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EARLYBIRD

Top News

FDA opens office in China, auto bailout stalls in Senate, U.S. and Iraq agree to help Turkey battle PKK, NYPD clashes with DoJ on wiretaps, Dow drops below 8K, Iran moves forward with nuclear program.

• "After pledging more than $1 trillion to rescue financial markets, President Bush has fought against a series of proposals for additional bailouts by Democrats and emphasized the benefits of free markets," the Washington Post reports. "The White House, joined by Republicans on Capitol Hill, has derailed a second economic stimulus plan, fought a Democratic proposal to spend $25 billion to bolster Detroit automakers and continues to press for approval of a trio of stalled trade deals."

• "Animals and plants facing possible extinction could lose the protection of government experts who make sure that dams, highways or other projects do not pose a threat, under rules the Bush administration is set to put in place before President-elect Barack Obama can reverse them," AP reports. "The rules must be published by Friday to take effect before Obama is sworn in Jan. 20."

 

• "The Homeland Security Department has done a poor job overseeing the purchase of billions of dollars of equipment and technology since the agency was created five years ago, according to a federal report scheduled for release today" by the Government Accountability Office, USA Today reports.

• House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner, D-Calif., "is proposing to establish a 'de-boot camp,' where returning service members would undergo mandatory diagnosis for brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in order to reduce instances of domestic violence and suicide," the Washington Times reports.

• "As Americans consume more food prepared outside the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration opened its first overseas office Wednesday in China with others planned around the globe," USA Today reports. "The move comes after the FDA last week ordered Chinese food products to be stopped at the U.S. border until testing proves they are free of melamine, a chemical added to baby formula earlier this year that sickened thousands of Chinese infants."

 

Congress: Auto Bailout Stalls In Senate

• "A year-end drive to win new aid for the ailing auto industry was near collapse in Congress on Wednesday, pulled down by old resentments toward Detroit's Big Three and continued fighting between Democrats and the outgoing Bush administration," the Politico reports.

• "The bitter fight for control of the Energy and Commerce Committee enters its final day with the teams of both Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) and second-ranking Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) predicting victory, but with the outcome far from clear," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Waxman narrowly secured the nomination of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on Wednesday, and both sides sought to spin the results as evidence that they have the momentum heading into today's Caucus-wide balloting."

• "On Wednesday, two weeks after taking a beating at the polls, House Republicans elected their new leadership team," The Hill reports. "The votes were by and large anticlimactic, as the favorites in the three contested races triumphed. Rep. John Boehner (Ohio) defeated Rep. Dan Lungren (Calif.) for minority leader, Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas) ousted Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.) for National Republican Congressional Committee chairman and, as expected, Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) retained his leadership post by winning more votes than Rep. Michael Burgess (Texas)."

• "More than three decades after he first appeared before the panel as a 27-year-old Vietnam veteran-turned-antiwar protester, Senator John F. Kerry [D-Mass.] will be named chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, giving him enormous influence over" Obama's "foreign policy, according to congressional officials," the Boston Globe reports. Kerry would replace Vice President-elect Joe Biden, D-Del.

 

• "A day after losing" Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' seat, "along with their best hope for getting Joe Lieberman [I/D-Conn.] to cross over, Senate GOP leaders preached party unity as the key to surviving the Obama years," the Politico reports. "Down to 42 seats with two still at risk, Senate Republicans are in a deep funk."

• "House Democratic campaign chief Chris Van Hollen says his colleagues shouldn't expect him to top his 20-seat gain in elections two years from now," The Hill reports. "'To be realistic, we are going to be fighting hard to hold the line,' the Maryland lawmaker said at a breakfast meeting at the National Press Club. 'That doesn't mean we won't be on offense.'"

• "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Wednesday that they would try to work out" a vote today "on a House measure that would extend unemployment insurance, a move that would signal the end of the week's lame-duck session," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

• "A bolstered Democratic majority and the incoming Obama administration might be poised to rewrite a 30-year-old law critics say lets companies skirt billions of dollars in taxes, while depriving workers of benefits like overtime pay, family and medical leave and the right to join a union," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "President-elect Obama introduced a bill last fall to crack down on companies' ability to classify workers as independent contractors rather than employees."

Iraq: U.S. & Iraq Agree To Help Turkey Battle PKK

• "A session of Iraq's Parliament collapsed in chaos on Wednesday, as a discussion among lawmakers about a three-year security agreement with the Americans boiled over into shouting and physical confrontation," the New York Times reports.

• "Passage of the US-Iraq security pact under the terms both countries' leaders have advocated could violate the constitutions of both countries, specialists told a congressional subcommittee" Wednesday, the Boston Globe reports. "They instead pressed for an extension of the United Nations mandate authorizing US troop involvement in Iraq, which expires Dec. 31."

• "The United States, Turkey and Iraq have agreed to form a joint committee to combat Kurdish separatist rebels using bases in northern Iraq to attack Turkey," Voice of America reports. "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hosted talks on the issue with Turkish Interior Minister Besir Atalay and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker in Baghdad Wednesday."

• "With violence down sharply this year, the U.S. military is broadening its efforts to reconcile Sunnis and Shiites, reintegrate former insurgents into society and repair the rift between residents and their government," the Washington Post reports. "But as American forces begin to withdraw, some Iraqis question the long-term impact of the pacification campaign."

Nation: NYPD & DoJ Feud Over Wiretaps

• "A long-running rivalry between New York City police and Justice Department officials over how to keep the nation's largest city safe from terrorist attack has devolved into a feud over the use of national security surveillance wiretaps, with both sides accusing each other of endangering national security," the Wall Street Journal reports.

• "California formally moved to spread its can-do global warming gospel around the world, signing a declaration Wednesday with 11 other U.S. states and provinces or states in five other countries to help them slash their greenhouse gas emissions," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Fighting climate change shouldn't just go 'nation by nation,' Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger [R] told a climate summit in Beverly Hills attended by more than 700 delegates from 19 countries."

• "California's Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to hear a legal challenge against the state's voter-approved ban on gay marriage and let the ban stand in the meantime," Reuters reports. "A decision by the same court in May opened marriage to same-sex couples in America's most populous state."

• "Brand new runways are opening at three major airports" -- Washington Dulles International Airport, Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport -- today, "giving the aviation community something to cheer about in a year of dismal economic and travel news," CNN reports. "Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said travelers will benefit from coast to coast."

• "One city lawmaker called it" New York "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's 'Let them eat cake' attitude. After being dealt a rare public embarrassment by the City Council, which forced his administration to acknowledge on Monday that he was legally required to send out $400 rebate checks promised to hundreds of thousands of New York homeowners, a defiant Mr. Bloomberg said on Wednesday that he had no plans to release the money," the New York Times reports.

• "As the economy sours, the nation's food banks are struggling to feed a surge of Americans worried about finding their next meal," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The challenge remains great even in the face of significant infusions of assistance from corporate America."

• "The government-affairs director of the AFL-CIO said he is certain that organized labor's top priority -- a law that would make it much easier for unions to organize businesses both large and small -- will pass Congress and be signed by" Obama. "'I have no doubt it will pass and will be signed,' William Samuel told reporters and editors of The Washington Times... referring to the Employee Free Choice Act."

Economy: Dow Drops Below 8,000

• "Businesses cut prices at a record rate and builders started fewer new homes last month than anytime on record, according to new government data, as the outlook for the economy continues to dim," the Washington Post reports. "The data helped spur another terrible day for the stock market, as did a projection of more hard times ahead by leaders of the Federal Reserve. A serious recession now appears all but assured."

• "As the stock market tumbled to its lowest level in nearly six years on Wednesday, Wall Street traders and many ordinary Americans were asking the same question: Where, oh where is the bottom?" the New York Times reports.

• "The Federal Reserve will do whatever it takes to ensure the US does not fall into a deflation trap, its vice-chairman said on Wednesday, as US stocks fell to the lowest level of the financial crisis," the Financial Times reports. "The comments by Don Kohn will reinforce expectations that the US central bank may cut interest rates again by as much as 50 basis points from the current level of 1 per cent in December."

• "Stung by outsize investment losses, some of the nation's biggest companies are pushing Congress to roll back rules requiring them to put more money into their pension funds, just two years after President Bush signed a law meant to strengthen the pension system," the New York Times reports. "The total value of company pension funds is thought to have fallen by more than $250 billion since last winter. With cash now in short supply for companies, they are asking Congress to excuse them from having to replenish the required amounts."

• "The economy is tanking.... But in industries at the center of the crisis, plenty of top officials managed to emerge with substantial fortunes. Fifteen corporate chieftains of large home-building and financial-services firms each reaped more than $100 million in cash compensation and proceeds from stock sales during the past five years, according to a Wall Street Journal (subscription) analysis."

World: Iran Moves Forward On Nuclear Program

• "A wide array of former top U.S. officials urged" Obama "on Wednesday to make the United Nations a close partner in confronting global threats and environmental challenges," AP reports. "Former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher and former Defense Secretaries Harold Brown and William Perry were among the signers of the statement issued by the U.N. Foundation and the Partnership for a Secure America, a bipartisan foreign-policy advocacy group."

• "Iran is forging ahead with its nuclear programme, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog reported on Wednesday, deepening the dilemma facing" Obama "over his campaign promise to engage with Tehran," the Financial Times reports. "The latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency reveals that Iran is rapidly increasing its stockpile of enriched uranium, which could be rendered into weapons-grade material should Tehran decide to develop a nuclear device."

• "The first independent investigation of the suspected nuclear site in Syria that Israel destroyed last year has bolstered U.S. claims that Damascus was building a secret nuclear reactor, according to a U.N. report that also confirmed the discovery of traces of uranium amid the ruins," the Washington Post reports. "Officials with the United Nations' atomic agency stopped short of declaring the wrecked facility a nuclear reactor, but they said it strongly resembled one."

• Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, "the former Marxist revolutionary comandante who returned to the president's office in 2006, is at the center of a chaotic new struggle," the Post reports. "Critics charge that he and Nicaragua, the poorest country in Central America, are marching backward, away from relatively peaceful, transparent, democratic elections to ones that are violent, shady and stolen."

• "President Hugo Chavez is threatening to imprison a popular opposition leader, roll tanks into the streets and use force to defend the results of this Sunday's state and local elections," AP reports. "The vote is an important test of Mr. Chavez's support a year after Venezuelans rejected his attempt to abolish term limits, and critics say he is resorting to browbeating and smears for fear his candidates will lose."

• "The Taliban are setting up courts and other local-government institutions across southern Afghanistan, challenging U.S. efforts to pacify the country and bolster the authority of the central government in Kabul," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Senior American military officials said the Taliban run roughly two dozen law courts in southern Afghanistan, one of the armed Islamist group's main strongholds."

• "The United States may have plunged the world into a sharp economic downturn, but it will take the combined efforts of China and other emerging nations to lead the global economy out of what is likely to be a long and painful recession. That was the view of several business executives, government officials and economic experts gathered" in Barcelona, Spain, "Monday and Tuesday for a conference on China's role in the global economy," the New York Times reports.

• "Development agencies operating in sub-Saharan Africa are increasingly turning to women as would-be entrepreneurs, who often prove effective in Africa's difficult business environment," the Washington Times reports. "As a result, gender equality has become a tenet for many international development institutions such as the World Bank."

• "In a propaganda salvo by Al Qaeda aimed at undercutting the enthusiasm of Muslims worldwide about the American election, Osama bin Laden's top deputy condemned Obama "as a 'house Negro' who would continue a campaign against Islam that Al Qaeda's leaders said was begun by President Bush," the New York Times reports.

• "Pakistan's foreign ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson" today "to lodge a formal protest against another suspected U.S. missile strike on its territory, an act the country's prime minister called a violation of his nation's sovereignty," CNN reports. "The strike in the Bannu region of Pakistan's North West Frontier province left five dead and seven wounded Wednesday. It was deeper inside Pakistani territory than previous attacks."

Transition: Report Says Napolitano To Head Homeland Security

• Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano will use her experience as a border governor as the new secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, according to anonymous "Democratic officials" who spoke with Politico. Read more in Lost In Transition, NationalJournal.com's blog about the changeover.

Commentary: Redoing The Cabinet

• Commentators have plenty of feedback, criticism and even some support for Obama's new and prospective appointments in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section.

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