty Dies are what you get when you mix your basic national scandal with word-initialization-rejuxtaposition closely following the underlying precepts of harmony, alliteration and innuendo.

Lirty Dies follows a great political tradition: We're not quite sure what we're saying; you're not quite sure what you're hearing.

Some might say they are merely spoonerisms taken to ludicrous heights.

If you want a good belly laugh, listen to any of the Lirty Dies on this page -- and they are best if you listen to them. They are amazing to read, but remarkable and best enjoyed by listening to them.

He was a very smart man who reminded us all not to take this quite so seriously.

With that... have a great holiday everybody!

Posted by Christopher J. Dorobek on Dec 21, 2007 at 12:17 PM


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