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EARLYBIRD

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WH eases waste rules for mining companies, Chambliss wins Georgia runoff, Talabani tries to block al-Maliki's tribal councils, GAO claims lack of bailout oversight, India accuses Pakistani militant of plotting Mumbai attacks.

• "The Bush administration finalized rules" Tuesday "that will make it easier for mountaintop mining companies to dump their waste near rivers and streams, overhauling a 25-year-old prohibition that has sparked legal and regulatory battles for years," the Washington Post reports.

• "Government unions" on Tuesday "criticized a White House executive order that bars certain workers at five federal departments from joining a union because they are engaged in intelligence gathering, investigations and other national security work," the Post also reports. "Offices covered by the order employ about 8,600 people within the Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, Transportation and Treasury departments."

 

• "How do you select the 'best' TV set, or house, or way to winterize a lawn mower? Those and other offbeat scenarios emerged Tuesday as the" Supreme Court "heard an environmental case that revealed how their work often comes down to parsing seemingly simple, but contextually ambiguous, words in a law. Such as the word 'best,'" USA Today reports.

• "A prosecutor who is investigating the dismissals of nine U.S. attorneys has been meeting with defense lawyers, dispatching subpoenas and seeking information about the events, according to legal sources familiar with the case," the Washington Post reports. "Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey appointed prosecutor Nora R. Dannehy two months ago, after the department's Office of Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility reported that they had hit a roadblock in their lengthy probe into whether political interference prompted the dismissals."

Congress: Chambliss Defeats Martin In Georgia Runoff

• "Republican U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss beat back a prolonged challenge from Democrat Jim Martin on Tuesday to win a second term in office after a bruising four-week runoff between the one-time University of Georgia fraternity brothers," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. "Chambliss's double-digit victory dashed Democrats' dreams of securing a filibuster-proof, 60-vote 'super majority' in the Senate and buoyed a Republican Party battered by staggering losses in the Nov. 4 general election."

 

• "Congressional leaders appear no closer to finding an auto bailout deal with the White House, even as executives for the Big Three submitted plans... suggesting they need as much as $34 billion to stay afloat," The Hill reports. "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday said they are committed to helping rescue the beleaguered auto industry, but they have yet to remove the stumbling blocks that kept them from moving forward in November."

• Reid "is having a tough time selling a plan to parcel out subcommittee chairmanships to incoming freshmen while taking them away from the more established rank and file," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Already, Reid has made it known that he will enforce a little-known Senate rule that limits full committee chairmen to holding just one subcommittee gavel, but he also hopes to limit non-full-committee chairmen to no more than two subcommittee chairmanships."

• Pelosi's "moves since the November elections have shaken up some of her colleagues, with some looking over their shoulders and others worried about how the Speaker will lead her expanded majority in 2009," The Hill reports. "Next year is regarded as the biggest legislative opportunity for Democrats since 1993, the last time they controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress."

• "Attorneys for Sen. Ted Stevens (R) indicated Tuesday they will seek a do-over of the Alaskan's criminal case, asserting that numerous 'legal issues' invalidated the October trial that ended in a guilty verdict," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

 

• "The reviews of the new Capitol Visitor Center, which opened Tuesday, have not been kind. Groups such as Citizens Against Government Waste call the facility, which will host tourists visiting the seat of Congress, a waste of taxpayer dollars," USA Today reports. But "the taxpayers, it turns out, love it."

• "Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush -- the younger brother of the president -- is weighing a run for the Senate seat currently held by Republican Mel Martinez," the Politico reports. "Martinez announced Tuesday that he will not seek reelection in 2010."

Iraq: Talabani Tries To Block Al-Maliki's Tribal Councils

• "Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he accepted President-elect Barack Obama's approach to scheduled troop reductions in Iraq, arguing Tuesday that the hotly debated subject of timelines for withdrawal largely had been settled by a new U.S.-Iraq security agreement," the Los Angeles Times reports.

• "Iraq's president is going to the country's federal court to try to stop Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki from establishing tribal councils -- a move that major political parties fear is aimed at bolstering the Shiite leader's stature ahead of elections next year," AP reports. "President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and his Sunni and Shiite deputies have publicly criticized al-Maliki over the councils, which the prime minister insists are aimed at supporting government security forces."

• "Saddam Hussein's notorious cousin 'Chemical Ali' Hassan al-Majid received a second death sentence Tuesday -- this time for crushing a Shi'ite uprising in the wake of Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Persian Gulf war," AP reports.

• "Appalled by the state of Iraq's health-care system and frustrated by rules preventing military doctors from treating Iraqis," Capt. Jonathan Heavey "and a colleague, Capt. John Knight, 36, began arranging for sick Iraqi children to receive free medical treatment abroad," the Washington Post reports. "During their year-long deployment, which ended last month, they created a nonprofit organization that has sent 12 children overseas for medical care, funded by $17,000 that Heavey and Knight have contributed from their own pockets and raised from family and friends."

Nation: Judge May Take Up New Challenges To NSA Surveillance

• "A federal judge who earlier rejected Bush administration claims that it was exempt from laws governing domestic surveillance was asked Tuesday to strike down an act of Congress that grants retroactive immunity for illegal wiretapping," the Los Angeles Times reports. "In a separate challenge of presidential power over national security affairs, lawyers for the now-defunct Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation asked the same judge in San Francisco to allow them to sue for illegal monitoring by the National Security Agency."

• "Other countries are outpacing the United States in providing access to college, eroding an educational advantage the nation has enjoyed for decades, according to a study released today by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education," the Washington Post reports.

• "Residents of Texas' state schools for the disabled are in so much danger of neglect and mistreatment that their constitutional rights have been violated, the U.S. Department of Justice charges in a scathing report sent to the state this week," the Dallas Morning News reports. In a letter to Gov. Rick Perry (R), acting Assistant Attorney General Grace Chung Becker "threatened legal action if Texas doesn't resolve the problems."

• "Fifteen Illinois law enforcement officers were charged Tuesday in an F.B.I. sting on counts that included accepting cash in exchange for providing armed protection for drug dealing operations in south suburban Chicago," the New York Times reports.

• "While the Nov. 4 vote to ban gay marriage in California grabbed the headlines, it is same-sex parenting that is heating up as the next skirmish in the nation's culture wars," the Chicago Tribune reports. "Last week, a Florida judge struck down that state's decades-old law preventing gays and lesbians from adopting." But "nationwide, laws on the issue are a grab bag."

Economy: GAO Report Claims Lack Of Bailout Oversight

• "The Bush administration has failed to adequately oversee its $700 billion bailout program and must move rapidly to guarantee that banks are complying with the plan's limits on conflicts of interest and lavish executive compensation, congressional investigators said" Tuesday, the Washington Post reports.

• Meanwhile, "U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is debating whether to ask Congress for the second installment of the $700 billion bailout package, concerned about competing demands for the funds and a potentially hostile reaction from lawmakers," the Wall Street Journal reports.

• "The US Federal Reserve said on Tuesday it was extending the life of three emergency lending programmes aimed at thawing the credit markets in the light of the continuing turmoil in the financial system," the Financial Times reports. "The move comes a day after Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, said the US economy remained under 'considerable stress' and made it clear that policymakers would use unconventional central banking tools in addition to interest rate cuts to support it."

• "General Motors, increasingly desperate for a federal bailout to stave off financial collapse, told Congress on Tuesday that it was willing to drastically shrink every aspect of its operations to ensure its long-term survival," the New York Times reports. "On the same day that the industry reported its worst sales month in 26 years, the three Detroit automakers delivered new business plans to lawmakers in the hope of winning support for $34 billion in federal loans."

• "The Big Three automakers are scrambling to adjust their businesses to the reality of the market. But that reality is turning harsher by the month," the Times also reports. "Vehicle sales in the United States sank 36.7 percent in November to the lowest rate in 26 years, as the dour economy and tight credit markets made for another lonely month at dealerships around the country."

• "Many of the would-be borrowers who have bombarded mortgage lenders with phone calls since interest rates dropped last week are finding they don't qualify for loans," the Washington Times reports. "Credit standards remain significantly tighter than they were two or three years ago."

World: India Accuses Pakistani Militant Of Plotting Mumbai Attacks

• "India has accused a senior leader of the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba of orchestrating last week's terror attacks that killed at least 172 people" in Mumbai, "and demanded the Pakistani government turn him over and take action against the group," the Wall Street Journal reports.

• "Thailand's government collapsed Tuesday after the nation's Constitutional Court banned the prime minister from politics and dissolved three parties in his ruling coalition, delivering a partial victory to opponents, whose protests paralyzed the country's airports and raised fears of mass violence in Bangkok," the Washington Post reports.

• "With the Bush administration's influence rapidly waning, the United States agreed on Tuesday to support a modest reopening of NATO's dialogue with Russia, despite Moscow's continuing occupation of the separatist Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, taken during fighting in August," the New York Times reports. "It was a concession by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at her final NATO meeting."

• "As ex-Eastern bloc countries from Hungary to Ukraine stumble in the face of the global financial crisis, Georgia, which also suffered a war, has so far largely escaped. The reason: the war," the Wall Street Journal reports. "More than half a billion dollars in mainly U.S. reconstruction aid has already been allocated at high speed since the war between Russia and Georgia in August, filling holes in Georgia's budget and replacing financing for commercial and infrastructure projects that might otherwise have dried up."

• "Italian anti-terrorism police Tuesday dismantled an alleged Islamic extremist cell accused of plotting to bomb a military base, police stations and civilian targets in an industrial area north of Milan," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Investigators arrested two Moroccan immigrants accused of posing a more urgent and direct threat to Italy than in previous cases in the country, which mostly have involved recruitment or logistics for terrorist networks in Iraq and North Africa."

• "The governor general of Canada announced on Tuesday that she would cut short a state visit to Europe and return" to Ottawa "as a coalition of opposition parties sought to unseat the Conservative government," the New York Times reports. "Governor General Michaëlle Jean, who represents Queen Elizabeth II as the nation's head of state, has the power to appoint a new government, dissolve Parliament and call for a new election or effectively allow the Conservatives to remain in control for up to a year."

• "The first of more than 100 countries have begun signing a treaty to ban current designs of cluster bombs, at a conference in Oslo, Norway," BBC News reports. "Campaigners are hailing the treaty as a major breakthrough. But some of the biggest stockpilers, including the US, Russia and China are not among them."

• "The twin miseries of crop failure and economic collapse have left Zimbabwe's villages without food. Millions survive on nothing but wild fruit, and many have died," the Los Angeles Times reports. "There are no official statistics. But ask people here in Zimbabwe's Matabeleland South province whether they know anyone who died of hunger recently, and the answer is nearly always yes."

• A refugee camp "of as many as 800 families shows how some Afghans are caught in the middle of a war that just saw its bloodiest year since the fall of the Taliban seven years ago," the Chicago Tribune reports. "But the government does not acknowledge the camp's legitimacy, so it refuses to provide any help."

Transition: Designer Cabinet

• Obama's Cabinet picks are winning him plaudits from both sides of the aisle and giving him a 78 percent approval rating in a new USA Today/Gallup poll. Read more in Lost In Transition, NationalJournal.com's blog on the changeover.

Commentary: Mumbai vs. 9/11

• In Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, commentators offer assessments of the similarities and differences between the two terrorist attacks.

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