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Colombia trade deal high on Bush's agenda, spike in violence worries Iraqis, Obama faces challenges in Afghanistan, gay marriage comes to Conn., Treasury shifts gears on rescue plan, Iran tests long-range missiles.

• "President Bush will tell world leaders not to 'turn inward or stifle markets' as they seek to fix an internationally slumping economy, a top aide said Wednesday as the White House set an anti-protectionism tone ahead of an unprecedented financial summit," AP reports.

• "That President Bush and President-elect Barack Obama discussed a Colombian free-trade agreement in their first postelection meeting indicates its importance to Bush's legacy and his concern for a nation that believes it gets little respect for its role as a key U.S. ally," the Los Angeles Times reports. "White House spokeswoman Dana Perino denied reports that Bush conditioned his support for a Democratic fiscal stimulus package... on approval of the trade bill with Colombia," but "the fact that the topic came up at all... reflects the priority Bush attaches to the agreement in the waning weeks of his administration."


• "Bush, reflecting on his time in office, said Wednesday that 'one of the most uplifting' experiences of his nearly eight-year tenure has been witnessing the gains Africa has made in education and fighting hunger and disease," AP reports. "Speaking at a charity dinner, Bush called the work done for Africa by his administration and family 'a labor of love.'"

• "When a Congressional committee subpoenaed Harry S. Truman in 1953, nearly a year after he left office, he made a startling claim: Even though he was no longer president, the Constitution still empowered him to block subpoenas," the New York Times reports. "Now, as Congressional Democrats prepare to move forward with investigations of the Bush administration, they wonder whether that claim may be invoked again."

• "The FBI has engaged in unlawful acts while carrying out a Bush administration intelligence-gathering program that allows surveillance of U.S. citizens without warrants, says an a well-known FBI whistleblower who has been asked to air his allegations to the Justice Department," the Washington Times reports. "The accusations by Supervisory Special Agent Bassem Youssef, who oversees the FBI's role in the National Security Agency's (NSA) warrantless surveillance program, are the first to emerge publicly about the bureau's role in the program."


• "As a new administration committed to addressing climate change takes office, intelligence and defense officials are laying plans to address the national security implications of a warmer planet," the Times reports. "In recent months, U.S. military planners have discussed the impact on personnel, equipment and installations of extreme weather events, rising ocean temperatures, shifts in rainfall patterns and stresses on natural resources."

• "In issuing a deliberately narrow ruling" [PDF] on Wednesday "in a controversial case involving whales and the U.S. Navy, the Supreme Court strongly indicated that it intends to defer to the military in future disputes pitting national security against environmental concerns," the Washington Post reports.

• However, "environmentalists said the fight was far from over," the Los Angeles Times reports. "The court immediately lifted limits on the Navy exercises now being held 12 miles off the Southern California coast, in a victory for the outgoing Bush administration. But the decision doesn't bind the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama to follow the same policy."

Congress: Hoyer Intervenes In Waxman-Dingell Fight

• "Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) has intervened in the fight between Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), hoping to resolve their battle over the chairmanship of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, one senior Democratic aide confirmed on Wednesday," the Politico reports. "But neither combatant has agreed to a deal and the dispute may still be resolved by a secret ballot next week."


• "With President-elect Obama's fingerprints seemingly everywhere, momentum appears to be building among Senate Democrats to let Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) keep his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "'The overall atmosphere is toward reconciliation,' said one Lieberman supporter, who noted that Obama 'has in a large sense set the tone' by calling for Lieberman to remain a member of the Senate Democratic Conference."

• "The Republican National Committee (RNC) is filing suit to challenge campaign finance laws banning the use of soft money and coordination between candidates and the committee," The Hill reports. "RNC Chairman Mike Duncan said Wednesday that the RNC will file two separate suits -- a challenge to the soft money ban in Washington federal court and the ban on coordination in the Louisiana district court."

• "Congressional Democrats are pushing legislation to send $25 billion in emergency loans to the beleaguered auto industry in exchange for a government ownership stake in the Big Three car companies," AP reports. "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hope for quick passage of the auto bailout during a postelection session that begins Monday."

• "A unanimous appeals court panel" Wednesday "rejected a bid by Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.) to dismiss his indictment on bribery and conspiracy charges, batting away arguments that prosecutors flouted the special protection he enjoys as a member of Congress," the Washington Post reports.

Iraq: Spike In Violence Has Iraqis Worried

• "An Iraqi soldier armed with an AK-47 assault rifle rigged with an extra large magazine opened fire Wednesday on U.S. soldiers in the northern city of Mosul, killing two and wounding six, U.S. military officials said," the Washington Post reports. "American soldiers returned fire, killing the Iraqi soldier."

• "The death toll was relatively small: four. But the psychological toll from" a "blast on Saadoun Street" on Wednesday "and from a string of attacks this week in Baghdad was big," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Since Monday, according to police statistics, roadside bombs, car bombs and suicide bombers wearing explosive belts have killed 58 people in the capital."

• The Chicago Tribune reports on "the Iraq Stock Exchange, an old-world institution in a battle-scarred neighborhood that has gained notice in recent months for its impressive gains in the face of the world financial crisis. With Wall Street in a swoon and European and Asian markets on life support, the Iraq Stock Market's 10 percent rise this year looks downright bullish."

Afghanistan: More Help Needed To Train Afghan Army

• "U.S. commanders in Afghanistan are requesting 3,300 more troops to accelerate the training of new Afghan army and police forces, a job seen as critical to defeating Afghanistan's growing insurgency," the Washington Post reports. "Maj. Gen. Robert Cone, who heads the U.S. command in Kabul that trains Afghan forces, said" Wednesday "he has asked for 60 additional training teams -- a total of about 1,000 troops -- to help speed the expansion of the Afghan army."

• "Obama has pledged a new focus on the war in Afghanistan, including more U.S. troops and possible talks with the Taliban, but the challenges are daunting," Reuters reports. "Taliban militants are spreading their influence, the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is seen as ineffectual, Western military efforts are underfunded and poorly coordinated and Pakistan is widely criticized for not doing enough to fight militants in the tribal areas."

• "A suicide car bomber struck a U.S. military convoy passing through a crowded market in eastern Afghanistan" today, "killing at least five civilians and a coalition soldier and wounding an additional 57 civilians, officials said," AP reports. "The bomber rammed his vehicle into the convoy as it traveled through Bati Kot district of Nangarhar province, said Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, a spokesman for the provincial governor."

• "Two men on a motorcycle used water pistols to spray acid on girls walking to school Wednesday in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, blinding at least two of them, military spokesmen said," CNN reports.

Nation: GOP Governors Deliver Party A Sobering Message

• "Republican governors were the brightest spot in an otherwise dispiriting election last week for the GOP, but the chief executives gathered" in Miami "Wednesday provided a gloomy assessment of their party's failures and a dark forecast for the future," the Washington Post reports.

• "The Bush administration is moving ahead with efforts to lease the waters off Virginia's coast to companies interested in drilling for oil and natural gas, despite calls from environmentalists that the plan should wait for the new president to take office," the Post reports. "In a statement Wednesday, the Minerals Management Service announced it would start a 45-day public comment period."

• "With a few perfunctory strokes of the pen at 9:15 a.m. Wednesday, New Haven Superior Court Judge Jonathan E. Silbert brought same-sex marriage to Connecticut," the Hartford Courant reports. "Less than 30 minutes later, at West Hartford town hall, state Rep. Beth Bye and her partner, Tracey Wilson, became the first legally married same-sex couple in the state."

• In New York, "state aid to schools and hospitals would be cut sharply in the next four months and thousands of state workers would be asked to defer five days of pay under an emergency deficit reduction plan unveiled by Gov. David A. Paterson [D] on Wednesday," the New York Times reports.

• "Vanessa Sievers, a Dartmouth College junior, was not content to wait tables or make coffee as a side job. Instead she ran for treasurer of Grafton County, N.H., and won, unseating the incumbent and unleashing a war of words," the Times reports.

• "At 10 a.m. today, an estimated 5.2 million people around Southern California will drop to the ground, roll under the nearest table and spend the next two minutes clutching a table leg," the Los Angeles Times reports. "The drill is the centerpiece of the Great Southern California ShakeOut, a weeklong series of events designed to educate and remind the public about how to respond to a large earthquake."

Economy: Treasury Shifts Gears On Rescue Plan

• "Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. announced a series of moves" Wednesday "that redefine the federal government's $700 billion rescue plan for the financial industry in order to tackle what he called a dire situation in the consumer credit markets," the Washington Post reports. "In recasting the program, the Treasury no longer plans to buy troubled assets from financial firms, the idea initially presented to the country, but instead will offer aid to banks and other firms that issue student, auto and credit card loans in part by jump-starting the market that provides financing for these companies."

• "Paulson's decision... shows that he has come to two conclusions about what was once the chief focus of the government's $700-billion bailout: The first is that it wouldn't work. The second is that the economists and financial experts who agitated to have capital injected directly into the banking system now appear to have been right all along," the Los Angeles Times reports.

• "In the six weeks since lawmakers approved the Treasury's massive bailout of financial firms... the Bush administration has committed $290 billion of the $700 billion rescue package," the Washington Post reports. "Yet for all this activity, no formal action has been taken to fill the independent oversight posts established by Congress when it approved the bailout to prevent corruption and government waste. Nor has the first monitoring report required by lawmakers been completed, though the initial deadline has passed."

• "Momentum is building in Washington for a rescue package for the auto industry to head off a possible bankruptcy filing by General Motors, which is rapidly running low on cash," the New York Times reports. "But... some experts note that while bankruptcy would be painful, it may be preferable to a government bailout that may only delay, at considerable cost, the wrenching but necessary steps G.M. needs to take to become a stronger, leaner company."

• "The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced rules aimed at helping Americans shop for mortgages more effectively, but said it lacks powers to enforce those rules," the Wall Street Journal reports. "HUD Secretary Steve Preston said changes were needed because 'many people made uninformed decisions' in taking out loans. That, he said, contributed to a surge in mortgage defaults."

• "In theory, retired people are not supposed to invest much in the stock market; in reality, many millions of them do," the New York Times reports, and "with the economy in free fall and stocks down about 40 percent this year, legions of middle- and upper-middle-class people are suddenly worried about having enough to carry them through."

• "The International Energy Agency" today "sharply reduced its oil demand forecasts for 2008 and 2009, highlighting the deepening impact of the global economic downturn on the demand of gasoline, especially in the US and other developed countries," the Financial Times reports. "It also cut its oil price assumption for 2009 to $80 a barrel, from $110 a barrel."

World: Iran Tests Long-Range Missiles & Hedges On Talks With U.S.

• "World leaders will meet in Washington this weekend for a summit on the global financial crisis, the largest gathering of presidents and prime ministers here since NATO's 50th anniversary celebration in 1999. But overshadowing the emergency conference is a leadership vacuum that is fundamentally altering the balance of power," the Washington Post reports. "With President Bush about to fade into history and" Obama "reluctant to signal his intentions, other nations are moving to set the agenda at the Saturday meeting of more than 20 heads of government."

• "China has finally answered calls from the United States to stimulate its economy through increased spending, but its decision will come with a cost," the Washington Times reports. "The massive diversion of money to needs at home means it will be investing less of its record $2 trillion of reserves in the U.S. in the future."

• "Iran said it successfully test-fired a new generation of long-range surface-to-surface missile Wednesday -- one that could easily strike as far away as southeastern Europe with greater precision than earlier models," AP reports. "The Sajjil is a solid-fuel high-speed missile with a range of about 1,200 miles, Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammed Najjar said on state television. At that range, it could also easily strike Iran's arch-foe Israel."

• "Since 2006, Iran's leaders have called for direct, unconditional talks with the United States to resolve international concerns over their nuclear program," the Washington Post reports. "But as an American administration open to such negotiations prepares to take power, Iran's political and military leaders are sounding suddenly wary of President-elect Barack Obama."

• "An Iranian diplomat was kidnapped and his Pakistani guard killed after a shoot-out today in Peshawar, north-west Pakistan," the London Guardian reports. "Gunmen seized Hashmatullah Attar Zadeh, a commercial attaché, after they blocked his car on a narrow bridge and opened fire."

• "President Omar al-Bashir offered a ceasefire in Darfur on Wednesday and promised to disarm militias, a top rebel demand, in a new push by his government to show it is serious about ending the nearly 6-year-old conflict," AP reports. "Darfur rebels dismissed the moves, saying they don't trust Mr. al-Bashir and want to see disarmament of the feared Janjaweed militias before agreeing to a ceasefire."

• "Another major city in Somalia fell without a shot to Islamist insurgents on Wednesday, with Islamist guerrilla fighters seizing the strategic port of Merka, residents and Somali officials said," the New York Times reports. "The Islamists are now in control of a large and rapidly growing swath of south-central Somalia, and the weak transitional government seems too paralyzed by infighting to do much about it."

• "Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived in" Tallinn, Estonia, "on Wednesday with a firm message that Russia should not fear efforts by countries in the region to seek deeper integration with the West, and must not impede their decisions to do so," the Times reports. "Reverberations from the August war between Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia were still in evidence as Mr. Gates spent the day meeting with NATO defense ministers."

Transition: Questioning The Questionnaire

• More than 200,000 are expected to vie for 8,000 positions in the new administration, but job-seekers will be facing an unusually invasive questionnaire. Read more in's new blog Lost In Transition.

Commentary: Last-Minute Bush Maneuvers

• Two editorial boards reference lame-duck decisions by the Bush administration and project how these will shake out for Obama in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section.

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