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China's Former Food and Drug Chief Executed

| Tue Jul. 10, 2007 5:57 PM EDT

A bribery scandal involving at least 31 people culminated in the execution of China's former food and drug chief; the most senior Chinese official to receive the death penalty in seven years.

Zheng Xiaoyu, 62, was convicted of taking bribes worth some 6.5 million yuan ($850,000) and also for approving substandard medicine that was reportedly blamed for at least 10 deaths.

The former food and drug chief's death sentence got the netroots chattering. According to one report, bloggers and other writers demanded a stiff sentence for Xiaoyu because of scores of deaths in recent years from fake drugs and food products tainted by industrial chemicals that he may have approved.

But Xiaoyu is not the only problem China's State Food and Drug Administration has. China's consumer product quality-control systems have been called into question as of late due to incidents ranging from fake drugs to chemical-tainted food, as China has opened its economy.

For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration linked poisonous ingredients from China to a massive recall of pet food and animal feed in the past two months. The pet food has been blamed for the deaths of thousands of pets, according to unconfirmed reports that pet owners have made to the FDA.

In addition, an industrial chemical, found in medicines that contained ingredients from China, has been blamed for dozens of deaths in Central America and the Caribbean. The chemical was also found in Chinese-made toothpaste that reportedly contained diethylene glycol falsely labeled as glycerin, the same poison that the Panamanian government mistakenly mixed into cold medicine last year, killing at least 100 people there.

The question on some people's minds now is how China will safegard food at next summer's Olympic Games.

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White House Aide Sara Taylor Will Appear

| Tue Jul. 10, 2007 5:54 PM EDT

Just got off the phone with a spokesperson for the Senate Judiciary Committee. Contrary to the White House diktat yesterday that it was citing executive privilege in denying requests from Congress for the testimony of even ex-White House officials, she says that former White House director of political affairs and Karl Rove aide Sara Taylor will appear before the committee tomorrow. What happened, I asked. "She's under subpoena," committee spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said. Stay tuned.

Update: Muckraker Paul Kiel says likewise, House Judiciary committee chairman John Conyers is going to require former White House counsel Harriet Miers to show up at his committee and invoke privilege. He anticipates that Taylor plans to do the same thing.

Wednesday Morning Update: The AP says Taylor plans to follow White House direction to not answer questions about her role in the US attorney firings:

"While I may be unable to answer certain questions today, I will answer those questions if the courts rule that this committee's need for the information outweighs the president's assertion of executive privilege," Sara M. Taylor, who left her White House job two months ago, said in remarks prepared for presentation to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
"Thank you for your understanding," she added in the statement.
The Post reports that the Senate Judiciary Committee may not in fact be feeling so understanding:
A spokeswoman for Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said the panel has questions that will not fall under that restriction. But committee Democrats made clear that they will not be satisfied with that and will press the White House to drop its assertion of executive privilege. The Senate could cite Bush or Taylor or both for criminal contempt, which would send the matter into the courts.
"I hope Ms. Taylor chooses to reject the White House's insistence that she carry out their stonewalling and, instead, works with us so that we can get to the bottom of what has gone on and gone wrong," Leahy said in a statement last night.


McCain's Campaign Suffers Further Setbacks

| Tue Jul. 10, 2007 5:30 PM EDT

What we know is John McCain's two top aides have left his campaign. What we don't know is if the dire financial conditions and general bumbling of the McCain campaign led them to quit or if the excessive spending of the campaign — it reported only $2 million on hand after the second quarter, less than Ron Paul, according to the NY Times — led McCain to fire them.

The DC media is portraying this as a sign that the McCain campaign is adrift, and it's hard to argue. Is it time for me to get sentimental again?

Brownback Blowback

| Tue Jul. 10, 2007 5:27 PM EDT

Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican presidential candidate vying for the Christian evangelical vote in 2008, failed today in his attempt to block the confirmation of Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Janet Neff to federal district court. Judge Neff is not a lesbian, nor has she endorsed gay rights. Her sin was to attend the lesbian commitment ceremony of a longtime neighbor's daughter. The vote was 83-4.

Weird Weather Watch: Omnibus Edition

| Tue Jul. 10, 2007 5:03 PM EDT

It snowed in Buenos Aires for the first time in 90 years yesterday. (The good news is, it is winter in the southern hemisphere.)

Meanwhile, the East Coast of the United States is sweltering in 90-plus degree heat with high humidity to boot. A similar heat wave last year killed 40.

It's hot out West, too. The heat is fueling a wildfire burning 35,000 acres of forest in the Sierras and another incinerating nearly 10,000 acres in Los Padres National Forest. Another major blaze covers nearly 100 square miles in Nevada. Less rain and more heat across the Southwest are to blame for the region's increasing susceptibility to wildfire.

Wait, I Thought You Invited Oasis

| Tue Jul. 10, 2007 3:20 PM EDT

mojo-photo-blairgallagher.JPG In the wake of Labour's triumph in the 1997 UK general election, few images seemed as symbolic of the shift in regimes as this photograph of Tony Blair with Oasis guitarist and vocalist Noel Gallagher at a music industry reception at 10 Downing Street. Oasis were at the peak of their popularity, and their narrative as a "real band" who hit the big time seemed to match up perfectly with Blair's image as a new kind of politician. But, whoops: it turns out it was all an accident.

British music newspaper NME reports that the just-published diaries of Blair spokesman Alistair Campbell reveal Blair had "no idea" how Gallagher had been invited, and was worried he might "do something crazy," in that way rock 'n' roll stars do. Desperate calls were made to Alan McGee, manager of Oasis' label Creation Records, for assurances Gallagher would behave; McGee promised, but said it was a good thing they hadn't invited lead singer Liam instead.

The Guardian has already reported how "Cool Britannia's" union of Britpop and Labour was a marriage of convenience; this kind of seals that deal, although it does make Oasis seem a bit cooler in retrospect: Noel crashed Tony Blair's party!

Hey, let's watch some Oasis videos after the jump.

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Hustler (!!) at the Heart of the Vitter Sex Scandal

| Tue Jul. 10, 2007 3:11 PM EDT

If this story keeps getting more entertaining, we may blog nothing else. Turns out, Hustler was the news organization ("news organization") that discovered Senator Vitter's presence on the DC Madam's phone list. They called Vitter for comment, and Vitter, realizing the game was up, ran to the AP with the admission, so as to preempt the Hustler story. Larry Flint, grand don of all things Hustler, is on an ongoing campaign to expose the hidden sexual misdeeds of the powerful, so there may be more of this glorious nonsense coming down the pipe.

Fredo and the FBI

| Tue Jul. 10, 2007 1:50 PM EDT

The Washington Post has assembled a database of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales being notified - repeatedly - of FBI violations of the law governing the use of national security letters. But here's what Gonzales told the Senate Intelligence committee on April 27, 2005: "There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse."

According to the files obtained by the Post, Gonzales had in fact been notified at that point already six times in his short tenure as AG that the FBI had violated department guidelines to the degree that the FBI general counsel determined the violations needed to be reported to the Inspector General and the Intelligence Oversight Board. Here are a couple of examples of notifications Gonzales received (pdf and pdf).

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse parses the gap between the truth and what Gonzales testified to with what's become a growing collection of unfathomable statements. ( "...When Gonzales testified, he was speaking 'in the context' of reports by the department's inspector general ... that found no misconduct or specific civil liberties abuses related to the Patriot Act").

It's hard to imagine that the department Gonzales leads is comfortable with his record of misleading testimony to Congress and statements to the American public. Almost anticipating today's Post's revelations, Justice Department attorney John Koppel outlined his frustration in a cry of outrage that ran in the Denver Post over the weekend:

More Vitter Hypocrisy - Time to Resign

| Tue Jul. 10, 2007 1:30 PM EDT

Apparently, confirmed adulterer/hypocrite David Vitter thinks that being unfaithful to one's spouse is grounds for resignation from public office. When Bill Livingston stepped down from the Speaker's role in the mid '90s because of the disclosure of his various extramarital affairs, Vitter said, "I think Livingston's stepping down makes a very powerful argument that Clinton should resign as well and move beyond this mess."

Vitter's situation isn't quite the mess that Clinton's was, but then, Clinton didn't actually pay for sex like Vitter did. You make the call.

Bonus question: If the DC Madam is being prosecuted for running a prostitution ring, and there is evidence that Vitter was one of her clients, should he be prosecuted too? Or is it simply too hard to prove he actually had sex with one of the Madam's call girls?

Senator David Vitter - Hurricane of Sex and Hypocrisy

| Tue Jul. 10, 2007 10:38 AM EDT

We might feel bad about blogging a plain old sex scandal — I criticized FOX News for sucking at the teat of the Anna Nicole story — but when a sex story comes buried under mountains of hypocrisy, that's more than any blogger can resist.

First the basics: the infamous "DC madam" is a Heidi Fleiss clone who sent call girls to DC's elite. Now that she's being charged with racketeering (not a particularly successful racket, by the way, netting her $2 million in 13 years), she's on a helter-skelter campaign to generate media attention and make money while she can — and sink a few semi-famous people along the way.

She put a list of clients' phone numbers on her website yesterday and Senator David Vitter's number was on it. Vitter (R-LA), who is best known for misleading the public in the immediate aftermath of Katrina and then criticizing the feds response to the disaster, immediately owned up. "This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible," he said in a statement to the press. He added that he has already made peace with his wife and his God.

But let's get to the hypocrisy, shall we? In 2004, when Vitter was a congressman running for a seat in the Senate, Vitter campaigned with a promise of "protecting the sanctity of marriage." He went on to become a co-author of the "Federal Marriage Act" that sought to prohibit courts from interpreting same-sex marriage laws, and said of marriage, "I don't believe there's any issue that's more important than this one."

Thought we were done? Nope. Vitter once compared same-sex marriage to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The first line of his official biography reads, "David Vitter is dedicated to making life better for his young family and all Louisiana families."

But then, hypocrisy runs across Vitter's "young family." After extramarital affairs by Louisiana rep and now-you-see-him-now-you-don't Speaker of the House Bill Livingston were revealed, Vitter's wife was asked how she would react if her husband had been caught in an affair, like Livingston and Bill Clinton. "I'm a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary [Clinton]," she said. "If he does something like that, I'm walking away with one thing, and it's not alimony, trust me."

Whoa! David Vitter's wife is awesome, even though she doesn't stand by her word. Actually, maybe she does and we just don't know about it. That would mean Vitter has paid for this more dearly than any of us know...

Oh, and PS — Vitter is the Southern Regional Chair of Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign. Man, Rudy is having a tough time down south. Considering the man's own sordid past, I guess it comes as no surprise that they aren't terribly serious about vetting people at his campaign.