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Inside the Beltway

WE'LL KNOW SOON

"Dear Members, Please join me for a private conference call, Monday, December 13th at 7:30pm (EST). For your personal conference code please RSVP … Thank you, and I look forward to talking to you Monday evening. Michael." (Republican National Committee chairman Michael S. Steele's plain-spoken invitation to committee members that some observers interpret as an indication Mr. Steele will not campaign against eight other hopefuls to stay in the office.

GO FOR IT

President Obama now calls the latest WikiLeaks docu-dump "deplorable," even as "Open Secrets," a spin-off site crafted by WikiLeaks associates, readies to launch and academics extol jailed Wiki-founder Julian Assange as heroic. Distractions, distractions. Bring out the big charges, says one observer.

"Assange is unabashedly conducting espionage: He has abetted the theft of national defense secrets with the aim of revealing them and damaging the U.S. Nothing more is required for conviction under the federal Espionage Act. Assange's defenders counter that he is not the U.S. government official who purloined our secrets, nor a conventional spy who handed them over to Al Qaeda or some hostile state. These are red herrings," says Andrew McCarthy, a fellow with the National Review Institute and a New York Daily News contributor.

"Our law obliges prosecutors to prove only that a defendant came into unauthorized possession of sensitive intelligence, knew it could be used to harm our nation and disclosed it to others not authorized to have it. The fact that the actual stealing and harming was done by others is beside the point," adds Mr. McCarthy, who is also a former assistant U.S. attorney in New York who led the 1995 terrorism prosecution of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and 11 others in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

LORDS OF PORK

There were 39,294 congressional earmark requests for fiscal 2011 — that's $131 billion worth of those fat temptations. Will newly victorious Republicans stay slim and thrifty, and honor their vows for fiscal sanity as outlined in the "Pledge to America?" Well, they better.

"Any move by Republicans to weasel out of the earmark ban or game the system will be seen for what it is, a self-interested, blatant and unnecessary violation of their most important pledge for the new Congress," says the president of Citizens Against Government Waste, Tom Schatz, who observes that some Republicans buy into the argument that the U.S. Constitution actually sanctions earmarking by alluding to the "power of the purse." The Founders, however, also warned that such power would be "productive of evil," among other things.

"If Republicans have problems with how agencies are allocating tax dollars, the remedy is to hold oversight hearings, demand answers, rein in abuses and refine the spending rules. Unaccountable earmarking is a symptom of the broken process, not the solution. Taxpayers know there is no such thing as a 'good earmark.' Any end-around the Republicans' earmark moratorium would be a fatal error on their part," Mr. Schatz says.

STAMP ACT

Ronald Reagan gets his third postage stamp Monday, this one honoring what will be the centennial of his birth on Feb. 6, 2011. Nancy Reagan and former Reagan administration official James C. Miller do the unveiling honors at 11:30 a.m., and that's Pacific Time, by the way. See it live from the Reagan Library here: www.reaganfoundation.org, under "live webcasts."

SCIENCE CORNER

Agricultural researchers at Quebec's Laval University have discovered why Christmas trees drop their needles, and how to double their life span in homes. The team identified a plant hormone — ethylene — as the culprit responsible for needle loss after tracking its production in test branches, which went completely bare in 40 days. The team then treated branches with 1-MCP and AVG, chemical compounds that interfere with the hormone. Voila: needle retention rose to 87 days.

These findings could have a "significant impact" for Christmas tree producers and consumers alike, says lead author Steeve Pepin, who suggests fresh-cut trees could be treated with preventatives when they're loaded on trucks for shipment.

LADIES DAY

"I'm not a witch." — Christine O'Donnell, in an Oct. 4 political ad.

"Don't retreat. Instead — reload!"Sarah Palin, in a March 23 tweet.

"I hope that's not where we're going, but you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies. They're saying: 'My goodness, what can we do to turn this country around?'" — Nevada senatorial hopeful Sharron Angle, in a Jan. 16 radio interview.

"We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it." — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, referring to health care reform to the National Association of Counties, March 9.

"You're telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?" — Ms. O'Donnell in a Delaware senatorial debate, Oct. 19.

Four of the "top-10 quotes of the year," according to Fred Shapiro, associate librarian at Yale Law School.

POLL DU JOUR

• 56 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of liberals say President Obama "learned a lot" from the 2010 midterm elections.

• 34 percent of Republicans and 37 percent of conservatives agree.

• 26 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of liberals say Republicans in Congress learned a lot from the midterm elections.

• 50 percent of Republicans and 39 percent of conservatives agree.

• 47 percent of Democrats and 37 percent of liberals says Democrats in Congress learned a lot from the midterms.

• 30 percent of Republicans and 31 percent of conservatives agree.

Source: A Marist College/McClatchey poll of 873 registered voters conducted Dec. 2 to 8.

Leaks, creaks and peak experience to jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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