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Testimony on interrogation tactics riles Senate hearing. Plus: Obama addresses students in Tempe and the pope celebrates Mass in Nazareth.

May 14, 2009

Congress: Interrogation Testimony Stirs Partisan Counterattacks

• "The Senate's first hearing exploring the alleged torture of detainees rapidly descended into partisan counterattacks" Wednesday, the Washington Post reports. "Former State Department counselor Philip D. Zelikow and retired FBI agent Ali Soufan told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about their unsuccessful attempts to block or reverse detainee interrogation techniques that included waterboarding and repeatedly slamming detainees into flexible walls."

White House: Obama Urges Graduates To Build 'Body Of Work'

• "More than 60,000 people waited for hours in the broiling sun Wednesday to hear President Barack Obama's eloquent message to Arizona State University's graduating class -- and his witty response to a lingering controversy over the school's decision not to give him an honorary degree," the Arizona Republic reports. Obama "urged the 9,267 graduates to stand up to the challenging times by rejecting traditional status symbols as they build their own 'body of work,' a riff on ASU's decision to withhold an honorary degree because the relatively new commander-in-chief had yet to establish a large enough body of work."

• "In its first detailed effort to overhaul financial regulations, the Obama administration on Wednesday... asked Congress to move quickly on legislation that would allow federal oversight of many kinds of exotic instruments, including credit-default swaps, the insurance contracts that caused the near-collapse of the American International Group," the New York Times reports.

 

• "President Barack Obama's nomination of Robert Groves to head the Census Bureau has resurrected a fierce debate over how to get the most accurate count of the population," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "The conflict is expected to be front and center at Friday's confirmation hearing for Dr. Groves, director of the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center and a former Census Bureau official."

Politics: Gillibrand Shifts To Left In Senate

• "When New York Gov. David Paterson [D] named Democratic Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to the Senate seat vacated by" Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, "it was clear Gillibrand would have to tweak right-leaning stances on gun rights and immigration to appeal to statewide constituency far to the left of her conservative-leaning House district," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "But the speed and conspicuousness with which Gillibrand has cast off her former identity has raised eyebrows even among observers accustomed to political adjustments."

Economy: SEC Preparing Charges For Countrywide Co-Founder

• "The Securities and Exchange Commission staff is readying civil fraud charges against Countrywide Financial Corp. co-founder Angelo Mozilo, in what would be the highest-profile government legal action against a chief executive connected to the financial crisis," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports.

• "A day after saying big U.S. banks probably needed to raise only one-fourth the capital demanded by the government, Standard & Poor's said the nation's banking crisis has 'merely entered a new phase' and might not end before 2013," Reuters reports. "The credit rating agency said the industry is being propped up by hundreds of billions of dollars of government support, especially for lenders considered too important to the financial system to fail."

World: Pontiff Calls For Reconciliation in Nazareth Address

• "Pope Benedict XVI greeted tens of thousands of adoring followers in Jesus' childhood hometown with a message of reconciliation Thursday, urging Christian and Muslims there to overcome recent strife and 'reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice,'" AP reports.

• "Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar's pro-democracy movement, was taken to prison by security officials Thursday morning and will stand trial for allowing an American man to stay overnight in her home, an apparent violation of her long-term house arrest, her lawyers said," the New York Times reports.

National Security: Administration Decides Not To Release Photos

• "A month after making public once-classified Justice Department memos detailing the Bush administration's coercive methods of interrogation, President Obama" on Wednesday "chose secrecy over disclosure, saying he will seek to block the court-ordered release of photographs depicting the abuse of detainees held by U.S. authorities abroad," the Washington Post reports. Obama "changed his mind after viewing some of the images and hearing warnings from his generals in Iraq and in Afghanistan that such a move would endanger U.S. troops deployed there."

• "Congressional Democrats are voicing growing unease over the Obama administration's national security policies, including the seemingly open-ended commitment in Afghanistan and the nettlesome question of what to do with prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba," the New York Times reports. "House leaders have yanked from an emergency military spending bill the $80 million that President Obama requested to close the detention center, saying he had not provided a plan for the more than 200 detainees there."

• "The Department of Homeland Security says it is reviewing a last-minute Bush administration appointment of a shipping industry executive and registered lobbyist to serve on a government maritime security board, even as his company faced serious allegations of defrauding the U.S. military in war zones," the Washington Times reports.

Technology: Lawmakers Tackle 'Sexting'

• Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., "warned parents Wednesday of the dangers of 'sexting' -- the increasingly common practice of sharing sexually explicit photos and words via text messaging," Politico reports.

• "How would the American military respond to an attack on its networks? If we take the commander of U.S. strategic forces at his word, they'd nuke those hackers, if need be," Wired reports.

• "The Homeland Security Department's platform for sharing sensitive but unclassified data with state and local authorities was hacked recently, a DHS official has confirmed," Federal Computer Week reports. Harry McDavid, the chief information officer for DHS' Office of Operations Coordination and Planning, "said the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team reported an intrusion into the system in late March. The initial hack was brief and limited, and it was followed by a more extensive hack in early April, McDavid said."

Lobbying: GOP Woos Disappointed Tech Industry

• "The high-tech industry, disturbed by President Obama's proposal to raise taxes on U.S. companies operating overseas, is being courted by the Republican Party while ramping up its own opposition strategy," The Hill reports.

• "A rise in issue advertising, the so-called 'permanent presidential campaign' and early primary elections could combine to drive 2009 political advertising to 'well over $1 billion this year,' according to Evan Tracey, founder and president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group," TVNewsday reports.

• "With climate change legislation heating up, liberal advocates are taking aim at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been skeptical of recent legislative moves to deal with global warming," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "A petition organized by MoveOn.org that asks the chamber to stop lobbying against" Obama's "clean-energy bill has already garnered the names of more than 10,000 small-business men and women, 650 of whom are also chamber members."

Energy & Environment: Republicans Block Interior Nominee

• "On a vote largely along party lines, Senate Republicans" on Wednesday blocked Obama's "nominee for deputy interior secretary amid a fight over the agency's new rules on oil and gas drilling," the Washington Post reports. "Republicans acknowledged beforehand that the vote was not a rejection of [David] Hayes, who served for two years as deputy interior secretary in the Clinton administration; Republicans instead were making a statement of opposition to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's cancellation this year of leases for oil and gas drilling in Utah."

• "After Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) unseated Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) atop the Energy and Commerce Committee last year, conservative Democrats worried that Waxman and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would try to ram through a politically toxic climate change bill," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "But this week, Waxman and Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) showed a pragmatic streak that appears close to lining up support from nearly all the panel's Democratic members."

• "Republicans believe that rising gas prices are their trump card against a Democratic-sponsored climate change bill," The Hill reports. "The GOP is struggling to regain footing after two successive electoral blowouts, but party leaders are relishing an opportunity to debate what they call a 'national energy tax.'"

Health Care: Reform's Price Tag Makes GOP Uneasy

• "With Senate Democrats rushing to meet a June deadline for a health care reform package, the cost of the overhaul -- and who pays for it -- is emerging as another serious roadblock to Republican buy-in," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Particularly in light of this week's report on the looming insolvency of Medicare and Social Security, Republicans are skittish about creating a new government program projected to cost nearly $2 trillion over the next decade."

• "Democrats in the White House and on Capitol Hill focused on messaging Wednesday as" Obama "and congressional leaders reiterated their determination to achieve healthcare reform this year," The Hill reports. "Hours after hosting House Democratic leaders at the White House, the president dispatched senior adviser David Axelrod to brief Democratic senators on how to sell healthcare reform to the American public."

• "House Democrats are considering regional or state-run options for a public insurance plan, which is similar in some ways to a proposal put forth this week by Senate Finance Committee leaders," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "A former aide to a committee member said that the state role would be one where states could opt out of a federal exchange -- through which the public option and private plans meeting minimum standards are offered -- and create an exchange where the minimum standards apply."

Commentary: No Love For Lawmakers

• Commentators in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section criticize Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Arlen Specter, D-Pa., on the Employee Free Choice Act and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Christopher (Kit) Bond, R-Mo., on Guantanamo Bay detainees.

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