We can smell the pork a-cookin’

After the furor last year over the excesses of 26,954 “earmarks” _ special-interest pork projects that members of Congress stuff in spending bills — embarrassed congressional leaders vowed there’d be a new era of restraint and reform.

So how is that crackdown going?

Congress Daily reports that the number of such earmarks already included in drafts of next year’s spending bills is 15,470.

Pentagon panjandrums are beating a fast retreat in their efforts to get military retirees under age 65 to pay a portion of military medical care.

The battle isn’t over, and they are promising to continue the push for working-age military retirees to pay up to $1,500 in fees for the continued use of these Tricare programs. But in face of withering criticism from veterans groups and lawmakers, the Pentagon this month notified Tricare contractors that plans to impose the cost-savings fees this year are now impossible.

More good news on the endangered-species front.

Wildlife specialists agree that grizzly bears have made such a comeback in Yellowstone National Park that the animals should now be taken off the federal list of threatened and endangered species.

Specialists estimate there are now 588 grizzly bears in the park _ more than double the 1975 number. Some environmental groups want more bears, but Tom France of the National Wildlife Federation’s Northern Rockies Center in Montana said the original goals environmentalists negotiated with the government have been met, and that “a deal is a deal.”

There’s less intensity to the starry nights as viewed from U.S. national parks, a survey by the National Park Service found.

Rangers used high-resolution cameras to measure light pollution, which studies show disturbs nocturnal animals. Part of the problem: park highways were fitted with lights for safety a decade ago, and rangers haven’t yet finished refitting them with special shielded lights.


A third of the firefighters hired by federal contractors to battle Western fires in recent years lacked firefighting credentials, the Agriculture Department’s inspector general says.

Investigators looked at the records of 107 firefighters hired by 10 contractors, and couldn’t find any firefighting qualifications for 35 of them. And some evidently hadn’t even taken required fire-safety courses. The Forest Service agreed that it should do a better job of ensuring that firefighter qualifications are met.

P.S. The inspector general said it is still probing charges that the government paid illegal aliens to fight some of the fires.

Tiny Iceland is dyspeptic about the announcement that U.S. forces are abandoning the island this year. Prime Minister Halldor Asgrimsson told a protest rally that there’s been a “breach of trust” between the United States and its longtime NATO ally. The U.S. Navy’s air station at Keflavik contributed more than $260 million a year to Iceland’s economy.

The self-storage industry is lobbying Congress to block any move by the military that would allow GIs to store their property on U.S. bases when they are deployed overseas.

The Self Storage Association says the move would devastate the industry, and give the military a monopoly over storage of the goods of service members because of discounted prices that bases could offer. The Pentagon said it is considering the possibility in light of security concerns and because private storage facilities are often full. The military units would be run by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, the tax-exempt organization that runs base exchanges.

A century ago, Chicago was the setting for “The Jungle,” Upton Sinclair’s novel about the scandalous practices in the meat industry. But these days politicians are poised to make the Windy City the first city in the country to ban the sales of meat packaged using carbon monoxide. Such packaging is aimed at making meat look fresher longer. The American Meat Institute has a beef with the city council’s plans. It complains that lawmakers are whipping up a “baseless food safety scare,” and threatens to take the city to court to block any such law from taking effect.

(Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)SHNS.com.