Wednesday, August 27, 2008


6 more support drilling compromise

Six more senators on Tuesday joined a bipartisan group of 10 senators backing a bill they say will break the stalemate over offshore drilling in Congress.

Three Democrats and three Republicans joined the so-called Gang of 10, making it the Gang of 16. The group supports a bill that would lift a ban on oil and natural gas drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and off the southeastern U.S. coast, invest $20 billion in the development of petroleum-free motor vehicles and extend tax credits for renewable energy.

Among the new converts are two Republican senators facing tough re-election bids this fall, underscoring the role high energy prices are playing on the campaign trail. By signing on with the group, Sens. Norm Coleman of Minnesota and John E. Sununu of New Hampshire have broken with the majority of their party, which, like President Bush, would like to see the moratorium on drilling lifted along the entire Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Mr. Sununu said Tuesday that while he favors lifting the moratorium entirely, the bipartisan bill opens new areas and has a chance of being passed this year.

The other senators rounding out the Gang of 16 on Tuesday were Republican John W. Warner of Virginia and Democrats Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware and Ken Salazar of Colorado.


Judge refuses to delay testimony

A federal judge who ruled last month that top White House advisers must comply with congressional subpoenas refused to put that ruling on hold Tuesday while the Bush administration appeals.

The House Judiciary Committee wants to force White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers to testify about the firings of federal prosecutors and the politicization of the Justice Department.

The White House contends that top aides are immune from such subpoenas.

U.S. District Judge John Bates rejected that argument last month, but the Bush administration appealed. The White House said it should not have to comply with the subpoenas while the appeal plays out.

Judge Bates, who was appointed by President Bush, said a delay would not be in the public interest.


Drilling protest reaches 18th day

During a late summer when even U.S. Capitol tourists were in short supply, a few Republican House members were once again at their protest posts Tuesday, Cox News Service reported.

As they have for 18 straight weekdays now, the Republican lawmakers held forth in the chamber of the recessed House, demanding that the Democratic majority return to allow an up-or-down vote on an energy bill that includes more drilling for oil and gas, including along the U.S. outer continental shelf.

Rep. Tom Price of Roswell, a Georgian who has played a leading role in the congressional “speak-in,” was back in town to chide the platform the Democrats produced at their presidential nominating convention in Denver. Mr. Price said it “did not mention increasing the supply of gasoline,” which he called “the No. 1 issue of the day.”

Other Republicans expressed concern that Democrats in Denver might draw up a new energy strategy that would go only partway toward the Republican position.

Rep. William M. “Mac” Thornberry of Texas warned against a “cynical” political move coming “just because we’ve turned up the heat.”


Spokesman chides envoy on Pakistan

Senior State Department officials rebuked the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for planning to give “advice and help” to the husband of assassinated former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, according to an e-mail obtained Tuesday.

Mrs. Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, viewed as being close to the United States, is a strong candidate to take over from President Pervez Musharraf, who resigned last week as his opponents threatened to impeach him.

With the Bush administration saying it will stay out of Pakistan’s politics, the outreach to Mr. Zardari by Washington’s U.N. envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, was met with anger from Richard Boucher, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs.

In a strongly worded e-mail obtained by Reuters but first reported by the New York Times, Mr. Boucher demanded clarity from the diplomat and asked why he had not been told in advance of Mr. Khalilzad’s plans to see Mr. Zardari in Dubai next week.


Deadline slips in tanker bidding

The Pentagon is in danger of missing a self-imposed deadline to award a politically charged $35 billion deal to Boeing or Northrop Grumman for Air Force refueling tankers ahead of the next administration. Boeing’s recent request for more time leaves the Pentagon with even less room to breathe in replacing a fleet that dates back to the Eisenhower era.

The Defense Department was expected to release its final request for bids as early as Tuesday, but its deadline has continued to slip further past the Aug. 15 target originally provided by the agency and could be delayed until September.

The upcoming request should make clear whether Boeing Co. gets its wish for additional time to assemble a bid, after it threatened to leave the competition last week.

Pentagon spokesman Chris Isleib said Tuesday that negotiations were continuing on the tanker program and a release of the final request for bids had not been scheduled.


Hacker makes $12,000 in calls

The FBI is investigating more than $12,000 in calls to the Middle East and Asia that were made when a hacker broke into the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s phone system.

The hacker made more than 400 calls on a FEMA voice-mail system in Emmitsburg, Md., on Aug. 16 and 17. FEMA said it appears that the contractor left a “hole” when the voice-mail system was being upgraded. A FEMA spokesman said the gap in the system has since been closed.

“We are investigating it,” FBI spokesman Jason Pack said Tuesday. “We are working with FEMA to get to the bottom of it.”

One security specialist called this type of hacking low-tech and “old school” - something that was popular 10 to 15 years ago.

Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, India and Yemen are among the countries to which calls were made. Most of the calls were about three minutes long, but some were as long as 10 minutes.


Hispanic student population spikes

The number of Hispanic students in the nation’s public schools is increasing rapidly, and nearly one-fifth have difficulty speaking English, a study has found.

The number of Hispanic students nearly doubled from 5 million in 1990 to about 9.8 million in 2006, said the report by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group in the District.

As a result, 20 percent of the nation’s public school students are now Hispanic, the report said.

About 70 percent of the Hispanic students speak a language other than English at home, and 18 percent speak English with difficulty, the study said.

“Latino students are remaking the nation’s public school classrooms,” said Richard Fry, a senior researcher at the Pew Hispanic Center and co-author of the study.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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