The latest Bush Administration flap over the politically motivated dismissals of several federal prosecutors did not originate from a lengthy investigation by reporters at mainstream newspapers, but from the efforts of three liberal bloggers. Josh Marshall, creator of the blog and two reporters from its spin-off,, marshaled the power of the Web to piece together a story that mainstream media outlets overlooked. In December, Marshall noted that the U.S. Attorney in Arkansas was fired. Noticing other dismissals, he asked his readers to write in with tips. For two months, Marshall, Paul Kiel and Justin Rood gathered information. National media outlets didn’t catch on until this month. Now, with the Senate Judiciary Committee threatening to subpoena Karl Rove and the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales looking more likely, the story is certain to dominate national headlines.

It took a Charlotte Observer investigation for State Treasurer Richard Moore to fully divest the state’s $73 billion pension fund from investments in payday lending companies. Earlier this month, Moore sent letters to the firms that manage the pension money asking them to sell off shares in five payday lending companies valued at nearly $11 million. Payday lending, the practice of making short-term loans at high interest rates, has been illegal in N.C. since 2001. A spokeswoman said that Moore has told managers for several years not to invest in the companies, but the latest investments were made after a “communication breakdown.” Moore has not set a timetable for divesting from payday lenders.

N.C. House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman sponsored legislation to ban smoking in restaurants and other public places. The ban would protect the public from the danger of secondhand smoke. It would also save the state and local governments millions in healthcare costs. The legislation faces opposition from free market proponents and the tobacco lobby, but has strong public support.

Joseph Frederick, of Juneau, Alaska, did more than stand up for the free-speech rights of high school students when he put up a 14-foot banner that read “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” as the Olympic torch passed his school in 2002: He gave headline writers and news junkies something to smile about as his case went to the U.S. Supreme Court this week. Former Solicitor General Kenneth Starr, representing the principal who ripped down the sign and suspended Frederick, argued the case was about fighting drugs, while Frederick’s attorneysbacked by religious groupssaid it was simply about free speech. The Rastafarian lobby hasn’t been heard from, apparently split on the issue.

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