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EARLYBIRD

Top News

Justice tells Pentagon to obey EPA on chemical cleanup, more questions arise over Rangel's finances, lax gun laws linked to crime rates, retailers reel and unemployment creeps up, Israeli settlers resist West Bank withdrawal.

• "President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush said Thursday that they have bought a house in a wealthy enclave in Dallas and will return here once the president leaves office," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The White House wouldn't confirm the address, but local real-estate mavens have pinpointed the site of the Bushes' new digs: a multimillion-dollar 8,500-square-foot house in a neighborhood called Preston Hollow."

• "The Justice Department dealt a blow to the Pentagon this week, saying it has no legal authority to resist orders from the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up Fort Meade in Maryland and two other military sites that have been contaminated by chemicals," the Washington Post reports.

 

• "In another regulatory action in the waning days of the Bush administration, the Interior Department on Thursday unveiled a new rule that challenges Congress's authority to prevent mining planned on public lands," the New York Times reports. "Congress has emergency power to stop mineral development, and has used it six times in the last 32 years."

• "The leader of the U.S. Strategic Command said" Thursday "that 'time is not on our side' to modernize the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile, particularly as China and Russia upgrade their nuclear warheads and delivery systems," the Washington Post reports. "'The path of inaction is a path leading toward nuclear disarmament.... The time to act is now,' Air Force Gen. Kevin P. Chilton told an audience of government, military and civilian arms experts attending the Nuclear Deterrence Summit in Washington."

• "A security program spurred by the 9/11 attacks to safeguard seaports has hit yet another snag, causing concern that commerce could be slowed during the busy holiday season," AP reports. "House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson [D-Miss.] said ID card applications for about 3,000 seaport workers were inadvertently deleted by the program's contractor, Lockheed Martin."

 

Congress: More Questions Arise Over Rangel's Finances

• "Prospects for a multi-billion-dollar auto industry bailout appeared to be slipping away Thursday but Sen. Chris Dodd [D-Conn.] vowed to keep working," The Hill reports. "Lawmakers have yet to reach a compromise on the rescue package requested by the Detroit companies and Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, painted a dismal portrait of their progress... after a nearly six-hour hearing where chief executives from the Big Three automakers pleaded for nearly $34 billion in aid."

• "Beyond aiding the troubled auto industry, House Democratic leaders also may be lining up a vote on food stamps and state Medicaid assistance during next week's lame-duck session," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "It is 'possible' that the House will take up a short-term stimulus measure focused solely on food stamps and Medicaid assistance to states, a senior Democratic aide said Thursday."

• "Between 2004 and 2007, Rep. Charles Rangel [D-N.Y.] steered nearly $80,000 in campaign cash to an Internet company run by his son -- paying lavishly for a pair of political Web sites so poorly designed an expert estimated one should have cost no more than $100 to create," the Politico reports. "The payments are apparently legal under federal law, but their disclosure raises new questions about the Ways and Means chairman as he faces House ethics committee" scrutiny.

• "A quick finish to Minnesota's U.S. Senate race seemed unlikely Thursday when the city of Minneapolis was given an open-ended extension to locate ballots counted on Election Day that have since gone missing," AP reports. "About 130 ballots were not included in a recount that was due to end" today. "To help shorten the length of review for 2.9 million votes, Republican Sen. Norm Coleman withdrew 650 ballot challenges Thursday, matching an earlier gesture by Democrat Al Franken."

 

• House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., "is asking Attorney General Michael Mukasey to clarify a statement indicating that officials who signed off on torture and surveillance policies believed they were acting within the law," The Hill reports.

• The New York Times profiles Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, "the Democrat who last month pulled off what once seemed unimaginable, becoming only the second Democrat from Alaska to win a seat in Washington since his father was a member of the House of Representatives nearly four decades ago."

Iraq: Bush Thanks Iraqi Leaders For SOFA Passage

• "Bush has called Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to thank him for pushing through an agreement that sets a three-year time frame for American troops to leave the country," AP reports. "Bush also thanked Iraqi President Jalal Talabani for his work on the deal between the two countries."

• "Iraq's presidential council on Thursday approved a security pact that sets out a three-year timeframe for U.S. troops to leave, a spokesman said, the final step for the agreement to replace a U.N. mandate that expires Dec. 31," AP also reports.

• "Explosions tore through two police stations Thursday in the western Iraqi city of Fallouja, leaving at least 16 people dead, and a blast in a northern city killed two U.S. soldiers in the latest reminders of this country's fragile security situation," the Los Angeles Times reports. "The attacks came on the heels of other large blasts this week that targeted Iraqi and U.S. security forces and left dozens of people dead."

• "Blackwater Worldwide guards involved in the deadly 2007 Baghdad shooting of Iraqi civilians could face mandatory 30-year prison sentences under an aggressive anti-drug law being considered as the Justice Department readies indictments, people close to the case said," AP reports. "Charges could be announced as early as Monday for the shooting, which left 13 civilians dead."

• "The followers of Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr once were powerful enough to do battle against the U.S. military, play kingmaker in choosing Iraq's prime minister and declare themselves the true defenders of the country's Shiite majority," the Washington Post reports. "But parliament's approval last week of a security agreement that requires U.S. forces to leave Iraq by the end of 2011, a date the Sadrists consider far too distant, has underscored the movement's waning influence. Sadr's loyalists are on the defensive, struggling to remain politically relevant as the U.S. role in Iraq diminishes and" al-Maliki "gains stature."

• "Traumatic brain injuries, one of the signature injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, can be linked to such long-term problems as seizures, aggression and dementia reminiscent of Alzheimer's disease, according to an Institute of Medicine report released Thursday," the Los Angeles Times reports.

Nation: Lax Gun Laws Linked To Crime Rates

• "States with lax gun laws had higher rates of handgun killings, fatal shootings of police officers, and sales of weapons that were used in crimes in other states, according to a study underwritten by a group of more than 300 U.S. mayors," the Washington Post reports.

• "In hopes of slowing global warming and creating 'green jobs,' Congress and the incoming administration may soon impose a mandate that the nation get 10 or 15 percent of its electricity from renewable sources within a few years," the New York Times reports. "Yet the experience of states that have adopted similar goals suggests that passing that requirement could be a lot easier than achieving it."

• "Worsening budget conditions are pressing school officials in the Washington area and across the country to consider backing away from what has become a mantra of education: Kids learn best in smaller classes," the Washington Post reports. "Area school systems are moving into the difficult part of their budget seasons, and many of them say that trimming spending by increasing class size is a real possibility."

• "After more than three years of nomadic uncertainty, many of the children of Hurricane Katrina are behind in school, acting out and suffering from extraordinarily high rates of illness and mental health problems," the New York Times reports. "Their parents, many still anxious or depressed themselves, are struggling to keep the lights on and the refrigerator stocked.'

• The $4 billion federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program "is barely up and running. But already, many states and localities are frustrated by the small sums involved and how the Department of Housing and Urban Development is allocating the grants," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The problems are an indication of how federal efforts to halt the foreclosure crisis have proven inadequate to the task."

Economy: Retailers Reel & Payrolls Continue To Shrink

• "U.S. employers probably cut jobs in November at the fastest pace in a quarter century as the yearlong recession engulfing the world's largest economy deepened, economists said before a report today. Payrolls shrank by 333,000 workers last month, the biggest drop since July 1982, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey" and "the jobless rate may have jumped to 6.8 percent, the highest level since 1993."

• "Retailers posted the worst November sales in more than 30 years" Thursday "as holiday shopping not only failed to lift the economy but showed that the financial crisis is further distressing everyday consumers," the Washington Post reports.

• "Federal Reserve officials are looking for new ways to revive the U.S. economy, while European and other central banks are cutting interest rates to counter a deepening global recession," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "With the Fed's target rate already very low, Fed officials are mulling unconventional steps as they prepare for an important mid-December meeting."

• "Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Thursday urged the government to consider aggressive and unprecedented steps to slow the pace of foreclosures that is imperiling the housing market and the economy," USA Today reports. "Bernanke, speaking at a Fed housing conference, pressed for a number of new programs, such as the outright purchase and refinancing of troubled mortgages."

• "Prompted by public concern over the economy and energy costs, President-elect Barack Obama and Democrats in control of Congress are touting a two-for-one solution: spending billions of dollars on alternative-energy programs to create jobs and help lift the nation out of recession," USA Today also reports. "But some economists... caution that funding energy projects could help the economy less than other forms of spending."

World: Israeli Settlers Resist West Bank Withdrawal

• "A bloody clash Thursday between Israeli settlers and Israeli police in Hebron could mark the beginning of violent Jewish resistance to a proposed Israeli withdrawal from much of the West Bank under a peace accord," the Washington Times reports. "Israeli riot police used clubs and stun grenades to evacuate hundreds of settlers from a building on the edge of the town" and "the settlers responded by attacking Palestinian property. More than two dozen people were injured."

• "Canada's parliamentary opposition reacted with outrage on Thursday after Prime Minister Stephen Harper shut down the legislature until Jan. 26, seeking to forestall a no-confidence vote that he was sure to lose and, possibly, provoking a constitutional crisis," the New York Times reports. Harper got "the approval of Governor General Michaëlle Jean, who represents Queen Elizabeth II as the nation's head of state."

• "In the course of the three-day battle between security commandos and the 10 gunmen who laid siege to Mumbai last week, many Indians found a new villain -- the politician," the Washington Post reports. "Members of India's restive urban middle class have vented their anger and frustration over the attacks by denouncing the entire political class for the failure to protect them."

• "Fresh evidence unearthed Thursday by investigators in India indicated that the Mumbai attacks were stage-managed from at least two Pakistani cities by top leaders of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba," the New York Times reports. "Indian and American intelligence officials have already identified a Lashkar operative, who goes by the name Yusuf Muzammil, as a mastermind of the attacks. On Thursday, Indian investigators named one of the most well-known senior figures in Lashkar, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi."

• "The U.S. and China wrapped up high-level economic talks with pledges to support financial markets, trade and investment in both countries," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The two countries said their export-import banks would together provide an additional $20 billion in trade financing, aiming to help ease the squeeze in credit markets that has made it harder to buy and sell goods across borders."

• "Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said" today "that it is 'well past time' for Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe to leave office as evidenced by the nation's calamitous cholera epidemic and health-care crisis," AP reports. "Ms. Rice said the country experienced 'a sham election,' followed by a sham sharing of power."

• "Dashing the hopes of Thais who looked to their monarch to help lead them out of a political crisis, King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Thursday canceled the speech he normally gives on the eve of his birthday," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn said that the monarch, who celebrates his 81st birthday today, was ill."

• The Chicago Tribune reports that one of Obama's "key jobs will be helping NATO -- an organization that has seen its Cold War focus shift to more amorphous counter-terrorism and peacekeeping -- hold together and remake itself for an age of new threats, from a nuclear-armed Iran to a resurgent, saber-rattling Russia."

• "Prime Minister Vladimir Putin cast himself as a troubleshooting father-of-the-nation figure in a televised appearance that analysts said was designed to calm poorer Russians spooked by the financial crisis," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Mr. Putin reveled in the state-media limelight, joking, comforting the unemployed and promising a new dress to a little girl who phoned in to the question-and-answer session, an exercise that was a hallmark of his presidency, which ended earlier this year."

Transition: Tending The Roots

• Some of Obama's grassroots supporters aren't happy with the direction apparently planned for the vast volunteer network that figured in his victory. Read more in Lost In Transition, NationalJournal.com's blog on the changeover.

Commentary: Will Washington See Another Bush?

• In Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, commentators speculate about a Jeb Bush Senate bid and accuse his brother of trying to "rewrite history."

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