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Says one Democratic operative of Messina: “I hope he’s better at political campaigns than at managing big, important pieces of legislation.”Jim Messina, Obama’s Enforcer, by Ari Berman

As Jim Messina begins his role in Obama’s reelection campaign it’s a perfect time for Berman to share this insider tale so familiar to many of us who watch this from the cat bird seat of Washington, because it gives you a window into just how differently 2012 is likely to be from 2008.

Nothing frosted me more than watching the White House bungle the health care messaging. Ari Berman’s piece in The Nation quotes top Democratic sources, many of whom stay off the record for fear of retribution, revealing the extent of the Democratic disaster.

Jim Messina is the guy who got beat by Sarah Palin’s “death panels” squeal. I was one of the first to give Sarah Palin the credit she earned, though there was criticism too, all the way up and through the midterms, Palin’s ability to seize the midterm moment left the establishment power of both parties stymied, but the damage she did to Democrats on health care was incalculable. Of course, since then Palin’s power has waned, with her blood-libel video after Tucson an embarrassment, while the Tea Party activists continue to be a double-edged machete.

However, Jim Messina’s mistakes led the Democrats into a legislative quagmire and electoral disaster in 2010 that still has Democrats and progressives spitting mad.

Jim Messina is also the guy who bought Andrew Breitbart’s smear tactics, then praised the quick firing of Shirley Sherrod to staffers, which I wrote about here, based on the reporting of Ben Smith at Politico.

From Berman’s piece:

Messina begins the re-election campaign with a significant amount of baggage. As a former chief of staff to Baucus and deputy to Emanuel, Messina has clashed with progressive activists and grassroots Obama supporters both inside and outside Washington over political strategy and on issues like healthcare reform and gay rights, alienating parts of the very constituencies that worked so hard for Obama in 2008 and that the campaign needs to reinspire and activate in 2012. Obama’s fixer has arguably created as many problems as he’s solved. “He is not of the Obama movement,” says one top Democratic strategist in Washington. “There is not a bone in his body that speaks to or comprehends the idea of a movement and that grassroots energy. To me, that’s bothersome.”

[…] Under Messina, Obama ‘12 could more closely resemble the electoral strategy of Baucus or Bill and Hillary Clinton—cautious, controlling, top-down in structure and devoted to small-bore issues that blur differences between the parties—than Obama ‘08, a grassroots effort on a scale modern politics had never seen. “It was a major harbinger to me, when Obama hired him, that we were not going to get ‘change we can believe in,’” says Ken Toole, a former Democratic state senator and public service commissioner in Montana. “Messina has a lot of talents, but he’s extremely conservative in his views on how to do politics. He’s got a tried-and-true triangulation methodology, and that’s never gonna change.” The Democratic National Committee declined to make Messina available for an interview.

To refresh, Messina is the “veal pen” man and was instrumental on muscling the health care bill away from anything progressives wanted and toward the private deal with insurers, particularly PhRMA, that sunk and stunk up the plan. More from Berman:

The administration deputized Messina as the top liaison to the Common Purpose Project. The coveted invite-only, off-the-record Tuesday meetings at the Capitol Hilton became the premier forum where the administration briefed leading progressive groups, including organizations like the AFL-CIO, MoveOn, Planned Parenthood and the Center for American Progress, on its legislative and political strategy. Theoretically, the meetings were supposed to provide a candid back-and-forth between outside groups and administration officials, but Messina tightly controlled the discussions and dictated the terms of debate (Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake memorably dubbed this the “veal pen”). “Common Purpose didn’t make a move without talking to Jim,” says one progressive strategist. During the healthcare fight, Messina used his influence to try to stifle any criticism of Baucus or lobbying by progressive groups that was out of sync with the administration’s agenda, according to Common Purpose participants. “Messina wouldn’t tolerate us trying to lobby to improve the bill,” says Richard Kirsch, former national campaign manager for Health Care for America Now (HCAN), the major coalition of progressive groups backing reform. Kirsch recalled being told by a White House insider that when asked what the administration’s “inside/outside strategy” was for passing healthcare reform, Messina replied, “There is no outside strategy.”

As for the never ending promises to the gay community, Joe Subday says DADT passed “in spite of Messina.” If Joe says this is the truth, it is. Many people won’t be so blunt, because progressive groups don’t want the backlash and to be frozen out.

But if there is one thing that resonates with what I hear constantly it is this sentence from Berman’s piece:

Corporate America no longer regards Obama as an ally, while many donors from 2008 are disillusioned with the administration’s legislative compromises and political timidity.

Couple all of this with progressive disappointment and disgust over the trajectory of Obama’s first term and you’ve got a whole lot of depressed Democrats and progressives as 2012 rolls around and the Republicans get ready to do what they’ve been waiting to do since 2008. Defeat Pres. Obama at all costs.

The most committed wins and 2012 won’t come close to 2008 on the enthusiasm meter for Barack Obama. That’s a factor already baked into the election.

The good news for Messina and the Obama camp is that the Republican field remains unimpressive, with contenders like Gov. Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio content to wait until Barack Obama is out of the picture. Though if Messina does for Obama in 2012 what he did for health care this could get ugly for Democrats.

Taylor Marsh is a political analyst, writer and commentator on national politics. A veteran national politics writer, Taylor’s been writing on the web since 1996. She has reported from the White House, been profiled in the Washington Post, The New Republic, and has been seen on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic, as well as on radio across the dial and on satellite, including the BBC. Marsh lives in the Washington, D.C. area. This column is cross posted from her blog.

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April Fools!

President Obama should be re-elected in 2012, according to a spoof re-election ad paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

“Today, we celebrate a president that brought Americans together (images then appear of Tea Party protests) … celebrate the end to our dependence on American energy (image showing gas prices, referring to U.S. dependence on foreign oil).
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CNN: Obama administration pushes dual-track policy in Libya
Despite having CIA agents on the ground and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s exit as stated policy, U.S. officials continue to say the NATO-led military mission in Libya is only for its authorized humanitarian purposes. The seeming discrepancy is part of a delicate diplomatic posture by the Obama administration on the complex overseas operation that involves a U.N. Security Council resolution, a multinational military force and the symbolism of presidential statements and actions. With the military mission shifting Thursday to a new phase of full NATO control after initial U.S. leadership, divisions among alliance partners and within Congress became more evident, exacerbated by the administration’s differing military and political goals.

CNN: Feinstein: U.S. shouldn’t arm rebels
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said Thursday that we should not arm rebels in Libya as “we got burned” in previous wars by doing so. In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the California Democrat said, “We did in Afghanistan; we got burned by it. We did in Iraq; we got burned by it. In other words, those weapons cropped up later being used against us, and I don’t think that’s something we ought to do.”

CNN: Israeli president to visit White House next week
As several of Israel’s neighbors deal with tumult in the streets, the Jewish state’s President Shimon Peres will visit President Barack Obama for the first time in nearly two years, a White House press release said. During a working lunch on April 5, the two leaders plan to discuss U.S.-Israeli security cooperation, recent developments across the Middle East, and the pursuit of peace between Israel and its neighbors, the White House said. The longstanding friendship between Israel and the United States has become strained since Obama took office in 2009, often regarding the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the Palestinian-controlled territory annexed by Israel from Jordan in the Six Day War in 1967.

CNN: Tea Party puts pressure on Boehner
As Tea Party activists rallied outside the Capitol to urge House Speaker John Boehner not to compromise on government spending cuts, Boehner insisted he’s continuing to fight for the House-passed spending cut bill, but he also warned those conservatives that there’s a limit to what the Republican-led House can do. “We control one third of one half of the government here in Washington. We can’t impose our will on another body. We can’t impose our will on the Senate,” Boehner told reporters at his weekly press conference. “All we can do is to fight for all the spending cuts that we can get an agreement to and the spending limitations as well,” Boehner added.

CNN: Republican senators push for balanced budget amendment
More than a dozen Republican senators announced Thursday they would push for a constitutional amendment requiring Congress to pass an annual balanced budget. “It’s an historic day for the Republican Party. We all agree on something,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, joked, as he spoke about the proposed amendment that has the support of all 47 Republican senators. “A balanced budget amendment will make us do here what everybody has to do at home,” Graham said during a news conference on Capitol Hill.

Politico: GOP plans $ 1 trillion cut to Medicaid
House Republicans are planning to cut roughly $ 1 trillion over 10 years from Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor and disabled, as part of their fiscal 2012 budget, which they will unveil early next month, according to several GOP sources. Though Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has yet to lock in his final numbers, he made clear to POLITICO in February that he intends to target Medicaid and Medicare for savings. While Medicaid is easiest to win consensus on, Medicare is the biggest debt driver. It’s not yet clear how much Ryan hopes to cut from Medicare, and he and GOP leaders have been reluctant to discuss their plans for the other entitlement behemoth: Social Security. But they’ve made clear that they don’t consider Social Security to be as pressing an issue as Medicare and Medicaid.

CNNMoney: GE chief defends company’s zero tax bill
The chief of General Electric (GE, Fortune 500) on Thursday defended the conglomerate’s zero tax rate in 2010, and called for reform of the U.S. tax code. In his first public speaking engagement since a barrage of criticism about not having to pay taxes in 2010, GE chief executive Jeff Immelt told the Economic Club in Washington that his company did nothing wrong. “At GE, we do like to keep our tax rate low, but we do it in a compliant way, and there are no exceptions,” Immelt said. “Our tax rate will be much higher in 2011 as GE Capital recovers.” But Immelt added that he, along with many other corporate leaders, wants the federal government to reform the U.S. tax code, which he called “old, complex and uncompetitive.”

CNN: Gingrich’s next deadline: May
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is setting one more deadline for making a decision about entering the 2012 presidential race. Gingrich said Thursday he plans to make a final decision about entering the presidential race in May. “We are trying to finish out the exploratory process, and I think by the first week of May we will have done that,” Gingrich told reporters on Capitol Hill.

CNN: Barbour to seek funding for civil rights museum
Likely presidential candidate Haley Barbour, the Mississippi governor who has faced charges of racial insensitivity in recent months, said Thursday he will seek funding from the Mississippi legislature for a civil rights museum in the state. In a statement issued Thursday, Barbour said he will formally ask for funding for two museums – one focusing on Mississippi’s history and the other on civil rights – when the legislature returns to complete the budget. “These museums will enhance Mississippi’s image and play a critical role in education and tourism,” the Republican governor said in a statement.

CNN: Cain: Media afraid of a ‘real black man’
Potential 2012 presidential candidate Herman Cain said the media is afraid “a real black man might run against Barack Obama.” At a Wednesday appearance in Florida, Cain said if he were elected president “you get a chance to be batting .500" with black presidents. “If you think about the first 43 presidents, they were all white. Were they all great? I think you have a few duds in that group,” Cain said according to a video posted on Shark Tank, a local political site in the sunshine state. “So now you get a chance to be batting .500.”

USA Today: Nixon library now tells full Watergate story
Two decades after his presidential library opened to the public, and almost 37 years after he left office, Richard Nixon’s museum is taking a clear-eyed view of the scandal that forced him from the White House. The Nixon Presidential Library and Museum opened its long-awaited Watergate Gallery on Thursday, replacing a version of history written and financed by Nixon’s friends that dismissed the scandal as a political coup by Democrats. The $ 500,000 remaking of the Watergate section of the museum by the National Archives, which took control of the Nixon library and museum in 2007, has interactive exhibits and displays describing the scandal and cover-up that led to the president’s resignation and criminal convictions of aides.

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CNN: CDC records rise in birth rate for women over 40
The birth rate for women over 40 in the United States rose between 2007 and 2009. Among every other age group, however, the birth rate fell during the same period, according to a report released by the Centers Disease for Control and Prevention. According to the study, women between 40 and 44 experienced a 6% increase in birth rate during the time period. There were 9.5 births for every thousand women in that age group in 2007, 10.1 births per thousand in 2009. Younger mothers had more babies per thousand women during the time period, however, birth rates declined for every age group under 40, according to the study released Thursday.

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CNN: Gadhafi exile option poses many legal, political problems
There is a growing focus among the international coalition on the “end game” in Libya, and whether one option would be to persuade Moammar Gadhafi to step down and go into exile. But there are mixed signals from the allies about whether that’s feasible or desirable. And there’s another obstacle: the ongoing investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the request of the UN Security Council into alleged “crimes against humanity” by the Libyan leader. Last week, the chief prosecutor at the court said he was 100% certain that his investigation would lead to charges against Gadhafi and members of his inner circle. Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he was investigating six incidents of violence against civilians in February and was trying to establish who was responsible.

CNN: Official: Tens of thousands of evacuees can’t head home for months
Tens of thousands evacuated from around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi power plant may not be allowed home for months, a Japanese minister said Friday, with no end in sight for the nuclear crisis as fresh concerns mount about alarming radiation levels in beef, seawater and groundwater. While he didn’t set a firm timetable, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said people who’d lived within 20 kilometers (12 miles) of the nuclear facility would not return home permanently in “a matter of days or weeks. It will be longer than that.” “The evacuation period is going to be longer than we wanted it to be,” Edano said. “We first need to regain control of the nuclear power plant.”

CNN: Ouattara spokesman: Supporters attack Gbagbo home, seize state-run TV
Forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized president of Ivory Coast, attacked the residence of disputed incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and took control of state-run TV early Friday morning, a spokesman for Ouattara told CNN. Gbagbo’s residence is near the state-run television station taken over by Ouattara forces in the early morning hours Friday, said Patrick Achi, the Ouattara spokesman. Gbagbo apparently was not there. The takeover occured less than three hours after a Gbagbo spokesman appeared on the same network declaring that Gbagbo had no intention of leaving the presidential palace, according to a witness who saw the broadcast. The presidential palace is not Gbagbo’s personal residence and is located elsewhere.

For the latest business news:

USA Today: CEO pay soars while workers’ pay stalls
CEOs didn’t have to cry poor for long. The heads of the nation’s top companies got the biggest raises in recent memory last year after taking a hiatus during the recession. At a time most employees can barely remember their last substantial raise, median CEO pay jumped 27% in 2010 as the executives’ compensation started working its way back to prerecession levels, a USA TODAY analysis of data from GovernanceMetrics International found.

New York Times: Report Criticizes High Pay at Fannie and Freddie
Regulators have approved generous executive compensation at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the taxpayer-backed mortgage finance giants, with little scrutiny or analysis, according to a report published Thursday by the inspector general of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The companies, whose fates are to be decided by Congress this year, paid a combined $ 17 million to their chief executives in 2009 and 2010, the two full years when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were wards of the state, the report found. The top six executives at the companies received $ 35.4 million over the two years. Since Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken over in September 2008, the companies’ mounting mortgage losses have required a $ 153 billion infusion from taxpayers. Total losses may reach $ 363 billion through 2013, according to government estimates.

Wall Street Journal: Subprime Bonds Are Back
Subprime and other residential mortgage bonds that helped trigger the financial crisis are back in vogue with long-term investors, in the latest sign that American credit markets are healing after the worst downturn in a generation. The prices on a representative slice of the subprime bond market have doubled from 30 cents on the dollar at the low point of the crisis to roughly 60 cents today. Their comeback underscores how investors have regained the courage to take on more risk as the economy recovers, pushing up the prices of a broad swath of riskier assets, from commodities to junk bonds to stocks.

CNN: Hershey’s raises prices nearly 10%
The Hershey Company says it is raising wholesale prices by 9.7% on most of its candy products. The maker of Reese’s, Kit Kat, Hershey’s Kisses and Twizzlers cited increased costs for raw materials, fuel, utilities and transportation. It was not clear whether customers would see the price changes before Easter, a big season for chocolate sales. CNN left a message with Hershey’s Wednesday but received no immediate response.

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CNN: Congress members grill administration officials on Libya mission
Angry members of Congress questioned top administration officials Wednesday on why they weren’t asked to authorize President Barack Obama’s decision to commit U.S. forces to the Libya military mission. The question dominated a classified briefing by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates for the U.S. House, according to House members who attended. A separate briefing for the Senate occured shortly afterward. Other issues raised by the legislators included whether the United States intended to arm the Libyan rebels, and the cost of the mission to U.S. taxpayers, participants told CNN.

CNN: Budget negotiators agree on spending cut target, Biden says
Vice President Joe Biden announced late Wednesday that House and Senate bipartisan negotiators had agreed to a spending-cut target of $ 73 billion in 2011 budget talks aimed at heading off a government shutdown before next week, when a temporary bill keeping the government operating runs out. Congress has been passing a series of short term spending resolutions since October 1, when the 2011 fiscal year began. ‘We’re all working off the same number now – $ 73 billion,” Biden said, emerging from a lengthy meeting with Senate Democratic leaders in the Capitol. “Obviously, there’s a difference in the composition of that number. What’s included, what’s not included. It’s gong to be a thorough negotiation.”

CNN: Obama rolls out plan to cut oil imports
President Barack Obama outlined a plan Wednesday to cut America’s imports of foreign oil by a third by 2025 – a response to growing global energy demands and instability overseas. The president’s proposal relies primarily on increased domestic production, conservation, and a shift to biofuels and natural gas. Among other things, Obama said he will push for an increased use of natural gas in trucks and buses, as well as the construction of commercial-scale biofuel refineries over the next two years. The president also announced that he is directing the federal government to ensure that all of its vehicle purchases are alternative fuel, hybrid, or electric cars by 2015.

CNNMoney: Bank bailout turns a profit
Don’t look now, but the bank bailout is starting to turn a profit. The Treasury Department announced Wednesday that the money it gave to banks during the financial crisis has been paid back, and then some. The bank bailout – part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program – is now $ 6 billion in the black, a profit that might ultimately rise to $ 20 billion, according to the Treasury. And that’s nice. But if you look at the whole program, there are still some trouble spots, and not everyone is happy.

CNN: Bill restricting public-sector unions passes in Ohio
The Ohio state legislature has passed controversial legislation that would limit collective bargaining rights by barring Ohio’s public employees from striking. The bill now heads to Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s desk to be signed into law, possibly this week. Kasich argues that Ohio Senate Bill 5 is crucial to closing an $ 8 billion budget shortfall and bringing public-sector benefits in line with those in the private sector. The law will affect some 360,000 employees by barring their right to strike and allowing them to decline to pay union dues.

CNN: New Hampshire workers to rally against collective bargaining limits
State workers and others planned to rally at the New Hampshire capitol Thursday after the state House approved a package that would make changes to collective bargaining laws. “Rally for New Hampshire” is scheduled for noon at the State House Plaza. Wednesday’s vote on House Bill 2 came a day earlier than expected, catching state workers and other advocacy groups off guard.

CNN: Obama won’t hold on to youth vote, Pawlenty claims
President Obama won’t have a lock on the youth vote in 2012 … or so claims one of his potential Republican challengers. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty told Vanderbilt University’s student newspaper last week that his nascent campaign has been reaching out to young voters in all the right ways, like announcing his presidential exploratory committee on Facebook and appearing on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Pawlenty, who was participating in a symposium at the Nashville-based university, also predicted some buyer’s remorse on the part of young voters.

Roll Call: Obama Campaign Racks Up Large Legal Fees
President Barack Obama was not on the ballot in 2010, but his campaign committee outspent all other presidential campaigns last year on legal fees, refunds to contributors and payments to the Treasury Department for unusable donations. Obama for America has spent more than $ 2.8 million on legal fees since the 2008 election, according to a CQ MoneyLine study of Federal Election Commission records. In all, the president’s campaign spent three times more on lawyers after Election Day than in the two years preceding it. A Democratic spokesman said in a statement that the expenses were expected and not extraordinary considering that Obama’s White House run was the largest campaign in history, taking in more than $ 750 million.

Politico: Rick Santorum: Barack Obama a U.N. puppet on Libya
Rick Santorum says that when it comes to America’s military intervention in Libya, the United Nations has been pulling President Barack Obama’s puppet strings. “He didn’t do anything until the United Nations sort-of forced his hand,” Santorum said on Fox News Wednesday night. The former Pennsylvania senator has repeatedly criticized Obama’s approach to Libya, calling the president “disinterested, detached, ambivalent and indecisive.” “It’s one thing to engage the international community in something that you are leading and you want done,” he said. “It is another thing to follow the international community — France, Portugal, and others — in something they want done. I think that is what happened here, not the president leading.”

New York Times: An Arizona Senate Race Waits to See if Giffords Emerges to Run
Representative Gabrielle Giffords is still in the hospital, but some of her most ardent backers are so enamored of the idea of her running for the Senate that they describe the inevitable campaign commercials: the deep-voiced narrator recounting what happened to her, the images of her wounded, then recovering and speaking into the camera alongside her astronaut husband to call on Arizonans to unite. These supporters say they do not want to get too far ahead of themselves, and make clear that Ms. Giffords, who was shot in the head, is still relearning basic tasks and might emerge from the hospital with neither the same political abilities nor aspirations that she had before. And publicly, her closest aides say the only thing they care about is her health.

Colorado Springs Gazette: Springs man’s claim to have Obama records starts buzz
A Colorado Springs “birther,” retired Air Force Col. Gregory Hollister, has Internet blogs abuzz with what may be an illegal foray into an online Social Security data base and how he obtained a copy of President Barack Obama’s draft registration from 1980. “Col. Greg Hollister, USAF (Ret.) contacted the Selective Service, falsely impersonated President Obama, improperly registered his own address as President Obama’s address, and by this false impersonation and identity theft he managed to obtain a duplicate registration acknowledgement card with President Obama’s Selective Service information on it,” a blogger posted on last week. “This may violate several federal criminal statutes, and apparently caused the federal record of President Obama’s address with the Selective Service to be altered to show that he lives in Colorado Springs, CO.”

CNN: Rumsfeld talks 2012 GOP field
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave his view of the 2012 presidential campaign field by saying, “I would recommend letting these people run around the track for a while, see how they do.” In an interview that aired Wednesday on CNN’s “John King, USA” Rumsfeld wouldn’t divulge who out of the potential candidates would garner his support, but he mused about the pivotal moment in time for a presidential election. “They’re gonna have to deal with tough issues, with surprises. It’s gonna range from economic issues to social issues to foreign policy and defense issue, and it’s a tough job running for president. They’re gonna have to meet new issues and tough questions,” Rumsfeld told CNN’s King.

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CNN: EPA boosts radiation monitoring after low levels found in milk
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is increasing its nationwide monitoring of radiation as two states reported very low levels of radiation in milk. The agency said Wednesday it is boosting its monitoring of radiation in milk, precipitation, drinking water, and other outlets. It already tracks radiation in those potential exposure routes through an existing network of stations across the country. Results from screening samples of milk taken in the past week in Spokane, Washington, and in San Luis Obispo County, California, detected radioactive iodine at a level 5,000 times lower than the limit set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, officials said.

CNN: Fukushima shines light on U.S. problem: 63,000 tons of spent fuel
The Fukushima Daiichi disaster is focusing attention on a problem that has bedeviled Washington policymakers since the dawn of the nuclear age – what to do with used nuclear fuel. Currently, spent fuel – depleted to the extent it can no longer effectively sustain a chain reaction – is stored in large pools of water, allowing the fuel to slowly cool and preventing the release of radiation. But events in Japan, where two of the six spent fuel pools at the Fukushima Daiichi facility were compromised, have raised questions about practices at the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors, which rely on a combination of pools and dry casks to store used fuel.

CNN: Report: African-Americans fall in equality index
African-Americans are faring slightly worse relative to their white counterparts than they did last year, according to an index released Thursday by the National Urban League. The group’s 2011 Equality Index stands at 71.5%, compared to a revised index last year of 72.1%, the league said as it released its annual report, called The State of Black America. An equality index of less than 100% suggests blacks are doing worse relative to whites, while an index greater than 100% suggests blacks are doing better.

CNN: 10 sailors hurt in ship fire
Ten sailors aboard a U.S. Navy vessel were injured Wednesday after a jet on the ship caught fire, officials said. The incident occurred on USS John C. Stennis Wednesday afternoon in waters near southern California, the Navy said. The sailors were on the flight deck of the vessel when the jet “suffered a catastrophic engine failure and subsequently caught fire,” the Navy said in a press statement.

CNN: NASA to check for shuttle damage after hail storm
NASA crews will perform a full survey of the space shuttle Endeavour on Thursday, a day after high winds and hail battered the launch pad, according to the space agency. “No one was injured and initially no obvious damage was observed. The storm moved through the area quickly,” a NASA press release said. Endeavour is scheduled to blast off to the International Space Station on April 19th. The space shuttle’s six astronauts are at the Kennedy Space Center for their launch dress rehearsal.

CNN: Supreme Court Justice Scalia fined in fender- bender
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has been fined $ 70 for allegedly rear-ending an automobile in a minor four-car collision, a United States Park Police spokesman confirmed Wednesday. Scalia was not injured in the accident, which occurred Tuesday when the 75-year-old high court justice’s car rear-ended another vehicle on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in suburban Virginia, according to Sgt. David Schlosser of the Park Police.

CNN: FDA committee weighs whether food dye affects kids’ behavior
A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee that has been weighing evidence on whether dye additives in food affect behavior in children will make its recommendation Thursday. The panel will first listen to testimony from the public and the industry. It spent Wednesday listening to testimony from doctors and scientists who contend that studies, although small in many cases, do show that some kids begin to show signs of hyperactivity once they are exposed to certain dye mixtures.

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CNN: Source: CIA operating in Libya, in consultation with opposition
CIA operatives are providing intelligence from Libya, where opposition forces are on the run and the defiant government suffered the embarrassing defection of its foreign minister Wednesday. The NATO-led coalition, which is enforcing a no-fly zone and protecting civilians from the intense fighting, got no help from the weather in its ongoing efforts to protect the fragile opposition movement. “The weather conditions did not allow close combat support by aircraft in the last couple of days,” said Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

CNN: Radiation levels in seawater off Japan plant spike to all-time highs
The levels of radiation in ocean waters off Japan’s embattled Fukushima Daiichi plant continue to skyrocket, the nation’s nuclear safety agency said Thursday, with no clear sense of what’s causing the spike or how to stop it. The amount of radioactive iodine-131 isotope in the samples, taken Wednesday some 330 meters (361 yards) into the Pacific Ocean, has surged to 4,385 times above the regulatory limit. This tops the previous day’s reading of 3,355 times above the standard – and an exponential spike over the 104-times increase measured just last Friday. Officials have downplayed the potential perils posed by this isotope, since it loses half of its radiation every eight days.

Washington Post: Egypt says U.S. dragging its feet on freezing Mubarak assets
More than a month after the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the United States has yet to respond to a request by Cairo to freeze his assets, Egyptian officials say.In a country where a politically emancipated public is eager to hold the former authoritarian government to account, Washington’s delay is deepening already negative feelings toward the United States. Egyptian activists point to the quickness with which U.S. officials moved to freeze the assets of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.

CNN: Haiti’s presidential election results delayed by fraud
Fraud has forced Haiti’s election council to delay results of a highly anticipated runoff intended to decide the next leader of the troubled Caribbean nation. Results were supposed to have been announced Thursday. But the Provisional Election Council asked for four more days and will post preliminary results on Monday instead. Final results are not expected until April 16. The agency said “a high level of fraud and irregularities of various kinds has been detected in the tabulation of votes.”

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CNNMoney: Stocks gain on jobs and energy optimism
Stocks ended Wednesday with solid gains, as investors welcomed two reports on job growth. The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) added 71 points, or 0.6%, while the S&P 500 (SPX) added 8 points, or 0.7% and the Nasdaq Composite (COMP) gained 19 points, also 0.7%. Meanwhile, smaller stocks reached pre-recession highs. The Russell 2000 Index, a measure of small-cap stocks, rose 1.2%, reaching its highest level since October 2007. Wednesday was all about jobs, as investors look ahead to the government’s payroll numbers on Friday. Before the opening bell, one report showed that employers announced fewer planned job cuts in March, even as government sector layoffs mounted.

New York Times: Antitrust Cry From Microsoft
The wheel of technology history turns remarkably fast. Microsoft, whose domination of the technology industry provoked a landmark federal antitrust case, is crying foul against Google and urging European Union antitrust Officials to go after the search giant. Microsoft plans to file a formal antitrust complaint on Thursday in Brussels against Google, its first against another company. Microsoft hopes that the action may prod officials in Europe to take action and that the evidence gathered may also lead officials in the United States to do the same.

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Washington (CNN) – Politics is serious business – but not all the time.

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As for the timing of President Obama’s Libya speech Monday night, the New York Times’ Bill Carter reports that the White House scheduled it around network shows, including ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”
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Washington (CNN) – Politics is serious business – but not all the time.

Programmer in chief

As for the timing of President Obama’s Libya speech Monday night, the New York Times’ Bill Carter reports that the White House scheduled it around network shows, including ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”
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The CNN Washington Bureau’s morning speed read of the top stories making news from around the country and the world. Click on the headlines for more.

For the latest political news:

CNN: Obama signals willingness to arm Libyan rebels
On a day when opposition forces in Libya suffered battlefield losses, President Barack Obama made clear in interviews Tuesday with the three major U.S. television networks that he was open to arming the rebel fighters. “I’m not ruling it out, but I’m also not ruling it in,” Obama told NBC in one of the separate interviews he gave the day after a nationally televised speech on the Libya situation. “I think it’s fair to say that if we wanted to get weapons into Libya, we probably could,” Obama told ABC. “We’re looking at all our options at this point.”

CNN: Rubio threatens to hold vote hostage
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida threatened to vote against raising the debt ceiling unless his conditions for tax and budget reforms are met, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed set to be published Wednesday. The freshman senator and tea party favorite said raising the limit – the legal amount the U.S. government is allowed to borrow to finance its debt – is “putting off the tough decisions until after the next election.” “We cannot afford to continue waiting. This may be our last chance to force Washington to tackle the central economic issue of our time,” Rubio wrote. “If we simply raise it once again, without a real plan to bring spending under control and get our economy growing, America faces the very real danger of a catastrophic economic crisis.”

CNN: Schumer’s message mishap
Sen. Chuck Schumer was caught in a candid moment Tuesday, instructing fellow Democratic senators to describe GOP spending cuts as “extreme” and to blame the Tea Party for preventing House Speaker John Boehner from cutting a deal to end the budget stalemate, unaware his comments were being listened to by reporters on a conference call. The behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Democrats’ political message strategy came as Schumer, D-New York, was about to begin a telephone call with reporters to talk about negotiations with Republicans over government spending cuts. “OK,” Schumer could be heard telling senators who were preparing to address reporters on the call. “The main thrust is basically that we want to negotiate and we want to come up with a compromise but the Tea Party is pulling Boehner too far over to the right.”

CNNMoney: House votes to kill Obama mortgage plan
The House passed a bill Tuesday to kill a signature Obama administration program that helps homeowners stay in their homes but has faced criticism as ineffective. The House voted 252 to 170 to stop any new funding for the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). Eleven Democrats joined Republicans to defund the program. The program taps the federal bailout that saved the big banks, providing incentives to mortgage servicers to modify mortgages for borrowers behind on their payments. To many struggling Americans seeking permanent mortgage relief, HAMP offered little more than false hope. More homeowners have been kicked out of the program than have received permanent relief,” Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who chairs the House Oversight Committee, said in a statement.

CNN: Wisconsin judge again halts collective bargaining law
Amid a debate over whether Wisconsin’s new collective bargaining law had taken effect, a Wisconsin judge again put it on hold Tuesday and warned anyone against trying to implement it. “Now that I’ve made my earlier order as clear as it possibly can be, I must state that those that act in willful and open defiance of a court order place not only themselves at peril of sanctions – they also jeopardize the financial and governmental stability of the state of Wisconsin,” said Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi. Sumi may decide Friday whether the law will be allowed to stand – at least for now.

Los Angeles Times: Brown ends talks on bipartisan budget deal
Gov. Jerry Brown has abandoned his effort to negotiate a bipartisan budget, charging that Republicans were unwilling to support his plan unless he yielded to “an ever-changing list of collateral demands.” The governor’s announcement that he is walking away from the negotiating table, made in a late-afternoon news release Tuesday, further roils the state’s finances and marks the biggest setback yet for the 72-year-old Brown. He returned to Sacramento this year for his third term as governor promising that he had the political skills and policy expertise to resolve the state’s chronic financial mess. Earlier in the day, key GOP lawmakers who had been negotiating with the governor declared the talks fruitless.

New York Times: Revised Bill on Collective Bargaining Advances in Ohio
Ohio moved closer to completing legislation to limit collective bargaining rights for public sector workers on Tuesday, while legislation in Wisconsin continued to be tied up in the courts. The bill in Ohio passed a State House committee on Tuesday after Republicans added provisions that Democrats said would further hurt unions. The legislation was expected to pass the full House as early as Wednesday. Republicans said they had made some of the changes to accommodate unions, but Democrats said the revised bill was worse than the original, especially a new provision that would prohibit nonunion employees from paying fees to unions.

Wall Street Journal: Tax Revenue Snaps Back
State and local tax revenue has nearly snapped back to the peak hit several years ago—a gain attributed to a reviving economy and tax increases implemented during the recession. But the improvement masks deeper problems for state and local governments that are likely to linger for years. To weather the recession, state governments relied on now-depleted federal stimulus funds, which allowed them to put off painful cuts that would have otherwise been necessary to balance budgets. Meanwhile, demand for government services and the tab for public-worker pensions and health care have continued to grow.

The Hill: Fed will miss deadline on rules for debit card fees, Bernanke says
The Federal Reserve will miss the April 21 deadline for finalizing rules on new limits on debit card fees, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has told lawmakers. In a letter sent Tuesday to House Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) and ranking member Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Bernanke said the central bank would not be able to meet the statutory deadline. The “extraordinary volume” of public comments — more than 11,000 comments have been submitted — coupled with the complexities raised, will make it impossible for the central bank to finish the rules by the deadline set in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

CNN: Senate hearing looks at anti-Muslim bigotry
When Sen. Richard Durbin called a hearing on anti-Muslim bigotry, his office insisted it was not a response to a controversial House hearing that recently examined the threat of home-grown terrorism. “Terrorism is not the subject of today’s hearing,” Durbin, D-Illinois, said in his opening remarks. But two Senate Republicans said they couldn’t discuss the Muslim-American community without looking at its potential for radicalization. Earlier this month, Rep. Peter King, R-New York, prompted a flurry of controversy and media attention by tackling “the radicalization of American Muslims” in a separate hearing.

Roll Call: Members Collect Many Unpaid Tickets
Members of Congress have immunity from many routine parking tickets in the District of Columbia, but that doesn’t mean they can’t try to rack up fines. According to a Roll Call survey of vehicles parked on Capitol Hill and at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, as of mid-March, lawmakers were carrying at least $ 15,000 in outstanding tickets — ranging from expired meters to speeding camera violations — and potentially thousands of dollars more. Three-quarters of those tickets, worth about $ 11,500, were in default at the time of the survey, having gone more than 60 days, and in some cases years, without payment.

CNN: Obama + Kaine: mutual admiration society
At a DNC fundraiser in Harlem, Barack Obama all but endorsed outgoing DNC chair and former Virginia governor Tim Kaine for U.S. Senate – a decision Kaine has not yet made (or at least announced). While many have speculated Kaine will go “plunging back into the hurly-burly of electoral politics,” as Obama described it, so far the DNC chair has only coyly said he is likely to run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Jim Webb (D). “I don’t know if those rumors are true, but what I do know is that I cannot imagine someone who has been a better partner to me, a better friend,” Obama said, according to a pool report. “Should he choose to do so, he would be an outstanding senator for the commonwealth of Virginia.”

CNN: Santorum blames ‘abortion culture’ for problems with Social Security
Potential 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum said the “abortion culture” in America is to blame for the failing Social Security system. In an interview with WEZS Radio in Laconia, New Hampshire, Tuesday, the former Republican Pennsylvania senator said abortion rates are influencing the number of children born in the United States and there are therefore not enough children to support the program long-term. “The Social Security system in my opinion is a flawed design, period. But having said that, the design would work a lot better if we had stable demographic trends,” Santorum said. “A third of all the young people in America are not in America today because of abortion.”

CNN: Congressman wants feds to hand out iodide pills
A Massachusetts congressman called on the federal government Tuesday to distribute potassium iodide pills to Americans living near nuclear reactors, a preventive step one expert warns might do more harm than good. Rep. Ed Markey wants the federal government to distribute doses of the compound – which can be used to block the thyroid gland’s absorption of radioactive iodine – to every household within a 20-mile radius of a U.S. nuclear power plant “in recognition of the probability that rapid evacuation during a nuclear meltdown will be difficult and time consuming.”

Washington Post: Report clears Justice Department in Black Panther case
The Justice Department’s Office of Personnel Responsibility (OPR) has concluded an investigation finding that politics played no role in the handling of the New Black Panther Party case, which sparked a racially charged political fight. After reviewing thousands of pages of internal e-mails and notes and conducting 44 interviews with department staff members, the OPR reported that “department attorneys did not commit professional misconduct or exercise poor judgment” and that the voter-intimidation case against the Panthers was dismissed on “a good faith assessment of the law” and “not influenced by the race of the defendants.”

For the latest national news:

CNN: Contaminated IV solution suspected in 9 patient deaths in Alabama
Nine of 19 patients who were infected with bacteria that got into their blood after they were fed intravenously have died in six Alabama hospitals, state health officials said Tuesday. “This represents an example of an outbreak that does, unfortunately, occur,” Dr. Don Williamson of the Alabama Department of Public Health told reporters in a conference call. The bacteria, identified as serratia marcescens bacteremia, can prove fatal, though investigators – including those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – have not determined that they caused the deaths, he said, adding that the investigation is ongoing.

CNN: Hole in US Airways plane was caused by a bullet, sources say
A hole in a US Airways jet that landed in Charlotte, North Carolina, was caused by a bullet that pierced the passenger cabin, three government sources told CNN Tuesday. Officials believe the bullet was fired in Charlotte, after passengers had exited the aircraft, one source said. The hole was discovered after the Boeing 737-400 landed Monday. The sources said a bullet has been recovered inside the plane. “We do not believe its terrorism related,” said one of the government sources. “It appears to be a random event. We do not believe the plane was targeted. No one heard the bullet fired.”

FOX News: Federal Vehicles Guzzling More Fuel Despite Obama’s Pledge to Cut Greenhouse Gas Use
President Obama’s effort to reduce Uncle Sam’s carbon footprint has resulted so far in nothing but hot air. A new report finds that last year federal vehicles guzzled more gas than they had in any of the last five years despite Obama’s order requiring federal fleets to reduce total petroleum consumption by 30 percent by 2020 and to promote tele-working as part of a broader goal to cut direct emissions by 28 percent by 2020. The General Services Administration’s report, released this month, found that the federal fleet of vehicles – not including military – increased its gas consumption to 322 million gallons in 2010, up 7 percent from 301 million gallons in 2009, the largest yearly increase in the past five years.

CNN: Virginia Tech fined $ 55,000 in 2007 shooting rampage
Virginia Tech will be fined $ 55,000 for waiting too long to provide timely warnings about a shooter on the loose during a 2007 rampage in which 32 people died, the U.S. Department of Education said Tuesday. The school said it will appeal. A December 2010 report said the school did not notify students in a “timely manner” – as dictated by what is known as the Clery Act – after a shooting that left two people dead at West Ambler Johnston residence hall on the morning of April 16, 2007. The same shooter, identified as Cho Seung-Hui, 23, went to the university’s Norris Hall more than two hours later and killed 30 more people before turning a gun on himself.

For the latest international news:

CNN: Rebels lose ground in Libya as Gadhafi forces go on the offensive
Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi went on the attack Tuesday, pushing opposition fighters back to the outskirts of a key oil town, rebels said. Also Tuesday, world diplomats met in London to discuss the future of the North African nation. Opposition fighters in Bin Jawad battled Gadhafi forces and came under a hail of artillery and rocket attacks, a rebel source said. CNN saw rebel fighters streaming back out of the city, beating what looked to be a hasty retreat. One said the barrage was too much for the opposition to withstand, and that Gadhafi loyalists had infiltrated Bin Jawad.

CNN: International diplomats unite against Gadhafi
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s government has “completely lost legitimacy,” and military action against the regime must continue until attacks on civilians stop and humanitarian assistance is allowed to pass freely, international diplomats meeting in London concluded Tuesday. Envoys from more than 40 countries and organizations attended the conference and agreed to establish a “Libya Contact Group” to coordinate international response to crisis, said UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, who chaired the conference. The first meeting will be held in Qatar, he said. The group also agreed to push for more international pressure and additional sanctions on Gadhafi’s regime.

CNN: ‘Flickers’ of al Qaeda in Libyan opposition, U.S. NATO leader says
There is a good chance NATO pressure will encourage Libyan tyrant Moammar Gadhafi to leave power, the U.S. NATO commander told Congress Tuesday, but the opposition that could come in the Libyan leader’s wake has “flickers” of al Qaeda. While there is a wide range of possible outcomes in Libya, running from a static stalemate to Gadhafi cracking, there is a “more than reasonable” chance of Gadhafi leaving power, Adm. James Stavridis said before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

CNN: Security forces regain control of Iraq government building
Security forces wrested control of an Iraqi government building from armed militants who attacked and seized the location and held people hostage earlier Tuesday, Interior Ministry officials said. At least 56 people died and 98 others were wounded when armed men assaulted and seized the building in Tikrit, the capital of Salaheddin Province in northern Iraq. Iraqi forces launched a raid to take back the building and free hostages, many of whom were killed by the attackers in the building, the officials said.

CNN: Workers endure austere conditions in averting nuclear disaster
They sleep anywhere they can find open space – in conference rooms, corridors, even stairwells. They have one blanket, no pillows and a leaded mat intended to keep radiation at bay. They eat only two meals each day – a carefully rationed breakfast of 30 crackers and vegetable juice and for dinner, a ready-to-eat meal or something out of a can. They clean themselves with wet wipes, since the supply of fresh water is short. These are the grueling living conditions for the workers inside Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. They’ve been hailed as heroes risking their lives by braving high levels of radiation as they work to avert a nuclear meltdown.

CNN: Embattled Japanese power company chief hospitalized due to ‘fatigue’
The president of the embattled utility that owns the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has been hospitalized due to “fatigue and stress,” the company said Wednesday. Tokyo Electric Power Co. President Masataka Shimizu was hospitalized Tuesday. The company has not released further details about his condition. Shimizu made a public apology several days after a March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems at the plant. The last time he was spotted in public was at a March 13 news conference.

CNN: Syrian president to address the nation
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is expected to address the nation in a speech before the People’s Assembly on Wednesday, a day after the cabinet resigned amidst an unusual wave of unrest across the nation. The state-run SANA news agency reported the speech would “tackle the internal affairs and the latest events in Syria,” and “reassure the Syrian people.” On Tuesday, tens of thousands of pro-government demonstrators poured onto the streets of Damascus, although state media reported a much higher national turnout.

CNN: Egypt to announce new working constitution
Egypt’s ruling military leadership will announce Wednesday a constitutional declaration that will operate as a working constitution in the current political transitional period, state-run news media MENA reported. This new working constitution will be in effect until a new one is drafted and approved. General Mamdouh Shahin, a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, will give a news conference Wednesday morning to officially announce the constitutional declaration, that includes eight amended articles of which were endorsed in a historic referendum held on March 19.

CNN: At least 11 killed in Thailand flooding
At least 11 people are dead after flash floods swept through eight provinces in southern Thailand, officials said Wednesday. The flooding has affected more than 716,000 people, the country’s disaster prevention agency said. Villagers in one province, Krabi, have been asked to take shelter at temples or other areas, said a local official, Sombat Morakot.

CNN: At least 7 killed in suicide attack at Pakistan political rally
Seven people, including a policeman, were killed and 10 others injured Wednesday when a suicide bomber on a motorbike blew himself up in northwest Pakistan, officials said. The explosion took place at a public gathering for a political party in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Abdullah Khan, a senior police official in the district, said the gathering was organized by Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam party. The party head, Fazal Ur Rehman, was scheduled to speak at the rally.

For the latest business news:

CNN: Muni bonds headed for worst quarter in 10 years
The municipal bond market is headed for its worst quarter in a decade, as investors fear cash-strapped states and cities across the country are on the brink of default, and local governments slow debt issuance. Only $ 44.4 billion worth of muni bonds have been issued in the first quarter so far. That’s the lowest level since the first quarter of 2000, when $ 39.1 billion was issued, according to data from Thomson Reuters. Part of the drop in issuance comes as investor demand cools amid worries that municipalities may not be able to get their books in order. And that would leave investors holding the bag, so to speak.

Financial Times: Opec set for $ 1,000bn in export revenues
Opec, the oil producers’ cartel, will reap $ 1,000bn in export revenues this year for the first time if crude prices remain above $ 100 a barrel, according to the International Energy Agency. The cartel has been one of the main beneficiaries of high oil prices, which have soared in recent weeks amid the civil uprisings in the Middle East and north Africa. Brent crude was trading at $ 115 a barrel on Tuesday. Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA, said a new assessment by the rich nations’ oil watchdog showed that the total number of barrels exported by Opec in 2011 would be slightly lower than in 2008, when cartel oil revenues reached $ 990bn. But if average prices remain around $ 100 a barrel, Opec’s oil revenues will still reach a record of $ 1,000bn this year.

CNN: 34,000 Tylenol bottles recalled for musty smell
Johnson & Johnson is recalling yet another batch of Tylenol medicines due to consumer complaints about a musty, moldy smell. Johnson & Johnson’s (JNJ, Fortune 500) McNeil division, which makes over-the-counter drugs such as Tylenol, Motrin and Benadryl, said the latest recall includes one lot of Tylenol 8 Hour (150 count) extended release caplets, or 34,000 bottles. McNeil said the new recall is part of the company’s ongoing surveillance of its products.

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Did President Obama’s speech help change the minds of members on Capitol Hill? Dana Bash reports.

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Common sense cutting through the enveloping fog of politically correct disinformation. “GOP senator turns the tables at Muslim rights hearing,” by Stephanie Condon for CBS News, March 29:

Defenders of Muslim civil rights went to Capitol Hill today to ask the federal government to stem what they say is a rising tide of anti-Muslim discrimination. Yet for one Republican senator, the real question was whether Muslim advocacy groups are doing enough to help the government curb Islamic extremism.

Today’s Senate hearing, led by Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), is the first in Congress to explore Muslim civil rights. It is intended to show that most Muslim Americans “are patriotic, law abiding people who simply want to live their life as we do,” Durbin said today.

Republican Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), however, questioned the need for the hearing and suggested one of the groups testifying could do more to cooperate with the government.

“I’m a bit perplexed by the focus” of the hearing, Kyl said, in light of the fact that most religious hate crimes in the United States are committed against Jews.

“The point is, all bigotry is to be condemned,” Kyl said. “Selective indignation is not helpful.”

Today’s hearing comes about three weeks after a controversial House hearing on the radicalization of Muslim Americans that critics said unfairly portrayed the Muslim community. Farhana Khera, the executive director of the group Muslim Advocates, testified in today’s hearing that “in the last several months, anti-Muslim rhetoric has reached a disturbing new level.” He said political leaders have jumped into the fray with sweeping, critical statements about Islam.

While Khera whines about rhetoric, Muslims are brutalizing and persecuting Christians in Egypt, Pakistan, and elsewhere. But that receives no notice from the likes of Khera.

Kyl defended the hearing over Muslim radicalization today, saying, “Political correctness cannot stand in the way of identifying those who would do us harm.” He questioned whether Khera’s organization was committed to helping root out extremist elements of Islam, given that its website advises Muslims to consult a lawyer before speaking with the FBI about violent extremism.

“I would think Muslim Americans would feel a special obligation to help in such investigations,” Kyl said….

One would think!

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Our political Quote of the Day comes from the (Republican) Frum Forum, in an article about Donald Truth, the GOP and the birthers:

Republicans should even now be pondering how best to insert a sanity clause into their Campaign ‘12 rulebook.

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-By Warner Todd Huston

Several news sources have been working for days to get to the bottom of a story that might end up revealing that the head of one of Democrat Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s police security details was involved in a racist attack on several black students in downstate Carlinville. Worse, the story seems to be undergoing a political cover up as news agencies are being stymied in rooting out the details.

Several Illinois newspapers have already printed stories on the alleged incident, but to date no one seems to have been able to pin down all the details. But one thing is sure, Kenneth Snider, a trooper with the Illinois State Police, definitely and rather suddenly resigned from all his political jobs last week.

Until he resigned on March 23, Snider was the head of Democrat Governor Pat Quinn’s southern security force, a $ 132,000 a year state-paid job. Snider had other political jobs, too, until he resigned from all of them. Up to last week he was chairman of both the Carlinville school board and the Macoupin County Democratic organization. Macoupin County is just north east of St. Louis in Illinois’ south western corner.

The story seems to be that on March 18 Snider entered an establishment called the Anchor Inn in Carlinville and made a loud comment that the bar was too “dark” inside appearing to be talking about the bar’s black patrons. Snider is said to have returned not long after leaving and began loudly remarking that there were a lot of “ni**ers” present in the place. Snider apparently got belligerent when he was shushed by people trying to quiet him down.

At some point some black students spoke up to Snider and he went ballistic, threatening to get his gun and kill them. Witnesses then claim that some of the students ran off with Snider chasing them on foot.

Earlier this year Snider was involved in another incident which ended when Snider agreed to pay a woman $ 300 to repair her car’s windshield. Apparently in January Snider was “playing in the snow” and jumped onto the woman’s car breaking her windshield.

The Illinois State Police have taken over the investigation and neither the police nor the Governor’s office are commenting on the story or helping reporters nail down the details. Snider has also refused to make any public statements.

And there might be a cover up being employed to keep a lid on this story. Dan Riehl reports that some reporters have been warned to stay away from the story.

Sources at the Enquirer-Democrat were said to be optimistic about getting to the bottom of the matter, at first. Instead, their offices received a visit from police the next day after contacting Pride and their reporter was told to stay away from Blackburn College. It was claimed they were reported to have been harassing Blackburn students. Additionally, another source claims the college was trying to keep the incident quiet.

One thing is sure. If Governor Quinn were a Republican this racist outburst would be the top news of the day in every corner of this nation.

Quinn is a Democrat, though. So the story flies under the radar.

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Washington (CNN) – Politics is serious business, but not all the time.

Start your engines says it plans to sponsor a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series racing truck, The Hill’s Christina Wilkie reports.

The site announced it will sponsor the “red No. 89 truck currently driven by Chris Lafferty,” which “will be re-dubbed the ‘We the People’s’ truck, in order to tear up the racetrack for the next two seasons.”
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The GOP has talked too big a game on entitlements to whiff on them in their 2012 budget proposal. But entitlements are … dangerous. Particularly Social Security and Medicare. So there’ve been contrasting reports on how far the budget proposal Paul Ryan is writing will go. Some stories have said he’s focusing on Medicaid. Others have said he’s looking at Medicare, too. Ryan’s office promises “real entitlement reforms so that we can have a conversation with the American people about the challenges we face and the need to chart a new path to prosperity.”

Complicating matters — and making many think Medicaid is going to get the axe in a way Medicare and Social Security will not — is the nature of the GOP’s coalition. Consider the exit polls from the 2010 election. The age group that swung most heavily toward the Republicans was seniors — which is to say, voters who currently benefit from Medicare and Social Security. They are ferociously protective of both programs and turned on the Democrats for making Medicare cuts in the Affordable Care Act:

Meanwhile, the income group that swung most heavily toward Democrats were voters making less than $ 30,000 — the exact group that tends to rely on Medicaid:

The political incentives for the GOP are clear: tread lightly on entitlements for seniors and heavily on programs for the poor. Which isn’t to say they will: Ryan could come out with an ambitious and comprehensive set of entitlement reforms. If his budget focuses on Medicaid, however, you’ll know why.

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The CNN Washington Bureau’s morning speed read of the top stories making news from around the country and the world. Click on the headlines for more.

For the latest political news:

CNN: Obama: Not acting in Libya ‘would have been a betrayal of who we are’
President Barack Obama on Monday rejected criticism of his decision to commit U.S. forces to the U.N.-authorized military mission in Libya, telling the American people there were strategic and moral reasons to act. In a nationally televised speech at the National Defense University, Obama said his administration kept its pledge that the mission would be limited in size and scope, announcing that the NATO alliance would assume full command on Wednesday. The United States now will play “a supporting role – including intelligence, logistical support, search-and-rescue assistance, and capabilities to jam regime communications,” Obama said, noting that both the risk and cost of the operation to America “will be reduced significantly.”

CNN: Republicans upset with Obama’s regime change remarks
When U.S. President Barack Obama said Monday it would be wrong to seek regime change in Libya by force, Republican lawmakers took issue – saying removing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is and should be precisely the goal. Gadhafi must have been comforted to hear the president’s words, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said following Obama’s televised address. “If we tell Gadhafi, ‘Don’t worry, you won’t be removed by force,’ I think that’s very encouraging to Gadhafi,” McCain said, after Obama delivered a speech explaining U.S. intervention in Libya. McCain said the president’s words were “puzzling” because Obama has previously said that U.S. policy is for Gadhafi’s ouster. “The reason why we wage wars is to achieve the results of a policy that we state,” McCain said.

CNN: Pawlenty: Obama administration ‘naive’ on Syria
Likely Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty accused the Obama administration of “naivety” on Syria, as he called for the United States to recall its ambassador and toughen sanctions on the country. Pawlenty’s comments came in a radio interview on the Hugh Hewitt Show Monday evening, shortly before President Obama addressed the nation on the military operation in Libya. “Our interests in Syria are at least as strong, if not stronger, than in Libya”, Pawlenty said when asked what the United States should do after violent crackdowns on demonstrators in Syria.

CNN: Budget talks at impasse, raising concerns of possible government shutdown
Bipartisan talks to end the budget crisis, which stalled last week, appeared to grind to a near standstill Monday, raising concerns on both sides of the political aisle that large parts of the government could shut down when the current spending measure expires at the end of next week. “Republicans refuse to negotiate on a final number,” Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor. “The infighting between the tea party and the rest of the Republican Party – including the Republican leadership in Congress – is keeping our negotiating partner from the negotiating table.” House Republican Leader Eric Cantor denied the talks might collapse because of disagreements between the GOP leadership and the conservative wing of their caucus. Instead, he blamed Reid for “abandoning his responsibility to offer a credible plan to cut spending and fund the government for the rest of the year.”

Washington Post: GOP lawmakers to unveil own plan to wind down Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac
A month-and-a-half after the White House announced its plan to wind down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, House Republicans on Tuesday plan to introduce their own. According to congressional sources familiar with the matter, a series of eight bills by Republicans will call for hiking fees charged to borrowers in two years and taking other steps to shrink the companies’ footprint in the housing market. The bills will call on Fannie and Freddie to begin to sell their massive portfolios of mortgage investments, which keep rates low, and would take away other advantages enjoyed by the companies that banks and private-sector firms don’t have.

Indianapolis Star: Once again, a full House
Five weeks lost. Five weeks left. With Democrats back in the Indiana House, ending a standoff that was one of the longest in Indiana’s and the nation’s legislative history, the legislature is now in a race against the clock. Legislators have just five weeks to complete work on a new state budget, draw new legislative and congressional district maps, address education and government reforms and consider hundreds of other bills that had been in limbo until the impasse ended Monday. And they’ve got to get it done by April 29, the deadline for this session to end. Go into overtime, and it costs taxpayers money the state can ill-afford.

CNN: Very ill child keeps Santorum off the campaign trail
Former Sen. Rick Santorum, a probable GOP presidential candidate, canceled a trip to Iowa this past weekend because one of his children was very sick. Aides close to the Pennsylvania Republican tell CNN that Santorum’s daughter, Isabella Maria, became very ill on Friday. The three year old girl was born with Trisomy 18, a condition where a person is born with three number 18 chromosomes rather than the normal two. Many newborns suffering from this disease rarely survive beyond a week after birth, with those who do survive battling serious medical conditions.

CNN: Former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice to form presidential exploratory committee
Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who garnered attention and lost his job after building a Ten Commandments monument outside Alabama’s judicial building, is considering seeking the Republican presidential nomination, his top aide confirmed to CNN. Moore plans to announce in mid-April that he is setting up a presidential exploratory committee, the aide, Zachery Michael told CNN.

CNN: Herman Cain assailed as ‘bigoted’ over Muslim remarks
A leading Muslim advocacy group accused potential presidential candidate Herman Cain of spewing “bigoted speech” Monday following remarks he made at a conservative conference last weekend. While attending the Conservative Principles Conference last weekend in Iowa, Cain told a reporter- if he became president – he would not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet or as a federal judge. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) expressed outrage on Monday, saying Cain’s words show how “right wing” conservatives are currently engaging in Muslim bashing.

Roll Call: Redistricting Doesn’t Always Go as Planned
All the hard work of drawing a Congressional map can be ruined by a basket of chicken fingers. Across the country, Republicans and Democrats are feverishly strategizing about how to draw Congressional districts that will benefit their parties for the next decade. But even though districts can be drawn to dramatically favor a particular party or even a specific person, candidates and campaigns still matter and sometimes races don’t turn out as they were planned.

CNN: Maine governor removes pro-union mural
Maine GOP Gov. Paul LePage followed through with his decision to remove a mural depicting the history of the workers’ movement from the state’s labor department lobby, a spokeswoman said Monday. “The mural has been removed and is in storage awaiting relocation to a more appropriate venue,” said LePage press secretary Adrienne Bennett in a prepared statement. “We understand that not everyone agrees with this decision, but the Maine Department of Labor has to be focused on the job at hand.” The controversy over the 36-foot-long, 11-panel mural erupted last week when a LePage administration official announced that the artwork would be removed and that conference rooms dedicated to American labor movement icons would be renamed.

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CNN: Justices to hear appeal over Wal-Mart gender pay lawsuit
Think big – really big – and you may understand the stakes in an upcoming Supreme Court case that could have a profound impact on nearly every American business with employees. At issue is whether the justices should allow certification of the largest class-action employment lawsuit in U.S. history, a long-standing dispute against mega-corporation Wal-Mart Stores Inc. over alleged gender bias in pay and promotions. Arguments in the case are Tuesday morning and ruling can be expected by late June. The company is the world’s largest retailer and the nation’s largest private employer. If the class-action goes through, hundreds of thousands of women – perhaps as many as 1.6 million plaintiffs – could join in the largest discrimination claim of its kind. Tens of billions of dollars or more in damages are potentially at stake.

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CNN: World leaders meet to put more pressure on Gadhafi
As fighting between government and rebel forces rages on in several Libyan towns, world leaders will gather Tuesday in London to plan ways to put pressure on leader Moammar Gadhafi. More than 40 foreign ministers and representatives from regional groups will attend the conference, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Chairman of the African Union Jean Ping and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The conference comes as opposition fighters, aided by coalition airstrikes, made some gains in fighting Gadhafi’s forces.

CNN: U.S. official: Fewer assets devoted to Libya already
The U.S. military has already reduced its day-to-day presence in the operation in and around Libya, according to a defense official. “Some of the ships have peeled off, but are still in the region,” said the official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the mission. At least two of the ships involved in the initial phase of establishing the no-fly zone over Libya are no longer involved in day-to-day operations, the official said. The U.S. still “would still keep the capability to fire Tomahawk missiles, but they’re not needed as much. So the ships that have that capability may go to other spots as needed,” the defense official said. There is still enough capability to do what the U.S. has to do, he said.

CNN: Plant workers scramble to prevent radioactive water from leaking
Workers at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant faced a difficult balancing act Tuesday as they struggled to keep reactors cool and prevent radioactive water from leaking into the ocean. Water has been a key weapon in the battle to stave off a meltdown at the facility since a March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems. But officials say there’s a flip side to pumping and spraying tons of water to keep radioactive fuel from overheating: the water has to go somewhere. The discovery of contaminated water in a maintenance tunnel has sparked fresh concerns about the possibility of additional radiation leaking from the plant.

CNN: Ammo factory blast in Yemen kills at least 121
At least 121 people were killed and 45 injured in an explosion at an ammunition factory in southern Yemen on Monday, medical sources said. The death toll was expected to rise, said the sources, who asked that they not be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the news media. Two of them work at Republican Hospital in Abyan. Most of the dead and injured were locals who had been ransacking the factory after it was taken over Sunday by militants, security officials said.

CNN: Carter to meet Raul Castro on second day of Cuba trip
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter continues his trip to Cuba on Tuesday, where he is expected to have a face-to-face session with President Raul Castro. On Monday, Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, landed in Havana for a private visit aimed at reducing tension between the Cold War enemies and seeing first-hand the economic reforms sweeping the communist island. But expectations are high that Carter also will work behind the scenes to secure the release of American contractor Alan Gross, who was recently sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison.

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CNNMoney: Oil slips, but gas keeps climbing
Oil prices came under pressure Monday, tumbling below $ 104 a barrel, but gasoline prices continued to move higher nationwide. The main U.S. oil futures contract, West Texas Intermediate, for May delivery dropped $ 1.42 to settle at $ 103.98 a barrel. Brent crude, the European benchmark, fell 92 cents to $ 114.87 a barrel. Gasoline prices, however, rose Monday for the sixth day in a row. The national average price for a gallon of regular gas edged up six tenths of a cent overnight to $ 3.584, according to motorist group AAA.

In Case You Missed It

Grading President Obama’s Libya speech, in which he defend American involvement in the coalition effort.

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