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EARLYBIRD

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Bush seeks to end ban on offshore drilling, U.S. blames Iranian 'special group' for Baghdad bombing, Mississippi River towns brace for flooding, Senate leaders working on tax-break compromise, Israel & Hamas broker cease-fire.

• "President Bush, reversing a longstanding position, will call on Congress" today "to end a federal ban on offshore oil drilling, according to White House officials who say Mr. Bush now wants to work with states to determine where drilling should occur," the New York Times reports. "The move underscores how $4-a-gallon gas has become a major issue in the 2008 presidential campaign."

• "The Pentagon in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks pursued abusive interrogation techniques once used by North Korea and Vietnam on American POWs despite stern warnings by several military lawyers that the methods were cruel and even illegal, according to a Senate investigation," AP reports.

 

• "A senior CIA lawyer advised Pentagon officials about the use of harsh interrogation techniques on detainees at Guantanamo Bay in a meeting in late 2002, defending waterboarding and other methods as permissible despite U.S. and international laws banning torture, according to documents released" Tuesday "by congressional investigators," the Washington Post reports. "The document... suggests a larger CIA role in advising Defense Department interrogators than was previously known."

• "The Justice Department overreached in prosecuting a former Bush administration official in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, a federal appeals court said Tuesday as it dismissed some charges and ordered a new trial on others," AP reports. "The decision overturns the conviction of David Safavian, the former chief of staff for the General Services Administration and the only person in the four-year scandal who opted to go to trial rather than accept a government plea deal."

• "The government does not have adequate privacy protections for the personal information it collects, shares and stores as part of the effort to fight terrorism, according to a new report by" the Government Accountability Office, USA Today reports.

 

• "For more than three months after the Air Force awarded a lucrative contract to Northrop Grumman Corp. and the European consortium EADS to build 179 aerial refueling tankers, the losing bidder, Boeing Co., has been attacking the decision in an aggressive public relations war," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Northrop Grumman has fought back," but "noticeably absent from the war is the Air Force itself."

• "Efforts by defense contractor KBR to repair hurricane-damaged Navy facilities were deemed shoddy and substandard, and one technical adviser alleged that the federal government 'certainly paid twice' for many KBR projects because of 'design and workmanship deficiencies,' the Pentagon's inspector general reported in an audit released" Tuesday, the Washington Post reports.

• "The White House on Tuesday directed four agencies to develop yardsticks for charting changes in the amount and quality of the nation's water," AP reports. "Clay Johnson, a deputy director of the White House budget office, said various indicators would be used to evaluate whether environmental policies and programs are working."

Congress: GOP Forces Dem Concessions On Tax Package

• "Senate Democratic and Republican leaders are beginning to hammer out a compromise that could enable both sides to claim victory in the debate over offsetting a package of expiring tax breaks," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The discussions began even as the Senate failed to achieve cloture, again, on the motion to proceed to the House-passed, $55.5 billion tax bill, falling eight votes short."

 

• "Just hours before Senate Republicans voted Tuesday to block a bill that included some of the business community's most prized tax credits, three GOP Senate leaders held a private meeting with about 20 of K Street's biggest Republican names," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "The gathering -- held inside the Capitol with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (Iowa) -- was aimed at keeping the business community from drifting away and supporting the Democratic-backed tax package."

• "House and Senate Democrats signaled Tuesday that they are prepared to compromise with President Bush on unemployment benefits and other issues as part of a $250 billion war supplemental to get it passed before the Fourth of July recess," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

• "A House Appropriations panel" on Tuesday "approved a 3.9 percent pay raise for federal civilian employees next year, a significantly larger increase than President Bush had sought," the Washington Post reports.

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• "The Senate was trying for the fifth time to extend tax credits desperately sought by the solar industry when things turned ugly in a fight that has caught the business community in partisan crossfire," the Politico reports, detailing the partisan struggle.

• Senate Banking Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) "said he and his wife knew Countrywide Inc. was treating them as 'VIP' customers when they refinanced mortgages on two homes in 2003, but it didn't cross his mind he was getting a financial perk from the sub-prime lender," The Hill reports.

• "Thanks to a little-noticed loophole in congressional disclosure requirements, members of Congress simply don't have to reveal anything about their homes or other personal residences, as long as the properties don't produce rental income," the Politico reports. "They don't have to disclose loan amounts. They don't have to disclose loan rates. And they don't have to disclose mortgage lenders."

• "Responding to reports that some lenders have stopped offering federal loans at community and other colleges, two Democratic senators introduced legislation Tuesday to prohibit lenders from picking and choosing among institutions," the New York Times reports. "Under the proposal, lenders that participate in the federal loan program would have to extend credit to any eligible student, regardless of such things as income or the number of years of education, as long as the college is part of the program."

Iraq: U.S. Blames Iranian 'Special Group' For Baghdad Bombing

• "U.S. and Iraqi officials negotiating long-term security agreements have reworded a proposed White House commitment to defend Iraq against foreign aggression in an effort to avoid submitting the deal for congressional approval, Iraq's foreign minister said" Tuesday, the Washington Post reports. "The alternative under discussion will pledge U.S. forces to 'help Iraqi security forces to defend themselves,' rather than a U.S. promise to defend Iraq, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said."

• "Dozens of people were killed Tuesday evening when a car loaded with explosives blew up at a crowded market in northwestern Baghdad, the deadliest attack in the capital since March," the Washington Post reports. "The attack killed 46 people and wounded more than 80, according to an Interior Ministry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity."

• "The U.S. military says a renegade Shi'ite group ordered Tuesday's deadly car bomb attack on a Shi'ite neighborhood in Baghdad to incite sectarian violence against Sunnis," Voice of America reports. "Military spokesman Steven Stover" today "said the attack, which killed 63 people and wounded 75 others, was the work of a so-called Shi'ite 'special group' led by Haydar Mehdi Khadum al-Fawadi."

• "Getting a tee time in Iraq may seem far-fetched, but a $4.5 billion development planned in the more secure northern Kurdish area would bring 9 holes, a country club and a resort to northern Iraq," the Washington Times reports. "The Tarin Hills project announced this month is a made-to-order community" planned for "what is now dusty foothills home to no one but a few scattered families and shepherds."

• "A military judge at Camp Pendleton on Tuesday dismissed charges against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the highest-ranking officer accused in the deaths of 24 Iraqis in 2005 in the town of Haditha," the Los Angeles Times reports.

Nation: Mississippi River Towns Brace For Flooding

• "Floodwaters that wreaked havoc along Illinois and Iowa rivers have poured into the Mississippi, creating a torrent of water that threatens to spread the misery to historic riverside towns on the way to St. Louis and beyond," the Washington Post reports. "Early Tuesday morning, a levee burst in Gulfport," Illinois, "flooding thousands of acres of the country's most fertile farmland, swamping the downtown and forcing the closure of highways, rail lines and a major bridge across the Mississippi."

• "The environmental movement, only recently poised for major advances on global warming and other issues, has suddenly found itself on the defensive as high gasoline prices shift the political climate nationwide and trigger defections by longtime supporters," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Opposition to offshore drilling -- once ironclad in places like California and Florida -- has begun to soften."

• "Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama and congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle Tuesday called for investigations into the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) failure to inform in a timely manner veterans participating in medical tests that a drug they were taking has side effects that can lead to psychosis and suicide," the Washington Times reports.

• "Criminal prosecutions of immigrants by federal authorities surged to a record high in March, as immigration cases accounted for the majority -- 57 percent -- of all new federal criminal cases brought nationwide that month, according to a report published Tuesday by a nonpartisan research group," the New York Times reports. The push reflects a "policy shift" by the Bush administration "to expand the use of criminal, rather than civil, charges in its efforts to curb illegal immigration."

• "After all the angst and hoopla, the first full day of same-sex marriage in California on Tuesday turned out to be almost placid, if you discounted the whoops of celebration or the courthouse crushes of brides and brides, and grooms and grooms," the Los Angeles Times reports.

• "Opponents of gay marriage made a pointed effort today to keep a low profile on the first full day of same-sex ceremonies in California," the Times also reports. "There were only a scattering of isolated protests around the state."

Economy: Consumer Confidence Hits 30-Year Low

• "Ask Americans how the economy is doing, and their answer is stark: It is not just bad, it is run-for-the-hills terrible," the Washington Post reports. "Consumer confidence is at its lowest level in almost 30 years.... But the reality is different. According to most broad measures of how the economy is doing, it's not all that grim."

• "As high-level delegations from the United States and China meet this week in Annapolis for their latest talks on economic coordination, the Bush administration's concerns about the value of the Chinese currency have been overshadowed by anxiety over the global price of oil," the Washington Post reports. "Rising oil prices have taken center stage much as they are dominating economic and political discussions worldwide."

• "Flooding in the Midwest could mean drivers will be getting a bigger soaking at gasoline pumps nationwide," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "In recent days, corn-based ethanol prices have risen along with floodwaters as commodities traders worry about damage to corn crops.... Since refiners blend ethanol into gasoline, higher ethanol prices mean higher costs for refiners, which could be passed on at the pump."

• "As Detroit automakers have undertaken painful overhauls in recent years, the impact has fallen most directly on the tens of thousands of factory workers who lost middle-class jobs," the New York Times reports. "But the ranks are also thinning in the dealer networks built up during a time when General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler ruled the road, and companies like Toyota, Nissan and Honda were mere upstarts."

• "The California housing market may be showing the first signs of a recovery after three years of declining sales and two years of rising foreclosures, the UCLA Anderson Forecast said today," Bloomberg News reports. "While home prices in the most populous U.S. state are still weak, the number of houses and condominiums trading hands in California is rising, according to the Anderson Forecast."

World: Israel & Hamas Agree On Cease-Fire

• "A deal announced on Tuesday for a temporary cease-fire between Israel and Hamas raised hopes for an end to months of deadly violence in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel, but skeptical Israeli officials cautioned that the emerging truce was fragile and could easily unravel," the Chicago Tribune reports. "The agreement on a six-month lull, mediated by Egypt, comes as leaders on both sides are under increasing pressure from their people to end the hostilities."

• "Afghan intelligence agencies believe Taliban and al Qaeda forces are preparing a major offensive against Kabul, moving into positions as little as 12 miles from the capital and sending recruits from the U.S. and Britain into the city to collect information needed to kidnap Westerners and prepare for spectacular suicide attacks," the Washington Times reports.

• "Helicopter gunships and troops with small and heavy arms blasted a valley in southern Afghanistan" today "as local and NATO forces launched a huge offensive against hundreds of Taliban insurgents, many of whom broke out of jail last week," Reuters reports.

• "The new government" of Pakistan "has paid the salaries of the Supreme Court justices ousted by President Pervez Musharraf last year, a move the governing coalition says highlights its commitment to reinstating them, Pakistani officials said Tuesday," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Restoring the judges to the bench, a key demand of protesting lawyers, could endanger Musharraf's presidency."

• "The Pakistani military is so angry over the American airstrikes here last week that it is threatening to postpone or cancel an American program to train a paramilitary force in counterinsurgency for combating Islamist militants," the New York Times reports. "Some Pakistani officials are convinced that the Americans deliberately fired on their military, killing 11 men from the very paramilitary force the Americans want to train, an accusation the Americans deny."

• "President Felipe Calderon on Tuesday signed legislation designed to fundamentally change Mexico's much-criticized justice system by allowing U.S.-style oral trials and establishing a presumption of innocence for criminal defendants," the Washington Post reports. "The sweeping measures also require local and state police departments to 'purify' their ranks of corrupt officers, and they grant those agencies power to investigate organized crime."

• "The head of the European Commission" today "urged EU countries to act quickly to resolve a political crisis caused by Ireland's rejection of the bloc's reform treaty," AP reports. Jose Manuel Barroso "urged the eight countries that have not yet ratified the Lisbon Treaty to do so."

• "President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday announced a major new defense policy that would integrate French troops into the command structure of the NATO alliance for the first time in more than four decades," the Washington Post reports.

• "The head of an African observer mission in Zimbabwe has warned that he will not endorse next week's run-off if current levels of violence continue," BBC News reports. "Marwick Khumalo told the BBC his team had received horrendous reports of attacks and the political environment was not conducive to a free poll."

• "More than six weeks have passed since Cyclone Nargis swept through the Irrawaddy Delta in southern Myanmar, leaving a trail of flattened villages and broken lives and arousing international sympathy that turned to anguish as the military government obstructed foreign aid," the New York Times reports. "Now doctors and aid workers returning from remote areas of the delta are offering a less pessimistic picture of the human cost of the delay in reaching survivors."

Campaigns: Falling Into Step

• As President Bush echoes John McCain's call for offshore drilling in the wake of rising gas prices, coastal Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla., has also eased his opposition to drilling. Earlybird's Campaign News section has details.

Commentary: Supreme Election Issue

• Presidential candidates' opposing views on Guantanamo ruling stir up debate in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section.

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