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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.

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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.

NATIONAL
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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.

INTERNATIONAL
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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.

BUSINESS
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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.

In Case You Missed It

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says U.S. action in Libya transferred to NATO in 12 days.
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/politics/2011/03/31/bts.wh.carney.libya.cnn

Subscribe to the CNN=Politics DAILY podcast at http://www.cnn.com/politicalpodcast

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CNN Political Ticker

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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.

WASHINGTON/POLITICAL
For the latest political news: www.CNNPolitics.com

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 gratewire.com 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.

NATIONAL
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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.

INTERNATIONAL
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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.”

BUSINESS
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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.

In Case You Missed It

From politics to the pitcher’s mound, it’s become tradition for the president to throw the first pitch.
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/politics/2011/03/30/vault.presidential.first.pitches.cnn

Subscribe to the CNN=Politics DAILY podcast at http://www.cnn.com/politicalpodcast

And now stay posted on the latest from the campaign trail by downloading the CNN=Politics SCREENSAVER at http://www.CNN.com/situationroom


CNN Political Ticker

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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.

WASHINGTON/POLITICAL
For the latest political news: www.CNNPolitics.com

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

In Case You Missed It

Did President Obama’s speech help change the minds of members on Capitol Hill? Dana Bash reports.
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/politics/2011/03/29/bash.hill.reax.obama.speech.cnn

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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.
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2011/03/29/ac.obama.libya.involvement.cnn

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CNN: Obama’s Libya decision debated before speech to nation
Presidential leadership or kowtowing to allies? Abuse of power or decisive action in the face of imminent catastrophe? Supporters and critics used Sunday talk shows to debate President Barack Obama’s Libya policy on Sunday, the day before the president addresses the nation on the issue. The speech Monday night follows calls from all quarters for Obama to clarify the reason he sent U.S. forces to head the U.N.-authorized military mission intended to prevent Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi from unleashing his military on his own people. Obama has said that U.S. policy is the ouster of Gadhafi. However, the mandate of the military coalition is only to enforce a no-fly zone and arms embargo in Libya while taking other necessary steps to protect civilians.

CNN: Lieberman: Libya mission sets precedent
Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee Sen. Joe Lieberman said if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attacks his own people, an international coalition should intervene as they did in Libya. “If Assad does what Gadhafi was doing, which is to threaten and go house-to-house and kill anybody who’s not on his side. There’s a precedent now that the world community has set in Libya. And it’s the right one,” Lieberman, I-Connecticut, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We’re not going to stand by and allow this Assad to slaughter his people like his father did years ago.”

Wall Street Journal: Fiscal Showdown Looms in Capitol
The White House and Democratic lawmakers, with less than two weeks left to avoid a government shutdown, are assembling a proposal for roughly $ 20 billion in additional spending cuts that could soon be offered to Republicans, according to people close to the budget talks. That would come on top of $ 10 billion in cuts that Congress has already enacted and would represent a deeper reduction than the Obama administration and Senate Democrats had offered previously in negotiations. But it isn’t clear that would be enough to satisfy Republicans, who initially sought $ 61 billion in spending cuts and face pressure from tea-party activists not to compromise.

CNN: Gingrich: I’m not a hypocrite
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Sunday that he expects to be running for president within a month. “I think within a month, we’ll have that taken care of and we’ll be running,” Gingrich said on “Fox News Sunday.” “It’s my hope that all of this will work out and I’ll be able to run.” Gingrich touted his “very good team” and the reception he has received during appearances in early presidential primary and caucus states.

The Hill: DHS officials to testify on FOIA process
The Republican chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will get his first crack this week at publicly grilling Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials about the agency’s FOIA process. Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.) has doggedly sought to find out whether DHS allows political appointees to play a role in prioritizing or censoring information it is required to release under the agency’s Freedom of information Act (FOIA) guidelines. When Issa took over control of the committee in January, his first major request for documents was for DHS to turn over thousands of copies of records and emails between agency officials. But Issa was not satisfied with DHS’s response, and last month he subpoenaed two of the department’s career employees, forcing them to give transcribed interviews before the committee.

Los Angeles Times: Democrat urges investigation into federal security contractors
A Democratic congressman is seeking an investigation into whether government money was used by three security contractors involved in a proposal to track and harass liberal critics of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia plans to send letters Monday to the Defense and Justice departments, as well as the head of the intelligence community, requesting a review of the companies’ federal contracts. All three firms are government contractors with security clearance.

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CNN: Bomb wounds man reaching for Sunday paper
A pipe bomb hidden inside a newspaper exploded when an elderly Vacaville, California, man picked up the paper near his doorstep Sunday morning, ATF spokesman Marc Willis said. The man, who suffered “certainly serious, but not life-threatening injuries,” was airlifted to a hospital, Vacaville city spokesman Mark Mazzaferro said. Residents of a dozen neighboring homes were evacuated for several hours, but they were allowed to return home later Sunday afternoon, Mazzaferro said.

CNN: New York City to dispute census numbers
City officials will formally challenge the Census Bureau’s data for New York City, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg said understated the number of residents in Brooklyn and Queens and overstated the number of vacant housing units in the city. Although New York was named the most populous city in the country with 8,175,133 residents, its meager 2.1% increase since 2000’s census count left many elected officials skeptical that every New Yorker was accounted for. The Census Bureau reported that Brooklyn’s population increased by just 1.6% and Queens grew by just 0.1%, gaining only 1,300 people since 2000.

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CNN: Rebels gain ground as airstrikes continue in Libya
Libyan opposition fighters marched west Sunday, seizing control of two key cities, CNN observed, and gaining ground as coalition airstrikes continued to pound the North African nation. Rebel forces told CNN that forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi pulled back from Ras Lanuf. A CNN crew in the city witnessed damaged vehicles on the outskirts of the town, though the town appeared to have avoided major destruction. There were some homes that appeared burned, and others had gaping holes. The damage looked to be from fighting when Gadhafi’s forces had originally pushed the rebels out. There were no clashes reported Sunday, rebels said. Rebels also appeared to have taken control of the key oil town of Brega, a CNN team on the scene observed.

CNN: NATO approves expanded role in Libya
NATO’s North Atlantic Council on Sunday approved an operations plan that will shift the entire Libyan military mission to alliance command, officials said, easing the burden on the United States and its allies to protect civilians in the war-torn country. NATO ambassadors unanimously approved a so-called “no-fly plus” plan that will put the alliance in charge of protecting civilians as well as enforcing a no-fly zone and an arms embargo. “Our goal is to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack from the Gadhafi regime,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said. “NATO will implement all aspects of the U.N. resolution. Nothing more, nothing less.”

CNN: Expert: Japan nuclear plant owner warned of tsunami threat
A seismic researcher told CNN Sunday that he warned the owner of the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant two years ago that the facility could be vulnerable to a tsunami. The owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company, appeared to ignore the warning, said seismologist Yukinobu Okamura. TEPCO has not responded to Okamura’s allegation. Okamura heads Japan’s Active Fault & Earthquake Center. He said he told members of a TEPCO safety committee two years ago that data collected from layers of earth show that in the year 869 a massive tsunami devastated where the plant now is. The six-unit Fukushima Daiichi plant is located about 240 kilometers (150 miles) north of Tokyo.

CNN: Suicide attack kills at least 13 in Afghanistan
A suicide bombing on a school in eastern Afghanistan killed at least 13 people and wounded 56 others, NATO officials said Monday. The Afghan interior ministry described a similar attack that killed 20 construction workers and wounded 56 others. It was not immediately clear if NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and Afghan officials were talking about the same incident.

CNN: Yemen battles al Qaeda as president clings to power
Fighting between Yemeni security forces and members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has left people on both sides dead over the past two days, Yemeni security forces said. The reports came as President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been fighting to hold onto power, arguing that he is best equipped to lead the fight against Islamists. Three “al Qaeda terrorists were killed” and six others were arrested in Lawdar district, Yemen’s official news agency Saba reported Saturday. On Sunday, seven Yemeni soldiers were killed and seven others were wounded when members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula attacked them in Mareb, two security officials said. The attack took place at a military checkpoint a mile north of the government complex in Mareb province, east of the capital, Sanaa.

CNN: Carter coming back to Cuba, raising expectations
When Jimmy Carter arrived on his last visit to Cuba in 2002, Fidel Castro himself was on the tarmac to greet the former U.S. president. He became the only American leader – in or out of office – to visit this island since Castro’s 1959 revolution. On Monday, Carter will be back on a private mission at the invitation of the Cuban government. He will meet with the new president, Raul Castro, and other officials to talk about bilateral ties. The trip has sparked speculation that Carter could try to secure the early release of American contractor Alan Gross, who was recently sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison for “subversive” work providing illegal internet access to Cuban groups.

CNN: Amnesty International: Executions worldwide drop 25%
Thirty one countries have abolished the death penalty but China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United States and Yemen remain amongst the most frequent executioners, according to a new report from Amnesty International released Monday. The human rights organization officially recorded at least 527 executions in 2010, down from at least 714 in 2009. The leading regions for executions, according to Amnesty, are Asia and the Middle East, with eight of the top 10 nations from those areas. “While executions may be on the decline, a number of countries continue to pass death sentences for drug-related offenses, economic crimes, sexual relations between consenting adults and blasphemy – violating international human rights law forbidding the use of the death penalty except for the most serious crimes,” said Salil Shetty, the group’s secretary general.

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Wall Street Journal: U.S. Products Help Block Mideast Web
As Middle East regimes try to stifle dissent by censoring the Internet, the U.S. faces an uncomfortable reality: American companies provide much of the technology used to block websites. McAfee Inc., acquired last month by Intel Corp., has provided content-filtering software used by Internet-service providers in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, according to interviews with buyers and a regional reseller. Blue Coat Systems Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., has sold hardware and technology in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar that has been used in conjunction with McAfee’s Web-filtering software and sometimes to block websites on its own, according to interviews with people working at or with ISPs in the region.

Detroit Free Press: Sales of fuel-efficient autos stall despite high gas prices
Automakers are spending more than $ 50 billion to meet the government’s 2016 fuel economy law, but consumers aren’t buying enough of the fuel-efficient vehicles necessary to allow automakers to achieve the required 35.5 miles-per-gallon average. Despite rising gas prices and new electric cars and hybrids, the fuel economy of Americans’ new vehicles stagnated last year. The 2010 average of all new vehicles actually slipped to 22.2 m.p.g. from 22.3 m.p.g., according to a report from Ward’s Automotive Reports that examined calendar-year sales.

In Case You Missed It

CNN’s Candy Crowley talks to two former intelligence officials about the task of removing Moammar Gadhafi from power.
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2011/03/27/sotu.hadley.hayden.libya.cnn

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CNN: White House defends Libya response
The Obama administration strongly defended its handling of the Libyan crisis Thursday, drawing a clear line between military and political objectives while dismissing criticism that it has failed to adequately consult with members of Congress. “We are not engaged in militarily-driven regime change,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters. Instead, the administration is engaged in “time-limited, scope-limited” action with other countries to protect civilians from forces loyal to strongman Moammar Gadhafi. American forces will be transitioning to a “support and assist” role in the international coalition within a matter of days, he promised. U.S. ground troops will not be sent into Libya, he stressed.

Politico: Clinton, Gates to brief Congress
As the White House works to assuage congressional anger over U.S. entry into armed conflict in Libya, four top national security officials will give a classified briefing to lawmakers on the war next Wednesday afternoon. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are all expected to speak on the topic of “U.S. Policies and Military Operations in Libya,” according to an invitation circulated to House members.

CNNMoney: Bernanke to meet the press
Tight-lipped Ben Bernanke is coming further out of his shell. The Federal Reserve Chairman will start holding press briefings four times a year, the central bank announced Thursday afternoon. “The introduction of regular press briefings is intended to further enhance the clarity and timeliness of the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy communication,” the Fed said in an official statement. Under Bernanke’s leadership, the Fed has taken baby steps in opening up to the media since the financial crisis. Bernanke appeared on 60 Minutes twice in the last two years, and wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post in November.

CNN: Rand Paul for president?
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said he will “think about” running for president in 2012 if his father, Republican Texas Rep. Ron Paul, decides not to launch a bid. “The only decision that I’ve made is that I won’t run against my father,” Paul said Thursday speaking to the Louisville, Kentucky Rotary Club. “If he does not run, I have not ruled it out and I will think about it.” The Tea Party favorite’s travel to early presidential nominating states has raised questions about the freshman senator’s political intentions. Paul, who is scheduled to make trips to Iowa and New Hampshire in the coming weeks, said he’s traveling to promote Tea Party stances and his book, “The Tea Party Goes to Washington.”

CNNMoney: Texas budget could cost 600,000 jobs
Texas could see more than 600,000 jobs disappear if lawmakers adopt the $ 83.8 billion budget that will go before the state House late next week, according to a state agency. Harsh spending cuts in the budget could cost more than 263,500 private sector jobs and 343,000 government positions over the next two years, according to estimates released Wednesday by the Legislative Budget Board, a bipartisan committee. This projection, which is based on mathematical calculations, runs counter to the pro-job push underway by Gov. Rick Perry and Republican lawmakers. The budget slashes spending by nearly $ 23 billion, or 12.3%. The drop reflects the loss of federal stimulus money, but it also includes a $ 4.5 billion cut in state spending. Education, social service agencies and public health providers would see major funding decreases.

New York Times: Short on Funds, but Long on Pink Slips
To solve a looming pension crisis and budget gap, city officials here said, they needed to take drastic action. And everyone agrees on one thing: they did. Nearly half of this city’s workers were told late last week that, come September, they would probably be out of a job. Nearly every city department will be eliminated. More than a dozen tasks will be outsourced, including graffiti removal, firefighting, building maintenance and street cleaning. Unlike the drama that played out over the last two months in Madison, Wis., the battle over public workers in this bustling suburb and upscale shopping mecca in the heart of Orange County is happening at lightning speed.

Time: Haley Barbour Flew State Plane To Deliver Cost Cutting Message To CPAC, Fox News
On Feb. 11, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, his wife and three aides flew in a luxury jet to Washington for a weekend of politicking, including an appearance on Fox News Sunday and a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference. “Our problem is not that we tax too little,” Barbour told the gathering. “It’s that we spend too much.” The potential presidential contender may have another problem: Mississippi taxpayers paid the tab for Barbour’s first-class travel. State documents obtained by TIME show that Mississippi shelled out $ 7,020 to shuttle Barbour and his entourage to and from D.C. on its Cessna Citation, a cost that Barbour says is justified by state work he did in D.C. over the same weekend.

CNN: Giffords doing ‘remarkably well,’ astronaut husband says
The commander of the upcoming space shuttle mission began a prelaunch news conference Thursday by addressing the condition of his wife, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Astronaut Mark Kelly said Giffords, who was shot in the head January 8, is doing “remarkably well.” “She’s improving every day, and in the realm of brain injuries,” he said, “that is very significant and pretty rare.” Kelly, who will command the Shuttle Endeavour on an April mission to the international space station, said he hopes Giffords will be able to attend Endeavour’s liftoff and he thinks there is a “pretty good chance” that will happen.

CNN: Colorado Senate passes civil unions bill
The Colorado Senate on Thursday approved a civil unions bill that would allow same-sex couples the right to inherit property, apply for family leave and share medical decisions. The bill, approved 23-12, now goes to the House. In Colorado, only a man and woman can marry. The bill would allow two unmarried adults, regardless of gender, to enter into a civil union. Senate Bill 172 is intended to allowed eligible citizens “to obtain the benefits, protections, and responsibilities afforded by Colorado law to spouses with the principles of equality under law and religious freedom embodied in both the United States Constitution and the constitution of this state,” its sponsors said.

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CNN: NTSB: Air traffic controller fell asleep, leaving planes on their own
The air traffic controller suspended for failing to respond to two planes heading into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport has told investigators that he had fallen asleep, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The controller, a 20-year veteran, “indicated that he had fallen asleep for a period of time while on duty,” according to a statement released Thursday by the safety board. “He had been working his fourth consecutive overnight shift (10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.).” “Human fatigue issues are one of the areas being investigated,” the statement read. Federal Aviation Administration chief Randy Babbitt said earlier Thursday that the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the incident and that the air traffic controller has been suspended from all operational duties.

Boston Globe: More opt for low-cost coverage
The number of Massachusetts residents enrolled in high-deductible health insurance plans nearly doubled last year as employers and consumers looked for lower-cost options amid soaring medical prices. A report out today says people in these plans indeed spent significantly less on their medical care, compared with families with more traditional coverage, but they also cut back on preventive health care, such as cancer screenings and childhood vaccinations. Surprisingly, they did so even though most of the plans allowed people to get preventive care without paying an up-front deductible.

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CNN: Explosions heard on outskirts of Tripoli
Warplanes roared through the skies over the Libyan capital early Friday, dropping bombs on the outskirts of Tripoli, where military bases are located. Anti-aircraft fire quickly punctuated the darkness, then fell silent again. The latest military action came a day after NATO members agreed to take over enforcement of the no-fly zone over Libya, but stopped short of interpreting that mandate as a license to attack government troops who may be threatening unarmed civilians. “What we have decided today is that NATO will enforce the no-fly zone,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer from the organization’s headquarters in Brussels.

CNN: Over 10,000 dead, thousands missing in Japan quake and tsunami
The number of people confirmed dead in Japan rose past 10,000 on Friday – two weeks after one of the strongest earthquakes on record sent a tsunami plowing over the eastern shore. At least 10,035 people were killed and 17,443 are missing, the Japan National Police Agency said in its latest tally. The numbers are expected to go up as rescuers comb through miles of coastline piled high with rubble. As the nations faces massive reconstruction, signs of recovery are visible in some areas devastated by the disaster.

CNN: Official: Workers touched water with radiation 10,000 times normal
The water three men were exposed to while working at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant had 10,000 times the amount of radiation typical for that locale, an official with the Japan nuclear and industrial safety agency said Friday. The high levels indicate the nuclear fuel inside the No. 3 reactor “is damaged,” the official said. The incident raised questions about radiation control measures at the plant as 536 people – including government authorities and firefighters continued working there Friday, according to an official with the plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co.

CNN: U.S. military families return from Japan
A charter flight carrying family members of U.S. military service members serving in Japan landed Thursday on U.S. soil in Denver. The flight contained 144 people who voluntarily left Japan in the wake of the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami and ongoing concerns about the crippled Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant. Weary from a 14-hour journey, the families and 18 pets filed into a hangar converted into a welcome center. Representatives from all four branches of the military and Red Cross volunteers were on hand to give them food and water and help get them to their final destinations around the country.

CNN: Dozens killed in Myanmar earthquake
The death toll from a powerful earthquake that hit Myanmar has gone up to 65, state media reported Friday. At least 111 people were injured by the powerful quake, Myanmar Radio reported. The 6.8-magnitude earthquake hit Myanmar on Thursday near its borders with China, Thailand and Laos, the U.S. Geological Survey said. It was a relatively shallow quake, which can be very destructive.

CNN: As unrest spreads, Syrian government promises to respond
Tensions boiled in a volatile Syrian community Thursday as thousands turned up for the funerals of people killed in unrest. Meanwhile, Syria’s government blamed the instability on outsiders and announced plans to study popular demands, including the lifting of the country’s decades-old emergency law. Syria is the latest in a string of Arabic-speaking nations beset with discontent over economic and human rights issues. Syrian discontent centers on Daraa, a southern city in the impoverished country’s agricultural region, where violence has been escalating between security forces and anti-government protesters since late last week. Wissam Tarif, executive director of the human rights organization Insan, said at least 34 people have been killed in Daraa in the past two days. Other activists believe many more have been killed.

BBC: Yemen security forces brace for mass protest
Security forces in Yemen’s capital Sanaa are gathering in force ahead of what anti-government protesters say will be their biggest rally yet. The protesters are demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled since 1978. The protests have been marked by increasing violence, with some 50 people shot dead last Friday in Sanaa. Mr Saleh has offered to step down within a year but the opposition insists he must go immediately. They also want constitutional changes, the resignation of the government and the dissolution of the internal security services.

Wall Street Journal: Bahrain’s Foreign Police Add to Tensions
Bahrain’s ruling family is moving to shore up its security forces with more recruits from Pakistan, in a move that risks further stoking nationalist and sectarian tensions in the Persian Gulf state. The Al Khalifa family, Sunni Muslims who rule over a Shiite-majority population, have long relied on recruits from Sunni-majority countries such as Pakistan, Jordan and Yemen to fill the ranks of their police forces. As antigovernment protests have flared in Bahrain, culminating in a violent crackdown last week, the monarchy has turned again to Pakistan military-linked foundations to find recruits for its security forces.

BUSINESS
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CNNMoney: Postal Service: 7,500 workers, $ 20,000 buyouts
The Postal Service is offering a $ 20,000 buyout to thousands of veteran workers as part of its bid to eliminate 7,500 administrative jobs, the agency announced Thursday. The struggling agency also announced plans to shutter seven district offices. The seven offices that are closing are Columbus, South East Michigan, Northern Illinois, South East New England, South Georgia, Big Sky and Albuquerque. There are 421 jobs spread across the seven offices, a postal service spokeswoman said. Eligible administrative employees will be offered the buyout package – letter carriers and other union workers are not eligible.

McClatchyDC: Five-day mail service wouldn’t save much money after all
The decision whether to cut back U.S. mail delivery to five from six days a week was complicated Thursday by a report that suggested the U.S. Postal Service had overstated the savings to be gained by the change. The U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission on Thursday said it found only $ 1.7 billion in savings, compared to the Postal Service’s estimate of $ 3.1 billion. The commission also warned that the Postal Service had underestimated by as much as $ 386 million annually the loss of revenue that could come by dropping Saturday delivery. The Postal Service, which anticipates operating at a $ 238 billion cumulative loss over the next decade, said last year it would pursue a five-day delivery schedule as soon as this year to cut costs. Congress currently mandates six-day delivery and would have to approve any changes.

New York Times: G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether
General Electric, the nation’s largest corporation, had a very good year in 2010. The company reported worldwide profits of $ 14.2 billion, and said $ 5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States. Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $ 3.2 billion. That may be hard to fathom for the millions of American business owners and households now preparing their own returns, but low taxes are nothing new for G.E. The company has been cutting the percentage of its American profits paid to the Internal Revenue Service for years, resulting in a far lower rate than at most multinational companies.

In Case You Missed It

NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen tells CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about the NATO agreement on command in Libya.
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2011/03/24/exp.tsr.blitzer.Rasmussen.cnn

Subscribe to the CNN=Politics DAILY podcast at http://www.cnn.com/politicalpodcast

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CNN Political Ticker

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CNN: Libya questions swirl as Obama comes home
President Barack Obama is returning home to a firestorm of criticism over his handling of the crisis in Libya and mounting calls for a clearer explanation of U.S. policy in the war-torn North African nation. The president, who just wrapped up a five-day trip to Latin America, has insisted that the goal of the U.N.-sanctioned military mission is strictly to prevent a humanitarian crisis. Specifically, the mission is meant to prevent a slaughter of Libyan rebels and other civilians by forces loyal to strongman Moammar Gadhafi. Obama, however, has also said the administration’s ultimate objective is Gadhafi’s removal from power. U.S. officials have indicated they hope the dictator will be removed quickly by forces currently loyal to him, though they haven’t publicly called for a coup.

CNN: Boehner challenges Obama on Libya military mission
House Speaker John Boehner complained Wednesday of “limited, sometimes contradictory” information so far from the Obama administration on the U.S.-led military mission in Libya and asked for the president to provide “a clear and robust assessment.” In a letter to President Barack Obama, Boehner, R-Ohio, said that he and other House members were troubled that the president committed U.S. military resources to war “without clearly defining for the American people, the Congress and our troops what the mission in Libya is and what America’s role is in achieving that mission.” “In fact, the limited, sometimes contradictory, case made to the American people by members of your administration has left some fundamental questions about our engagement unanswered,” Boehner’s letter said, adding that there seemed to be greater consultation with “foreign entities such as the United Nations and the Arab League.”

The Hill: Pelosi: Libya mission ‘strengthened’ by continued consultations with Congress
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday reiterated her support for the U.S. military intervention on Libya while saying American participation “is strengthened by the president’s continued consultation with Congress.” Her comments come amid increasing complaints from lawmakers that the Obama administration has kept Congress out of the loop during the early military campaign. A Pelosi ally, House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.), has been critical of the mission and said “the full Congress should have been more informed and involved in this decision.”

CNN: Obama administration tells Hill aides U.S. ‘not at war’ with Libya
As coalition planes cleared ground threats to support a no fly zone over Libya, the Obama administration briefed a bipartisan group of congressional aides Tuesday on the mission. According to one official who attended the briefing in the Capitol Visitors Center Auditorium, the panel (recently removed Ambassador to Libya, two military, two intelligence and one treasury official) made clear that the U.S. is “not at war” with Libya. During the question and answer session where 17 or 18 questions were asked, the official described “deep skepticism from both sides of the aisle, both sides of the capitol.” The official said that concerns about the mission were expressed and that while some spoke of support for “what the president is doing,” they were seeking guidance on how to answer their constituents when they ask “what’s next.”

Politico: Biden warns Dems may lose Senate
Vice President Biden is warning supporters that Democrats are in danger of losing the Senate, and that the party is facing “the toughest electoral climate we’ve seen in a long time.” In an e-mail from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on Tuesday, more than nine months before 2012 even begins, Biden wrote that “the stakes are highest” and that Democrats will be defending 23 seats in the next election, including five open ones. “Republicans only need to pick up four to take control of the Senate,” Biden wrote. “To succeed, we need a Senate that’s working with us.”

CNN: Rep. Flake meets dead end on immigration reform
GOP Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake is reversing his position on immigration, according to a report in The Arizona Republic. The six-term Congressman, who was a staunch proponent of broad immigration reform including a pathway to citizenship, has had a change of heart. “In the past I have supported a broad approach to immigration reform – increased border security coupled with a temporary worker program. I no longer do. I’ve been down that road, and it is a dead end,” Flake is expected to announce in a statement on his website, according to the article.

CNN: Maine governor orders labor mural takedown
Maine Gov. Paul LePage ordered a 36-foot mural depicting the state’s labor history be removed from the lobby of the Department of Labor headquarters building in Augusta, Maine, according to LePage’s office. The plan put forth by the Republican’s administration also includes renaming several department conference rooms that carry names of pro-labor icons. LePage press secretary Adrienne Bennett said discussions about the mural began months ago. After they received phone calls in opposition to the mural, his administration concluded the art showed favoritism toward a certain group.

Politico: State parties cash in on 2012 GOP race
It turns out there’s a Republican constituency that isn’t at all bothered by the large and uncertain field of prospective 2012 candidates: the state parties themselves. For them, the frontrunner-free race is proving to be a cash cow, thanks to windfall fundraisers headlined by potential challengers to President Barack Obama. It’s the easiest kind of political transaction, one that can deliver as much as a six-figure return and almost no political downside risk. Candidates are happy to increase their visibility and introduce themselves to the rank-and-file. Cash-strapped state parties are eager to replenish their coffers with ticket revenues from high-demand events featuring top national politicians in the flesh.

CNN: Trump again questions Obama’s birthplace
Real estate mogul Donald Trump called on President Barack Obama Wednesday to produce his birth certificate and prove he was born in the United States. “I want him to show his birth certificate. I want him to show his birth certificate,” Trump said on ABC’s “The View.” “There’s something on that birth certificate that he doesn’t like.” The potential 2012 presidential candidate said Obama was “probably” born in the U.S., but repeated questions he raised last week about the president’s childhood.

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CNN: More U.S. states find traces of radiation from Japan
Colorado and Oregon have joined several other Western states in reporting trace amounts of radioactive particles that have likely drifted about 5,000 miles from a quake and tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant in Japan, officials say. But, on a portion of its website dedicated to tracking such radiation, the Environmental Protection Agency noted Wednesday that these and other readings “show typical fluctuation in background radiation levels” and – thus far – “are far below levels of concern.”

CNN: Soldier pleads guilty in Afghan killing case
“The plan was to kill people.” That’s what Army Spc. Jeremy Morlock said Wednesday moments after he pleaded guilty at a court-martial proceeding to killing Afghan civilians in 2010. Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks, the military judge in the case, had asked Morlock if he and fellow soldiers just meant to scare civilians with grenades and gunfire and it “got out of hand.” Morlock, 22, and four other soldiers who face murder charges are accused of killing Afghan citizens for sport. Seven more soldiers are accused of helping cover up the killings.

CNN: Weekend Gulf oil spill traced to Houston firm
Testing on oil samples recovered from the Gulf of Mexico near Grand Isle, Louisiana, shows the material came from a defunct well owned by a Houston company, according to a spokeswoman for the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The oil that began washing up in Grand Isle on Sunday was one of three reports the agency received of possible oil contamination of the Gulf over the weekend, said Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Chris O’Neil.

CNN: 2 planes land at Washington airport without controller help
Two planes landed safely early Wednesday morning at Washington’s Reagan National Airport after they were unable to reach anyone at the airport’s air traffic control tower, according to the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board. The FAA would not comment on a media report that the airport controller had fallen asleep. NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said, “All we know is the controller was unresponsive and we want to know why.” The situation began at 12:10 a.m. Wednesday when an American Airlines plane attempted to call the tower to get clearance to land and got no answer, Knudson said. The plane had been in contact with a regional air traffic control facility, and a controller at that facility advised the pilot that he, too had been unable to contact anyone at the tower, according to a recording of air control traffic at the website liveatc.net.

CNN: Elizabeth Taylor dead at 79
Elizabeth Taylor, the legendary actress famed for her beauty, her jet-set lifestyle, her charitable endeavors and her many marriages, has died, her publicist told CNN Wednesday. She was 79. Taylor died “peacefully today in Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles,” said a statement from her publicist. She was hospitalized six weeks ago with congestive heart failure, “a condition with which she had struggled for many years. Though she had recently suffered a number of complications, her condition had stabilized and it was hoped that she would be able to return home. Sadly, this was not to be.”

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CNN: Coalition airstrikes enter 6th day as critics question effort’s future
Coalition forces hit Libya for a sixth day early Thursday amid questions over the future of the international involvement in the effort to halt civilian attacks by the nation’s forces. So far, the coalition has crippled the Libyan air force and established a no-fly zone along the nation’s coastline, U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Gerard Hueber said. Allied forces gave no indication that ruler Moammar Gadhafi was complying with a United Nations mandate to stop attacks against civilians. But a U.S. official said though the rebels are in a better position, the ruler’s forces still have the upper edge.

CNN: Gadhafi’s aides in touch with U.S. but unclear on intentions
Members of Moammar Gadhafi’s inner circle are contacting other Arab states and the United States, but have been unclear about their intentions, senior U.S. officials said. In an interview on Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised the prospect that Gadhafi and his inner circle were exploring their options, including seeking a way to leave Libya to escape a sustained bombing campaign by U.S.-led forces. “We’ve heard about other people close to him reaching out to people that they know around the world,” Clinton told ABC News. She described the communications as the Libyans exploring options and asking “What do we do?” “How do we get out of this?” “What happens next?”

CNN: Smoke stops, work resumes at troubled Japanese nuclear plant
One day after black smoke prompted an evacuation, workers returned Thursday to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant – employing myriad methods at the troubled facility to try and prevent more radiation from seeping into the atmosphere. After several days of setbacks and billowing smoke, authorities talked Thursday mostly about progress in tackling issues at each of the facility’s six reactors. “We are working to resume (operations),” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said. “We cannot be too optimistic, and we are still taking cautious measures.”

CNN: Tokyo babies to get bottled water as radiation fears grow
As the death toll from this month’s quake and tsunami neared 10,000, concerns emerged over the health of babies after elevated radiation levels in Tokyo’s tap water extended the nuclear plant crisis into the capital. At least 9,523 were confirmed dead by early Thursday as a result of the March 11 disaster, with 16,067 more missing and 2,755 injured, the National Police Agency said. Concerns rose as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant continues to deal with the effects of the quake and tsunami waters. Government authorities, soldiers, Tokyo Electric Power Co. workers and firefighters from Tokyo and Yokohama resumed work Thursday – a day after they were evacuated – to try to prevent the further release of radioactive material.

CNN: 15 killed in clashes between protesters, security forces in Syria
Escalating violence between Syrian security forces and anti-government protesters claimed 15 people Wednesday in the city of Daraa, witnesses and rights activists said. Syrian state television reported the government fired the governor of Daraa province, a flash point of anti-government protests. There was no breakdown on the casualties. According to activists and witnesses, seven people died shortly after dawn prayers near al Omari mosque. Security personnel tried to storm the area where protesters took positions to demand government reforms, an opposition spokesman said. Later, about 3,000 protesters from neighboring towns gathered outside Daraa and clashed with an army unit known for its loyalty to President Bashar al-Assad, activists and witnesses said.

CNN: Yemen’s leader says he will accept transition plan
Yemen’s embattled president has accepted opposition demands for constitutional reforms and holding parliamentary elections by the end of the year, according to a statement issued by his office. The statement said President Ali Abdullah Saleh was “committed to undertaking all possible initiatives to reach a settlement” with the opposition JMP bloc and “prevent any future bloodshed of the Yemeni people.” According to the statement, Saleh “has accepted the five points submitted by the JMP, including formation of a government of national unity and a national committee to draft a new constitution, drafting a new electoral law, and holding a constitutional referendum, parliamentary elections and a presidential vote by the end of the year.

CNN: Six die in latest Iraq violence
At least six Iraqis were killed and 11 others were wounded in violence Wednesday, Interior Ministry officials told CNN. In Zafaraniya district in southeastern Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded on a busy road, killing a civilian and wounding seven others. Wisam Karim, an employee at the Public Works Ministry, was shot dead by gunmen in Sadr city in eastern Baghdad. The attackers used pistols equipped with silencers, authorities said.

CNN: Suicide attack kills 5 and injures 36 in northwest Pakistan
A suicide bomber killed five people and injured 36 in Pakistan’s northwest on Thursday, police said. Four civilians and a policeman died in the attack, Abdul Rasheed Khan, police chief of the Hangu district in restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said. Among the injured were eleven policemen. The explosion occurred when a suicide bomber in a car detonated explosives at a barrier next to a police station in the village of Doaba, according to Khan. Eight houses near the police station were damaged by the blast, he said.

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CNNMoney: Toyota tells U.S. plants ‘prepare to shut down’
Toyota’s U.S. manufacturing arm is preparing for a possible shutdown because of parts shortages from Japan, a Toyota spokesman said. Word has gone out to all 13 of Toyota’s factories in the United States, Canada and Mexico. This does not mean that the plants will stop working, Toyota spokesman Mike Goss said, but that they should be ready in case the need arises. “We expect some kind of interruptions,” he said. While Toyota’s car factories in Japan have stopped working since the March 11 earthquake in Japan, the automaker was able to resume production of some auto parts on March 17. Toyota employs 25,000 manufacturing and R&D workers in North America.

In Case You Missed It

CNN’s Elise Labott reports Libya’s foreign minister has reached out to the State Department and other Arab world leaders.
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2011/03/23/exp.nr.elise.labott.gadhafi.circle.cnn

Subscribe to the CNN=Politics DAILY podcast at http://www.cnn.com/politicalpodcast

And now stay posted on the latest from the campaign trail by downloading the CNN=Politics SCREENSAVER at http://www.CNN.com/situationroom


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CNN: Obama hopes resurgent Libyan opposition can topple Gadhafi
President Barack Obama on Tuesday expressed hope that Libya’s opposition movement, given new protection by a U.S.-led military mission, can organize itself to revive broad enthusiasm for political change and oust Moammar Gadhafi from power. In a 13-minute interview with CNN’s Spanish-language network, Obama said the immediate goal of the U.N.-sanctioned military mission that began Saturday was to prevent an onslaught of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi by Gadhafi’s military. “Because the international community rallied, his troops have now pulled back from Benghazi,” Obama said.

CNN: Santorum: Obama ‘missed an opportunity’ in Libya
Former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania on Tuesday criticized President Obama’s approach to the ongoing situation in Libya. Appearing on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight,” the potential 2012 candidate said Obama has been “disengaged” and should have acted earlier to institute a no-fly zone in the African country. “The president hesitated, not even hesitated, he did nothing. He sort of sat back, made no comment,” Santorum said. “He really missed an opportunity to be a positive force.”

CNN: Obama playing defense over Libya
In the end, President Barack Obama apparently decided that photos of himself touring historic remnants of a collapsed society might not be the best image for a commander in chief fending off charges even from Democrats that his Libya policy is in shambles. The controversy over the decision to use U.S. military force has gotten so intense that at a news conference here Tuesday, Obama calmly pushed back at his critics by declaring the effort to stem the humanitarian crisis in Libya has paid important dividends by avoiding a massacre of civilians. “We have already saved lives,” Obama said at a joint news conference here with President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador.

CNN: Brown breaks with party on Planned Parenthood debate
Republican Sen. Scott Brown said Tuesday he disagrees with the Republican House effort to cut off support for Planned Parenthood as part of the ongoing budget negotiations. “I support family planning and health services for women. Given our severe budget problems, I don’t believe any area of the budget is completely immune from cuts,” the Massachusetts senator said in a statement. “However, the proposal to eliminate all funding for family planning goes too far. As we continue with our budget negotiations, I hope we can find a compromise that is reasonable and appropriate.”

CNN: Dems ‘drive’ for GOP seats
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is pressing forward with its “Drive to 25" campaign to win 25 House seats in 2012. Tuesday the DCCC announced the release of newspaper ads, e-mail, and recorded phone call initiatives that hit House Republicans on Budget Chair Paul Ryan’s aim to include cuts to entitlement programs in the budget coming from the majority party. The ad isolates ten House districts including Ryan, eight freshmen congressmen including Tea Party darlings Allen West of Florida as well as Wisconsin’s Sean Duffy, and 21-term veteran Bill Young of Florida. The DCCC did not respond to requests on how large their ad buy is.

CNN: Gov. Jerry Brown tells California voters to ‘make the hard choice’
Democratic California Governor Jerry Brown is calling for a special election on July 7th, where voters will decide between tax extensions or to double up on cuts in state services, in an effort to combat budget woes plaguing the state. Brown highlights California’s budget quandary in a YouTube video, where he places responsibility in the hands of California voters. “In order to really put our books in balance we need to make drastic cuts” Brown said, adding that, “I don’t want to do that, and I don’t think it should be done to you without your voice,” Brown said.

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CNN: Soldier accused of killing Afghan citizens to stand trial
The trial of a soldier accused of killing Afghan citizens for sport is scheduled to begin Wednesday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. Spc. Jeremy Morlock is charged with three counts of murder. He is accused of killing one Afghan civilian in January 2010 with a grenade and rifle; killing another in May 2010 in a similar manner; and shooting a third to death in February 2010. Morlock is one of two U.S. soldiers who are scheduled to be tried at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Pfc. Andrew Holmes, is also facing charges in the case but a start date for his court martial has not been publicly announced.

Los Angeles Times: Report faults Army in 2001 anthrax mailings
The Army scientist believed responsible for the 2001 anthrax letter attacks that killed five people and crippled mail delivery in parts of the country had exhibited alarming mental problems that military officials should have noticed and acted on long before he had a chance to strike, a panel of behavioral analysts has found. The anthrax attacks, the nation’s worst bioterrorism event, “could have been anticipated — and prevented,” the panel said. The analysts also concluded that confidential records documenting Bruce E. Ivins’ psychiatric history offered “considerable additional circumstantial evidence” that he was indeed the anthrax killer. A copy of the panel’s 285-page report was obtained by The Times.

Arizona Republic: Birthright citizenship ban could hamper U.S. military recruiting
Hundreds of thousands of children born to illegal immigrants every year would no longer be eligible to join the military if efforts to restrict birthright citizenship are successful. That has some immigration experts concerned that ending birthright citizenship could exacerbate chronic shortages of U.S. troops and hamper national security in the future. “What happens is, if you take all these people out of the (recruiting) pool, it’s going to have a huge impact on the military,” said Margaret Stock, a retired Army Reserves lieutenant colonel and immigration attorney in Anchorage, Alaska. She specializes in military cases and has testified before Congress on immigration issues related to the military.

Wall Street Journal: Public Employees Rush to Retire
Public employees are retiring at a quickening pace around the U.S., providing a mixed blessing for state and local governments seeking to save money. The retirements mean employers can shelve some planned layoffs. And some of the departing workers, generally more senior and higher paid, are being replaced by lower-paid employees with less-generous retirement benefits, government officials say. But the loss of veterans threatens to erode the quality of public services that make communities attractive, they say. The exodus of public employees is an unintended consequence of states’ financial struggles. Some workers have been required to take unpaid furlough days, and many fear they’ll lose benefits at the center of political battles.

Washington Post: FBI probing package with explosives left at Detroit federal building for 3 weeks
The FBI is investigating a suspicious package containing explosives left unattended by security guards for three weeks inside a 26-story federal building in Detroit, according to law enforcement officials. The package, containing “explosive components,” is at the FBI crime lab in Quantico for further testing as a federal investigation continues, according to FBI Special Agent Sandra Berchtol. …A law enforcement source said a private security guard brought the suspicious package into the building, where it remained, unopened and unscreened, for about three weeks. The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said guards thought the package might have belonged to someone on a construction crew working outside the building.

CNN: Report: Fewer U.S. high schools are ‘dropout factories’
Some of the worst high schools in the United States are getting better, according to a study released Tuesday. Quoting numbers from the Department of Education, the report says that the number of “dropout factories” or high schools that graduated 60% or fewer of their students in four years, decreased by 112 between 2008 and 2009. That still leaves more than 1,600 schools in the nation meeting “dropout factory” criteria, according to the “Building a Grad Nation” report, but it states, “it is noteworthy that urban and rural schools that had proven to be the most challenging to reform are showing, at least in some locales, signs of forward movement.”

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CNN: U.S. aviators rescued; Gadhafi remains defiant
As Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi crowed, “I do not scare,” the United States Tuesday got back two crew members whose F-15E fighter jet malfunctioned and said it will be able to hand over command of the coalition that has hammered loyalist military positions over four days. Meanwhile, fighting raged in Misrata, east of the capital, where a witness claimed Gadhafi has placed snipers on the tops of buildings. Also Tuesday, the commander of U.S. Naval forces in Europe and Africa said multinational air strikes would continue until Gadhafi complies with a United Nations mandate to stop attacking civilians.

CNN: Questions over next steps strain a coalition barely formed
With the no-fly zone now in place in the skies over parts of Libya, the hastily-assembled coalition of nations enforcing it is straining under decisions about next steps, and who should be in the lead. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama called French President Nicolas Sarkozy to review the situation in Libya, with the White House reporting they “agreed on the means of using NATO’s command structures to support the coalition” but giving no immediate details. Obama also spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron, according to a Downing Street spokesman who said the two leaders agreed “that NATO should play a key role in the command structure going forward, and that these arrangements now needed to be finalized.”

CNN: Vegetables near stricken plant test high for radiation
Japan’s Health Ministry reported Tuesday finding radioactive materials at levels “drastically exceeding legal limits” in 11 types of vegetable grown in Fukushima Prefecture, including broccoli and cabbage, according to Kyodo News Agency. None of the vegetables has been shipped since Monday, it said. The news agency, citing the ministry, said, “If a person eats 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) of the vegetable with the largest detected amount of radioactive materials for about 10 days, it would be equal to ingesting half the amount of radiation a person typically receives from the natural environment in a year.

CNN: FDA: Some foods from four Japanese prefectures can’t enter U.S.
In the wake of Japan’s nuclear disaster, all milk, milk products, fresh vegetables and fruit from one of four prefectures closest to the quake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant will be prevented from entering the United States, a spokesperson for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday. All other food products produced or manufactured in one of those prefectures – Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma – will be diverted for testing, the spokesperson said. Food products from other parts of Japan will be tested as resources allow, but the FDA’s main focus is food from these four areas, the spokesperson said.

CNN: Tests detect radiation above limits for infants in Tokyo water
As workers continued efforts to cool down fuel rods at the quake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant Wednesday, Tokyo government officials advised residents to stop giving tap water to infants after tests detected higher levels of radioactive iodine. Tests found iodine levels exceeding government standards for infants at a purification plant supplying Tokyo and some surrounding cities, officials said.

CNN: Groups report gunfire, explosion at mosque in southern Syria
Violence flared in the southern city of Daraa as Syrian security forces opened fire into a crowd of demonstrators in front of mosque early Wednesday, witnesses said. Reports from human rights and advocacy groups said up to six people were killed and a number of others wounded in the incident. An eyewitness who did not want his named used for safety reasons said security forces shot into the crowd in front of the Al Omari Mosque before daybreak. He also said he heard an explosion. Syrian state TV, however, said armed groups had attacked security forces, killing a doctor, a medical assistant and an ambulance driver.

CNN: Castro says he resigned as Communist Party chief 5 years ago
Former Cuban President Fidel Castro said Tuesday he resigned as the head of the Communist Party five years ago and has never tried to resume the post – one that he was thought to still hold. It was the first time that the 84-year-old leader of Cuba’s revolution stated so directly that he no longer heads up the party he founded. “Without hesitation, I resigned all of my state and political positions, including that of the First Secretary of the Party, when I fell ill and I never tried to exercise them again after the proclamation of July 31, 2006,” he wrote in an essay published in Cuban state media.

BUSINESS
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CNN: Egyptian stock market to open after nearly 2-month break
The Egyptian stock market is scheduled to resume trading Wednesday after being closed for nearly two months. Mohamed Abd el Salam, who is the chairman of Ministry for Clearing and Settlement, will serve as chairman of the exchange for 6 months, a government statement said this week. The markets have been closed since January 27. A political uprising that began two days earlier resulted in the eventual overthrow of then-President Hosni Mubarak. On Saturday, Egyptian voters overwhelmingly approved proposed constitutional amendments that pave the way for parliamentary elections in June.

http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/03/23/egypt.stock.market/index.html

In Case You Missed It

Dana Bash looks at the political and budgetary costs of a no fly zone in Libya.

http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/politics/2011/03/22/bash.cost.nofly.zone.cnn

Subscribe to the CNN=Politics DAILY podcast at http://www.cnn.com/politicalpodcast

And now stay posted on the latest from the campaign trail by downloading the CNN=Politics SCREENSAVER at http://www.CNN.com/situationroom


CNN Political Ticker

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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.

WASHINGTON/POLITICAL
For the latest political news: www.CNNPolitics.com

CNN: Obama walks fine line on Gadhafi’s future
President Barack Obama repeated Monday that Moammar Gadhafi “needs to go,” but he acknowledged the Libyan dictator may remain in power for some time because the allied military mission in North Africa has a more narrow mandate of just protecting innocent civilians. “Our military action is in support of an international mandate from the Security Council that specifically focuses on the humanitarian threat posed by Colonel Gadhafi’s people,” Obama said at a news conference here. Obama alluded to the fact that U.N. Resolution 1973 passed on Thursday restricts the U.S. and its allies from seeking regime change and directly ousting Gadhafi from power. But, he noted, “Now, I also have stated that it is U.S. policy that Gadhafi needs to go.”

CNN: Bipartisanship in Congress – Obama’s Libya policy brings out critics on both sides
The military operation in Libya is resulting in something unusual in Congress these days: a bipartisan response of sharp criticism coming from both parties. On the left, President Barack Obama’s fellow Democrats, including Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-District of Columbia, say the president is “stirring up a lot of controversy.” “We’re not coordinating with the rebels. Are we going to leave them surrounded, and with the mercy of Gadhafi? I’ve never seen anything so confused in my life,” Norton told CNN.

CNN: Top Republican amps up Libya criticism
The ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday criticized the mission underway in Libya saying “there are no guidelines for success.” In an interview set to air Monday on CNN’s “John King, USA,” Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana said the operation has not been clearly defined. “I do not understand the mission because as far as I can tell in the United States there is no mission and there are no guidelines for success,” Lugar told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King. “That may well be true with our allies although conceivably they may have other missions in mind and simply try to get Security Council clearance to proceed.”

CNN: Kucinich says Obama is committing ‘impeachable offense’
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the seven-term liberal Democrat from Ohio who has twice run for the White House, says President Obama committed an “impeachable offense” in deciding to authorize U.S. airstrikes over Libya Saturday without the consent of Congress. “President Obama moved forward without Congress approving. He didn’t have Congressional authorization, he has gone against the Constitution, and that’s got to be said,” Kucinich told the web site Raw Story on Monday. “It’s not even disputable, this isn’t even a close question.” “Such an action – that involves putting America’s service men and women into harm’s way, whether they’re in the Air Force or the Navy – is a grave decision that cannot be made by the president alone,” the Cleveland-area congressman added.

CNN: Pawlenty enters presidential sweepstakes
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty Monday became the first major Republican candidate to form a presidential exploratory committee – a step that allows him to officially start raising funds for a campaign and to take concrete steps towards mounting a run for the GOP nomination next year. In a highly produced video posted on his Facebook page that contained images of himself as well as patriotic symbols, Pawlenty said he had seen the effect of job loss personally during his youth and referenced some of the economic hardships his state and others have faced more recently. “Over the last year I have travelled to nearly every state in the country almost every state, and I know many Americans are feeling that way today. I know that feeling. I’ve lived it, but there is a brighter future for America,” he said in the video.

CNN: Alaska GOP lawmaker seeks to curb collective bargaining rights
The growing push to restrict the collective bargaining rights of government employees has reached the far-flung state of Alaska. There, a Republican state lawmaker has introduced legislation that would strip many public employees of the right to collectively bargain for hours, benefits and working conditions. State employees could still collectively bargain for wages under the legislation. The bill exempts firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians, who, according to Title 40 of the Alaska Statutes, are prohibited from going on strike.

CNN: McCaskill repays nearly $ 300,000 for unpaid taxes on plane
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, acknowledged Monday that she failed to pay nearly $ 300,000 in personal property taxes owed over the last four years for the partial ownership she and her husband have in a private plane. McCaskill, a vocal supporter of reform and transparency in the Senate, described the failure to pay taxes as unintentional and said she will sell the plane. “I take full responsibility for the mistake,” she said in a conference call with reporters.

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CNN: Mental tests ordered for Arizona shooting suspect
A judge has ordered Jared Lee Loughner to undergo a mental evaluation at a specialized facility in Springfield, Missouri, as soon as possible to help determine if he is competent to stand trial, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tucson, Arizona. Loughner, an Arizona man, faces 49 counts – including murder and attempted murder – related to the January 8 mass shooting in a grocery store parking lot. Six people were killed in the shooting and 13 others were wounded, including Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

New Orleans Times-Picayune: Source of 30-mile oil spill in Gulf puzzles officials
Emulsified oil, oil mousse and tar balls from an unknown source were washing up on beaches from Grand Isle to West Timbalier Island along the Gulf of Mexico, a stretch of about 30 miles, and it was still heading west Monday afternoon, a Louisiana official said. The state is testing the material to see if it matches oil from last April’s BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. Oil spill response workers under the direction of the U.S. Coast Guard and state officials were scrambling to block more of the material from coming ashore. ES&H Corp. has been hired to oversee the cleanup. “We are working with our state and local partners to mitigate any further environmental impact while continuing to facilitate the safe movement of marine traffic to the fullest extent possible,” Capt. Jonathan Burton, the federal on-scene coordinator for the response, said in a news release late Monday.

INTERNATIONAL
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CNN: U.S. says Gadhafi’s drive halted, but future of Libyan mission unclear
An international mission to weaken the force of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has stopped the ruler’s momentum, a U.S. official said. But criticism and questions about the operation persist, with no clear answer on who will take over command of the military operation and what the end game will be. Missiles and anti-aircraft fire pierced through the sky in Tripoli before dawn Tuesday – the fourth day of Operation Odyssey Dawn, the multinational effort to protect civilians from attack by pro-Gadhafi forces. The United States fired 20 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libya in the past 12 hours, a military spokeswoman said early Tuesday morning. A total of 159 Tomahawks have been fired by the United States and the United Kingdom since the mission – called Operation Odyssey Dawn – began Saturday.

CNN: Putin and Medvedev spar over Libya
In a rare public spat, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev criticized his political mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, for Putin’s comments over the use of force against Libya. It all started Monday, when Putin visited the town of Votkinsk, where a large defense plant that produces missiles (including nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles) is located. Criticizing the United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing a no-fly zone over Libya and military action to back it up, Putin called it “obviously incomplete and flawed.” …On Thursday, acting on instructions from Medvedev, Russia abstained from the U.N. Security Council resolution imposing a no-fly zone over Libya but did not veto it, something that Putin obviously thought should have happened.

Wall Street Journal: After Flood, Deaths Overpower Ritual
Improvised morgues across tsunami-ravaged northeastern Japan are overwhelmed by an accumulation of the dead, forcing Japanese to consider a practice that hasn’t been widespread for decades: burial. Nowhere, perhaps, is Japan’s vein of conformity as apparent as it is in death: 99.9% of Japanese who passed away in fiscal 2009 were cremated, according to the country’s health ministry. But the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that shook Japan’s people, its industries and its environment have also eroded the certainty of how many thousands of Japanese will be laid to rest. In the worst-hit areas, local crematoriums can’t incinerate the deceased fast enough to keep up with new arrivals. There isn’t enough kerosene to burn the bodies, or dry ice to preserve them. As the government’s official toll of the dead and missing has exceeded 21,000 people, governments of coastal villages are running out of time.

CNN: Smoke spews from 2 reactors at stricken Japanese nuclear plant
What appeared to be smoke was rising Tuesday from two adjacent reactors in the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a nuclear safety official said. Smoke spewed Monday from the same reactors, setbacks that came despite fervent efforts to prevent the further release of radioactive materials at the stricken facility. Hidehiko Nishiyama, an official with Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said smoke was rising from the plant’s No. 2 and No. 3 reactors. It was not immediately clear why.

CNN: U.S. military considering mandatory evacuations in Yokosuka
The U.S. military is considering the mandatory evacuation of thousands of American troops and their families in Japan out of concern over rising radiation levels, a senior defense official tells CNN. The official, who did not want to be on the record talking about ongoing deliberations, says there are no discussions to evacuate all U.S. troops across the country. The talks have focused exclusively on U.S. troops in Yokosuka, just south of Tokyo, the official said. Yokosuka is home to America’s largest naval base in Japan. The military is monitoring radiation levels on a constant basis.

CNN: Yemen leader, top general discuss transition of power
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and a top military general are discussing a deal for a peaceful transition of power that would allow Saleh to stay in place for the rest of the year, a Yemeni official and senior U.S. official said Monday. The discussions come amid cracks in support for Saleh’s 32-year rule after weeks of anti-government protests. Three top generals declared their support for the protests Monday, including Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, the man now discussing the deal with Saleh. Al-Ahmar, who belongs to an important tribe whose backing is significant for Saleh, also said he will order his troops to protect civilians demonstrating against the president.

BBC: Karzai to name areas for pullout of Nato troops
Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai is due to name five or six areas of the country which will pass from control by foreign troops into Afghan hands. The areas could account for about a fifth of the Afghan population. One of the cities expected to be handed over is Lashkar Gah, the capital of the troubled Helmand province. The handover is seen as a critical step in a transition of power, taking place before foreign troops end combat operations at the end of 2014. Despite rising casualty numbers, the surge of extra American troops and tens of thousands of new Afghan police and soldiers has improved security in a number of areas in the country.

BUSINESS
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USA Today: AT&T bid sparks fear of higher prices for T-Mobile customers
AT&T’s (T) agreement to buy T-Mobile for $ 39 billion is generating speculation that prices for wireless phone service will rise for some, as the number of big wireless providers shrinks from four to three. T-Mobile customers appear most vulnerable. The service generally charges less than AT&T does. That probably will change if the deal goes through, says Mark Beccue of ABI Research. The companies say it could take a year for the acquisition to pass muster with federal regulators and lawmakers.Yet, there’s no consensus on whether officials will agree to the deal. The Justice Department must decide whether it will make the wireless market uncompetitive, potentially resulting in higher prices and fewer choices. The Federal Communications Commission must determine whether an AT&T alliance with T-Mobile would serve the public interest.

In Case You Missed It

CNN’s Dana Bash reports many in Congress are responding with criticism and concern to U.S. action in Libya this weekend.
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/politics/2011/03/21/bash.congressional.critics.libya.cnn

Subscribe to the CNN=Politics DAILY podcast at http://www.cnn.com/politicalpodcast

And now stay posted on the latest from the campaign trail by downloading the CNN=Politics SCREENSAVER at http://www.CNN.com/situationroom


CNN Political Ticker

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WASHINGTON/POLITICAL
For the latest political news: www.CNNPolitics.com

CNN: Obama works to shore up Arab support for Libyan airstrikes
President Obama and his national security team worked behind the scenes Sunday to try to shore up support within the Arab world for the military mission in Libya, with top White House aides reaching out to officials of the Arab League to insist the bombing does not exceed the scope of a U.N. mandate, according to senior administration officials. The senior officials described the Obama team’s phone calls as making clear to the Arab League that bombing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s air defenses falls within the U.N. Security Council resolution’s scope of imposing a no-fly zone and taking “all necessary measures” to stop the dictator from attacking civilians in his own country.

CNN: Obama barely mentions Libya as Boehner demands details
As the massive bombardment of Libya continued for a second day over 5,000 miles away from here, President Barack Obama delivered a speech that did not mention any specifics about the U.S. role in the military action despite Republican demands for him to better define the mission. “We’ve seen the people of Libya take a courageous stand against a regime determined to brutalize its own citizens,” Obama said in a 25-minute address that only briefly mentioned Libya. “Across the region, we have seen young people rise up – a new generation demanding the right to determine their own future,” added Obama. “From the beginning, we have made clear that the change they seek must be driven by their own people.”

CNN: Graham: Time to ‘get rid’ of Gadhafi
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on Sunday condemned President Obama’s leadership over the situation in Libya, calling on the United States to “get rid of” Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. “We used to relish leading the free world, now it’s almost like leading the free world is an inconvenience,” Graham said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think the president has caveated this way too much, it’s almost like it’s a nuisance.” Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said this is the “best chance to get rid of Gadhafi in my life.”

CNN: McCain: Obama waited too long in Libya
Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona was critical of the president’s timetable for action in Libya, but said he is confident the American military will succeed. “He (President Obama) waited too long, there is no doubt in my mind about it. But now, it is what it is,” McCain said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” taped Friday. “We need now to support him and the efforts that our military are going to make. And I regret that it didn’t – we didn’t act much more quickly, and we could have.”

CNN: Lugar questions U.S. involvement in Libya
Senator Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, on Sunday questioned the decision by the United States to pursue military action in Libya without clearly defined objectives, and expressed concern over the role of the U.S. in Libya’s future. Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, “Where does our involvement stop? This is why, before it begins, we ought to have a plan and we ought to have outcomes defined as to why American forces, American money are going to be at stake.”

CNN: Debate on U.S. nuclear energy heats up
American officials raised their own questions about the safety of nuclear power Sunday in light of the ongoing nuclear meltdown in Japan. Democratic Representative Ed Markey of Massachusetts, a long-time critic of nuclear power, called for a moratorium on the construction of nuclear power plants in earthquake-prone regions. The situation in Japan “is calling into question the viability of nuclear power in the United States,” Markey said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “We should just be humble in the face of Mother Nature.” Going forward, Markey said Congress should make it more difficult to pass loan guarantees for new nuclear plants in the United States.

CNN: Obama charms Brazilians during two-day visit, observers say
Brazil’s cool and contentious relationship with the United States over trade and foreign policy has warmed a few degrees, analysts said Sunday, as President Barack Obama’s visit appeared to charm officials and crowds during his two-day visit to South America’s largest nation. Sustained applause echoed through Rio de Janeiro’s Municipal Theatre as Obama spoke a few words in Portuguese, made allusions to Brazilian culture and drew parallels to U.S. history. “Our journeys began in similar ways,” Obama said during the televised speech. “We became colonies claimed for distant crowns, but soon declared our independence. We welcomed waves of immigrants to our shores, and eventually cleansed the stain of slavery from our land,” he said.

CNN: Obama addresses Iran youth, not leaders, in New Year message
President Barack Obama on Sunday used his annual commemoration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, to underscore his administration’s repeated argument that the Iranian government is on the wrong side of the popular, pro-democracy movement sweeping across the region. “We all know that these movements for change are not unique to these last few months,” stated Obama in a Sunday press release. “The same forces that swept across Tahrir Square were seen in Azadi Square in June of 2009.”

CNN: Palin visits Israel as she mulls presidential run
Following in the footsteps of several other Republicans considering a presidential bid, Sarah Palin was in Jerusalem on Monday to meet with Israeli leaders. Other potential GOP candidates to visit Israel in recent months include Mitt Romney, Haley Barbour, and Mike Huckabee. Palin is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu along with other politicians during her two-day visit, the Jerusalem Post reported. “As the world confronts sweeping changes and new realities, I look forward to meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss the key issues facing his country, our ally Israel,” Palin said in a message posted on her political action committee’s website.

Roll Call: Loaning a Campaign Cash but Not Writing It Down
Members of Congress have discovered another way to err on their annual financial disclosure reports. More than a dozen Members have failed to disclose personal loans that they made to their campaigns — often omitting tens of thousands of dollars in assets from their reports in the process, a Roll Call analysis found. The review, which relied on campaign finance reports and financial disclosures filed with the House and Senate, included only current Members.

NATIONAL
For the latest national news: www.CNN.com

CNN: Hundreds protest miltary’s treatment of WikiLeaks whistleblower
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the gates of Quantico Marine Base in Virginia Sunday to protest the treatment of Bradley Manning, who is being held at the base prison on charges that he released classified government documents to the whistle-blower site WikiLeaks. Among them were Daniel Ellsberg, the 1971 Pentagon Papers leaker and Retired U.S. Army Col. Ann Wright, both of whom were arrested along with at least 31 other protesters, according to rally organizers. The 23-year-old Army private is accused of giving Wikileaks hundreds of thousands of classified military and State Department documents, and is awaiting a military decision on whether he will face a court martial.

USA Today: States rush to settle Medicaid bills
State governments are rushing to pay billions of dollars of medical bills before special federal assistance for Medicaid expires July 1. The hurry-up-and-pay effort will put an extra $ 1 billion or more into the pockets of financially struggling states — and increase the federal deficit by a similar amount. “States are paying bills as fast as they can,” says Debra Miller, health care expert at the Council of State Governments. “It’s kind of the opposite of what states traditionally do.” To beat deadlines for reduced federal aid, states are writing checks swiftly, paying off backlogs of bills and asking hospitals and doctors to send in bills as fast as they can.

INTERNATIONAL
For the latest international news: http://edition.cnn.com

CNN: Coalition targets Gadhafi compound
Airstrikes Sunday in the heart of Moammar Gadhafi’s Tripoli compound had a military objective, but also no doubt brought a message of allied resolve to the Libyan leader’s doorstep. A coalition military official confirmed to CNN that the compound was targeted because it contains capabilities to exercise command and control over Libyan forces. The coalition’s goal is to degrade Gadhafi’s military capabilities. The official, who was not identified because of the sensitivity of the information, insisted that neither Gadhafi nor his residence was the intended target. The leader’s whereabouts were not known.

CNN: Gates warns against widening Libya mission
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday the Libyan operation is off to “a strong and successful start” but he warned against widening the goals of the mission beyond what was spelled out in the United Nations Security Council resolution. He also brushed aside suggestions that there was a split inside the upper echelons of the Obama administration over whether to push forward with military action, saying there had been what he called unanimous agreement. “Whatever positions people took in that debate, and in that discussion, there was unanimous support for the approach the president had decided on,” Gates said on board the plane taking him on a previously scheduled trip to Russia. The defense secretary delayed his trip by a day just after the start of the Libyan offensive.

CNN: Workers see some success at nuclear plant as cooling efforts continue
Crews resumed spraying water at the quake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility early Monday, Kyodo News reported, one day after the Japanese government slapped restrictions on some food produced around the plant. Workers have begun to see some success in their battle to cool down the reactors, but Japanese officials said they may need to release additional radioactive gas into the air. The plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co., said electricity was being supplied to a switchboard in reactor No. 2. But officials said they were monitoring reactor No. 3 to determine whether to release gas to reduce mounting pressure in the containment vessel – the steel and concrete shell that insulates radioactive material inside.

CNN: Japan restricts milk, vegetables produced near damaged nuclear plant
Japan slapped restrictions on some food produced in two provinces around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant Sunday after high levels of radioactivity turned up in spinach and milk. However, Dr. James Cox, professor of radiation oncology at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, said the reported levels posed little or no health concerns. “The immediate risk in terms of health effects are probably nonexistent, and the long-term risk is very low,” said Cox, a CNN consultant. Nonetheless, the Japanese government has banned the sale of raw milk from Fukushima Prefecture, where the Fukushima Daiichi plant is located, and prohibited the sale of spinach from neighboring Ibaraki Prefecture after finding levels of radioactive iodine and cesium higher than government standards, the country’s Health Ministry reported. And officials in Fukushima halted the distribution of locally grown vegetables outside the prefecture.

CNN: 10 miners killed in Pakistan blast
At least 10 miners were killed by a methane gas explosion in a coal mine in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan on Sunday, a government official told CNN. Another 40 are missing, possibly dead, said Muhammad Iftikhar, the chief inspector of mines. “It is yet to be confirmed whether the remaining miners are dead or alive,” he said. “I fear that they might be dead considering the depth of the mine.”

CNN: Bahrain’s King: Foreign plot to destabilize country foiled
Bahrain has foiled a foreign plot to destabilize it, the country’s king said Sunday. King Hamad said the plot had been in the making for more than two decades – but did not name a country that he believed was trying to carry it out. Bahrain’s Sunni Muslim monarchy has long suspected Iran of attempting to foment unrest among the island’s majority-Shiite population. Relations have been tense in recent weeks as anti-government protesters have taken to the streets of Manama and Iran has condemned Bahrain’s violent crackdown.

CNN: Egyptians approve constitutional changes, clearing way for elections
Egyptian voters overwhelmingly approved proposed constitutional amendments that pave the way for parliamentary elections in June, according to the head of the judicial committee overseeing the referendum. “We are proud of the Egyptian people for deciding their own destiny,” Judge Mahmoud Atiya said Sunday. “We assure the world that the March 19 referendum was fair and transparent at all stages.” Of the 18,366,764 ballots cast Saturday, there were 14,192,577 “yes” votes and 4,174,187 “no” votes, Atiya said.

CNN: Haitians pick president amid uncertainty, turmoil
Voting in the second round of Haiti’s presidential runoff was mostly calm Sunday, although two shooting deaths were linked to election violence, according to the head of Haiti’s national police. Some irregularities and shortages of election materials were resolved and voters were given an extra hour to cast ballots, the electoral council said. A police officer was arrested in Port-de-Paix Sunday morning because he was telling people how to vote, according to Mario Andresol, the head of the national police. Andresol offered no detail on the shootings that he said were election related.

Seattle Times: Der Spiegel publishes photos of U.S. soldiers with slain Afghan
The German news organization Der Spiegel has published three photos depicting disturbing images taken by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan that the Army had sought to keep secret during prosecution of a war-crimes case at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. One shows two Afghans who appear to be dead, leaned up against a post. The other two photos show two soldiers, who are accused of killing an unarmed Afghan in January 2010, kneeling next to the body of the slain man, who is stretched out prone on the sand and grass.

BUSINESS
For the latest business news: www.CNNMoney.com

CNNMoney: Oil jumps $ 2 as Libya crisis escalates
Oil prices jumped more than $ 2 a barrel in electronic trading Sunday following escalating violence in Libya, where the military called for an immediate cease-fire after allied forces fired on Libyan defense sites. “It seems like things have stepped up and that means more uncertainty,” said Peter Beutel, an oil analyst with Cameron Hanover. “Every incident that you have expands [uncertainty].” The benchmark U.S. contract, West Texas Intermediate, for April delivery gained $ 1.95 to $ 103.02 a barrel. The more active May contract jumped $ 2.08 to $ 103.93 a barrel.

CNNMoney: Gas prices climb nearly 7 cents a gallon
Gas prices have jumped nearly seven cents a gallon over the past two weeks, reaching a level more than 75 cents higher than they were a year ago, according to a survey published Sunday. The average price for a gallon of self-serve regular is $ 3.57, the Lundberg Survey found. That’s 6.65 cents higher than the price the same survey found two weeks earlier. The latest spike suggests that the dramatic price increases are slowing down, said publisher Trilby Lundberg. Between February 18 and March 4, the survey had found an increase of about 33 cents. That hike corresponded to an increase in crude oil prices amid unrest in more than a dozen countries in the Middle East and north Africa, six of which are OPEC members, Lundberg said.

CNN: AT&T acquires T-Mobile USA in $ 39 billion deal
AT&T will acquire T-Mobile USA from telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom for an estimated $ 39 billion in cash and stocks, the companies said in a joint release Sunday. The acquisition will expand AT&T’s 4G network 1.2 million square miles and will be accessible to an additional 46.5 million Americans, the statement said. AT&T also expects to gain enough cell towers to increase its network density by 30%. “This transaction represents a major commitment to strengthen and expand critical infrastructure for our nation’s future,” AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson said in a statement.

In Case You Missed It

CNN’s Jill Dougherty reports on the crucial role Hillary Clinton plays in shaping U.S. policy on the Libyan crisis.
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2011/03/20/pkg.dougherty.libya.diplomacy.cnn

Subscribe to the CNN=Politics DAILY podcast at http://www.cnn.com/politicalpodcast

And now stay posted on the latest from the campaign trail by downloading the CNN=Politics SCREENSAVER at http://www.CNN.com/situationroom


CNN Political Ticker

Tagged with:
 

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.

WASHINGTON/POLITICAL
For the latest political news: www.CNNPolitics.com

CNN: Senate passes short-term spending bill
The Senate easily passed a spending bill Thursday to keep the government funded for three more weeks as lawmakers and the White House work to bridge their deep divide on a larger spending package that will run through September 30, the end of the fiscal year. The vote was 87 to 13. Four Democrats and nine Republicans voted against it. The House already passed the stopgap bill, which – at the insistence of Republicans – cuts $ 6 billion from current funding levels. Now it will go to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.

CNN: Report: Obama donors asked to raise $ 350,000 this year
President Barack Obama’s campaign manager on Thursday urged deep-pocketed and well-connected donors to each pledge to raise $ 350,000 this year, a sign that the president could raise upward of $ 1 billion for his re-election. The contributors were asked to raise the money during a Democratic Party meeting in the nation’s capital, according to The New York Times, which first reported the story. The donors could be asked to raise more money in 2012.

CNN: Gingrich: Obama ‘talks loudly, has no stick’
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich launched another zinger at President Obama on Thursday by channeling President Theodore Roosevelt who famously said “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” Of the president, Gingrich said “Theodore Roosevelt said you have to walk softly and carry a big stick. This is a guy who talks loudly and has no stick.” He was referencing Obama’s action, or perceived lack thereof, regarding Libya, during an interview with local affiliate WMUR that followed the possible presidential candidate’s appearance at an event in New Hampshire.

CNN: DeMint stands by Romney
Republican Sen. Jim DeMint came to the defense of Mitt Romney over the health care plan Romney passed while governor of Massachusetts. The South Carolina senator blamed the Democratic state legislature for the ultimate plan that has similarities to the current health care law, including the individual mandate that requires all residents, with some exceptions, to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty. But DeMint, who has become a national figure and Tea Party favorite, told The Hill that Romney’s attempts to make private health insurance available for everyone contributed to his decision to endorse him for president in 2008.

CNN: House rejects resolution to pull U.S. forces from Afghanistan
The House Thursday decisively rejected a resolution directing the president to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan this year, but the vote also showed a deep divide in the president’s own party on the war. The final vote tally was 321 to 93, with 85 Democrats supporting the proposal. The resolution to draw down all troops by the end of 2011, introduced by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, is not the congressman’s first effort to end U.S. involvement in the war. But this year it gained more Democratic support, as many in the party voiced their deep concern with the costly and difficult struggle.

Washington Post: Lobbyists flock to Capitol Hill jobs
A surge of lobbyists has left K Street this year to fill jobs as high-ranking staffers on Capitol Hill, focusing new attention on the dearth of rules governing what paid advocates can do after moving into the legislative world. Ethics rules sharply limit the activities of former lobbyists who join the executive branch and former lawmakers who move to lobbying firms. But experts say there are no limits on lawmakers hiring K street employees and letting them write legislation in sync with the policies they advocated for hire. New tallies indicate that nearly half of the roughly 150 former lobbyists working in top policy jobs for members of Congress or House committees have been hired in the past few months. And many are working on legislative issues of interest to their former employers.

Arizona Republic: Arizona Senate rejects 5 major immigration bills
Arizona won’t be leading a national push for the U.S. Supreme Court to strip citizenship status from children of illegal immigrants – at least not this year. The state Senate voted down a package of birthright-citizenship bills, with Republicans split over the measures and Democrats opposed. Four other significant Senate immigration measures also failed. Those bills would have banned illegal immigrants from state universities, made it a crime for illegal immigrants to drive a vehicle in Arizona, required school districts to check the legal status of students, and required hospitals to check the legal status of patients.

New York Times: Palin’s Successors (Republicans Too) Seek to Dismantle Her Energy Legacy
While every online swipe from former Gov. Sarah Palin still draws national attention and stirs fresh speculation about her political ambitions, back home she is no longer quite so imposing. Even as she casts herself as an energy expert and is quick to attack the Obama administration on oil and gas issues, the two most prominent energy policies she put in place as governor of Alaska face new challenges less than two years after she left office. Gov. Sean Parnell, Ms. Palin’s fellow Republican and former lieutenant, has announced that it is his top priority to undo parts of major oil tax increases that Ms. Palin made law.

San Francisco Chronicle: Calif. Legislature passes deep-cuts budget
The California Legislature adopted an $ 84.6 billion spending plan for the Golden State on Thursday but put off voting on two significant budget bills – one that would dismantle redevelopment agencies and another to call a special election to extend taxes. The passage of the spending plan, which includes deep cuts to programs, marked one of the earliest budget approvals for the Legislature, which last year broke a record for passing the latest budget ever.

NATIONAL
For the latest national news: www.CNN.com

Washington Post: FEMA still in ‘state of flux,’ needs to improve coordination efforts, watchdog says
With Japan reeling from a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami, a veteran government watchdog warned Thursday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency “is in a constant state of flux” and needs to do even more to coordinate with state and local officials. The agency, widely panned for its response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, also needs more personnel to handle a growing workload as state and local governments trim emergency management budgets and should upgrade its computer systems, according to Richard L. Skinner, the former inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security who authored a progress report on the agency before retiring in January.

New York Times: Disaster May Deal Blow to Tourism in Hawaii
Even before Japan was hit by an earthquake and a tsunami, Hawaii had been struggling with a budget shortfall that seemed suffocating for a state this small: close to $ 1 billion over two years. But the disaster in Japan has the potential to make what was a bad situation for the state significantly worse. The tour and hotel cancellations began within hours, and they have been continuing — a reminder of how dependent Hawaii is on tourists who make the nine-hour trip here from Tokyo.

CNN: After cutting force by half, crime-ridden Camden rehires 50 cops
After cutting nearly half of its police force in January. the city of Camden, New Jersey, announced Thursday that it is rehiring 50 of the 168 police officers laid off. In an agreement between Camden officials and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the city will have access to $ 2.5 million from what is known as a “payment in lieu of taxes,” or PILOT, state fund. Camden’s Mayor Dana Redd will rehire 50 police officers and 15 firefighters. “Public safety is our primary obligation as elected officials,” Redd said in a press release.

CNN: NASA probe reaches Mercury
NASA’s Mercury probe Messenger has become the first spacecraft to go into orbit around the closest plant to the Sun. Confirmation of the probe entering Mercury’s orbit was received Thursday evening. “Achieving Mercury orbit was by far the biggest milestone since Messenger was launched more than six and a half years ago,” said Messenger Project Manager Peter Bedini, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. “This accomplishment is the fruit of a tremendous amount of labor on the part of the navigation, guidance-and-control, and mission operations teams, who shepherded the spacecraft through its 4.9-billion-mile (7.9-billion-kilometer) journey.”

CNN: Weekend full moon the biggest in about 20 years
If the moon looks a little bit bigger and brighter this weekend, there’s a reason for that. It is. Saturday’s full moon will be a super “perigee moon” – the biggest in almost 20 years. This celestial event is far rarer than the famed blue moon, which happens once about every two-and-a-half years. “The last full moon so big and close to Earth occurred in March of 1993,” said Geoff Chester with the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington. “I’d say it’s worth a look.” Full moons look different because of the elliptical shape of the moon’s orbit. When it’s at perigee, the moon is about 31,000 miles (50,000 km) closer to Earth than when it’s at the farthest point of its orbit, also known as apogee.

INTERNATIONAL
For the latest international news: http://edition.cnn.com

CNN: Death toll in Japan tops 6,400
The death toll from the monster 9.0-magnitude earthquake and massive tsunami that hit Japan climbed past 6,400 Friday as search teams continued to comb through the rubble. Japan’s National Police agency said 6,406 people were confirmed dead and 10,259 were reported missing as of 9 a.m. Friday (8 p.m. Thursday ET).

CNN: Japan vows to resume aerial, ground efforts to avert nuclear crisis
Japanese authorities vowed Friday to continue their aerial and ground-level dousing of water on a troubled nuclear reactor, with its owner saying that earlier attempts have been “somewhat effective” in addressing radiation concerns. Still, the Fukushima Daiichi complex of six nuclear reactors remained a danger. Radiation levels peaked Friday at 20 millisieverts per hour near in an annex building where workers were trying to reestablish electrical power, “the highest registered (at that building) so far,” an official with the Tokyo Electric Power Company told reporters. Radiation levels Thursday morning at the plant were nearly 3.8 millisieverts per hour – more than a typical resident of a developed country receives in a year. But Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said 17 of 18 workers checked Thursday morning tested normal, and the one who received a higher dose of radiation required no medical treatment.

CNN: U.N. Security Council approves no-fly zone in Libya
Jubilant Libyan rebels in Benghazi erupted with fireworks and gunfire after the U.N. Security Council voted Thursday evening to impose a no-fly zone and permit “all necessary measures” to protect civilians. The opposition, with devoted but largely untrained and under-equipped units, has suffered military setbacks this week. It has said such international action was necessary for it to have any chance of thwarting Moammar Gadhafi’s imminent assault on the rebel stronghold.

CNN: Pakistani leaders condemn suspected U.S. drone strike
Pakistani officials Friday condemned a recent suspected U.S. drone strike that killed up to 30 people in the country’s remote tribal area. Pakistan’s prime minister and a military leader both released harsh statements about the Thursday attack. The drone strike killed many civilians, Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said in a statement. “It is highly regrettable that a jirga of peaceful citizens including elders of the area was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life,” the statement said. “Such aggression against people of Pakistan is unjustified and intolerable under any circumstances.”

BUSINESS
For the latest business news: www.CNNMoney.com

CNN: Japan stocks jump on G7 pledge to intervene
Stocks in disaster-stricken Japan opened higher Friday after finance ministers from the Group of Seven nations announced a coordinated intervention in the currency market to prevent the yen from rising further. The Nikkei 225 index, the most prominent measure of stocks traded in Tokyo, climbed 260 points, or 2.9%, shortly after the market opened. The Hang Seng gained 0.5%, while the Shanghai Composite was flat. Authorities of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and the European Central Bank said in a statement that they will join with Japan in “concerted intervention in exchange markets.”

CNNMoney: Japan’s crisis hangs over U.S.
Problems in Japan have become exhibit A in what economists say is the greatest threat to the recovery in the United States – uncertainty overseas. Still, Japan isn’t even the biggest concern of an exclusive survey of top economists by CNNMoney. Those economists indicated that the spike in oil prices caused by political unrest in North Africa and the Middle East is the most serious threat Americans now face. But Japan is obviously a major worry. As Japanese officials struggle to deal with the human toll of the earthquake, tsunami and fears of a meltdown at nuclear reactors, economists and investors are scrambling to figure out exactly how big of an impact Japan will have on the U.S.

CNNMoney: GM to shut plant amid shortage of Japanese parts
General Motors has suspended production at a facility in Louisiana due to a shortage of parts stemming from the natural disaster in Japan, the automaker said Thursday. The Shreveport Assembly plant, where GM makes the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, will be closed for the week of March 21, according to a statement. GM (GM) said it will resume production at the plant “as soon as possible,” adding that it currently has “sufficient vehicles to meet customer demand.” All other GM plants in North America will continue to run as normal, the company said.

New York Times: F.D.I.C. Sues Ex-Chief of Big Bank That Failed
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation sued the former chief executive of Washington Mutual and two of his top lieutenants, accusing them of reckless lending before the 2008 collapse of what was the nation’s largest savings bank. The civil lawsuit, seeking to recover $ 900 million, is the first against a major bank chief executive by the regulator and follows escalating public pressure to hold bankers accountable for actions leading up to the financial crisis. Kerry K. Killinger, Washington Mutual’s longtime chief executive, led the bank on a “lending spree” knowing that the housing market was in a bubble and failed to put in place the proper risk management systems and internal controls, according to a complaint filed on Thursday in federal court in Seattle.

In Case You Missed It

CNN’s Anderson Cooper reports from Tokyo about the differing assessments being provided by U.S. and Japanese officials.
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2011/03/17/exp.tsr.ac.japan.update.cnn

Subscribe to the CNN=Politics DAILY podcast at http://www.cnn.com/politicalpodcast

And now stay posted on the latest from the campaign trail by downloading the CNN=Politics SCREENSAVER at http://www.CNN.com/situationroom


CNN Political Ticker

Tagged with:
 

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.

WASHINGTON/POLITICAL
For the latest political news: www.CNNPolitics.com

CNN: Senate passes short-term spending bill
The Senate easily passed a spending bill Thursday to keep the government funded for three more weeks as lawmakers and the White House work to bridge their deep divide on a larger spending package that will run through September 30, the end of the fiscal year. The vote was 87 to 13. Four Democrats and nine Republicans voted against it. The House already passed the stopgap bill, which – at the insistence of Republicans – cuts $ 6 billion from current funding levels. Now it will go to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.

CNN: Report: Obama donors asked to raise $ 350,000 this year
President Barack Obama’s campaign manager on Thursday urged deep-pocketed and well-connected donors to each pledge to raise $ 350,000 this year, a sign that the president could raise upward of $ 1 billion for his re-election. The contributors were asked to raise the money during a Democratic Party meeting in the nation’s capital, according to The New York Times, which first reported the story. The donors could be asked to raise more money in 2012.

CNN: Gingrich: Obama ‘talks loudly, has no stick’
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich launched another zinger at President Obama on Thursday by channeling President Theodore Roosevelt who famously said “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” Of the president, Gingrich said “Theodore Roosevelt said you have to walk softly and carry a big stick. This is a guy who talks loudly and has no stick.” He was referencing Obama’s action, or perceived lack thereof, regarding Libya, during an interview with local affiliate WMUR that followed the possible presidential candidate’s appearance at an event in New Hampshire.

CNN: DeMint stands by Romney
Republican Sen. Jim DeMint came to the defense of Mitt Romney over the health care plan Romney passed while governor of Massachusetts. The South Carolina senator blamed the Democratic state legislature for the ultimate plan that has similarities to the current health care law, including the individual mandate that requires all residents, with some exceptions, to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty. But DeMint, who has become a national figure and Tea Party favorite, told The Hill that Romney’s attempts to make private health insurance available for everyone contributed to his decision to endorse him for president in 2008.

CNN: House rejects resolution to pull U.S. forces from Afghanistan
The House Thursday decisively rejected a resolution directing the president to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan this year, but the vote also showed a deep divide in the president’s own party on the war. The final vote tally was 321 to 93, with 85 Democrats supporting the proposal. The resolution to draw down all troops by the end of 2011, introduced by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, is not the congressman’s first effort to end U.S. involvement in the war. But this year it gained more Democratic support, as many in the party voiced their deep concern with the costly and difficult struggle.

Washington Post: Lobbyists flock to Capitol Hill jobs
A surge of lobbyists has left K Street this year to fill jobs as high-ranking staffers on Capitol Hill, focusing new attention on the dearth of rules governing what paid advocates can do after moving into the legislative world. Ethics rules sharply limit the activities of former lobbyists who join the executive branch and former lawmakers who move to lobbying firms. But experts say there are no limits on lawmakers hiring K street employees and letting them write legislation in sync with the policies they advocated for hire. New tallies indicate that nearly half of the roughly 150 former lobbyists working in top policy jobs for members of Congress or House committees have been hired in the past few months. And many are working on legislative issues of interest to their former employers.

Arizona Republic: Arizona Senate rejects 5 major immigration bills
Arizona won’t be leading a national push for the U.S. Supreme Court to strip citizenship status from children of illegal immigrants – at least not this year. The state Senate voted down a package of birthright-citizenship bills, with Republicans split over the measures and Democrats opposed. Four other significant Senate immigration measures also failed. Those bills would have banned illegal immigrants from state universities, made it a crime for illegal immigrants to drive a vehicle in Arizona, required school districts to check the legal status of students, and required hospitals to check the legal status of patients.

New York Times: Palin’s Successors (Republicans Too) Seek to Dismantle Her Energy Legacy
While every online swipe from former Gov. Sarah Palin still draws national attention and stirs fresh speculation about her political ambitions, back home she is no longer quite so imposing. Even as she casts herself as an energy expert and is quick to attack the Obama administration on oil and gas issues, the two most prominent energy policies she put in place as governor of Alaska face new challenges less than two years after she left office. Gov. Sean Parnell, Ms. Palin’s fellow Republican and former lieutenant, has announced that it is his top priority to undo parts of major oil tax increases that Ms. Palin made law.

San Francisco Chronicle: Calif. Legislature passes deep-cuts budget
The California Legislature adopted an $ 84.6 billion spending plan for the Golden State on Thursday but put off voting on two significant budget bills – one that would dismantle redevelopment agencies and another to call a special election to extend taxes. The passage of the spending plan, which includes deep cuts to programs, marked one of the earliest budget approvals for the Legislature, which last year broke a record for passing the latest budget ever.

NATIONAL
For the latest national news: www.CNN.com

Washington Post: FEMA still in ‘state of flux,’ needs to improve coordination efforts, watchdog says
With Japan reeling from a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami, a veteran government watchdog warned Thursday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency “is in a constant state of flux” and needs to do even more to coordinate with state and local officials. The agency, widely panned for its response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, also needs more personnel to handle a growing workload as state and local governments trim emergency management budgets and should upgrade its computer systems, according to Richard L. Skinner, the former inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security who authored a progress report on the agency before retiring in January.

New York Times: Disaster May Deal Blow to Tourism in Hawaii
Even before Japan was hit by an earthquake and a tsunami, Hawaii had been struggling with a budget shortfall that seemed suffocating for a state this small: close to $ 1 billion over two years. But the disaster in Japan has the potential to make what was a bad situation for the state significantly worse. The tour and hotel cancellations began within hours, and they have been continuing — a reminder of how dependent Hawaii is on tourists who make the nine-hour trip here from Tokyo.

CNN: After cutting force by half, crime-ridden Camden rehires 50 cops
After cutting nearly half of its police force in January. the city of Camden, New Jersey, announced Thursday that it is rehiring 50 of the 168 police officers laid off. In an agreement between Camden officials and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the city will have access to $ 2.5 million from what is known as a “payment in lieu of taxes,” or PILOT, state fund. Camden’s Mayor Dana Redd will rehire 50 police officers and 15 firefighters. “Public safety is our primary obligation as elected officials,” Redd said in a press release.

CNN: NASA probe reaches Mercury
NASA’s Mercury probe Messenger has become the first spacecraft to go into orbit around the closest plant to the Sun. Confirmation of the probe entering Mercury’s orbit was received Thursday evening. “Achieving Mercury orbit was by far the biggest milestone since Messenger was launched more than six and a half years ago,” said Messenger Project Manager Peter Bedini, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. “This accomplishment is the fruit of a tremendous amount of labor on the part of the navigation, guidance-and-control, and mission operations teams, who shepherded the spacecraft through its 4.9-billion-mile (7.9-billion-kilometer) journey.”

CNN: Weekend full moon the biggest in about 20 years
If the moon looks a little bit bigger and brighter this weekend, there’s a reason for that. It is. Saturday’s full moon will be a super “perigee moon” – the biggest in almost 20 years. This celestial event is far rarer than the famed blue moon, which happens once about every two-and-a-half years. “The last full moon so big and close to Earth occurred in March of 1993,” said Geoff Chester with the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington. “I’d say it’s worth a look.” Full moons look different because of the elliptical shape of the moon’s orbit. When it’s at perigee, the moon is about 31,000 miles (50,000 km) closer to Earth than when it’s at the farthest point of its orbit, also known as apogee.

INTERNATIONAL
For the latest international news: http://edition.cnn.com

CNN: Death toll in Japan tops 6,400
The death toll from the monster 9.0-magnitude earthquake and massive tsunami that hit Japan climbed past 6,400 Friday as search teams continued to comb through the rubble. Japan’s National Police agency said 6,406 people were confirmed dead and 10,259 were reported missing as of 9 a.m. Friday (8 p.m. Thursday ET).

CNN: Japan vows to resume aerial, ground efforts to avert nuclear crisis
Japanese authorities vowed Friday to continue their aerial and ground-level dousing of water on a troubled nuclear reactor, with its owner saying that earlier attempts have been “somewhat effective” in addressing radiation concerns. Still, the Fukushima Daiichi complex of six nuclear reactors remained a danger. Radiation levels peaked Friday at 20 millisieverts per hour near in an annex building where workers were trying to reestablish electrical power, “the highest registered (at that building) so far,” an official with the Tokyo Electric Power Company told reporters. Radiation levels Thursday morning at the plant were nearly 3.8 millisieverts per hour – more than a typical resident of a developed country receives in a year. But Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said 17 of 18 workers checked Thursday morning tested normal, and the one who received a higher dose of radiation required no medical treatment.

CNN: U.N. Security Council approves no-fly zone in Libya
Jubilant Libyan rebels in Benghazi erupted with fireworks and gunfire after the U.N. Security Council voted Thursday evening to impose a no-fly zone and permit “all necessary measures” to protect civilians. The opposition, with devoted but largely untrained and under-equipped units, has suffered military setbacks this week. It has said such international action was necessary for it to have any chance of thwarting Moammar Gadhafi’s imminent assault on the rebel stronghold.

CNN: Pakistani leaders condemn suspected U.S. drone strike
Pakistani officials Friday condemned a recent suspected U.S. drone strike that killed up to 30 people in the country’s remote tribal area. Pakistan’s prime minister and a military leader both released harsh statements about the Thursday attack. The drone strike killed many civilians, Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said in a statement. “It is highly regrettable that a jirga of peaceful citizens including elders of the area was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life,” the statement said. “Such aggression against people of Pakistan is unjustified and intolerable under any circumstances.”

BUSINESS
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CNN: Japan stocks jump on G7 pledge to intervene
Stocks in disaster-stricken Japan opened higher Friday after finance ministers from the Group of Seven nations announced a coordinated intervention in the currency market to prevent the yen from rising further. The Nikkei 225 index, the most prominent measure of stocks traded in Tokyo, climbed 260 points, or 2.9%, shortly after the market opened. The Hang Seng gained 0.5%, while the Shanghai Composite was flat. Authorities of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and the European Central Bank said in a statement that they will join with Japan in “concerted intervention in exchange markets.”

CNNMoney: Japan’s crisis hangs over U.S.
Problems in Japan have become exhibit A in what economists say is the greatest threat to the recovery in the United States – uncertainty overseas. Still, Japan isn’t even the biggest concern of an exclusive survey of top economists by CNNMoney. Those economists indicated that the spike in oil prices caused by political unrest in North Africa and the Middle East is the most serious threat Americans now face. But Japan is obviously a major worry. As Japanese officials struggle to deal with the human toll of the earthquake, tsunami and fears of a meltdown at nuclear reactors, economists and investors are scrambling to figure out exactly how big of an impact Japan will have on the U.S.

CNNMoney: GM to shut plant amid shortage of Japanese parts
General Motors has suspended production at a facility in Louisiana due to a shortage of parts stemming from the natural disaster in Japan, the automaker said Thursday. The Shreveport Assembly plant, where GM makes the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, will be closed for the week of March 21, according to a statement. GM (GM) said it will resume production at the plant “as soon as possible,” adding that it currently has “sufficient vehicles to meet customer demand.” All other GM plants in North America will continue to run as normal, the company said.

New York Times: F.D.I.C. Sues Ex-Chief of Big Bank That Failed
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation sued the former chief executive of Washington Mutual and two of his top lieutenants, accusing them of reckless lending before the 2008 collapse of what was the nation’s largest savings bank. The civil lawsuit, seeking to recover $ 900 million, is the first against a major bank chief executive by the regulator and follows escalating public pressure to hold bankers accountable for actions leading up to the financial crisis. Kerry K. Killinger, Washington Mutual’s longtime chief executive, led the bank on a “lending spree” knowing that the housing market was in a bubble and failed to put in place the proper risk management systems and internal controls, according to a complaint filed on Thursday in federal court in Seattle.

In Case You Missed It

CNN’s Anderson Cooper reports from Tokyo about the differing assessments being provided by U.S. and Japanese officials.
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2011/03/17/exp.tsr.ac.japan.update.cnn

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CNN Political Ticker

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CNN: Obama pledges to help Japan rebuild; U.S. issues larger radiation zone
Even as Washington and Tokyo disagreed on the extent of the threat a damaged nuclear power plant poses, President Barack Obama told the Japanese prime minister Thursday that the United States will help Japan rebuild following last week’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. The two leaders had a 30-minute phone call at 10:30 a.m. Thursday (9:30 p.m. ET Wednesday). During the phone call with Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Obama voiced sympathy for Japan’s plight. “The president again conveyed his deep condolences at the tragic loss of life and the widespread suffering in northeastern Japan,” a White House statement on the call said. “The president emphasized that the U.S. is determined to do everything possible to support Japan in overcoming the effects of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck on March 11.”

CNN: Pelosi describes Japan tragedy as ‘beyond biblical’
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday described the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan as “beyond biblical in terms of its proportion.” The “humanitarian loss is so tremendous,” Pelosi, D-California, told reporters on Capitol Hill, saying the United States is helping with humanitarian and technical assistance, but it’s a “huge order.” “We all feel quite inadequate in terms of the size of the tragedy, but completely committed to helping,” Pelosi said. While Pelosi said she doesn’t believe any radioactive material would “drift ashore” in this country, she noted that California and Hawaii would be in the “first line of receiving” any fallout and said the Federal Emergency Management Agency “needs to take inventory” of emergency supplies and figure out “how it gets directly to people.”

CNN: President Obama, sounding more like a candidate
President Barack Obama channeled his “change” message of the 2008 election in a speech to the Democratic National Committee in Washington, asking the group of supporters “not to lose that spirit that animated us early on.” “My hope is that the same spirit that helped change this country in 2008, that that spirit is still in each and every one of you,” Obama said Wednesday night. But he acknowledged that some may become frustrated with the politics in the next election.

Roll Call: GOP Has New 2012 Target: Obama’s $ 1 Billion Campaign
He may have already shattered presidential fundraising records, but a question lingers over President Barack Obama’s budding 2012 re-election bid: Is there such a thing as too much money? A growing consensus has emerged that the Democratic president, who outraised Republican nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) $ 779 million to $ 400 million in 2008, could become the nation’s first politician to raise $ 1 billion in one cycle. But Republicans on the campaign trail and elsewhere are already working to ensure his road to 10 figures is marked with potential pitfalls. “The fact that the Democrats are bragging about wanting to spend $ 1 billion is causing our own donors to get excited and send us checks,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told Roll Call in an interview. “Spending a lot of money and winning don’t always go hand in hand. … It’s possible that it could backfire.”

Politico: GOP begins rollback of Wall St. reform
House Republicans quietly took their first legislative step Wednesday at repealing Wall Street reform, exposing the difficulty of rolling back a major Barack Obama law that isn’t health care. When the GOP took over the House in January, leadership’s first — and very public — move was to bring a one-line health care repeal bill straight to the floor with the backing of their full caucus, from tea party freshmen to establishment veterans. That brash action stands in stark contrast to Wednesday’s sparsely-attended Financial Services subcommittee hearing, where the panel introduced the first five bills aimed at taking down key portions of the Dodd-Frank law enacted last summer. Republicans clearly want to strike at the heart of banking reform with legislation attacking new regulations on derivatives, credit rating agencies and private equity firms. But their piecemeal approach suggests they are trying to do so without appearing to favor Wall Street over Main Street.

CNN: 19 senators support Biden’s efforts on Planned Parenthood
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, along with 18 other Democratic senators, penned a letter Wednesday in support of Vice President Joe Biden’s effort to maintain government subsidies for Planned Parenthood in the final budget negotiations for the 2011 funding bill. The group said a Republican-led proposal to de-fund the organization would harm the economy. “This ideological agenda cloaked in a budget document isn’t even good fiscal policy….As a matter of creating jobs and bolstering the economy, this rider would have the opposite effect: not only will health centers be forced to close but many uninsured women and their families also may go without care, become more ill, and be kept away from their jobs,” the senators wrote.

CNN: House to vote on bill that would stop NPR funding
The House of Representatives has scheduled a vote Thursday on a bill that would bar federal funding for National Public Radio. The move to pull funds from the public broadcasting outlet comes after a conservative activist secretly taped an NPR executive criticizing Tea Party supporters and saying NPR would be better off without federal money. On Tuesday, the House voted to cut $ 50 million from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which helps support NPR. It’s part of a larger bill to keep the government running for the next three weeks.

Wall Street Journal: Tax Plan Aims for 25% Cap
The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee wants to cut the top U.S. tax rate to 25% for individuals and corporations, and cut or eliminate many popular deductions. The odds of quick action appear slender. But the move, from Rep. Dave Camp (R., Mich.), is significant as a marker in what will likely be a multiyear debate over revamping the tax code. The plan also provides Republicans with a position to pitch in the 2012 election, a campaign that promises to focus heavily on the economy and jobs. Mr. Camp told The Wall Street Journal an overhaul of the unwieldy tax code is an essential element in stimulating both economic growth and job formation.

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Los Angeles Times: Small amounts of radiation headed for California, but no health risk seen
Small amounts of radioactive isotopes from the crippled Japanese nuclear power plant are being blown toward North America high in the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean and will reach California as soon as Friday, according to experts. A network of sensors in the U.S. and around the world is watching for the first signs of that fallout, though experts said they were confident that the amount of radiation would be well within safe limits. Operated by the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. network known as Radnet is a system of 100 radiation monitors that work 24 hours a day, spread across the country in places such as Anaheim, Bakersfield and Eureka. In addition, a network of 63 sensors is operated by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, an international agency allied with the United Nations.

USA Today: More Purple Hearts after Army clarifies ‘concussion’
The Army will allow more battlefield concussions to be eligible for a Purple Heart, embracing the latest scientific findings that even brief periods of dizziness or headaches are evidence of the wound. The decision to expand the definition for concussions will mean thousands of Purple Heart medals going to soldiers denied them in the past. For decades, Army award regulations used the term “concussion” for the injury, but left it to doctors or battlefield commanders to decide whether a blow to the head during combat warranted the medal. Many held the view that “you’ve got to be bleeding to get (the medal),” says Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army vice chief of staff, who has pushed for the clarification on awarding a Purple Heart for concussion.

INTERNATIONAL
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CNN: Six days later, Japanese still confronting magnitude of quake crisis
Thousands of Japanese filled evacuation shelters or joined foreigners seeking a way out of the country Thursday in the aftermath of last week’s devastating earthquake, tsunami and resulting nuclear crisis at stricken reactors. Cold, snowy weather in parts of the Asian nation further heightened the hardship of a nation facing what its leaders call its biggest disaster since World War II. Fears of possible nuclear catastrophe were evident. After rallying Wednesday, stocks in Japan fell early Thursday, with the Nikkei 225 index, the most prominent measure of stocks traded in Tokyo, down about 2% in early trading.

CNN: Japanese rush to cool off nuclear reactors from air, ground
Japanese forces used helicopters Thursday and planned to bring in water cannons, part of their urgent and reconfigured effort to avert a nuclear disaster at its quake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant. Officials from the government and the plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company, said Thursday that cooling down the facility’s No. 3 reactor was top priority. Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, in conjunction with Prime Minister Naoto Kan, said he decided early Thursday to address the crisis from the air and ground despite concerns about exposing workers to radiation.

CNN: U.S. working to move citizens from affected areas in Japan
The State Department announced late Wednesday that it has approved the departure of family members of U.S. government personnel from certain areas of Japan in the aftermath of the earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear power plant crisis. Charter flights will be made available to the approximately 600 people, according to Under Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy. “When we do a voluntary authorized departure, the State Department bears the expense of the transportation,” Kennedy said. “There are still commercial seats available out of Tokyo,” he said. “However, because we do not wish to consume large numbers of seats that others might need, we are making arrangements to bring a couple of chartered aircraft into Tokyo for both the official U.S. government family members who have chosen to leave and for any American citizens who might need assistance.”

CNNMoney: Dollar hits all-time low against yen
The dollar hit an all-time low against a strengthening Japanese yen on Wednesday, as global uncertainty and the prospect of more cash flowing into Japan pushed its currency higher. The dollar fell as low as 76.54 against the yen in late trading Wednesday, dipping under the previous all-time low of 79.75 set in April 1995. Despite the nation’s turmoil, the yen has long been a haven for risk-averse investors. Japanese corporations are also expected to repatriate vast amounts of capital. Those funds are currently tied up in foreign markets but will be needed to facilitate rebuilding.

CNN: Four New York Times journalists reported missing in Libya
Four journalists for The New York Times, including two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Shadid and MacArthur “genius grant” recipient Lynsey Addario, are missing in Libya, the newspaper said Wednesday on its website. Editors at the paper said they had last been in touch with the journalists Tuesday morning, U.S. Eastern time, according to the report. It said the newspaper received secondhand information that “members of its reporting team on the ground in the port city of Ajdabiya had been swept up by Libyan government forces.”

CNN: Clinton calls intervention in Bahrain ‘alarming’
The United States finds intervention in Bahrain by the Persian Gulf kingdom’s neighbors “alarming” and wants all players in the region to keep “their own agenda” out of the struggle between the monarchy and anti-government demonstrators, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday. Washington has told the Bahraini monarchy that “there is no answer to the demands for political and economic reform though a security crackdown,” Clinton told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

CNN: Analysts: Political impact uncertain after CIA contractor freed
Perhaps more important than the newest mystery surrounding CIA contractor Raymond Davis – who paid the purported seven-figure sum to the Pakistani victims’ families who blessed his release from jail – will be the political reaction within Pakistan where the populace is already outraged over Davis’ fatal shooting of two men there, analysts said Wednesday. The other potential impact of the “Raymond Davis Affair,” as one analyst dubbed it, is whether it will damage diplomatic relations between the United States and Pakistan, in which Americans depend on Pakistan in fighting terror and the Pakistanis enjoy substantial U.S. aid. “There is the curious question of who made the payment. I suppose it’s going to remain a mystery for a while,” said Mark Quarterman, director of the Program on Crisis, Conflict, and Cooperation of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

CNN: Mexico confirms presence of U.S. drones
Mexico on Wednesday admitted that American unmanned drones operate over its territory, but denied that it constitutes a violation of its sovereignty. U.S. Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles have been used to collect intelligence and track drug traffickers, but only under Mexican supervision, according to a statement by the technical secretariat for the Mexican National Security Council. “Each of these actions is undertaken with full respect to the law,” the statement says.

BUSINESS
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CNNMoney: California insurer backs away from 59% hike
Nearly 200,000 Blue Shield of California customers can breathe a sigh of relief. The health insurer announced Wednesday it will forego a new round of rate hikes that would have brought the increase for some policyholders to as much as 59% in the past year. Blue Shield – which had already raised premiums twice since October – also said it will not increase rates for any individual or family plan member for the remainder of the year. Tom Epstein, spokesman for Blue Shield, said the company had seen some backlash in recent weeks. “It was becoming a major distraction,” he said. “So we decided we would risk losing money in order to get the attention of the public back on what’s really driving up health care costs, and that’s rising medical costs. Health reform, we believe, will help manage those costs.”

Wall Street Journal: FDIC’s Tab For Failed U.S. Banks Nears $ 9 Billion
U.S. banking regulators have paid out nearly $ 9 billion to cover losses on loans and other assets at 165 failed institutions that were sold to stronger companies during the financial crisis. The payments were made under loss-sharing agreements struck by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. that shield buyers from much of the risk associated with loans inherited from failed banks. The deals, covering everything from empty Las Vegas shopping centers to nearly worthless mortgages in Florida, are a reminder of the price tag attached to many government programs launched near the worst of the crisis.

In Case You Missed It

The NRC says Japan’s nuclear crisis is far worse than the Japanese government has said. Expert Jim Walsh comments.
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2011/03/16/exp.arena.japan.nuclear.nrc.cnn

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CNN Political Ticker

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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.

WASHINGTON/POLITICAL
For the latest political news: www.CNNPolitics.com

CNN: Energy secretary defends U.S. nuclear industry
Energy Secretary Steven Chu sought to reassure Congress on Tuesday that America’s nuclear power plants are sufficiently protected against the kind of disaster now facing Japan. He also insisted that, contrary to assertions of many skeptics within the environmental movement and elsewhere, nuclear power needs to play a key role in the development of a more balanced U.S. energy policy. Chu said federal authorities responsible for overseeing U.S. nuclear plants have accounted for combined earthquake and tsunami scenarios similar to what led to the crisis in Japan.

CNN: House passes three-week government spending extension
A three-week extension of government funding won approval Tuesday from the U.S. House, with Democratic support overcoming opposition by some conservative Republicans. The 271-158 vote sends the measure to the Senate for consideration before the current government spending authorization expires Friday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said Tuesday that he expected it to win approval this week to avert a government shutdown. McConnell also said that negotiations have started between House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, on a compromise agreement to fund the government for the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends September 30.

CNNMoney: Ohio governor slashes $ 8B from budget
Fulfilling his promise not to raise taxes, Ohio Gov. John Kasich Tuesday unveiled a budget that slashes spending for many agencies and seeks to privatize certain government functions to eliminate an $ 8 billion budget deficit. “We can’t tax our way to prosperity, but we can’t cut our way either,” said Kasich in his town-hall style budget address. The governor said he found savings not only in the $ 26 billion in the state’s general revenue fund, but also in the special accounts that are usually dedicated to specific needs. Altogether, the state funds total $ 52 billion.

CNNMoney: Alan Greenspan: Stimulus hurt recovery
Massive government intervention to save the economy is to blame for the lagging recovery, Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said Tuesday. Greenspan argued for less government intervention to get the recovery rolling and businesses investing in equipment and plants. “What we need to do now is to calm down; let things move by themselves,” he said at a forum at the Council of Foreign Relations. “And indeed the rate of activism has decreased significantly and the ratio of capital flow has inched back up.” Some economists blame Greenspan, who served as Fed chair from 1987 to 2006, for keeping interest rates too low for too long and for failing to sound the alarm that Wall Street was over-leveraged and running wild.

Politico: Marco Rubio brand readies for prime time
Sen. Marco Rubio is done with the quiet freshman act. With a landmark spending debate engulfing Washington, the Florida Republican has, virtually overnight, launched the national profile the conservative movement has been clamoring for. During his first national interview Monday, Rubio pounced on President Barack Obama — from the friendly confines of Laura Ingraham’s conservative radio show. He blasted a statement to the media, pledging to vote against the Republicans’ short-term spending resolution and calling it a “nickle-and-dime” approach. And he’s vowed to vote against everything that comes through the Senate unless it deals with addressing the $ 14 trillion debt crisis. Rubio has even given up an apparent Twitter moratorium, tweeting this week for the first time since his victory last November. “Politicians in D.C. won’t deal with the debt,” he wrote.

CNN: Bachmann: I made a mistake; media shows bias in reporting it
Three days after her widely-reported gaffe, Rep. Michele Bachmann explained it by essentially saying: I made a mistake, but the media’s reporting of it proves bias. Bachmann made the comments on Tuesday during an interview on the conservative Laura Ingraham radio show. On Saturday at an engagement in Manchester, Bachmann said of New Hampshire, “You’re the state where the shot was heard around the world at Lexington and Concord.”

CNN: Rand Paul heading to another key presidential state
Does Sen. Rand Paul have designs on an office higher than the one he was elected to in November? The Kentucky Republican has booked a trip to South Carolina on Monday to appear at the Charleston Meeting, an off-the-record gathering of influential conservatives inspired by the weekly “Monday Meeting” of conservatives in New York City. Paul will also make a separate Palmetto State appearance to promote his new book, “The Tea Party Goes to Washington.”

Roll Call: Portman Is GOP’s Point Man in Ohio
Sen. Rob Portman is working aggressively to help Republicans take back Ohio from President Barack Obama in 2012, and in the process developing connections with top GOP contenders who could put him on the short list for the vice-presidential nomination. Portman will remain neutral in the GOP presidential primary, choosing instead to help all the eventual candidates make inroads with Ohio voters and Republican donors in preparation for competing in a state that could determine the winner of the general election.

CNN: Roemer: It’s a difficult road to the top
Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer admits that he’s got a “difficult road to the top,” on his journey to clinch the GOP nomination for president. Roemer served as a “conservative” Democratic Congressman and then governor, switching parties before the end of his term in the statehouse. He has pledged to only accept donations in $ 100 increments. Claiming that “Washington, D.C., is a boomtown, and the rest of America is hurting,” Roemer told CNN that “inaction is bought by money” on Tuesday. “I’m one of the only congressmen, maybe the only one, who didn’t take PAC money,” he asserted. “All of my contributions come from names and addresses.”

CNN: Cain: Planned Parenthood’s mission is ‘planned genocide’ of black babies
Using unusually harsh words, a potential presidential candidate echoed some previous comments: claiming that Planned Parenthood’s original mission was to “help kill black babies before they came into the world.” Herman Cain went on to say that the sexual and reproductive health care provider is carrying out its mission of “planned genocide.” In response, the group said that Cain is using “inflammatory and divisive language based on race to achieve extreme political goals” of ending legal abortion. Cain, an African-American and the first Republican to launch a presidential exploratory committee, made the comments Tuesday during a question-and-answer session at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank in Washington.

Washington Post: Candidates emerge to replace Mueller at FBI
The jockeying over who will replace FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has begun, with the FBI agents’ association urging that President Obama select the former head of the bureau’s Washington field office for the critical position. Mueller, 66, is facing a mandatory 10-year retirement in September after a tenure in which he oversaw the crackdown on terrorism after Sept. 11, 2001, and the bureau’s ongoing transformation into an intelligence agency focused on preventing attacks. In a letter sent Monday to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the FBI Agents Association recommended Michael A. Mason, a longtime FBI agent and supervisor who is now security chief for Verizon Communications. Mason, a former assistant director in charge of the Washington Field Office, would be the FBI’s first African American director.

Houston Chronicle: Federally-paid National Guard troops to leave U.S.-Mexico border by June 30
Nine months after President Obama agreed to pay for emergency deployment of 1,200 National Guard troops along the southwest border, plans are in place to withdraw the reinforcements — including 285 National Guard troops in Texas. The Obama administration’s decision is sparking bipartisan congressional concern over border security amid fears of spill over violence from unrelenting gangland-style bloodshed south of the border that has claimed more than 30,000 lives over the past five years. The scheduled draw down by June 30 was disclosed during House members’ questioning of Obama administration witnesses appearing before the House Homeland Security Committee’s panel on border and maritime security.

CNN: RNC considers selling TV rights of presidential primary debates
The Republican National Committee is considering sanctioning the GOP presidential primary debates and then selling the broadcast rights to news outlets, two Republicans with knowledge of the idea tell CNN. The proposal was mentioned last week during a meeting of top RNC officials and a handful of political operatives representing potential GOP presidential candidates. In February, the RNC disclosed it was saddled with more than $ 22 million of debt left over from the 2010 midterm elections. At that time, newly elected Chairman Reince Priebus acknowledged the committee has “a lot of work to do” to pay off its obligations so it can focus on raising money for the 2012 presidential election.

CNN: Members of Congress host fundraiser for Giffords
Several members of Congress, friends of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’, hosted a Washington fundraiser Tuesday night for the congresswoman’s re-election campaign. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Adam Smith and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand were the co-chairs of the event, held at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters headquarters. The three said they joined together “to support our good friend and colleague.” “Gabby must focus on the important work of her recovery. With that in mind, we have joined together to support Gabby, and we hope that we can count on you to join us!” read the invitation sent last month from the three chairmen.

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CNNMoney: Half of U.S. nuclear reactors over 30 years old
Half of the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors are over 30 years old, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Most of the remaining reactors are at least 20 years old. Originally granted licenses to operate for 40 years, most of the country’s reactors have applied for a 20-year extension. Sixty-two extensions have been granted so far, and 20 are still pending, according to the industry group the Nuclear Energy Institute. From the perspective of the utilities that run them, the reactors – most of which are paid off – provide massive amounts of cheap power with no greenhouse gas emissions. The United States gets about 20% of its electricity from nuclear power plants. But for critics, explosions at several Japanese reactors following a crippling earthquake and tsunami is proof that the old plants in the U.S. should be shut.

Washington Post: Report: State boards don’t always discipline doctors sanctioned by hospitals
State medical boards have failed to discipline 55 percent of the nation’s doctors who were sanctioned by the hospitals where they worked, according to a report released Tuesday by Public Citizen. The consumer advocacy group analyzed data in a federal clearinghouse from 1990 to 2009 for disciplinary action and medical malpractice payments against doctors. Of 10,672 physicians listed in the National Practitioner Data Bank, about 55 percent, or 5,887 doctors, had been disciplined by hospitals but escaped any licensing action by the state during the entire 20-year period. The hospital discipline was to restrict or revoke the physicians’ clinical privileges.

INTERNATIONAL
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CNN: New fire fuels nuclear fears in Japan as rescuers search wreckage
Wednesday broke in Japan with news of a new blaze at the damaged nuclear plant that crews have struggled to control since last week’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, adding to radiation fears in a country racing to avoid a full-on nuclear crisis. The fire was discovered Wednesday morning in the northwestern corner of the No. 4 reactor building at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, an official with Tokyo Electric Power Company told reporters. It was the latest setback for a country struggling to dig its way out of the wreckage wrought by last week’s earthquake and tsunami. At least 3,676 people have died, the National Police Agency said Wednesday morning. Another 7,558 people are missing and 1,990 were injured, it said.

CNN: Gadhafi forces gain ground in march toward Benghazi
The key Libyan city of Ajdabiya, the last major point between pro-government forces and the opposition stronghold of Benghazi, was slipping from the opposition’s hands Tuesday, witnesses reported. Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi fired artillery into Ajdabiya, and there were eyewitness reports of at least two airstrikes on the city. If Ajdabiya is retaken by pro-Gadhafi forces, it would give access to roads leading to the heart of the opposition’s base. Opposition fighters in Ajdabiya returned fire with anti-aircraft weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, but eventually had to pull back their defense positions. Gadhafi’s forces approached the city from the south and the west, witnesses said.

CNN: Bahrain fires at protesters; 2 dead, 150 injured
Bahrain security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters in the southern city of Sitra on Tuesday, killing at least two protesters and wounding at least 150 people, according to medical officials on the scene Tuesday. “They are killing everybody,” one official said. “They attacked us – even medical personnel.” The man, who asked to be identified only as a medical official for fear of reprisals, said he was riding with patients in an ambulance as he spoke. “Even in this ambulance that is marked as an ambulance, they shot at it,” he said. “We had to get on the floor of the ambulance. We are not safe even transferring injured patients.”

CNN: Italian island faces flood of Tunisian migrants
Italy’s coast guard says at least 1,623 migrants have landed on the tiny island of Lampedusa over a 24-hour period. According to a coast guard statement released Tuesday, at least seven boats believed to have taken off from Tunisia landed on the Italian island with more than 400 passengers. The rest of the people were rescued at sea by Italian maritime patrols. Sailors at the Tunisian fishing port of Zarzis said they have seen a spike in the number of boats full of migrants departing on the dangerous 16- to 24-hour journey to Lampedusa, about 100 kilometers (62 miles, or 54 nautical miles) away.

CNN: Clinton visits anti-government rallying site from Egyptian revolution
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a short tour of Tahrir Square in the Egyptian capital on Wednesday. During the anti-government demonstrations that eventually led to the ouster of long-time Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the square was a rallying spot for protesters who transformed it from a bustling urban center into a fortified campground. The walking tour lasted about 10 to 12 minutes, with crowds of people stopping her to shake her hand.

CNN: Petraeus still backing July drawdown in Afghanistan
The commander of international and U.S. forces in Afghanistan continues to support the July 2011 drawdown date for troops in Afghanistan, but has not decided on the level of reductions yet, he told senators on Tuesday. In remarks to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. David Petraeus said the Taliban momentum achieved over the last five years “has been arrested in much of the country.” Progress in that effort “is also fragile and reversible,” he said. The top Republican on the committee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, asked Petraeus to respond to a new poll that showed most Americans say the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting anymore. Petraeus said that while he understands the frustration of the American public, he believes it is imperative to continue making progress in Afghanistan so that al Qaeda is not allowed to re-establish sanctuaries in Afghanistan.

New York Times: Iraqi Delay Hinders U.S. Planning
Iraq’s long delay in finalizing its government has complicated the Obama administration’s drive to set up a small army of diplomats and contractors here after the end of the year, when the last American troops are supposed to leave. The lack of permanent security ministers has also slowed negotiations on some critical issues, like plans to continue training the Iraqi police and to establish an office that would sell military equipment to the Iraqis. The delay, ahead of the year-end withdrawal deadline, comes at a critical point nearly eight years after the American invasion. Although Iraqi and American leaders have pledged to end the United States military presence, the year-end deadline remains contentious.

BUSINESS
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CNNMoney: Tokyo stocks finish strong
Japanese stocks rebounded Wednesday, with the leading stock index recovering nearly 6% from a two-day plunge stemming from the crisis created by the March 11 earthquake. The Nikkei 225 index, the most prominent measure of Tokyo market stocks, ended up 489 points, or 5.7%. The rebound came after intense selling over the previous two days, the first full-day sessions following the quake. On Tuesday, the index plunged 10.6%, marking the third worst one-day plunge in the Nikkei’s history. The losses over two days totaled more than 16%.

In Case You Missed It

Rep. Ed Markey urges the U.S. to provide potassium iodide pills to people within 20 miles of a nuclear power facility.
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2011/03/15/exp.arena.nuclear.safety.pills.cnn

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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.

WASHINGTON/POLITICAL
For the latest political news: www.CNNPolitics.com

CNN: Amid lawmakers’ concerns, officials say U.S. nuclear plants are safe
Any plans to build a nuclear power plant in an area of the United States prone to earthquakes should be reconsidered in light of the damage to Japanese reactors by last week’s earthquake and tsunami, Democratic Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts told CNN on Monday. “We just have to call a time out and examine whether or not those safety features necessary in the future are built into new nuclear power plants in our country,” said Markey, who sits on the House committee overseeing nuclear power. In response, the chairman of the independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which regulates U.S. reactors, said the plants were built to withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters.

CNN: Nuclear energy lobbyists scramble on Capitol Hill
Lobbyists for the nuclear energy industry rushed to Capitol Hill Monday to try to reassure members of Congress and their aides who are deeply concerned about the nuclear crisis in Japan, and what it could mean for nuclear energy in the U.S. As he walked the halls of Congress going from meeting to meeting, Alex Flint, a top lobbyist for the Nuclear Energy Institute, told CNN that the industry’s immediate goal was to give worried lawmakers as much information as possible. “We’re trying to make sure people understand exactly what’s occurring – understand the context under which they’re going to be making decisions in the future about the way in which the Congress wants to treat nuclear energy,” Flint told CNN.

CNN: Republicans oppose further short-term funding solutions
Republican opposition is growing over the continuing resolution that would fund the government for three additional weeks. Both parties agreed last week to move ahead with a three-week stopgap bill that would cut an additional $ 6 billion from current spending levels, avoiding a potential federal shutdown when the current continuing resolution expires Friday. The House will vote Tuesday on the new agreement, but some Republicans argue the cuts don’t go far enough.

CNN: Senior Democrat Conyers criticizes Obama
Senior Democrat John Conyers of Michigan criticized Barack Obama Monday, hoping, Conyers said, to “make him a better president.” Citing the troubled job market, rising energy costs, and turmoil in the Middle East, Conyers told reporters at the National Press Club: “We keep getting a longer and longer list of things he wanted to do, wished he could do more about, and is of course having a big problem.” “The only thing that saves him, of course, is that there doesn’t seem to be anybody to run against him next year,” Conyers said.

CNN: Santorum hits Romney over health care
Potential 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum went after another possible candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, over Romney’s support for the universal health care law in his state. In an interview Monday with the Boston Globe, the former Pennsylvania senator said the state law and current federal laws “tend to drive employers out of the private sector plans because they’re expensive and more people end up on the government plan.” “Ultimately, it’s a failure,” Santorum said.

Roll Call: Davis Seeks ‘Tea Party’ Line in N.Y.
Republican nominee Jane Corwin appears to be avoiding many of the pitfalls that produced the GOP’s last New York special election disaster, but Jack Davis could still make things interesting. Corwin formally captured the endorsements of the Conservative and Independence Parties in recent days, securing her place on the May 24 ballot on those two ballot lines in addition to the Republican line. But Davis, an independently wealthy businessman who failed to capture the GOP nomination over Corwin, has since hired a “petition signature-gathering firm” to help ensure he gets a spot on the special election ballot to succeed former Rep. Chris Lee (R). Further, Davis, a former Democrat, has taken advantage of New York’s quirky election laws and will likely get the “Tea Party” ballot line, a move that has angered the area’s largest tea party group, which hasn’t been particularly fond of Davis thus far.

CNN: Special election date announced in California
A special election has been called to fill the vacancy left by California Democratic Rep. Jane Harman. Dean Logan, the Registrar-Recorder and County Clerk for Los Angeles, said Monday a July 12 special election and May 17 primary will be held to fill the seat in California’s 36th district. Harman left Congress last month to become president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington-based research institution.

CNN: Top Barbour aide resigns amid controversy
The press secretary for Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour resigned Monday after Politico reported that Dan Turner wrote internal e-mails poking fun at former Attorney General Janet Reno, and that he made insensitive jokes about the earthquake in Japan. “Gov. Haley Barbour has accepted Dan Turner’s resignation as Press Secretary. Laura Hipp will now serve in that capacity,” a statement for the potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate said. The e-mails, which were a compilation of the day’s press clippings, historical notes, and apparent jokes, were circulated within and outside of Barbour’s official government office and were obtained by Politico. One shows that last Friday, Turner purportedly wrote, “Otis Redding posthumously received a gold record for his single, (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay. (Not a big hit in Japan right now.)”

NATIONAL
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Honolulu Star Advertiser: Tsunami damage estimate for Hawaii now tens of millions
The damage to government facilities, private businesses and residential property in Hawaii from Friday’s tsunami is now estimated in the tens of millions — a figure that’s expected to climb, Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s spokeswoman said Monday. Spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said the figure is a rough estimate that is likely to increase after state Civil Defense crews return from Maui and Molokai. Previously, Civil Defense director Ed Teixeira conservatively put the initial damage estimate for state property at $ 3 million.

Wall Street Journal: Potassium Iodide Runs Low as Americans Seek It Out
Supplies of potassium iodide, a preventive against radiation poisoning of the thyroid gland, are running low at some manufacturers, as Americans seek protection amid fears that radiation from Japan could head to the U.S., according to the companies. One leading supplier, Anbex Inc., quickly sold out of its supply of more than 10,000 14-tablet packages on Saturday, said Alan Morris, president of the Williamsburg, Va., company. He said the closely held firm was getting about three orders a minute for $ 10 packages of its Iosat pills, up from as few as three a week normally.

CNN: Bus accident kills 2, injures 42 in New Jersey
Two people died and 42 others were taken to local hospitals Monday evening following a bus accident along the New Jersey Turnpike, near East Brunswick, state police said. The bus driver was killed when he was ejected through the front window, according to Sgt. Stephen Jones. A second person died at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Brunswick. Five others are in the hospital’s trauma unit. The “driver for some reason lost control … struck a guide rail and a concrete abutment,” Jones said.

CNN: Scientists: powerful neurotoxin drove millions of fish to deaths
A powerful neurotoxin likely drove millions of sardines to their death last week in Redondo Beach, California’s King Harbor, scientists said. David Caron, a University of Southern California professor of biological sciences, said his team took samples and found traces of a toxin that caused the fish to become disoriented and swim chaotically into the marina.

INTERNATIONAL
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CNN: Nuclear fears grow as death toll escalates in Japan
An escalating crisis at a nuclear power plant compounded the human devastation in Japan Tuesday. As the death toll from the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the resulting tsunami steadily ascended, residents waited with anxiety about radiation exposure. The confirmed number of dead reached 2,478 on Tuesday. The toll is expected to rise as rescuers reach more hard-hit areas. And nuclear concerns escalated from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, as Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Tuesday the risk of further releases of radioactive material remains “very high.”

CNN: U.S. Navy aircraft carrier detects radiation
U.S. Navy personnel are taking precautionary measures after instruments aboard an aircraft carrier docked in Japan detected low levels of radioactivity from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the Navy said Tuesday. The USS George Washington was docked for maintenance in Yokosuka, about 175 miles (280 kilometers) from the plant, when instruments detected the radiation at 7 a.m. Tuesday (6 p.m. ET Monday), the Navy said in a statement. Personnel will limit outdoor activities and secure external ventilation systems there and at a nearby air facility in Atsugi.

CNNMoney: Earthquake aid totals $ 23 million – far less than Haiti
Individuals, companies and charities have been quick to rally in the aftermath of the massive earthquake that rocked Japan on Friday, but donations have been slow to come. Donations have reached nearly $ 23 million so far, according to an early tally by the American Red Cross and the Chronicle of Philanthropy, a newspaper covering nonprofit organizations. That number is far below the first four-day totals of other recent natural disasters. More than $ 150 million was raised toward relief within four days of the crisis in Haiti, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, donations exceeded $ 108 million during the crucial first four days.

CNN: Rebels appear to slow government forces’ advance in Libya
Rebels appeared Monday to have slowed the eastward advance of Libyan government forces toward Benghazi at the town of al-Brega. But it was not clear late in the day who controlled al-Brega, which contains a large oil refinery and natural gas plant, said CNN’s Ben Wedeman, reporting from Benghazi, which is about two hours away. Meanwhile, government planes carried out air raids 40 minutes from al-Brega, in the town of Ajdabiya.

CNN: U.S. providing $ 21 million in aid for Libyans
As the debate continues over whether the U.S. should involve itself directly in the upheaval in Libya, millions of dollars of American aid is arriving there already. Safety concerns mean U.S. disaster experts have been unable to enter Libya to see first-hand the dimensions of the humanitarian crisis, State Department officials said Monday, but U.S. partners are dispensing assistance. Most of that aid is moving to the eastern part of the country, controlled by rebels fighting Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

CNN: Foreign troops enter Bahrain as protests continue
Foreign troops arrived Monday in the strategically and financially important Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain after a month of citizen protests, the Bahraini government said. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain’s giant neighbor to the west, appears to have provided at least some of the troops, who arrived under the banner of the Gulf Cooperation Council. In a statement, the government described the troops as “coalition forces” but did not say what countries were represented. Their mission was equally vague: “The GCC Peninsula Shield coalition forces arrived in the Kingdom of Bahrain today following recent events, to help protect the safety of citizens, residents and critical infrastructure,” it said.

New York Times: U.S.-Saudi Tensions Intensify With Mideast Turmoil
Even before Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain on Monday to quell an uprising it fears might spill across its own borders, American officials were increasingly concerned that the kingdom’s stability could ultimately be threatened by regional unrest, succession politics and its resistance to reform. So far, oil-rich Saudi Arabia has successfully stifled public protests with a combination of billions of dollars in new jobs programs and an overwhelming police presence, backed by warnings last week from the foreign minister to “cut any finger that crosses into the kingdom.” Monday’s action, in which more than 2,000 Saudi-led troops from gulf states crossed the narrow causeway into Bahrain, demonstrated that the Saudis were willing to back their threats with firepower.

CNN: Five Somalis sentenced to life in piracy case
Five Somali men were sentenced Monday to life plus 80 years in prison for engaging in piracy and related offenses in last year’s attack on a U.S. warship in the Indian Ocean, federal officials announced Monday. “Today marks the longest sentence ever given to a pirate in U.S. court, following the first time in over 190 years that an American jury has convicted a defendant of piracy,” Neil H. MacBride, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement. “Today’s sentences should send a clear message to those who attempt to engage in piracy: Armed attacks on U.S.-flagged vessels carry severe consequences in U.S. courts.”

CNN: Aristide’s lawyer dismisses State Department warning
A lawyer for former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide scoffed Monday at a U.S. government warning that his client’s planned return to Haiti from South Africa could disrupt elections scheduled for Sunday. “The U.S. government has done everything they can to keep him halfway around the world,” said Ira Kurzban, Aristide’s longtime, Miami-based lawyer. “For them to issue this ridiculous statement that it was voluntary and that he voluntarily stayed in South Africa is pure fiction. He’s been trying to come back for seven years.”

BUSINESS
For the latest business news: www.CNNMoney.com

CNN: Nikkei plunges in quake aftermath
Japanese stocks plunged more than 14 percent at one point Tuesday afternoon before cutting losses slightly, as Japan grapples with a crisis at an earthquake-damaged nuclear power plant and the aftermath of last week’s earthquake and tsunami. By early afternoon the Nikkei 225 index, the most prominent measure of Tokyo market stocks, had dropped 1,373 points, or 14.27 percent. That was on top of a 6.2% drop Monday, the first full trading day after the quake.

CNN: BoJ releases $ 265 billion to calm markets
The Bank of Japan on Monday made Y21,800 billion ($ 265 billion) available to financial institutions and doubled its asset-buying program to Y10,000 billion in a bid to stabilize markets following the country’s worst ever earthquake disaster. In its largest ever one-day liquidity operation to calm markets, Japan’s central bank said it would make Y15,000 billion available immediately and a further Y6,800 billion over the next two days in order to deal with an expected rise in demand for funds. The BoJ said its decision to double the asset-buying program was taken “with a view to pre-empting a deterioration in business sentiment and an increase in risk aversion in financial markets from adversely affecting economic activity”.

CNN: U.S. stocks finish in the red as Japan remains in focus
U.S. stocks came off session lows but finished in the red Monday, after Japan’s leading stock index plunged in reaction to last week’s massive earthquake and tsunami. The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) closed down 51 points points, or 0.4%. Earlier in the session, it had lost as many at 147 points. The modest decline was led by a 2% slide in shares of General Electric (GE, Fortune 500), following news that the company designed all six of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan. S&P 500 (SPX) fell 8 points, or 0.6%, as shares of luxury retailers Coach (COH) and Tiffany & Co. (TIF) – which have been building their presence in Japan – slid more than 5%. Nuclear power plant operator Entergy (ETR, Fortune 500) was also a big loser, dropping 4.9%. Meanwhile, the tech-heavy Nasdaq (COMP) lost 15 points, or 0.5%.

In Case You Missed It

Anderson Cooper speaks to Jim Walsh and Dr. Sanjay Gupta about the latest nuclear health warnings issued in Japan.
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2011/03/15/exp.ac.japan.nuke.warning.cnn

Subscribe to the CNN=Politics DAILY podcast at http://www.cnn.com/politicalpodcast

And now stay posted on the latest from the campaign trail by downloading the CNN=Politics SCREENSAVER at http://www.CNN.com/situationroom


CNN Political Ticker

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