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EARLYBIRD

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Bush dedicates first Sept. 11 memorial at the Pentagon, Democrats shifting to allow offshore oil drilling, Iraq cancels six no-bid oil contracts, exports buoy local markets, Mullen offers stark analysis of Afghanistan war.

• "President Bush is observing the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks" today "at a time when he's having to dispatch more U.S. troops to fight rising violence in Afghanistan, the launch site for al-Qaida's assault on America," AP reports.

• "On the day before the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Homeland Security Secretary" Michael Chertoff "said his biggest worry was a biological outbreak," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "He said he is most concerned about a weapon of mass destruction being used by terrorists in the United States, although he does not believe such a threat is imminent."

 

• "The Homeland Security Department will put all incoming air cargo through radiation detectors at the nation's airports to try to prevent terrorists from smuggling radioactive bombs into the U.S.," USA Today reports. "The new initiative aims to close what the 9/11 Commission's final report called a major security vulnerability -- cargo on airplanes as a potential avenue for terrorism."

• "The Pentagon" Wednesday "postponed the controversial $40 billion competition to build an aerial refueling tanker for the Air Force, conceding a breakdown in the management of the contest and postponing the politically charged decision until the next presidential administration," the Washington Post reports.

• "The government wasted millions of dollars on four no-bid contracts it handed out for Hurricane Katrina work, including paying $20 million for a camp for evacuees that was never inspected and proved to be unusable, investigators say. A report by the Homeland Security Department's office of inspector general, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, is the latest to detail mismanagement in the multibillion-dollar Katrina hurricane recovery effort, which investigators have said wasted at least $1 billion."

 

• "The Bush administration is unlikely to complete 670 miles of border fence by year-end as required by Congress because of surging construction costs and problems acquiring private land along the border with Mexico, Homeland Security Department officials acknowledged" Wednesday, the Washington Post reports. "The department had completed 344 miles of fencing as of Aug. 29, about half its goal, congressional investigators reported. It has yet to acquire 320 parcels of land because of delayed court proceedings and disputes with private owners, mostly in Texas, officials said."

"President Bush rushed a U.S.-India civilian nuclear cooperation deal to Congress late Wednesday with hopes that lawmakers will expedite passage of one of his top foreign policy initiatives," AP reports. "There is little time left on the congressional calendar to pass the accord, which would reverse three decades of U.S. policy by shipping atomic fuel to India in return for international inspections of India's civilian reactors."

Congress: Dems Shifting To Allow Offshore Drilling

• "Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel [D-N.Y.] went to the House floor Wednesday evening to defend his conduct," the Politico reports. "But after weeks of pounding in the New York press, the powerful Democrat finds himself fighting not just his own ethics troubles but also past scandals not of his doing."

• "The Senate voted Wednesday to shift $8 billion into the highway trust fund, restoring solvency to an account that is going broke and staving off what could have been crippling delays in federal aid for road and bridge projects around the country," AP reports. "The voice vote came five days after Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said the trust fund would be out of money by the end of the month and urged Congress to approve the $8 billion replenishment bill that the White House previously had threatened to veto."

 

• "Senate Republicans say they fear they might have lost their edge on the energy issue after some of their GOP colleagues joined the 'Gang of 10' that is pursuing a bipartisan compromise," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "The group has attracted increasing support, with its ranks swelling to 16 members, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has agreed to give their proposal a floor vote next week."

• "House Democrats appeared ready Wednesday to allow offshore oil drilling nationwide after leaders realized they do not have the votes to extend a drilling moratorium," Roll Call (subscription) also reports. "Under legislation outlined Wednesday afternoon but still under discussion among Democrats, drilling would be allowed 50 to 100 miles offshore nearly everywhere provided that states agree to it."

• "Three members of Congress, armed with a new report that they say proves that excessive oil speculation is distorting consumer energy prices, are renewing their efforts to exclude many institutional investors from the nation's commodity markets," the New York Times reports.

• "House leaders might unveil their economic-stimulus package as soon as next week, and they are likely to include funding to improve the nation's crumbling infrastructure, Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman John Larson of Connecticut said Wednesday," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

• "Sen. Ted Stevens [R-Alaska] suffered a series of setbacks Wednesday as a federal judge rebuffed his lawyers' attempts to weaken a corruption case that has put his political career in peril," The Hill reports.

• "A lawyer for Senator Larry E. Craig [R-Idaho] asked the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Wednesday to allow Mr. Craig to withdraw a guilty plea to disorderly conduct after his arrest in a sex-sting operation at an airport men's room last year," the New York Times reports.

Iraq: Oil Ministry Cancels No-Bid Contracts

• "Iraq's defense minister said Wednesday that his country was seeking to buy F-16 fighter jets from the United States, while his American counterpart, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, said he believed that the Iraq war had entered the 'endgame,'" the New York Times reports. "In Baghdad, the Iraqi defense minister, Abdel Qader Mohammed Jassim, said buying the jets would be a crucial step if Iraqi forces were to assume more responsibilities from American soldiers."

• "Sunni Arab neighborhood patrols have been vital to cutting violence in Iraq. But how the Shi'ite-led government handles their future could foster sectarian reconciliation or start a new round of bloodshed," Reuters reports. "The U.S. military will begin handing control of the units to the government from October 1, when Baghdad will pay 54,000 guards operating in and around the Iraqi capital."

• "An Iraqi plan to award six no-bid contracts to Western oil companies, which came under sharp criticism from several United States senators this summer, has been withdrawn, participants in the negotiations said on Wednesday," the New York Times reports. "Iraq's oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, told reporters at an OPEC summit meeting in Vienna on Tuesday that talks... had dragged on for so long that the companies could not now fulfill the work within that time frame."

• "The percentage of voters seeing progress in U.S. efforts to restore civil order in Iraq is now higher than it has been in nearly three years, even as Americans still hold broadly negative views about the original decision to go to war." In a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, "56 percent of registered voters say the United States is making significant strides toward bringing order in Iraq... nearly double the level in late 2006, before President Bush ordered additional American troops to the country."

Nation: Bush Unveils Pentagon's Sept. 11 Memorial

• "Today, President Bush will lead the ceremony dedicating the first national memorial to the victims of that tragic day when four planes were hijacked and nearly 3,000 people were killed," the Los Angeles Times reports. "The two-acre memorial at the Pentagon -- with 184 steel-and-granite benches, each engraved with a victim's name -- is about 200 feet from the crash site, oriented along the plane's flight path."

• "The first of the steel girders that will support the largest memorial... were only recently lowered into place here, marking the long-delayed beginning of construction at the World Trade Center site," the Chicago Tribune reports. "The National September 11 Memorial, two massive square waterfalls set within the footprints of the twin towers, was to have opened next year. Now, officials are aiming to have the memorial ready in time for the 10th anniversary in 2011."

• "Government brokers responsible for collecting billions of dollars in federal oil royalties operated in a 'culture of substance abuse and promiscuity' that included having sex with energy company employees, accepting lavish gifts and rigging contracts to favored firms, investigators said Wednesday," AP reports. "The purported transgressions involve 13 former and current Interior Department employees in Denver and Washington."

• "A meatpacking company Wednesday laid off about 100 Muslim immigrant workers who walked off the job last week in protest of the firm's refusal to give them time to pray during the holy month of Ramadan," the Los Angeles Times reports. "When Ramadan began Sept. 1, workers said supervisors informally gave them time to break their daylong fast at sundown. But non-Muslim employees protested, and on Friday, JBS Swift & Co. officials refused to give workers break time to pray and eat."

• "The rate of suicides among-active duty soldiers is on pace to surpass both last year's numbers and the rate of suicide in the general U.S. population for the first time since the Vietnam war, according to U.S. Army officials," CNN reports.

• "As thousands of Texans prepared to stand their ground against Hurricane Ike, others began fleeing low-lying areas in the tricky storm's projected path," the Houston Chronicle reports.

Economy: Exports Buoy Local Markets

• "A proposed $25 billion federal loan program to help retool the American auto industry would speed the development of electric cars and other alternative-fuel vehicles, a Chrysler executive said Wednesday," the New York Times reports. "His comments came as Congressional leaders began discussions on whether to pay for the loan program that was created last year as part of legislation requiring a 40 percent increase in fuel economy."

• "Much of the world may be struggling with the economic downturn, but life has been getting better in Columbus, Ind., Kingsport, Tenn., and Waterloo, Iowa," the Wall Street Journal reports. "These out-of-the-way places have become trade hot spots as U.S. exports, fueled by the dollar's fall, continue to provide a rare spark in an otherwise gloomy economy."

• "With the government's seizure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on Sunday, the federal regulator who oversaw the mortgage giants during their long descent is now in charge of restoring them to financial health," the Washington Post reports. "As the director of the newly created Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA)," James B. Lockhart III "now finds himself in full control of the companies and facing many of the same challenges that brought Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac down -- along with a few new ones."

• "The default of up to $500bn of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac credit derivatives contracts triggered by the US government's seizure of the mortgage groups could result in billions of dollars of losses for insurance companies and banks who offered credit insurance in recent months," the Financial Times reports. "The potential losses, as well as uncertainty about exactly how the derivatives contracts will be settled and unwound, is putting strains on the unregulated $62,000bn credit derivatives market, which has been a target of regulators worried about the hidden risks it could hold for the financial system."

• "Wall Street investment banks are marketing and selling complex schemes meant to allow foreign investors, including offshore hedge funds, to avoid paying billions of dollars in dividend taxes illegally, according to a Senate subcommittee report released Wednesday," the New York Times reports. "The 77-page report, by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations... singles out Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, Deutsche Bank, Merrill Lynch, UBS and Citigroup."

World: Mullen Offers Stark Analysis Of Afghanistan War

• "The nation's top military officer issued a blunt assessment" Wednesday "of the war in Afghanistan and called for an overhaul in U.S. strategy there, warning that thousands more U.S. troops as well as greater U.S. military involvement across the border in Pakistan's tribal areas are needed to battle an intensifying insurgency," the Washington Post reports. "'I am not convinced that we're winning it in Afghanistan,' Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee" Wednesday. "But, he added, 'I'm convinced we can.'"

• "President Bush secretly approved orders in July that for the first time allow American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government, according to senior American officials," the New York Times reports. "The classified orders signal a watershed for the Bush administration after nearly seven years of trying to work with Pakistan to combat the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and after months of high-level stalemate about how to challenge the militants' increasingly secure base in Pakistan's tribal areas."

• "The trial of eight Britons charged with plotting to blow up transatlantic flights ended in London this week with a mixed verdict. But to anti-terrorism officials, two things are clear: The 2006 plot was an ambitious effort by Al Qaeda to match the carnage of the Sept. 11 attacks. And it failed," the Los Angeles Times reports.

• "North Korea has quietly built a long-range missile base that is larger and more capable than an older and well-known launch pad for intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to independent analysts relying on new satellite images of the site and other data. Analysts provided images of the previously secret site to The Associated Press."

• "North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is on the mend from an apparent stroke, a South Korean lawmaker said" today, "with no signs he has lost his grip over a country that possibly has nuclear weapons," Reuters reports. "Kim can stand up with assistance and is able to communicate, a South Korean lawmaker said after a meeting with his country's spy chief."

• "Two Russian strategic bombers landed in Venezuela on Wednesday as part of military maneuvers, President Hugo Chávez said, welcoming the unprecedented deployment at a time of increasing tensions between Russia and the United States," the Washington Post reports. "Russian military analysts said it was the first time Russian strategic bombers have landed in the Western Hemisphere since the Cold War."

• "Condemned in the West over its incursion in Georgia, the Kremlin has sought support from traditional allies in the former Soviet Union," the Wall Street Journal reports. "But leaders in the region, many with their own separatist problems and fears about Moscow's intentions, have been slow to respond."

• "Suffering long ago became normal" in Gonaives, Haiti, "passed down through generations of children who learn that crying does no good. But the enduring spirit of the people of Gonaïves is being tested by a string of recent tropical storms and hurricanes whose names Haitians spit out like curses: Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike," the New York Times reports. "After four fierce storms in less than a month, the little that many people had has turned to nothing at all."

• "Bolivian President Evo Morales ordered the expulsion Wednesday of the U.S. ambassador to his country, accusing him of fostering divisions in the deeply fractured Andean nation," the Los Angeles Times reports. "The move comes as tensions rise and violence increases in states opposed to the leftist policies of Morales. The president has regularly accused Washington and its ambassador of plotting against him."

• "Samak Sundaravej is poised" today "to return as Thailand's prime minister just two days after a court removed him from the post, angering protesters who vowed to keep up their campaign against him," Agence France-Presse reports. "Samak, kicked out on Tuesday by the Constitutional Court over his hosting of TV cooking shows, accepted the nomination of the ruling People Power Party's (PPP) which said he had done nothing wrong."

Campaigns: Cease-Fire

Barack Obama and John McCain have called a campaign truce for the day to honor the Sept. 11 anniversary. Earlybird's Campaign News section has details.

Commentary: Seven Years Ago Today

• Sept. 11 is the hot topic in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section as commentators reflect on the terrorist attacks while predicting what role terrorism will play in the election.

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