Thursday, December 16, 2010

WHILE AMERICA WAS SLEEPING I fixed a 'news breakfast' for you -- ready each weekday morning at 6am Eastern to satisfy your media craving [feature permalink here]. These must-reads will kick start your day!

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 13: A commuter makes her way through downtown as temperatures hovered in the single digits during the morning rush hour December 13, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. With wind gusts up to 40 miles per hour the wind chill temperatures in the city have been around -10 degrees. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Icy Winter Mix Continues March Across South, Midwest: "A sprawling winter storm system spread an ugly mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain from the Deep South to the upper Plains states Thursday, snarling traffic in the air and on the ground. The National Weather Service issued winter storm warnings and advisories for more than a dozen states. The brunt of the system is poised to hit Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia, but several inches of snow are forecast for portions of Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina, as well as Minnesota and North and South Dakota." (CNN)

House Votes Again to Lift DADT: "For the second time this year the House voted to dismantle the military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy, giving the Senate a final shot in the waning days of this Congress at changing a law requiring thousands of uniformed gays to hide their sexual identity. The strong 250-175 House vote Wednesday propels the issue to the Senate, where supporters of repeal say they have the votes but perhaps not the time to get the bill to the floor. It could be the last chance for some time to legislatively end the 1993 law that forbids recruiters from asking about sexual orientation and troops from acknowledging that they are gay." (AP)

Senate Agrees to Start Talking About START: "After months of wrangling over the future of the U.S. atomic-weapons complex, the Senate voted Wednesday to take up a new nuclear arms-reduction treaty with Russia, opening debate on a pact that President Obama regards as critical to his foreign-policy agenda. The Senate decided 66 to 32 to proceed, far more than the simple majority required. But the roll call was seen as somewhat of a proxy for the final vote, when the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) will need a supermajority of 67 votes to pass." (WaPo)

Poll Finds Support for Obama's Move to Center: "President Barack Obama has public opinion and the Democratic grass roots with him as he searches for common ground with Republicans in the wake of his party's historic defeats in last month's midterm elections, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds." (WSJ)

What's in Rahm's Basement? "The fight over Rahm Emanuel's eligibility to run for mayor turned into a debate Wednesday over what's in the basement of his Chicago home. On day two of a rambling hearing into claims that Emanuel doesn't meet the one-year residency rule for candidates, testimony focused on his contention that his family left prized possessions stored in their North Side house when they went to Washington for his job as President Barack Obama's chief of staff." (Chicago Tribune)

Immigration to U.S. Up Again: "The flow of immigrants to the United States has resumed, after falling to the lowest level in decades during the recession, a new study finds. . . .  The rise pointed to an increase in demand for immigrant labor in the economy, said Audrey Singer, a demographer and co-author of the report. However, the number is still far below the increases of more than a million a year that took place earlier in the decade. The flow reached a peak in 2006, with a 1.8 million increase in the foreign born population." (NY Times)

Sarah Goes 'Lamestream': "After making attacks on what she memorably labeled 'the lamestream media' one of her signature issues, Sarah Palin has begun to experiment with a new strategy toward the press – engaging it. The former Alaska governor has started cautiously cooperating with some of the same media outlets she and her supporters have accused of unfair and inaccurate coverage they feel has caricatured her as a flaky lightweight – a narrative her team seems determined to rewrite as Palin openly weighs a bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination." (Politico)

Afghanistan War Support Drops: "A record 60 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting, a grim assessment -- and a politically hazardous one -- in advance of the Obama administration's one-year review of its revised strategy.  Public dissatisfaction with the war, now the nation's longest, has spiked by 7 points just since July. Given its costs vs. its benefits, only 34 percent in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll say the war's been worth fighting, down by 9 points to a new low, by a sizable margin." (ABC) -- Poll results (pdf)

House Opposes Unilateral Declaration of Palestine: "The US Congress voted late Wednesday not to support an unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood. The House of Representatives passed a resolution expressing opposition to the Palestinian Authority's efforts to obtain recognition for a state with 1967 borders, without an agreement with Israel." (JPost) -- Full text of resolution (pdf)


Senate Overwhelmingly Passes Tax Cut Deal: "A far-reaching $858 billion tax plan negotiated by the White House and Republican leaders sailed through the Senate on Wednesday and was headed for a vote Thursday in the House, as lawmakers rushed to prevent a New Year's tax hike from striking virtually every American household. . . .  Prospects for House passage also appeared to be brightening, as lawmakers acknowledged the need to avoid expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the likely shock to the economy that would result. Liberal Democrats continued to complain that the bill included giveaways for the rich, as some conservative Republicans blasted the price tag. But House Democratic leaders were planning to stage two votes, one on an alternative package that would allow Democrats to express their dissatisfaction without blocking final passage of the compromise bill." (WaPo)
ST. PAUL, MN - SEPTEMBER 02: U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is interviewed on day two of the Republican National Convention (RNC) at the Xcel Energy Center on September 2, 2008 in St. Paul, Minnesota. The GOP will nominate U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as the Republican choice for U.S. President on the last day of the convention.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

... With No Pork for Hatch, McCain: "Earlier this month, Hatch asked the Senate Appropriations Committee to remove the earmarks that he had previously requested this year. Hatch made the request in a letter on December 2nd, explaining that in light of the GOP’s voluntary earmark moratorium enacted in November he wanted to remove the pork money that he had initially asked for. So while the massive omnibus bill now contains a whopping 6,714 earmarks at a cost of $8.3 billion, none of them come from Hatch. Hatch is joined by other GOP senators such as Arizona’s John McCain who also have no pork projects in the bill." (ABC)

Deal Could Revive Obama's Chances for 2012: "President Barack Obama's tax-cut deal with Republican lawmakers may help him lay the groundwork for his political revival heading into his 2012 re-election campaign — if it strengthens the economy as intended." (McClatchy)

Obama Pushes CEOs on Job Creation: "President Barack Obama pressed 20 corporate chief executives Wednesday to suggest policies that would spur them to 'start investing in job creating enterprises.' The private meeting at Blair House, across the street from the White House, was part of an administration effort to repair relations with corporate America, which have been battered by disagreements over policy and presidential rhetoric. . . . The invited CEOs have frequently visited the White House in the past and many serve as presidential advisers. The group convened in the morning and worked through lunch, where chicken and fish were served. The meeting ended about 2 p.m. and the executives were herded into a series of TV interviews orchestrated by the White House. Neither administration officials nor several attendees offered examples of specific advice provided to the president, or concrete proposals from the White House." (WSJ)

Foreclosure Activity Tumbles: "The number of U.S. homes taken back by lenders dropped to the lowest level in 18 months in November, the result of foreclosure freezes enacted by several banks following allegations that evictions were handled improperly." (AP)

Europe Staggers Ahead of Summit: "Europe’s smoldering financial crisis flared up on Wednesday, with riots over austerity spending in Greece, new signs of troubles in Spain and little indication that European leaders were moving any closer to agreement on a systemic approach to long-term stability. The day’s events emphasized the complex social, political and economic challenges facing government leaders at a European Union summit meeting on Thursday and Friday in Brussels. The meeting is expected to focus on the financial crisis, but there was no sign of the emergence of the sort of comprehensive plan that financial experts say is needed to beat back the unfolding turmoil." (NY Times)

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 16: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange gestures inside a prison van with red windows as he arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice on December 16, 2010 in London, England. Mr Assange has been granted conditional bail, however he remains in police custody pending an appeal by Swedish prosecutors at the High Court. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

U.S. Tries to Build Case for Conspiracy By Wikileaks: "Justice Department officials are trying to find out whether Mr. Assange encouraged or even helped the analyst, Pfc. Bradley Manning, to extract classified military and State Department files from a government computer system. If he did so, they believe they could charge him as a conspirator in the leak, not just as a passive recipient of the documents who then published them. Among materials prosecutors are studying is an online chat log in which Private Manning is said to claim that he had been directly communicating with Mr. Assange using an encrypted Internet conferencing service as the soldier was downloading government files. Private Manning is also said to have claimed that Mr. Assange gave him access to a dedicated server for uploading some of them to WikiLeaks. Adrian Lamo, an ex-hacker in whom Private Manning confided and who eventually turned him in, said Private Manning detailed those interactions in instant-message conversations with him." (NY Times)

Bail Decision Day for Assange: "WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will learn today whether he is to remain in prison into the new year as British prosecutors attempt to prevent him being released on bail. The 39-year-old will appear before the High Court in London as British lawyers acting for the Swedish authorities appeal against a decision to let him go free during extradition proceedings." (The Independent)

UK, Not Sweden, Fighting Bail Release: "Sky News has learned it was British authorities - not the Swedes - who have been trying to keep him at Wandsworth Prison. A spokeswoman for the Swedish prosecution service said: 'The decision to appeal against the granting of bail to Assange was entirely a British decision. The Swedish authorities had nothing to do with it.' The CPS confirmed it made the call to appeal against bail, but would not comment on Swedish involvement. A spokeswoman said: 'It is standard practice on all extradition cases that decisions regarding bail are taken by the domestic prosecuting authority.'" (Sky News)

Al Qaeda Planning Holiday Attacks in West? "Iraqi authorities have obtained confessions from captured insurgents who claim al Qaeda is planning suicide attacks in the United States and Europe during the Christmas season, two senior officials said Wednesday. Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani told The Associated Press that the botched bombing in central Stockholm last weekend was among the alleged plots the insurgents revealed. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, in a telephone interview from New York, called the claims 'a critical threat.'" (AP)

U.S. Afghan Withdrawal on Track for July: " A White House review of President Obama's year-old Afghan war strategy concluded that it is 'showing progress' against al-Qaeda and in Afghanistan and Pakistan but that 'the challenge remains to make our gains durable and sustainable,' according to a summary document released early Thursday. . . .  The review, it said, indicated that the administration was 'setting conditions' to begin the 'responsible reduction' of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in July." (WaPo) -- Summary of WH War Strategy Review (pdf)

UK Troops 'Will Be Out Afghanistan By 2014': "The most senior British military officer in Afghanistan has told Sky News he is confident the UK's 2014 deadline for the end of combat operations will be met." (Sky News)

U.N. Lifts Pre-Saddam Santions on Iraq: "One resolution permits Iraq to develop a civilian nuclear program and import materials once banned because they could possibly be used to help develop unconventional weapons. A second resolution formally shuttered the dormant, widely corrupt oil-for-food program. And the third gives the country control over most of its oil assets starting July 1, 2011, while simultaneously lifting the protection that shielded post-invasion Iraq from countless legal claims." (NY Times)

Tech, Science

Can Morality Be Changed in a Lab? "Scientists have shown they can change people's moral judgements by disrupting a specific area of the brain with magnetic pulses. They identified a region of the brain just above and behind the right ear which appears to control morality. And by using magnetic pulses to block cell activity they impaired volunteers' notion of right and wrong." (BBC)