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EARLYBIRD

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SCOTUS strikes down death penalty for child rapists, military needs $100 billion worth of equipment updates, hurdles to Senate housing bill arise, hundreds arrested in multistate child prostitution bust, U.S. to lift some sanctions on North Korea.

• "The Pentagon faces a more than $100 billion bill to repair and replace worn out or destroyed equipment, vehicles and weapons, officials and members of Congress say, but paying for it may endanger plans to boost the size of the military," USA Today reports. "The military is scrambling to re-equip because the Pentagon failed to plan for the long and expensive war in Iraq, said Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who chairs the House panel that oversees military spending."

• "In a nighttime raid in November 2001, Pakistani authorities arrested" Mohammed Sulaymon Barre, "holding him for four months and then turning him over to U.S. forces in Afghanistan as an alleged terrorist. Soon thereafter, Barre was flown to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba," the Washington Post reports. "More than six years later and now armed with a recent Supreme Court decision, Barre plans to file a habeas corpus petition in a U.S. federal court in Washington today, the first time he will be able to challenge his detention before a civilian judge."

 

• "The Department of Homeland Security is moving too slowly to prepare for the risks that will accompany the first presidential transition for U.S. counterterrorism agencies formed after the 2001 terrorist attacks, according to a study scheduled for release today," the Post reports.

• "White House officials last December sought to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from submitting a proposed rule that would limit greenhouse-gas emissions from new vehicles, agency sources said" Wednesday, the Post reports. "And upon learning that EPA had hit the 'send' button just minutes earlier, the White House called again to demand that the e-mail be recalled."

SCOTUS: Death Penalty For Child Rape Struck Down

• "The death penalty is unconstitutional as a punishment for the rape of a child, a sharply divided Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday," the New York Times reports. "The 5-to-4 decision [PDF] overturned death penalty laws in Louisiana and five other states."

 

• "Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal," a Republican, "said he will seek to enact laws that would invalidate" the ruling, the Washington Times reports.

• The court "on Wednesday tossed out a $2.5 billion punitive damages award arising from the 1989 grounding of the Exxon Valdez, in a 5-3 decision [PDF] that strengthens its trend of curtailing damages to punish and deter wrongdoing," USA Today reports. "The majority found that commercial fishermen and other Alaska businesses should have won no more than $507.5 million in punitive damages."

• Also Wednesday, the court "threw out the conviction of a man accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend because the defendant could not challenge an incriminating account she gave the police weeks before her death," the Washington Post reports. "The 6 to 3 ruling [PDF] drew howls from domestic violence opponents who said the decision could lead to perverse situations in which criminals would reap a legal 'windfall' after killing their victims."

• The court "was expected to rule" today "for the first time in seven decades on the highly emotional issue of the constitutional right to bear arms," Agence France-Presse reports. "The court's decision -- on whether the right to keep and bear arms is fundamentally an individual or collective right -- is expected to have a far reaching impact on US gun control laws."

 

Congress: Hurdles Arise For Senate Housing Bill

• "Congress's effort to rescue beleaguered homeowners stalled Wednesday because of a dispute between the two Nevada senators -- who, ironically, represent the state with the nation's highest foreclosure rate," The Hill reports. "The housing legislation appeared to be sailing through this week," but Republican "Sen. John Ensign... insisted the chamber take a vote on his renewable-energy amendment before he would allow final action on the housing bill."

• "Conservatives have long opposed the housing bill as a bailout for 'irresponsible' lenders and borrowers," the Politico reports. "But the news that two Democratic senators got special mortgage deals through a VIP program at Countrywide Financial has given Republicans additional ammunition: the trappings of an ethics scandal to use to try to tarnish the housing legislation and the Democrats who wrote it."

• "The Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to take up legislation rewriting the nation's electronic surveillance law but remained bogged down over how to deal with amendments to the bill and finally get it passed over Democratic senators' concerns," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "After the Senate voted 80-15 to take up the bill rewriting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Senate Majority Leader" Harry Reid, D-Nev., "said several senators wanted to offer amendments, but doing so might not be possible due to a lack of an agreement on how to proceed."

• "Senate negotiators said Wednesday they had reached a tentative agreement on a key obstacle to one of the most ambitious federal health initiatives ever, a $50 billion act to combat AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in Africa and other countries hard-hit by those diseases," AP reports. "The agreement sets the stage for the Senate to vote in the near future on the five-year bill that would more than triple the size of the $15 billion global AIDS bill that Congress, at the urging of President Bush, passed in 2003."

• "Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus," D-Mont., "Wednesday threw his support behind the House-passed version of Medicare legislation despite a compromise he was working on with ranking member Charles Grassley," R-Iowa, "further sealing the deal on Senate consideration of only the House measure," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

• House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., "hoped to send House Democrats home for the Fourth of July recess with a series of votes that would show they're serious about easing the pain at the pump," the Politico reports. "But nothing has gone according to plan."

• "House Republican leaders' embarrassing failure to hold the line against a Medicare-related bill this week raised new questions about whether the rank and file will adopt an every-man-for-himself strategy as the election draws near," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "The 355-59 drubbing came despite a personal plea from Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) to rally his caucus against Democratic attempts to shove the so-called Medicare 'doc fix' down the GOP's throat."

• "Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) suffered a stinging defeat Wednesday when an Indian gambling bill he's being pushing for more than a decade was handily defeated in a lopsided vote of 121-298," The Hill reports. "The floor fight pitted Dingell, the longest-serving member of the House, against fellow Michigan Democrat John Conyers Jr., its second-longest serving member."

• "After 18 months in the majority and a series of unsuccessful outreach efforts to the business community," Reid "has lost patience with Republican dominance on K Street and started a systematic campaign to force a dramatic realignment backed with threats of a hostile environment on Capitol Hill," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

Iraq: Bush, Talabani Discuss Security Pact

• "President Bush and Iraq's president expressed cautious optimism Wednesday about prospects for completing a complex agreement that would keep U.S. troops in Iraq after a" United Nations "mandate expires at year-end," AP reports. "Bush said the U.S. was working on an agreement that 'suits' the Iraqi government. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, speaking in the Oval Office after meeting with Bush, cited recent progress and said he hoped it could be finished 'very soon.'"

• "Four U.S. soldiers died in roadside bombings Tuesday and Wednesday, the U.S. military said, bringing to 10 the number of Americans killed in Iraq since Monday," the Washington Post reports. "Meanwhile, Iraqi officials said a U.S. airstrike killed four members of a family north of Baghdad early Wednesday. Iraqi and U.S. officials provided conflicting accounts of the incident."

• "After struggling through five years of war, Iraq is facing an acute drought, which has slashed agricultural production and threatens to decimate livestock," the Los Angeles Times reports. "In the worst-hit northern provinces, areas that were covered with golden wheat fields and verdant pastures have become a dust bowl."

• "Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, the leader of the Chaldean Catholics in" Mosul "for years" passed money gathered as alms "into the hand of a man who had threatened to kill him and his entire congregation," the New York Times reports. "But American military officials now say that as security began to improve around Iraq last year, Archbishop Rahho, 65, stopped paying the protection money, one sliver of the frightening larger shadow of violence and persecution that has forced hundreds of thousands of Christians from Iraq. That decision, the officials say, may be why he was kidnapped" and killed "in February."

Nation: Hundreds Arrested In Child Prostitution Bust

• "Twenty-one sexually exploited children have been saved from the streets, and 389 people arrested on charges of trafficking children for prostitution, in what the" FBI "calls the largest such multistate sweep ever, officials said Wednesday," the New York Times reports. "The five-day operation, this week and last, spanned 16 cities and involved hundreds of local, state and federal agencies in the work of rescuing missing children, many of them runaways, and identifying networks behind domestic child trafficking for the sex trade."

• "As anxious relatives stood outside, van after van of mostly female undocumented workers were removed from a sweltering rag-sorting factory on Houston's east side and whisked to an immigration processing facility," the Houston Chronicle reports. "The early morning raid Wednesday by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, while netting 166 undocumented workers, did not include arrests of company officials with Action Rags USA. But those charges may be on the way."

• A Los Angeles "Superior Court judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit seeking to end a longstanding police policy that prohibits officers from initiating contact with people for the sole purpose of learning their immigration status," the New York Times reports.

• "Three Caribbean men were extradited Wednesday to the United States and ordered held without bail on charges stemming from their alleged involvement in a terrorist plot last year to attack New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, U.S. officials said," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Kareem Ibrahim, Abdul Kadir and Abdel Nur were flown from Trinidad and Tobago to New York, where they were arraigned and pleaded not guilty to various charges, including conspiring to attack a public transportation system and conspiring to destroy a building by fire or explosives."

• "Global warming probably will mean more illegal immigration and humanitarian disasters, undermining shaky governments and possibly expanding the terrorism threat against the U.S., intelligence agencies say," AP reports. "The assessment warns of a global spillover from increased migration and water-related disputes."

Economy: Fed Issues Inflation Warning, Signals Rate Cuts Are Over

• "The Federal Reserve's aggressive period of cutting interest rates to keep the country from falling into a recession is over. That point is in general agreement," AP reports. "The trouble starts when you try to figure out what period the Fed has now entered."

• "American Airlines, the largest U.S. airline, announced" Wednesday "a deep round of service cuts that includes shrinking the number of flights from New York's LaGuardia airport and eliminating service to four smaller U.S. cities," the Washington Post reports.

• "Sales of U.S. previously owned houses probably rose in May from a record low as depressed prices lured some buyers into the market, economists said before a report today," Bloomberg News reports. "A drop in property values may have spurred demand in some of the most depressed areas, such as California and the Midwest."

• "The legal and financial pressures on Countrywide Financial Corp. mounted Wednesday as officials in three states filed separate legal actions against the mortgage lender," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The actions, by the attorneys general of California and Illinois, and the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions, came on the same day that Countrywide shareholders voted to approve the sale of the company to Bank of America Corp."

• "The board of Anheuser-Busch is planning to reject this week an unsolicited $46.4 billion takeover bid from InBev, a rival brewery based in Belgium, people close to the American company said on Wednesday," the New York Times reports. "The rejection, which has been widely expected, will formally start what is likely to become a bitter fight that may even spill over to a political debate about Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Budweiser and one of the nation's most prominent family-run companies."

World: U.S. To Lift Some Sanctions On North Korea

• "The Bush administration" today "will lift some trade sanctions against North Korea and move to take it off the U.S. terrorism blacklist -- a remarkable turnaround in policy" AP reports. "North Korea handed over a long-awaited accounting of its nuclear work to Chinese officials" today, "fulfilling a key step in the denuclearization process."

• "The Afghanistan government publicly accused the Pakistani intelligence service Wednesday of organizing the plot to assassinate President Hamid Karzai at a parade in Kabul in April," the International Herald Tribune reports. "At a time of rising tension between the two neighbors, the accusation is by far the most serious leveled by Afghanistan against Pakistan and it is the first time the Afghan authorities have described specific and public allegations that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, had been involved in the attack on Karzai."

• "The embattled prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, agreed Wednesday to hold a leadership vote in his centrist Kadima Party by late September, averting an imminent political crisis for his governing coalition but also paving the way for his possible ouster before the end of the year," the New York Times reports. "Also on Wednesday, Israel closed the Gaza border crossings for supplies in response to Palestinian rocket fire on Tuesday that was the first serious breach of a nearly week-old truce between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic group that controls Gaza."

• "Zimbabwe's battered opposition called Wednesday for the deployment of thousands of African Union peacekeeping troops to bring order to a nation ravaged by months of political violence as President Robert Mugabe clings to power after 28 years," the Washington Post reports. "The plea came as African leaders increasingly condemned Mugabe's ruthless campaign of retribution against the opposition that has left 86 party members dead and thousands wounded. A key group of southern African leaders urged Mugabe to cancel Friday's presidential runoff election."

• "South Korea lifted an import ban on American beef" today, "despite an overnight protest in which thousands of people rallied in central Seoul to protest the government move and the police fired water cannons and detained at least 120 protesters," the New York Times reports. "More than 3,000 protesters rallied well past midnight, chanting, 'Out with Lee Myung-bak!' whom "they accused... of opening the door for meat that they believe is not safe from mad cow disease."

• "The powerful speaker of Iran's parliament warned Wednesday that his nation could take drastic steps in response to economic, political and military pressure meant to halt controversial parts of its nuclear program," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iran's parliament and a former nuclear negotiator, said there was 'only a little time left' for talks before Iran would make unspecified moves that the West would regret."

• "As Italian police investigated the mysterious disappearance of a radical Islamic cleric in 2003, they found a trove of clues on the home computer of the CIA's chief spy in Milan, according to court testimony," the Washington Post reports. The "testimony came during a trial of 26 Americans charged with grabbing" Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr "off the street as he walked toward a Milan mosque on Feb. 17, 2003. He was later flown to Cairo, where he has asserted he was tortured by the Egyptian secret police as part of an investigation into al-Qaeda."

• "Russian bombers have stepped up provocative flight exercises off the Alaskan coast, reminiscent of Cold War incursions designed to rattle U.S. air defenses. U.S. Northern Command, which protects North American airspace, told The Washington Times that TU-95 Bear bombers on 18 occasions the past year have skirted a 12-mile air defense identification zone that protects Alaska."

Campaigns: Give And Take

• Democratic Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York are working out how to share voters and fundraisers as she seeks influence in a potential Obama administration. Earlybird's Campaign News section has details.

Commentary: Criticism Central

• Commentators are scrutinizing Obama on everything from his decision to opt out of the public finance system to his "false visage" to his "flip-flops" on trade agreements in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section.

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