Now some fresh pickings from the Political Grapevine:

Capital Gains

Earmarks are viewed by many as a symbol of wasteful government spending. But the House slipped $278 million worth of earmarks into the Labor/HHS appropriations bill it passed before the July 4 recess.

The group Citizens Against Government Waste says that is a 122 percent increase in the amount spent on earmarks from last year's bill. Included were $25 million for the something called the National Writing Project, for teachers.

The Education Department didn't ask for the money because $3 billion already exists to improve teachers' writing. $150,000 is designated for the American Ballet Theater in New York, which has already brought in $28 million from private fundraising. And, $100,000 will be spent on a community gardening outreach program in Toledo, Ohio.

The top three earmark requesters were Democrats Neal Abercrombie of Hawaii, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota.

Tuned-In Terrorists

U.S. officials have found that many militants captured in Iraq and Afghanistan know a lot more about the U.S. than one would suspect.

The Washington Post reports the FBI and the U.S. military began a joint fingerprinting effort after 9/11. It says that in December 2001 a team of FBI agents in Afghanistan found that at least one in every 100 detainees had an arrest record in the U.S.

A similar FBI team fingerprinted 3,800 fighters along the Iraq-Iran border in 2004. It found that more than 40 had previous criminal records in the agency's database.

The Post reports that one militant stopped at a checkpoint in Tikrit, Iraq, who claimed to be a farmer had 11 felony charges in the U.S. including assault with a deadly weapon.

Changing His Tune?

Such has been the progress in Iraq that even Democratic Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania is not only not denying it but now admits it has worked.

Murtha, a longtime critic of the war, said last June that President Bush's claims of progress from the surge were "delusional," adding, "There's no way you're going to have success."

But now he has told a radio interviewer in Pittsburgh, "I think in the short term it certainly reduced incidents... certainly the way they are doing it today makes a big difference."

So is Murtha now a fan of our military operations there? Not exactly, since he attributes the success to the fact, he says, that we stopped breaking down doors and killing people.

As for political progress, Murtha claimed only four benchmarks have been met, despite a recent report from the administration that cited progress on 15 benchmarks.

Going Too Far?

And finally, two British school boys were given detention after refusing to kneel down and pray to Allah during a religious education lesson for 11 and 12-year-old students.

The Daily Mail reports the class at Alsager High School near Stroke-On-Trent, England, was also told to wear traditional Muslim headscarves. Now some of the parents are outraged.

One mother says, "Making them pray to Allah — who isn't who they worship — is wrong."

And the grandfather of one of the students says, "If Muslims were asked to go to church on Sunday and take Holy Communion there would be war."

The Cheshire County Council has released a statement saying it is looking into the incident.

FOX News Channel's Zachary Kenworthy contributed to this report.

With more than 35 years of journalism experience to draw from, Brit Hume currently serves as a senior political analyst for FOX News Channel (FNC) and contributes to all major political coverage. Hume also is regular panelist on FOX's weekly public affairs program, "FOX News Sunday" on Sundays at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. ET. Click here for more information on Brit Hume