Bhutto's Death. Plus, a $555 Billion Spending Bill

The president sign a bill providing money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Plus, full coverage of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

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BILL WOLFF (Announcer): From NPR News in New York, this is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News, your home for news, information, and today, a new guest host. I'm Alison Stewart. I'm here all the time. Our guest host today is…

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STEWART: Mr. John Fugelsang. But we're not sure if he can stay if he turns off his screen again, John. You've been in here for two minutes.

JOHN FUGELSANG, host:

Yes, I know your BRYANT PARK PROJECT ways are strange to me. But yes, I am John Fugelsang. I'm thrilled and delighted to be with you. And I want you all to know that this is Thursday, December 27th, 2007.

STEWART: And you are a sport because you flew in from the west - Florida - West Coast via Florida.

FUGELSANG: Toronto, L.A. for 40 hours, Florida, then here.

STEWART: Oh, my goodness. Well, we will do our best to make this a nice soft landing for you. If you need caffeine…

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STEWART: …if you need water.

FUGELSANG: I'll be freebase in caffeine…

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FUGELSANG: …but I'm delighted to be here.

STEWART: After those two things, you're on your own.

Coming up on the show today, the United States say it's winning the war on drugs because there's a cocaine shortage, or as our producer Matt Martinez says cocaine.

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STEWART: Local police around the country are saying, oh, really? That's not really what we're experiencing. NPR's John Burnett will be joining us a little later on with an investigation into the government's claim that cocaine is on the wane.

FUGELSANG: Well, you've heard stories about speed dating. But maybe, Alison, speed dating is not impersonal enough for you.

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FUGELSANG: Well, now there's Internet speed dating via your Web cam, a bad pickup line, uncomfortable silence - no worries. Just hit the delete button and move on. We're going to talk about how very romantic that is in just a little bit.

STEWART: I feel rejected just hearing you say that.

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STEWART: I'm not even speed dating online.

So many top 10 lists at the end of the year, especially for books. But we wondered what were the best books of 2007 that you might not have heard of? Maud Newton, one of our favorite bloggers about books, joins us to walk us through some of her selections. AND she's very passionate about the written words, so you want to stick around to hear from Maud.

We'll also go to Rachel Martin for today's headlines in just a minute.

But first, here is the BPP's big story.

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STEWART: That's $555 billion - that's billion with a b. Before heading to Crawford yesterday for a week's break, President Bush signed a $555 billion domestic spending bill.

FUGELSANG: Yes, it is a 1,600-page omnibus bill that covers government spending through September 30th of next year. And in signing the bill, the president criticized congressional Democrats who, he says, didn't do enough to contain all their pork barrel earmarks.

STEWART: Mr. Bush said of that big, old bill, quote, "I am disappointed in the way Congress compiled this legislation. Congress dropped into the bill nearly 9,800 earmarks that total more than $10 billion. These projects are not funded through a merit-based process and provide a vehicle for wasteful government spending," end quote.

FUGELSANG: Not so fast, say the Democrats. Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said in response, quote, "Half of all earmarks were directed by the president and his administration."

So the question is what about those 10,000 or so earmarks. Now a lot of them were thrown in late in the process, leaving very little time to check out what they were all about. But they were fewer now actually than there were in 2005, when Republicans control both houses, and that comes to us from The Hill, a newspaper that follows Congress.

STEWART: Well, John, your home state of New York made out okay. The Center for Grape Genetics Research in Geneva, New York, received $1.8 million to build a research facility aimed at making the U.S. wine industry more competitive.

FUGELSANG: Well, Francis Coppola can't do it all by himself.

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FUGELSANG: Don't look at me. Your home state of New Jersey, Ms. Stewart, is getting more than seven million bucks for beach restoration and a lot of other environmental projects.

STEWART: Beaches are good. Well, as a some-time California resident, John, you might like this, Richmond, California, is getting $450,000 for a basketball program.

FUGELSANG: Very nice. And in the president's home state of Texas right near Fort Hood - I love this one - they got $357,000 to re-vegetate 30,000 acres that have been un-vegetated by artillery fire.

STEWART: Hmm. Well, a big part of the tab, of course, is the war - three wars actually - in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and on terror. The Pentagon estimates the war spending now totals about $11 billion each month, though Republican Senator Ted Stevens says it's more like $15 billion. Democrats wanted language in the bill, setting a timetable of withdrawals from Iraq, but they failed once again to get it in writing.

FUGELSANG: So essentially, it's the White House and Congress doing two things - criticizing each other for spending and spending.

STEWART: Spending.

FUGELSANG: Yes.

STEWART: Yeah. Pretty much.

FUGELSANG: Well, that's the BPP's big story.

And now, here is Rachel Martin with even more news.

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