Archive for July, 2007

Morning Links

During a high-level meeting in Riyadh in January, Saudi officials confronted a top American envoy with documents that seemed to suggest that Iraq’s prime minister could not be trusted. One purported to be an early alert from the prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, to the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr warning him to lie low during the coming American troop increase, which was aimed in part at Mr. Sadr’s militia. Another document purported to offer proof that Mr. Maliki was an agent of Iran…Now, Bush administration officials are voicing increasing anger at what they say has been Saudi Arabia’s counterproductive role in the Iraq war. They say that beyond regarding Mr. Maliki as an Iranian agent, the Saudis have offered financial support to Sunni groups in Iraq. Of an estimated 60 to 80 foreign fighters who enter Iraq each month, American military and intelligence officials say that nearly half are coming from Saudi Arabia and that the Saudis have not done enough to stem the flow. [Link]

Three years after President Bush urged global rules to stop additional nations from making nuclear fuel, the White House will announce on Friday that it is carving out an exception for India, in a last-ditch effort to seal a civilian nuclear deal between the countries. [Link]

The Senate approved antiterrorism legislation late Thursday that grew out of the recommendations of the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission after voting overwhelmingly for a measure allocating $40 billion for domestic security in the coming year…Defying the White House, Republican senators led an effort to add $3 billion for border security to the homeland security spending bill and suggested they would join an effort to override any veto by President Bush, who has threatened to reject bills that exceed his spending goals. The measure was approved 89 to 4. [Link]

NATO and Afghan troops clashed with Taliban insurgents and called in airstrikes, killing at least 50 suspected militants and dozens of civilians, local officials and villagers said Friday….The airstrikes killed 50 Taliban and 28 civilians, Khan said, citing villagers’ reports. He said the bodies have already been buried, and the fighting continued Friday. [Link]

Pharmacists have sued Washington state over a new regulation that requires them to sell emergency contraception, also known as the “morning-after pill.” In a lawsuit filed in federal court Wednesday, a pharmacy owner and two pharmacists say the rule that took effect Thursday violates their civil rights by forcing them into choosing between “their livelihoods and their deeply held religious and moral beliefs.” [Link]

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency refused on Thursday to say whether he knew the Transportation Department was lobbying against a California global warming law. “I defer to the Transportation Department,” EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson repeated three times in a row in response to questions from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif….Documents released last month show that as the EPA was considering giving California permission to put in place state rules on tailpipe emissions, Transportation Department officials were contacting members of Congress and governors and suggesting they weigh in against the request. Democrats say such intervention was inappropriate and possibly illegal. The Transportation Department says it simply was disseminating information. [Link]

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s senior Republican said on Thursday that he is on the verge of offering a new immigration reform package, making significant changes that could win over recalcitrant members from both parties….Specter explained the new measure would omit the controversial “Z visa” program, which would have given the nation’s 12 million illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. Removing the Z visa would offer conservatives less opening to tag the bill as “amnesty.” But he would leave intact the family reunification standard that this spring’s defunct immigration bill partially replaced with a skills-based system. The lone change in the status of the 12 million, Specter said, would be removing their status as fugitives from justice, an attempt to diminish their incentive to remain outside the system and in fear of deportation. [Link]

The top US general and diplomat in Iraq warned yesterday against cutting short the American troop buildup and suggested they would urge Congress in September to give President Bush’s strategy more time. General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, in separate interviews at the US Embassy, were careful not to say how long they would like to continue the counterinsurgency strategy and the higher US troop levels that began six months ago. Still, Petraeus’s comments signaled he would like to see a substantial US combat force remain well into 2008 and perhaps beyond. He said a drawdown from today’s level of 160,000 US troops is coming but he would not say when. [Link]

The State Department on Thursday dismissed allegations by Democrats that foreign workers were mistreated in building the U.S. Embassy complex in Iraq. The department’s internal watchdog said his conclusions were based on random interviews with several workers and inspection of dining room facilities, a medical clinic and trailers in which they were housed. [Link]

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Thursday that she and her husband have decided to sell back their Kenai riverfront property to Anchorage real estate developer Bob Penney. Murkowski announced the sell-back a day after a Washington watchdog group filed an ethics complaint against her, alleging that Penney sold the property at well below market value. The transaction amounted to an illegal gift worth between $70,000 and $170,000, depending on how the property was valued, according to the complaint by the National Legal and Policy Center. [Link]

Like the rest of the world, Alaska is heating up, according to AkPIRG, the Alaska Public Interest Research Group. Claims of global warming and its dire impacts in Alaska are not new. But AkPIRG added some fresh numbers to the discussion Thursday. In Anchorage, AkPIRG said, the average temperature over the seven years ending December 2006 rose 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit above the average of the 30 years ending December 2000. Talkeetna and Barrow each showed a rise in average temperatures for the year 2006, an AkPIRG official said at the group’s downtown Anchorage offices. [Link]

Missing from Thursday’s session of the Iraqi parliament were about half of the members, including the speaker, the former speaker and two former prime ministers. Also missing: a sense of urgency. American officials have been pressing Iraqi leaders to prove their commitment to ending sectarian strife by enacting landmark legislation before mid-September, when the Bush administration is to present its next report on Iraq to Congress. But even as parliament’s monthlong August break approaches, key issues aren’t being discussed. Quorums are marginal, or fleeting. [Link]

A federal judge on Thursday struck down a Pennsylvania city’s ordinance that sought to punish landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and employers who hire them, ruling that immigration law is the province of the federal government alone. The measure in Hazleton had become a symbol and an inspiration for a growing movement among state and city officials to enact local laws to combat illegal immigration. Supporters of this effort charge that Washington has failed to control the U.S. borders or deal with the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants who live in the country. [Link]


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Morning Links

Two suicide car bombs exploded Wednesday amid throngs that poured into Baghdad’s streets after the Iraqi national soccer team edged South Korea to reach its first Asian Cup final. Police said at least 50 people were killed and 135 were injured. Celebratory gunfire after Iraq’s 4-3 victory at the game in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, killed at least one person and injured 17, police said. Among the wounded were two police officers and an Iraqi soldier. [Link]

A presidential panel on military and veterans health care released a report Wednesday concluding that the system was insufficient for the demands of two modern wars and called for improvements, including far-reaching changes in the way the government determines the disability status and benefits of injured soldiers and veterans. [Link]

For the many critics of farm subsidies, including President Bush and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, this seemed like the ideal year for Congress to tackle the federal payments long criticized as enriching big farm interests, violating trade agreements and neglecting small family farms. Many crop prices are at or near record highs. Concern over the country’s dependence on foreign oil has sent demand for corn-based ethanol soaring. European wheat fields have been battered by too much rain. And market analysts are projecting continued boom years for American farmers into the foreseeable future. But as the latest farm bill heads to the House floor on Thursday, farm-state lawmakers seem likely to prevail in keeping the old subsidies largely in place, drawing a veto threat on Wednesday from the White House. [Link]

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy threatened yesterday to request a perjury investigation of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, as Democrats said an intelligence official’s statement about a classified surveillance program was at odds with Gonzales’s sworn testimony. [Link]

The U.S. military has noted a “significant improvement” in the aim of attackers firing rockets and mortars into the heavily fortified Green Zone in the past three months that it has linked to training in Iran, a top commander said Thursday. Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the top day-to-day U.S. commander in Iraq, also expressed cautious optimism over a decline in the number of American troops killed this month. At least 60 U.S. troops have died so far in July after the death toll topped 100 for the previous three months, according to an Associated Press tally based on military statements. Odierno said it appeared that casualties had increased as fresh U.S. forces expanded operations into militant strongholds as part of the five-month-old security operation aimed at clamping off violence in the capital, but were going down as the Americans gained control of the areas. [Link]

Iraq’s ambassador to the United States Wednesday launched a withering attack on what he said was US slowness to provide basic weaponry to his country’s ill-equipped armed forces. Samir Sumaidaie said the foot-dragging was inexplicable given President George W. Bush’s oft-stated desire for Iraqi forces to “stand up” and so allow US troops to withdraw from the frontlines. [Link]

The U.N. Mideast envoy warned Wednesday of impending economic collapse in the Gaza Strip unless Israel reopens the Hamas-led territory’s main commercial crossing to the outside world to ease international isolation. [Link]

A day after President Bush sought to present evidence showing that Iraq is now the main battlefront against Al Qaeda, the chief US intelligence analyst for international terrorism told Congress that the network’s growing ranks in Pakistan and Afghanistan pose a more immediate threat to the United States. In rare testimony before two House committees, Edward Gistaro, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats, said that Al Qaeda terrorists operating in South Asia are better equipped to attack the United States than the network’s followers in Iraq are. [Link]

House and Senate negotiators reached agreement Wednesday on a long-debated anti-terrorism bill as the Democratic majority in Congress scrambled to rack up accomplishments to boost its dismal job-approval ratings. The legislation to implement many of the recommendations of the bipartisan commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks is among a crush of measures that Democrats hope to pass before leaving for their monthlong summer recess next week. [Link]

Senate Democrats scored a crucial pre-recess legislative win Wednesday, as a veterans’ healthcare measure and military pay raise previously attached to the stalled defense authorization bill passed unanimously. [Link]

In a series of AP interviews over the past 10 days, U.S. and Iraqi commanders as well as military intelligence officers described al-Qaeda in Iraq as on the run but not on the ropes. Privately, some senior officers speak hopefully of 2007 bringing the group’s demise. Others are less optimistic. [Link]

Two years ago, when companies received a big tax break to bring home their offshore profits, the president and Congress justified it as a one-time tax amnesty that would create American jobs…But the companies did not create many jobs in return. Instead, since 2005 the American drug industry has laid off tens of thousands of workers in this country. [Link]

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Morning Links

The Senate veered closer to a contempt finding against the White House on Tuesday after an acrimonious appearance by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, with the Judiciary Committee’s senior Republican offering options for taking the Bush administration to court. Gonzales struggled under a verbal battering from senators that grew unusually personal as the hearing wore on. Several Democrats directly suggested that the besieged attorney general had lied to the committee, indicating they would scour the record for evidence of official perjury. [Link]

Iraq’s largest Sunni Arab bloc said Wednesday it has suspended its membership in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s coalition government, dealing a serious blow to the Shiite leader’s efforts to achieve national reconciliation. The Iraqi Accordance Front, which has five Cabinet members as well as 44 of parliament’s 275 seats, said it was giving al-Maliki a week to meet their demands or they would quit his 14-month-old Cabinet altogether. [Link]

At least once every two weeks, President Bush gathers with Vice President Dick Cheney and Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, in the refurbished White house Situation Room and peers, electronically, into the eyes of a man to whom his own legacy is linked: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq. In sessions usually lasting more than an hour, Bush, a committed Christian of Texas by way of privileged schooling in New England, and al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim of Abu Gharaq by way of political exile in Iran and Syria, talk about leadership and democracy; troop deployments and their own domestic challenges. Sometimes, said an official who has sat in on the meetings, they talk about their shared level of faith in a God they call by different names. [Link]

President Bush is a competitive guy. But this is one contest he would rather lose. With 18 months left in office, he is in the running for most unpopular president in the history of modern polling. [Link]

US President George W. Bush, trying to reverse ebbing support for the Iraq war, sought Tuesday to tie deadly violence there directly to Al-Qaeda terrorist chief Osama bin Laden. Facing mounting calls for a US withdrawal, and intelligence findings that the unpopular war is a recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda, Bush warned that a hasty US pull-out would increase the risk of an attack in the United States. [Link]

Some conservative activist leaders, fearing voter anger with the Iraq war, want President Bush and GOP leaders to begin emphasizing that U.S. troops will be “leaving Iraq” to give Republicans cover as they head into a tough political landscape in 2008. To assuage an angry public, the activists argue that the White House soon needs to articulate clearly that the war will end. That tactic will help Republican presidential and congressional candidates focus on the domestic issues that could energize the base and win over independents, they say. [Link]

U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker chided his Iranian counterpart at a rare and heated meeting Tuesday, saying Tehran has increasingly meddled in Iraq since the pair’s first encounter this year. But he said the United States, Iran and Iraq agreed to set up a security committee to devise ways to help curb the ongoing violence in Iraq. [Link]

Popular support for Osama bin Laden and for suicide bomb attacks against civilians is falling across most of the Muslim world, according to a U.S. survey. [Link]

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) plans to review the Senate testimony of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel J. Alito to determine if their reversal of several long-standing opinions conflicts with promises they made to senators to win confirmation. Specter, who championed their confirmation, said Tuesday he will personally re-examine the testimony to see if their actions in court match what they told the Senate. “There are things he has said, and I want to see how well he has complied with it,” Specter said, singling out Roberts. [Link]

Almost six years after the terrorist attack on New York, the federal government still does not have an adequate array of health programs for ground zero workers — or a reliable estimate of how much treating their illnesses will cost — according to a federal report released yesterday. The report, produced by the Government Accountability Office, an arm of Congress, concluded that thousands of federal workers and responders who came to ground zero from other parts of the country do not have access to suitable health programs. [Link]

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Morning Links

A suicide bomber struck a busy commercial center in a major Shiite city south of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 24 people and wounding dozens as the streets were packed with shoppers and people on their way to work, police and hospital officials said. [Link]

House Democrats on Monday targeted two of President Bush’s longtime aides for criminal contempt against Congress, escalating a legal fight over executive privilege and access to White House deliberations on the firings of federal prosecutors. Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said his panel would vote Wednesday on citing White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former Counsel Harriet Miers for contempt of Congress. [Link]

While Washington is mired in political debate over the future of Iraq, the American command here has prepared a detailed plan that foresees a significant American role for the next two years. The classified plan, which represents the coordinated strategy of the top American commander and the American ambassador, calls for restoring security in local areas, including Baghdad, by the summer of 2008. “Sustainable security” is to be established on a nationwide basis by the summer of 2009, according to American officials familiar with the document. [Link]

About one in three people living in Southern coastal areas said they would ignore hurricane evacuation orders if a storm threatened their community, up from about one in four last year, a poll released Tuesday shows. The survey found the most common reasons for not evacuating were the same ones that topped last year’s Harvard University poll: People believe that their homes are safe and well-built, that roads would be too crowded and that fleeing would be dangerous. Slightly more than one in four also said they would be reluctant to leave behind a pet. [Link]

A roadside bomb blast in eastern Afghanistan killed four American soldiers yesterday, while two NATO soldiers died elsewhere and a battle in the country’s poppy- growing heartland killed more than 50 suspected militants. [Link]

Under a bill the House approved Monday, members of Congress would no longer be able to put their spouses on their campaign payrolls, a practice criticized as a way for lawmakers to profit from political donations…Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, found that at least 64 House members paid relatives from their campaign funds or PACs during the last three election cycles. [Link]

The kidnapping of 23 South Korean aid workers last week on one of Afghanistan’s major highways is the latest evidence that the Taliban is extending its reach closer to the capital, Kabul. The insurgency, which has blossomed in provinces bordering Pakistan – where the Taliban is widely believed to receive support – is spreading inland. [Link]

After persistent criticism of its policies regarding evacuees from Hurricane Katrina, the Bush administration announced an extension of aid yesterday for some of those still unable to return to New Orleans. Housing assistance for those evacuees who lived in federally subsidized housing before the storm has been extended through June 2008. [Link]

American assertions that military action remained an option to quell militants in Pakistan’s frontier regions drew mounting protests from the government and its critics here on Monday, as clashes continued in the tribal areas where the United States says Al Qaeda has been allowed to set up a safe haven…The statement was promptly countered by the Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Tasnim Aslam, on Monday. “We do not want our efforts to be undermined by any ill-conceived action,” Ms. Aslam said, adding that any military strikes would be deeply resented in the tribal areas and the rest of the country….Newspaper editorials over the past several days have pointedly criticized American suggestions of military action, taking note of American troops getting “bogged down” in Iraq and Afghanistan. “So in their own interest and in the interest of Pakistan’s battle with the Taliban,” read an editorial recently in Dawn, an English language daily newspaper, the Americans “better keep themselves out of it.” [Link]

A growing list of states and universities across the country are pulling their investments from foreign companies that deal with Sudan, Iran and other nations accused of government-supported genocide or terrorism. It could be the largest wave of public divestment activity since efforts targeting South Africa and apartheid in the 1980s. Michigan is among the states that soon could join the effort. The state Legislature on Tuesday was to hold hearings on bills that would restrict the state’s pension fund investments. [Link]

Lawmakers acknowledged that there were still many differences on a proposed law to manage oil revenue, the country’s most lucrative resource, making it unlikely they would approve a law before September, when the Bush administration must report to Congress on Iraq’s progress toward meeting certain legislative benchmarks. The report is expected to have an impact on whether Congress continues to support the Iraq war. [Link]

Non-combat U.S. troop deaths in Iraq have fallen for three years — largely because of fewer vehicle accidents — and account for the smallest percentage of fatalities for any war except the Korean conflict. A USA TODAY analysis of Pentagon data shows 105 U.S. troops died in non-combat incidents, including suicide and illness, in the year ending June 30 — 11% of U.S. troop deaths in Iraq for that period. During the first year of the war, there were 193 non-combat deaths, about half of U.S. casualties in Iraq. The falloff in non-combat deaths comes amid a spike in battle fatalities. There were 939 U.S. combat deaths in the year ending June 30, the most for any 12-month period of the war. In the first year, 387 troops died in combat. [Link]

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Morning Links

Major military offensives and a changed focus on increasing security have slowed efforts to train Iraqi forces to take control of Iraq, the top U.S. training official said. Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard said U.S. troop levels could start to decrease next spring, but the Iraqis will need U.S. support for at least two more years. [Link]

In a move that could portend a strategy change, the commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq said Sunday he has proposed reducing his troop levels and shifting next year to missions focused less on direct combat. Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon told The Associated Press that if current trends hold, he would like to begin this troop reduction and change in mission in Ninevah province, where he said Iraqi army forces already are operating nearly independently. He has proposed shifting the province to Iraqi government control as early as August. [Link]

Iraq’s prime minister urged parliament on Saturday to cancel or shorten its summer vacation to pass laws Washington considers crucial to Iraq’s stability and the debate on how long U.S. forces should remain. [Link]

The United States on Monday said it would hold direct talks with Iran this week to discuss the crisis in Iraq as MPs from the battered country remained divided over the outcome of the high-level meet. “Yes, I can confirm that Ambassador (Ryan) Crocker will participate in the trilateral talks, including his Iranian counterpart and hosted by the Iraqi ministry of foreign affairs,” spokesman for US mission in Baghdad Philip Reeker told AFP. [Link]

The top White House counterterrorism official on Sunday refused to rule out a US military incursion into Pakistan’s remote border with Afghanistan to eradicate a resurgent Al-Qaeda militant network. [Link]

After a rare bipartisan agreement in the Senate to expand insurance coverage for low-income children, House Democrats have drafted an even broader plan that also calls for major changes in Medicare and promises to intensify the battle with the White House over health care….The bill, known as the Children’s Health and Medicare Protection Act, would block impending cuts in Medicare payments to doctors, giving them a modest increase in fees in each of the next two years while Congress tries to devise a new payment policy. [Link]

The U.S. Department of Agriculture distributed $1.1 billion over seven years to the estates or companies of deceased farmers and routinely failed to conduct reviews required to ensure that the payments were properly made, according to a government report. In a selection of 181 cases from 1999 to 2005, the Government Accountability Office found that officials approved payments without any review 40 percent of the time. [Link]

AND FINALLY: A few months ago, [Condoleeza Rice] decided to write an opinion piece about Lebanon…Every one of the major newspapers approached refused to publish an essay by the secretary of state…As a last-ditch strategy, the State Department briefly considered translating the article into Arabic and trying a Lebanese paper. But finally they just gave up. “I kept hearing the same thing: ‘There’s no news in this.’ ” Floyd said. The piece, he said, was littered with glowing references to President Bush’s wise leadership. “It read like a campaign document.” [Link]

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Morning Links

The No. 2 U.S. general in Iraq said Thursday that it would be at least November before he could fully assess whether the U.S. military strategy in Iraq is working… In a separate session, [Ambassador Ryan] Crocker told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that political benchmarks set by President Bush for the Iraqi government were not necessarily the best way to measure progress…He acknowledged that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was having “significant difficulties” achieving goals of political reconciliation among Iraq’s rival factions. [Link]

Seventy House members, nearly all liberal Democrats, vowed today that they would not support any more funding for Iraq military operations unless tied to a complete withdrawal of combat troops. [Link]

A committee directed by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and President Bush to accelerate the transfer of security responsibility to Iraq’s army and police has warned that Iraq is lagging in a number of categories. The quarterly report, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, says the Finance Ministry is blocking the Iraqi military from spending $660 million to build a logistical network; that militias are an obstacle to handing over to Iraqis responsibility for security in three mainly Shiite Muslim provinces; and that competition among rival security organizations has prevented the country from settling on a national security structure. [Link]

Iraq is a nation gripped by fear and struggling to meet security and political goals by September, US officials cautioned from Baghdad yesterday, dashing hopes in Congress that the country will show more signs of stability this summer. [Link]

A bill filled with money for job training, health and education faces a veto from President Bush, who complains that Democratic add-ons have made it too expensive. Some of the president’s fellow Republicans, worried about re-election, say it’s actually too skimpy. The bill, containing $152 billion for social programs including special education, community health centers, Head Start and health research, easily passed the House on Thursday by a 276-140 vote. [Link]

Disgraced former U.S. Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham lied to fellow lawmakers on a House ethics panel to disguise kickbacks from a defense contractor, according to a summary of an interview between the congressman and federal investigators. Cunningham said he asked the House Ethics Committee in 2001 to review a sale of his yacht “Kelly C” to the defense contractor to avoid arousing suspicions when, in fact, there was no sale. He fabricated the transaction and lied to lawmakers about it to “cover his bases” and make $100,000 in kickbacks appear legitimate. [Link]

Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege. The position presents serious legal and political obstacles for congressional Democrats, who have begun laying the groundwork for contempt proceedings against current and former White House officials in order to pry loose information about the dismissals. [Link]

The Senate overwhelmingly approved a wide-ranging overhaul of student loan programs early today that would pay for more than $17 billion in grants and other student aid by slashing subsidies to lending companies… The measure would cut subsidies to lenders by about $18 billion over five years and boost student aid by $17.4 billion during that period, with the rest of the savings used to reduce the federal budget deficit. The biggest aid increase would raise the maximum annual Pell grant, the nation’s main aid program for low-income students, from $4,300 to $5,400 a year by 2012. [Link]

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate are slowing their drive to revamp the nation’s voting systems, aides said yesterday. Under pressure from state and local officials, as well as from lobbyists for the disabled, House leaders now advocate putting off the most sweeping changes until 2012, four years later than planned. [Link]

Defying a veto threat from President Bush, the Senate Finance Committee approved a major expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program on Thursday, with a majority of Republicans joining all Democrats on the panel in supporting the legislation. The vote, 17 to 4, sends the measure to the full Senate, which is expected to take it up within two weeks. [Link]

The wave of violence that has gripped Pakistan in recent days spread to new parts of the country and featured more ferocious tactics yesterday, with suicide bombers targeting a mosque, a police academy, and a convoy of Chinese engineers in attacks that killed more than 50 people. [Link]

Al Qaeda has strongholds throughout Pakistan, not just in the areas bordering Afghanistan that were emphasized in a terrorism assessment this week, according to U.S. intelligence officials and counter-terrorism experts who say Osama bin Laden’s network is more deeply entrenched than described… Several officials and outside experts interviewed since the document’s release this week say the situation is more problematic. These analysts said the Bush administration was blaming Al Qaeda’s resurgence too narrowly on an agreement that the Pakistani government struck in September with militant tribal leaders in the country’s northwest territories. [Link]

The chairman of the House oversight committee on Thursday accused the Federal Emergency Management Agency of refusing to acknowledge high levels of formaldehyde in trailers it provided to hurricane evacuees on the Gulf Coast. [Link]

Denmark said on Friday it secretly airlifted out of Iraq about 200 translators and other Iraqi employees of its troops in Iraq and their relatives this week and most were expected to seek asylum in the Nordic nation. Last month the Danish government reached a deal with the anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party (DPP) to offer visas to Iraqi interpreters who have aided Danish troops in Iraq out of concern they will be targeted by insurgents when the Danish contingent withdraws in August. [Link]

President Bush said Thursday that he had considered sending U.S. troops unilaterally to Darfur to stop the mass slaughter in that Sudanese region but decided against it in favor of a multinational response that he conceded has been “slow” and “tedious.” Bush did not explain why he rejected U.S. military action and pointed instead to economic sanctions that he has imposed against Sudanese leaders and companies, saying he was “trying to be consequential.” Aides said they believed it was the first time he had so explicitly disclosed that he contemplated U.S. military action. [Link]

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Morning Links

Militants have killed 17 Afghan police officers across Afghanistan over the last two days, while four suspected Taliban fighters died in a clash with NATO and Afghan troops, officials said yesterday. Six police officers were killed when their convoy was ambushed along the Kabul-Kandahar highway, a ribbon of road that connects Afghanistan’s two major cities. Long stretches of the highway run through areas controlled by Taliban militants. [Link]

While Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a Democratic bid to force a vote on U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq, a CBS News/New York Times poll finds a majority of Americans think Congress should not continue to fund the war unless a timetable for withdrawal is put in place. [Link]

President Bush yesterday rejected entreaties by his Republican allies that he compromise with Democrats on legislation to renew a popular program that provides health coverage to poor children (SCHIP), saying that expanding the program would enlarge the role of the federal government at the expense of private insurance. [Link] [CBO: SCHIP Expansion Bill Would Not Displace Private Coverage]

Gaza’s already weak economy could collapse unless its main commercial crossing with Israel is reopened, Gaza businessmen and United Nations officials warned on Wednesday. The Karni crossing has been shut since June 12 because the Palestinians who operated it were affiliated with Fatah and fled after Hamas took over Gaza in bloody fighting. But both Israel and the Fatah leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, have been in no hurry to help Hamas by working to regularize Gaza’s economic life. [Link]

Weeks after claiming that it was not a part of the executive branch, the Office of Vice President Dick Cheney appears to be readying an independent assertion of executive privilege. The move emerged in an exchange of letters with the Senate Judiciary Committee, which granted an extension for the White House to comply with a subpoena on documents related to President George W. Bush’s domestic spying program. Counsel to the Vice President Shannen Coffin appeared to imply that Cheney’s office may assert executive privilege after it finishes reviewing documents that are responsive to the committee’s subpoena. The documents are due today. Coffin’s letter to the committee came with a similar letter from White House Counsel Fred Fielding. In contrast, Fielding’s letter made no reference to any kind of ‘legal protections’ or executive privilege. Cheney’s attorney also seemed to suggest the President and Vice President’s offices were on the same plane. [Link]

In 2003, Mr Blair phoned the owner of The Times and The Sun [Rupert Murdoch] on 11 and 13 March, and on 19 March, the day before Britain and the United States invaded Iraq. The war was strongly supported by Murdoch-owned newspapers around the world. The day after two of the calls, The Sun launched vitriolic attacks on the French President Jacques Chirac. The Government quoted him as saying he would “never” support military action against Saddam Hussein, a claim hotly disputed by France. [Link]

Seven of the most important Sunni-led insurgent organisations fighting the US occupation in Iraq have agreed to form a public political alliance with the aim of preparing for negotiations in advance of an American withdrawal, their leaders have told the Guardian. In their first interview with the western media since the US-British invasion of 2003, leaders of three of the insurgent groups – responsible for thousands of attacks against US and Iraqi armed forces and police – said they would continue their armed resistance until all foreign troops were withdrawn from Iraq, and denounced al-Qaida for sectarian killings and suicide bombings against civilians. [Link]

The White House is pushing hard to buy time for its Iraq strategy, offering Congress unusual access to President Bush’s top military and diplomatic advisers. About 200 lawmakers were invited to the Pentagon for a classified question-and-answer session on Thursday with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador there. The two men were expected to brief lawmakers via satellite from Baghdad. [Link]

Padilla charges don’t measure up to accusations… Padilla, a onetime Chicago gang member, is best known as the U.S. citizen accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive dirty bomb in the USA. Yet the criminal charges against him have nothing to do with that dramatic allegation. [Link]

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