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EARLYBIRD

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Bush gives mixed assessment of China, GOP continues 'phantom session,' al-Sadr vows to disarm Mahdi Army, Pakistani scientist charged in police station assault, Bill Clinton urges more AIDS relief in U.S., Iran flexes muscles.

• "Three days before he is set to arrive in Beijing for the Olympics, President Bush offered a mixed assessment of China's role in the world, praising its efforts to curb the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran, expressing disappointment about its recent move to help scuttle global trade talks, and saying that it is 'really hard to tell' whether human rights in China have improved over the past eight years," the Washington Post reports.

• Bush "has characterized his visit as an apolitical celebration of the Olympic spirit and American sportsmanship. But behind the scenes, according to officials and others involved in the discussions, the preparations have been far more complicated and remain a source of friction," the New York Times reports.

 

• "Thousands of South Koreans gathered for a prayer service" today "to welcome" Bush "on a visit that was expected to spark revived street protests against the resumption of U.S. beef imports," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Police said some 30,000 people convened on the grassy plaza in front of Seoul City Hall for a Christian service.... Meanwhile, some 18,300 police stood guard with riot gear and bomb-sniffing dogs to maintain order across the South Korean capital for both pro- and anti-Bush rallies."

• "Bush signed legislation Monday that allows the State Department to settle all remaining lawsuits against Libya by U.S. terrorism victims and paves the way for complete rapprochement between Washington and Tripoli," AP reports.

• "The Pentagon is spending an unprecedented $300 million this summer on research for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, offering hope not only for troops but hundreds of thousands of civilians," USA Today reports. "The money -- the most spent in one year on military medical research since a $210 million breast cancer study in 1993 -- will fund 171 research projects on two of the most prevalent injuries of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars."

 

• "The Pentagon on Monday officially dissolved an intelligence office that once created a controversial database about potential threats to military bases, shifting it to the Defense Intelligence Agency," AP reports. "The Pentagon's six-year old Counterintelligence Field Activity's personnel, budget, and most of its mission has been folded into the newly created Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center."

• "The Bush administration informed all foreign intelligence and law enforcement teams visiting their citizens held at Guantanamo Bay that video and sound from their interrogation sessions would be recorded, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. The policy suggests that the United States could possess hundreds or thousands of hours of secret taped conversations between detainees and representatives from nearly three dozen countries."

• "Secret evidence at the war crimes trial of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's driver, showed that Mr. Hamdan offered 'critical details' to American forces 'when it mattered most' in the early days of the war in Afghanistan, Mr. Hamdan's military lawyer said Monday in his closing argument," the New York Times reports.

• "Survivors of the 2001 anthrax attacks and relatives of those who died are awaiting a promised FBI briefing they hope will answer questions about the investigation and confirm whether the government scientist who committed suicide last week was behind the attacks," USA Today reports. "The case against Bruce Ivins, an anthrax vaccine researcher who worked at an Army biodefense lab at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., is before a federal grand jury and under court seal."

 

• "One of the biggest mysteries surrounding the anthrax scare of 2001 -- why the anthrax-laced letters were dropped off at a mailbox in New Jersey -- may be connected to a sorority chapter at Princeton University," AP reports. "Bruce Ivins' decades-long obsession with the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority could link the former Army biowarfare scientist to the four anthrax-laced letters, authorities said Monday."

Congress: GOP Continues 'Phantom Session' Over Oil Prices

• "Energized House Republicans believe they have struck political gold with American voters angered by high gas prices through their unusual revolt on the floor, which Democrats on Monday tried to dismiss as a 'political stunt,'" The Hill reports. "Republicans said they would continue to speak from the floor about the need for Congress to act on high gas prices through the August recess -- even if no one is watching."

• The Politico reports that "some Republicans far from the Hill theatrics" believe the session "offers a chance to redefine the politics of the economy -- from a matter of jobs and homes, where the GOP fares poorly, to a matter of energy, where the party does better."

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• "California Democrat Nancy Pelosi may be trying to save the planet -- but the rank and file in her party increasingly are just trying to save their political hides when it comes to gas prices as Republicans apply more and more rhetorical muscle," the Politico reports. "But what looks like intraparty tension on the surface is part of an intentional strategy in which Pelosi takes the heat on energy policy, while behind the scenes she's encouraging vulnerable Democrats to express their independence if it helps them politically, according to Democratic aides on and off Capitol Hill."

• "Infuriated Democrats vowed Monday to kill a pilot program that gives Mexican trucks access to U.S. highways after the Bush administration -- acting on the first day of Congress' summer recess -- announced that it was extending the test project," the Washington Times reports. "Rep. James L. Oberstar [D-Minn.], chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee... said he will introduce legislation ending the program once and for all."

• "Lawyers for indicted Sen. Ted Stevens [R] requested Monday to move the Alaska senator's criminal case to his home state, a request that could have significant ramifications on his long political career," The Hill reports.

Iraq: Al-Sadr Vows To Disarm Madhi Army

• "Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr -- long a thorn in the side of the U.S. military and Iraqi government -- intends to disarm his once-dominant Mahdi Army militia and remake it as a social-services organization," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The transformation would represent a significant turnabout for a group that, as recently as earlier this year, was seen as one of the most destabilizing anti-American forces in Iraq."

• "After a third day of intense negotiations, Iraqi political leaders may have come to an agreement that would allow nationwide provincial elections to take place by the end of the year," the New York Times reports. "The disputes that have held up a law to provide for the elections centered on the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, which is claimed by Arabs and Kurds, and heavily populated by Turkmens."

• "Roadside bombs killed two American soldiers and wounded a third Monday as their patrol drove through eastern Baghdad, the U.S. military said," the Washington Post reports. "The attack occurred at 9:30 a.m. in the mostly Shiite enclave of New Baghdad, police said."

• "Gunmen killed a senior leader of a U.S.-allied Sunni group and six of his guards in an ambush south of Baghdad, a group member said" today, AP reports. "Roadside bombings also killed another person and wounded a dozen" today, "in a second consecutive day of bombings in the capital."

Afghanistan: Pakistani Scientist Charged In Police Station Assault

• "An American-trained Pakistani neuroscientist with ties to operatives of Al Qaeda has been charged with trying to kill American soldiers and F.B.I. agents in a police station in Afghanistan last month, the Justice Department said Monday night," the New York Times reports. "Aafia Siddiqui, who studied at Brandeis University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was transferred to New York on Monday, and is to be arraigned" today "in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York."

• "The Pentagon has ordered roughly 1,250 Marines serving as trainers for the Afghan security forces to stay on the warfront almost a month longer to continue a mission that military leaders say is a top priority, according to a senior military official," AP reports. "In addition, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has authorized the deployment of up to 200 other troops to Afghanistan to support the Marines. That includes eight helicopter crews that could be shifted from Iraq if commanders decide."

• "The price of fuel has risen sharply in Afghanistan after major foreign suppliers stopped exports to the landlocked nation, an official said" today, Reuters reports. "The rise has also pushed up prices of food and other commodities in one of the poorest countries of the world which is already struggling to cope with a virulent Taliban insurgency and faces poor harvests this year due to drought."

• "In a country plagued by war and Islamic militants, by one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world, by malnutrition and starvation and even by locusts, AIDS has arrived," the Chicago Tribune reports. "So far the Afghan government has officially identified only 435 cases of HIV -- a small number, considering how many there are in neighboring countries -- but international and Afghan health experts say there are likely thousands in Afghanistan."

Nation: Bill Clinton Urges More AIDS Relief In U.S.

• "An investigation of research conducted at an Arkansas veterans hospital has uncovered rampant violations in its human experiments program, including missing consent forms, secret HIV testing and failure to report more than 100 deaths of subjects participating in studies," the Washington Times reports. "The Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs" today "will release its findings in a report on human subject protection violations at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System in Little Rock. The studies involved thousands of veterans who had volunteered for behavioral and drug experiments."

• "Fresh off a whirlwind tour of AIDS programs across Africa, former president Bill Clinton said Monday that new U.S. figures highlight the need for fresh attention to the disease at home, particularly among African Americans," the Washington Post reports. "Citing data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that the U.S. epidemic has been underestimated by 40 percent, Clinton pledged the resources of his charitable foundation to refocus on domestic AIDS."

• "Federal and local authorities are girding for huge protests, mammoth traffic tie-ups and civil disturbances at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this month, fearing that the convention will become a magnet for militant protest groups," the New York Times reports.

• "Millions of Americans with chronic disease like diabetes or high blood pressure are not getting adequate treatment because they are among the nation's growing ranks of uninsured," the Times reports. "That is the central finding of a new study to be published" today "in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine."

• "Wider use of antidepressants and other prescription medications has reduced the role of psychotherapy, once the defining characteristic of psychiatric care, according to an analysis published today," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Researchers attributed the shift to insurance reimbursement policies that favor short medication visits compared with longer psychotherapy sessions, and to the introduction of a new generation of psychotropic medications with fewer side effects.

• "Firebombs that struck the home and car of two UC Santa Cruz scientists this weekend were part of an increasingly aggressive campaign by animal rights activists against animal researchers at University of California campuses, officials said Monday," the Times reports.

Economy: Policy Makers Disagree On Best Prescription For Inflation

• "Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, likely to leave interest rates unchanged today, may need to sound tougher on inflation to avert the sharpest public disagreement among policy makers in more than a decade," Bloomberg News reports. "The fastest inflation in 17 years adds to the risk that three members of the Federal Open Market Committee will dissent for the first time since 1992."

• "Cheap oil, which helped push the American Dream away from the city center, isn't so cheap anymore. As more and more families reconsider their dreams, land-use experts are beginning to ask whether $4-a-gallon gas is enough to change the way Americans have thought for half a century about where they live," the Washington Post reports.

• "The housing downturn that is setting foreclosure records, inflating the volume of homes for sale and dragging down prices has also created a cash crunch for new-home builders," the Post reports. "Without the financial cushion to weather a slowdown, small builders... have stumbled and become overwhelmed with property they bought two or three years ago and now lack the funds to complete, analysts said."

• "The chief executive of the mortgage giant Freddie Mac rejected internal warnings that could have protected the company from some of the financial crises now engulfing it, according to more than two dozen current and former high-ranking executives and others," the New York Times reports. "That chief executive, Richard F. Syron, in 2004 received a memo from Freddie Mac's chief risk officer warning him that the firm was financing questionable loans that threatened its financial health."

• "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac... may report net losses through the first quarter of 2009 as home-loan delinquencies rise to the highest on record, analysts' estimates show," Bloomberg News reports. "Freddie, based in McLean, Virginia, probably will say" Wednesday "when it releases second-quarter results that it had $1.9 billion in credit-related costs, while Washington-based Fannie will report $2.4 billion, according to Credit Suisse analyst Moshe Orenbuch in New York."

• "Crude oil prices fell below $120 a barrel for the first time in three months on Monday, as new data underscored the damage high energy costs are inflicting on US consumers," the Financial Times reports. "Real US consumer spending fell by 0.2 per cent in June, as rising inflation offset the impact of $100bn in rebates for US taxpayers."

• "Investors are growing wary of bonds backed by credit-card payments, jamming up another debt market and making it tougher for Americans to tap what has been one of the easiest places to get credit," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "Rising defaults on credit-card payments, coupled with a bleaker economic outlook, are spooking investors in the market where this debt is packaged and sold."

World: Iran Flexes Muscles On Eve Of Diplomatic Response

• "Iran announced" Monday "that it has tested a new weapon capable of sinking ships nearly 200 miles away, and reiterated threats to close a strategic waterway at the mouth of the Persian Gulf if attacked," the Washington Times reports. "Up to 40 percent of the world's oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow passage along Iran's southern coast. Tehran has warned it could shut down tanker traffic there if attacked, a move likely to send oil prices skyrocketing."

• "Iran will present a formal response today to an offer of incentives by world powers in exchange for suspending its nuclear enrichment program, U.S. and European officials said. But they expressed little expectation of a positive reply," the Washington Post reports.

• "An attack Monday that Chinese authorities called the deadliest terrorist act in more than a decade focused an international spotlight on China's Muslim Uighur minority, who share with their Tibetan neighbors many of the same ethnic and economic grievances against Beijing's Communist leadership," the Washington Times reports. "Authorities did not identify the perpetrators of the attack, which left 16 soldiers dead. But a Chinese security spokesmen attributed the strike to the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement, which Beijing has called the most serious threat to the Olympic Games that begin this week."

• "After two years of intensive and often secretive overtures, Taiwan and Japan, two neighbors long viewed as the most likely to face a military threat from a rising China have been drawn closer into its orbit," the New York Times reports. "Improved relations have not only reduced the chances of a flare-up that could disrupt China's turn as an Olympic host, but also helped showcase China's frequent claims to be a new kind of global power that intends to rise on the world stage without engaging in military conflict."

• "Soldiers were deployed throughout Italy on Monday to embassies, subway and railway stations, as part of broader government measures to fight violent crime here for which illegal immigrants are broadly blamed," the Times reports. "The effort will flank regular police officers and the military police with 3,000 troops, a visible signal to citizens that the government 'has responded to their demands for greater security,' Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said in an interview on the Italian Sky News channel."

• "Ethiopia has been grappling with a double whammy: drought in its traditional breadbasket and a global food crisis that has pushed prices sky high," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Although recent rains and an influx of humanitarian aid have experts cautiously predicting the crisis might be stabilizing in parts of the country, nearly 10 million people will need emergency aid to survive until the harvest in September."

• "The possibility of police involvement" in the kidnapping and death of a Mexican teenager "comes at an awkward time for President Felipe Calderon, who has been waging a high-stakes war against violent drug cartels since taking office in December 2006," the Times reports. "The campaign against drug gangs as well as other violent criminals has been repeatedly compromised by corrupt police officers, pushing Calderon to turn to the army."

• "A Syrian general shot to death at a beach resort over the weekend was a top overseer of his country's weapons shipments to Hezbollah, according to opposition Web sites and Arab and Israeli news media," the Washington Post reports. "Syria by late Monday had issued no reaction to widespread reports of the assassination of Brig. Gen. Mohammed Suleiman near the Syrian port city of Tartous on Friday night."

• "Hamas claimed Monday to have 'uprooted' the last major pocket of armed resistance to its 14-month rule in the Gaza Strip, saying it seized mortars, grenade launchers and other weapons from a once powerful clan allied with the rival Fatah movement," AP reports. "Dozens of members of the Hilles clan were being held by the Islamic militants of Hamas, while dozens more who fled to Israel to avoid capture during weekend fighting were given asylum Monday in the Fatah-ruled West Bank."

• "Israel's domestic security service requires Gazans who wish to enter Israel for medical treatment to submit to detailed interviews about their knowledge of political and militant groups, according to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, a nonprofit group based in Tel Aviv," the Washington Post reports. "In a report released Monday, the group documents 32 cases of Palestinians who said they were told that a permit to enter Israel for medical care was conditional on being willing to deliver information."

Campaigns: Obama Shifts Again on Energy

• Altering his position, Barack Obama has endorsed tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve; meanwhile, voters head to the polls today for primaries in Kansas, Michigan and Missouri. Earlybird's Campaign News section has details.

Commentary: It's Not Bush Or Black Voters

• What John McCain should really be concerned with is not his lack of support from black voters or being compared to Bush, commentators assert in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section.

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