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EARLYBIRD

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Bush's judicial picks leave appellate courts divided, lawmakers move closer to deal with Big Three, Taliban expands its foothold in Afghanistan, workers stage sit-in at Chicago factory, insurgents destroy American supplies in Pakistan.

• "As other presidents have vowed, President Bush said in 2001 that he would not impose an ideological litmus test for his appointees. He said he would demand only their understanding that 'the role of a judge is to interpret the law, not to legislate from the bench,'" the Washington Post reports. "But scholars say that despite these protestations, there has been a discernible pattern in both the backgrounds and the rulings of the judges Bush picked."

• "Although the impact of Bush's judicial appointments is most often noticed at the Supreme Court, it has played out much more frequently and more importantly" in the nation's 13 appellate courts, "where his appointees and their liberal counterparts are waging often-bitter ideological battles," the Post also reports. "After Bush's eight years in office, Republican-appointed majorities firmly control the outcomes in 10 of these courts, compared with seven after President Bill Clinton's tenure."

 

• "A Congressional oversight panel plans to ask the National Security Agency to start an investigation into new evidence that the agency illegally wiretapped a Muslim scholar in Northern Virginia and concealed the eavesdropping during a 2005 trial in which the scholar was convicted on terrorism charges," the New York Times reports.

Congress: Jefferson Loses in Louisiana; Kilroy Wins In Ohio

• "Congressional Democrats and the White House are closing in on a $15 billion package to prop up the American auto industry, setting up a difficult final Senate vote as its last action of the 110th Congress," The Hill reports. "Some Senate Republicans, including Sens. George Voinovich (Ohio), Kit Bond (Mo.) and Arlen Specter (Pa.), have made it plain they will vote for the bailout, but it's unclear whether there will be support to pass the bill."

• "Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), a nine-term lawmaker facing 16 corruption charges, lost reelection in a shocking upset over the weekend," The Hill reports. "Jefferson's victorious rival, in a Democratic district, was an unknown and untested Republican, and the result gives the GOP a glimmer of silver lining in a disastrous election cycle."

 

• "Jefferson's unexpected loss Saturday may have cost him a bargaining chip in negotiating a potential deal with government prosecutors and leaves him without his congressional salary as he faces expensive defense and appellate proceedings," the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports.

• "Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy came from behind Sunday to snatch a central Ohio seat from House Republicans after elections officials tallied provisional ballots," AP reports. "Kilroy's victory by a little more than 2,000 votes over Republican Steve Stivers put the 15th Congressional District seat into Democratic hands after the retirement of Republican Deborah Pryce."

• "Republicans are increasingly optimistic that Senate Democrats will shy away from deciding the fate of the still too close-to-call Minnesota Senate race, now that the prospect of a 60-seat, filibuster-resistant majority has been eliminated," the Politico reports.

• President Bush "might be riding into the Lone Star State sunset. But with two Texans, Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Pete Sessions, assuming command of the Republican Congressional campaign committees, Texas political donors large and small will likely play a key role in any GOP resurgence that occurs in 2010," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

 

• "President-elect Barack Obama's record-shattering $750 million campaign fundraising total spurred renewed calls to reform the public financing system, but Washington insiders wonder whether Capitol Hill Democrats have the political will to do it after winning the White House under current rules," the Washington Times reports. "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada declined to say whether campaign finance reform would be on the Democrats' agenda next year."

Iraq: Legal Battles Likely In Blackwater Case

• "Five Blackwater Worldwide security guards indicted in Washington for the 2007 shooting of Iraqi civilians plan to surrender to the federal authorities" today "in Utah, people close to the case said, setting up a court fight over the trial site," AP reports. "The case already is shaping up to be a series of contentious legal battles before the guards even can go to trial."

• "An American prosecutor working on the case... has arrived in Iraq and will be meeting with victims' families this week, Iraqi officials said," the New York Times reports.

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• "US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said... Sunday that the US-led war in Iraq will turn out to be a 'strategic achievement' for not only" Bush "but for the United States," Agence France-Presse reports. "Interviewed on Fox news, Rice said she 'would give anything' to revisit the issue of weapons of mass destruction, but said the 2003 invasion was still right even if the weapons were never found."

Afghanistan: Taliban Expands Its Presence

• "The Taliban have expanded their footprint in Afghanistan and now have a permanent presence in nearly three-quarters of the country, according to a new report," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The Paris-based International Council on Security and Development, a think tank that maintains full-time offices in Afghanistan, said the Taliban have spread across much of the country and are beginning to encircle the capital, Kabul."

• "Sen. John McCain [R-Ariz.] said Sunday that the situation in Afghanistan will get more difficult before it gets easier -- 'just like the surge in Iraq was,'" AP reports. "The former Republican presidential candidate visited the southern province of Helmand, where he said NATO forces are at a stalemate with insurgents."

• "The U.S. Army is looking to private contractors to provide armed security guards to protect Forward Operating Bases in seven provinces in southern Afghanistan," the Washington Post reports. "In a recent study, Anthony H. Cordesman, an intelligence expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, described five of those provinces -- Helmand, Kandahar, Nimruz, Zabol and Uruzgan -- as among the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan."

Nation: Workers Stage Sit-In At Chicago Factory

• "The scene inside a long, low-slung factory on" Chicago's "North Side this weekend offered a glimpse at how the nation's loss of more than 600,000 manufacturing jobs in a year of recession is boiling over," the New York Times reports. "Workers laid off Friday from Republic Windows and Doors... said they would not leave, even after company officials announced that the factory was closing," and some stayed "all weekend, in what they were calling an occupation of the factory."

• "The gay marriage debate moves to the Midwest this week as the Iowa Supreme Court hears arguments in a challenge to the state's ban on same-sex marriage," AP reports. "If the high court rules in favor of the half-dozen gay couples who sued, it would make Iowa the fourth state after Massachusetts, California and Connecticut to uphold the right of same-sex couples to legally marry."

• "Faced with chronically packed prisons and a federal mandate to improve medical and living conditions, a three-judge panel is meeting" in San Francisco "to decide whether the overcrowding results in unconstitutional treatment of California's more than 150,000 inmates," the New York Times reports. "If so, the judges could order the state to release tens of thousands of prisoners."

• "With their registrations sinking and their political clout withering, California Republicans have come out of the November election in danger of slipping into political irrelevance across much of the state," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. "'There's been a broad repudiation of traditional conservative Republicans in California,' said Tony Quinn, a former GOP analyst and co-editor of the California Target Book."

• "Americans rode subways, buses and commuter railroads in record numbers in the third quarter of this year, even as gas prices dropped and unemployment rose," the Washington Post reports. "The 6.5 percent jump in transit ridership over the same period last year marks the largest quarterly increase in public transportation ridership in 25 years, according to a survey to be released today by the American Public Transportation Association."

Economy: Stressed Holiday Shoppers Cutting Back

• "Despite months of rescue efforts, hundreds of billions of dollars in government spending and an avant-garde apparatus of financial tools, the American economy has only worsened, and at a faster rate than nearly anyone predicted," the New York Times reports. "This recession... now appears virtually certain to be the longest downturn -- and possibly most severe -- since the end of World War II, as evidenced last week by a demoralizing rat-a-tat of grim reports on jobs, sales and public confidence."

• "Americans say the sagging economy is making the 2008 holiday season more stressful than previous years, according to a CNN poll out" today, "with up to two-thirds of them reporting some belt-tightening.... The poll found 67% of the 1,096 adults questioned said they are cutting the amount they plan to spend on Christmas or Hanukkah gifts, and 65% said they are cutting back on leisure travel, dining out or going to the movies."

• "For the advertising and media industries, the worst is yet to come, according to some of Madison Avenue's most closely watched forecasts," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "Fallout from the global financial crisis will bring cuts in total ad spending next year both in the U.S. and abroad, though predictions vary widely."

• "Record numbers of companies will go bankrupt next year with 200,000 insolvencies in Europe alone and 'an explosion' of failed businesses in the US, according to the world's largest credit insurer," the Financial Times reports. "The US will see 62,000 companies go bust next year, compared with 42,000 this year and 28,000 last year, says a report by Euler Hermes, part of German insurer Allianz."

• "Cash-strapped investors are starting to renege on their commitments to venture-capital funds, dealing a blow to an industry that has been the bedrock of Silicon Valley start-ups," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "From pension funds to rich individuals to once-deep-pocketed financial institutions now in desperate shape, this year's plunging markets have made it much harder for some investors to come up with the money they promised to invest."

World: Mumbai Attacks Put Singh's Future In Question

• "Insurgents torched 160 vehicles, including dozens of Humvees destined for American and allied forces fighting in Afghanistan, in the boldest attack so far on the critical military supply line through Pakistan," AP reports. "The U.S. military said Sunday's raid on two transport terminals near the beleaguered city of Peshawar would have 'minimal' impact on anti-Taliban operations set to expand with the arrival of thousands more troops next year."

• "Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based militant group suspected of conducting the Mumbai attacks, has quietly gained strength in recent years with the help of Pakistan's main spy service, assistance that has allowed the group to train and raise money while other militants have been under siege, American intelligence and counterterrorism officials say," the New York Times reports. "American officials say there is no hard evidence to link the spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, to the Mumbai attacks. But the ISI has shared intelligence with Lashkar and provided protection for it."

• "Whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will keep the job he has held for four years is increasingly in doubt as he -- and the rest of India -- grapple with the fallout from the brazen terrorist attack on Mumbai last month that left more than 170 dead," the Los Angeles Times reports.

• "North and South Korea have all but frozen a decadelong effort to forge economic and personal ties -- the latest in a series of obstacles to U.S.-led efforts to end North Korea's nuclear ambitions before President Bush leaves office," the Washington Times reports. "With six-nation talks due to resume in Beijing" today, "other roadblocks include North Korea's weekend threat to snub Japan at the negotiations, plus the North's denial of a reported deal with the U.S. to allow sampling from nuclear sites."

• "The Chinese government let loose Sunday with an official protest and a torrent of angry editorials denouncing French President Nicolas Sarkozy for a meeting over the weekend with the Dalai Lama," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Beijing is always prickly about world leaders meeting with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, but the outpouring against France was exceptional. It comes during a year in which France has emerged as China's favorite whipping boy."

• Labor specialists" in Geneva "say the global economic crisis will cause a sharp drop next year in worker remittances -- a major source of income for developing countries," the Washington Times reports. "Ryszard Cholewinski, a labor specialist at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said the fall will heavily affect countries including Mexico, India, Bangladesh and the Philippines."

Vladimir Putin, "the former president and current prime minister, has long maintained that Russia made a colossal error in the 1990s by allowing its enormous reserves of oil, gas and other natural resources to fall into private hands. He has acted uncompromisingly... to get them back," the New York Times reports. "Now, the Kremlin seems to be capitalizing on the economic crisis, exploiting the opportunity to establish more control over financially weakened industries that it has long coveted, particularly those in natural resources."

• "Voters flocked to the polls Sunday for presidential elections" in Ghana, "as Africans watched to see whether this island of stability in tumultuous West Africa would live up to its reputation as a democratic role model for the rest of the continent," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Two technocrats were expected to get the most votes in a field of eight seeking to replace incumbent President John Kufuor."

• "If the election of" Obama "has been greeted with glee across much of Africa, there is at least one spot where the mood is decidedly different," the Washington Post reports. "In the Sudanese capital of Khartoum these days, political elites are bracing for what they expect will be a major shift in U.S. policy toward a government the United States has blamed for orchestrating a violent campaign against civilians in the western Darfur region."

Transition: Obama Warns Of Worse

• The economy "is a big problem, and it's going to get worse," President-elect Obama said on "Meet The Press" on Sunday, also repeating his commitment to an economic stimulus package for infrastructure projects. Read more in Lost In Transition, NationalJournal.com's blog on the changeover.

Commentary: Bush Talk

• Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section has opinion on President Bush's pardons, what his legacy will hold and the last-minute regulations he's aiming to pass.

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