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EARLYBIRD

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Cheney & Gonzales indicted in Texas prison case, Stevens defeated in Alaska, U.S. contractors in Iraq lose immunity, Ike victims still waiting for FEMA trailers, lawmakers criticize Paulson's management of bailout, Pacific rim leaders gather in Peru.

• "Vice President Cheney and former attorney general Alberto R. Gonzales have been indicted on state charges involving federal prisons in a South Texas county that has been a source of bizarre legal and political battles under the outgoing prosecutor," AP reports. "The indictments, returned Monday and made public Tuesday, have not yet been signed by the presiding judge, and no action can be taken on them until that happens."

• "President Bush said Tuesday the federal government would open military air lanes nationwide to commercial airline traffic during the Thanksgiving season to reduce passenger delays," the Washington Times reports. "During the holidays last year, the Bush administration opened to commercial flights military air lanes along the East Coast."

 

• "Democrats in the Senate called on President Bush to halt any effort by his administration to place political appointees in career jobs just weeks before his team leaves office," the Washington Post reports. "But the White House" on Tuesday "said there is no orchestrated effort to embed Bush loyalists in the federal workforce before Barack Obama's inauguration Jan. 20."

• "Stress on U.S. troops from repeated combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan is 'extraordinary' and may be worsening even as fighting eases in Iraq, the military's top officer says. In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Adm. Mike Mullen expressed hope that the strain will be relieved gradually as the Marine Corps and Army expand the pool of available forces."

• "Military prosecutors have decided to file new war-crimes charges against a Guantánamo detainee who has been called the 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 terror plot, discounting claims that his harsh interrogation would make a prosecution impossible," the New York Times reports. "Earlier charges against the detainee, Mohammed al-Qahtani, were dismissed without explanation by a military official in May and there had been speculation that the Pentagon had accepted the argument that coercive techniques used in questioning him would undermine any trial."

 

• "The Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing new air-quality rules that would make it easier to build coal-fired power plants, oil refineries and other major polluters near national parks and wilderness areas, even though half of the EPA's 10 regional administrators formally dissented from the decision and four others criticized the move in writing," the Washington Post reports.

Congress: Stevens Ousted In Alaska; Minnesota Recount Begins

• "The Democratic pursuit of 60 Senate seats received new life Tuesday night after Alaska Democrat Mark Begich was declared the winner against Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate," the Politico reports. "Begich defeated the Senate giant by a 3,724-vote margin after absentee and early votes were counted, a stunning end to a 40-year Senate career marred by Stevens' conviction on corruption charges a week before the election."

• "For two years, Minnesota has been home to the most expensive U.S. Senate race in the country, and one of the most bitter. And that was just the beginning," USA Today reports. "Democrat Al Franken and Republican Sen. Norm Coleman -- locked in a race that could alter the power structure of Washington -- are continuing their fight as officials begin a recount" today "that is expected to last for weeks."

• "As executives of the Big Three automakers pleaded their case on Capitol Hill Tuesday for a $25 billion infusion of federal aid, division between the two parties has likely derailed a chance to strike a deal during the lame-duck session," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Senate Democratic leaders are still pressing for $25 billion loan to be carved out of the $700 billion financial market bailout package, but they do not have the votes to break a filibuster."

 

• "For all of Tuesday's talk of Democrats reconciling with their wayward colleague, Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID), Senators said they will keep a close eye on the Connecticut Member's party loyalty as he rejoins their caucus after his harsh criticism of" Obama's "candidacy," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

• "The man who would have been president returned to his old job in the Senate on Tuesday. Hardly anyone noticed," the Politico reports. "As reporters flocked to 85-year-old convicted felon" Stevens "on one side of the chamber and" Lieberman "on the other, John McCain -- once again Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- weaved through the corridors of power and barely got a second glance."

• "After two weeks of sparring for support, a fight between senior House Democrats over the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee heads closer to a final round today in a Steering and Policy Committee vote, though an expected party Caucus vote Thursday will likely be decisive," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The 50-member steering panel will vote by secret ballot on whether to recommend House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman [Calif.] or current Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell [Mich.] as head of the committee in the 111th Congress."

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• "Congressional Democrats are coalescing around Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Chairwoman Sheila Bair's plan to reduce home foreclosures -- but her plan has become a thorn in the side of the president who appointed her," The Hill reports.

• "The Hawaiian punch in Washington is about to get a lot stronger," The Hill reports. "Sen. Daniel Inouye (D) is taking over the gavel of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D) and Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) have begun to wield the legislative clout that comes with seniority. And" Obama, "a native son who understands the 50th state's needs and reflects the Pacific islands' multicultural ethos, is about to become the 44th president of the United States."

• "By the end of this week, at least three of the four Congressional campaign committee chiefs for the 2010 election cycle should be formally installed," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "While they won't officially assume their new jobs until January, speculation over who will fill the top staff leadership roles at the committees is already swirling."

Iraq: Contractors Lose Immunity In Security Pact

• "Iraq's prime minister went on national television Tuesday to defend a security pact with the United States that keeps U.S. forces in Iraq through 2011, and to assure neighbors that Iraqi territory would not be used to attack them," AP reports. "Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki acknowledged that he had concerns about the agreement, but said it was a step toward full Iraqi sovereignty once the last U.S. troops leave."

• "The new agreement covering the U.S. military presence in Iraq, which appears to end immunity from local law for private security contractors, could affect companies the U.S. is likely to rely on as it reduces its forces there," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The broad deal, which had been negotiated for months, removes immunity for armed security guards protecting U.S. officials and facilities, as well as contractors involved in the U.S. military's massive supply chain."

• "Iraqi security forces have arrested an alleged 'senior' Iranian commando from the elite Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force at Baghdad International Airport, the US military said" today, Agence France-Presse reports. "The military said they suspected the man of 'involvement in facilitating Iranian weapons shipments into Iraq.'"

Nation: Transit Agencies Ask For Help

• Since Hurricane Ike "hit on Sept. 13, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has installed about 1,000 mobile homes in some of the hardest-hit areas, almost all alongside ruined homes. Another 400 have been delivered but are not ready to be occupied, either because they lack utilities or have not been inspected," the New York Times reports. "But at least 1,500 families are still waiting for units to arrive, agency officials said."

• "Leaders of 11 transit agencies appealed to Congress" Tuesday "for help in averting service cuts for millions of subway and bus riders across the country because of a financial emergency triggered by the global credit crisis," the Washington Post reports. "They warned that 31 of the country's largest transit systems, through no fault of their own, could face $2 billion in immediate payments in the coming weeks as hundreds of long-term financing deals with banks and other private investors collapse."

• "Hard hit by budget cuts, the California State University system is planning to cut its enrollment by 10,000 students for the 2009-10 academic year, unless state lawmakers provide more money," the New York Times reports. "It would be the first time in its history that the university system turned away students who met admissions standards, and the announcement was greeted with disappointment and anger."

• "Students in the $6 billion Reading First program have not made greater progress in understanding what they read than have peers outside the program, according to a congressionally mandated study" released Tuesday, the Washington Post reports.

• "Prison companies are preparing for a wave of new business as the economic downturn makes it increasingly difficult for federal and state government officials to build and operate their own jails," the Wall Street Journal reports.

Economy: Lawmakers Slam Treasury On Handling Of Bailout

• "Lawmakers accused Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr." Tuesday "of haphazardly managing the $700 billion financial rescue, as fault lines widened over what the government should try next to contain the fallout of the financial crisis," the Washington Post reports. "The heated hearing before the House Financial Services Committee offered a preview of the pressures the Obama administration will face from Congress."

• "The cost of insuring top quality US companies against default hit a record high on Tuesday even as" Paulson "and Ben Bernanke told Congress that their radical policy actions to ease the credit crisis were starting to bear fruit," the Financial Times reports. Paulson "called for patience, saying: 'There is a lot of work that still needs to be done in terms of recovery of the financial system.'"

• "During his 28 months at the Treasury, Paulson has accumulated more power than nearly any of his predecessors and has wielded it boldly, even brazenly at times, in a bid to tame the financial crisis of a lifetime. He has burst through the customary boundaries that separate federal agencies, bent regulations to his will and pushed up against legal limits," the Washington Post reports. "As financial firms tumble and traditional oversight agencies prove impotent, Paulson has filled the void with his 6-foot-1 frame, summoning the rest of Washington and Wall Street to get in line."

• "Harsh as it is, a bankruptcy filing has always offered a glimmer of hope for a business hobbled by debt or a downturn. A company could slim down, negotiate manageable payments to workers and suppliers and keep going, preserving jobs," the New York Times reports. "But... more companies that file for bankruptcy protection are shutting down, lawyers say, because they cannot obtain enough financing to operate while they reorganize."

• "The cost of living in the U.S. probably slid in October by the most in almost six decades as fuel costs plummeted and retailers discounted merchandise to entice shell-shocked customers, economists said before a government report today. Consumer prices probably dropped 0.8 percent last month, the most since 1949, after being unchanged in September, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey."

World: Pacific Rim Leaders Gather In Peru

• "Top officials from across the Pacific rim were set to open talks" in Lima, Peru, today "on the global economic crisis and to issue a joint appeal against protectionism," Agence France-Presse reports. "Peru, where Maoist guerrillas have stepped up attacks in recent weeks, was on its highest state of alert for the summit, which is the last scheduled foreign trip for" President Bush "before he steps down."

• "President Dmitry Medvedev warned that the crisis gripping Russia's banks and capital markets has spread to the real economy and pledged to use the Kremlin's still-massive oil wealth to provide more state aid for stricken industries," the Wall Street Journal reports. "His comments, his frankest on the subject yet, came as the World Bank cut its growth forecast for Russia next year by more than half because of the country's acute dependence on oil prices."

• "With the global economy at the edge of recession, China appears to be turning away from previous pledges to improve its record on environmental protection," the Washington Post reports. "In this, China is hardly alone: A climate-change proposal in Europe that a few months ago seemed like a sure thing has now divided the continent because of its anticipated expense, and worldwide, money for the development of renewable energy sources has been drying up."

• "A rise in Taliban attacks along the length of a vital NATO supply route that runs through" Torkham, Afghanistan, "has U.S. officials seeking alternatives, including the prospect of beginning deliveries by a tortuous overland journey from Europe," the Post reports.

• "U.S. troops in Afghanistan will continue pursuing extremists in the eastern part of the country over the brutal winter months, but lack the forces in southern areas to mount the same offensive, the top U.S. commander there said Tuesday," the Los Angeles Times reports. "U.S. efforts in eastern Afghanistan could be helped by pressure on extremist groups from Pakistan, said Gen. David D. McKiernan, the U.S. and NATO commander. But U.S. and allied commanders in the south must await the arrival of extra troops sought by McKiernan."

• "Israeli tanks pushed into the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday, drawing mortar fire from Palestinian militants and intensifying violence that has chipped away at a tenuous cease-fire," AP reports. "Israel and Gaza's ruling Islamic militant Hamas movement have been trading fire for two weeks after nearly five months of relative quiet."

• "The top U.S. intelligence panel this week is expected to issue a snapshot of the world in 2025, in a report that predicts fading American economic and military dominance and warns of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East," the Washington Times reports. "The predictions come from the National Intelligence Council (NIC), part of Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell's office."

• "Iranian MPs have narrowly approved President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's choice for interior minister, two weeks after sacking his predecessor for deception," BBC News reports. "The new minister, Sadeq Mahsuli, is one of Mr Ahmadinejad's closest aides."

• "Mexican federal agents and army troops fanned out across" Tijuana "Tuesday to replace 500 police officers, the latest move by the government to purge the troubled force of corrupt and incompetent cops," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Last week, 21 officers, including two deputy chiefs, were detained on suspicion of having ties to drug traffickers."

• "A high-profile judge on Tuesday dropped a sensitive inquiry into atrocities that took place during the era of Franco, Spain's former dictator, ending what had promised to be the first criminal investigation of wrongs committed by Franco and his allies," the New York Times reports.

Transition: A New Role For Clinton?

• Sen. Edward Kennedy's request that Hillary Rodham Clinton take the lead on health care reform in the Senate may further complicate the secretary of State picture. Read more in Lost In Transition, NationalJournal.com's blog on the changeover.

Commentary: Under The Microscope

• In Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, commentators do their own vetting of a possible Secretary of State Clinton.

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