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.
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CNN: Gates tells troops 'don't ask, don't tell' is still in effect
Despite President Barack Obama's signing of a law repealing the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent a memo to troops warning them that it remains in effect until 60 days after the government certifies that the military is ready for implementation. The Pentagon says it does not know how long the certification process may take. In the meantime, Gates is essentially telling gays and lesbians serving in the military not to come out until 60 days after that determination is made. "In order to prevent any confusion, I want to be perfectly clear: at this time, there are no new changes to any existing Department or Service policies," said the memo, released Thursday.
CNN: Reid embraces Tea Party candidate
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attached action to his bipartisan rhetoric by meeting with a Tea Party-backed candidate. In an interview on CNN's "John King, USA" airing Thursday, the Nevada Democrat said he had dinner with Rand Paul, the Republican Senator-elect from Kentucky who won a highly contested race in November. "I find him to be a very, very sincere person," Reid told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King. "I think that he's not going to be the flamethrower that people think he is."
Washington Post: White House presses for new climate, wilderness protections
The Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that it will regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and oil refineries next year in an attempt to curb global warming. The move, coming on the same day the Interior Department unveiled a plan to protect a broader swath of the nation's wilderness, demonstrated that the Obama administration is prepared to push its environmental agenda through regulation where it has failed on Capitol Hill, potentially setting up a battle next year with congressional Republicans. The two decisions were unrelated and are in their initial stages. But both could have broad ramifications, and both sparked an immediate outcry from key GOP lawmakers and some affected industry groups.
Bloomberg: For-Profit Colleges Double Spending to Beat Aid Rules
For-profit colleges more than doubled spending on lobbying and hired six former members of the U.S. Congress this year to fight regulations that threaten the industry. Ten education companies and their trade association spent $3.8 million on lobbying in the first nine months of 2010, up from $1.5 million in the comparable period last year, according to reports filed with Congress. For-profit colleges are resisting a U.S. Department of Education proposal to restrict funding and objecting to a law that limits their revenue from government sources. The proposed restriction, called “gainful employment,” would tie eligibility for federal student-aid programs to graduates’ incomes and loan repayment rates.
CNN: Obama extending vacation
After delaying the start of his Hawaiian vacation because of the lame duck session of Congress, President Obama has decided to extend his trip by a day and will now head back to Washington on January 2, according to sources familiar with the schedule. Obama was originally planning to leave Hawaii on New Year's Day. Because the start of his vacation was delayed by several days, he has decided to tack an extra day to the tail end of the trip. The primary reason for the change was the president's desire to spend more time with first lady Michelle Obama and their two daughters, the sources say.
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CNN: Citing terror threat, airport security focuses on insulated containers
The Transportation Security Administration issued a statement Thursday signaling its intention to focus on insulated beverage containers, noting growing concerns that terrorists might conceal explosives inside such items. The announcement came during the Christmas holiday, traditionally one of the busier times at airports nationwide. Passengers can still carry insulated beverage containers through security and onto flights, the federal agency noted. But, the statement noted, airport security officers alerted passengers that they will observe "additional security measures ... in the coming days" on such items.
CNN Money: The rich are much richer than you and me
The gap between the rich and the middle class is larger than it has ever been due to the bursting of the housing bubble. The richest 1% of U.S. households had a net worth 225 times greater than that of the average American household in 2009, according to analysis conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank. That's up from the previous record of 190 times greater, which was set in 2004. The widening gap came even as wealthy households' average net worth tumbled 27% - to about $14 million - between 2007 to 2009. That's the first time that they suffered a decline since the three-year period of 1992 to 1995. Meanwhile, the average family's net worth plunged 41% - to just $62,200 - from 2007 to 2009, according to EPI's calculations.
CNN: Salmonella outbreak linked to alfalfa sprouts
A salmonella outbreak linked to alfalfa sprouts has sickened 89 people in 15 states and the District of Columbia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday. About 23% of those sickened were hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported, according to the CDC. Health officials say the first cases identified date to November 1. The preliminary investigation shows a possible link to alfalfa sprouts. "Preliminary results of this investigation indicate a link to eating alfalfa sprouts at a national sandwich chain," the CDC said in a statement.
Los Angeles Times: California says census missed 1.5 million residents
California officials estimate that the U.S. Census Bureau failed to count 1.5 million of the state's residents, a discrepancy that if true could cost the state billions of dollars in federal aid over the next decade and perhaps an increase in its representation in Congress. On Tuesday, the Census Bureau released national and state population figures that declared California to have 37.3 million residents, 10% more than in 2000. That growth — based on mailed-in surveys and door-to-door interviews by census takers — roughly mirrored the nation's, but meant that for the first time since California became a state in 1850 it did not grow enough to add another member to its congressional delegation. But according to the state Department of Finance, the state's population was 38.8 million on July 1. That figure is drawn from birth and death statistics, school-enrollment data, driver's license address changes, tax returns and Medicare enrollment, a set of data points that provides a "more refined" picture of the population, according to H.D. Palmer, a finance department spokesman.
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CNN: Russian president lauds U.S. passage of nuclear arms treaty
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday congratulated President Barack Obama on the Senate's approval of a new nuclear arms control treaty between the countries, the White House said. According to a White House statement, the two presidents spoke by phone on the first day of Obama's Hawaiian holiday after Congress adjourned Wednesday in a flurry of legislative action, including the Senate vote to pass the treaty - a major foreign policy objective of the Obama administration. "President Obama and President Medvedev spoke by phone this morning to discuss the new START treaty and their continued close cooperation on a range of critical issues," the White House statement said. "President Medvedev congratulated President Obama on the Senate's approval of the new START treaty, and the two leaders agreed that this was an historic event for both countries and for U.S.-Russia relations."
Washington Post: Afghan civilian casualties up sharply, U.N. reports
The number of civilians killed or wounded in the Afghan war increased by 20 percent during the first 10 months of this year compared with the same period last year, according to a U.N. report issued this week. The top U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, said as the world body released its latest quarterly report that insurgents are likely to stage high-profile attacks in the months ahead. "Before it gets better, it may get worse," he said. The report concluded that the number of civilian casualties attributable to insurgents increased by 25 percent during the 10-month period. It said insurgent groups were responsible for killing or injuring 4,738 civilians during that period, while 742 were killed or wounded by Afghan and international troops – a drop of 18 percent.
CNN: Officials: 45 people lynched in Haiti amid cholera fears
At least 45 people, most of them voodoo priests, have been lynched in Haiti since the beginning of the cholera epidemic by angry mobs blaming them for the spread of the disease, officials said. "People who practice voodoo have nothing to do with the cholera epidemic," said Max Beauvoir, the head of a voodoo organization in the Caribbean country. Beauvoir said Thursday that he has appealed to authorities to help before the situation gets worse. Some of the victims were killed with machetes, others were burned alive by mobs that added tires and gasoline to stoke the fires. The cholera outbreak started in October.
New York Times: U.S. Approved Business With Blacklisted Nations
Despite sanctions and trade embargoes, over the past decade the United States government has allowed American companies to do billions of dollars in business with Iran and other countries blacklisted as state sponsors of terrorism, an examination by The New York Times has found. At the behest of a host of companies — from Kraft Food and Pepsi to some of the nation’s largest banks — a little-known office of the Treasury Department has granted nearly 10,000 licenses for deals involving countries that have been cast into economic purgatory, beyond the reach of American business. Most of the licenses were approved under a decade-old law mandating that agricultural and medical humanitarian aid be exempted from sanctions. But the law, pushed by the farm lobby and other industry groups, was written so broadly that allowable humanitarian aid has included cigarettes, Wrigley’s gum, Louisiana hot sauce, weight-loss remedies, body-building supplements and sports rehabilitation equipment sold to the institute that trains Iran’s Olympic athletes.
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CNN Money: Giant oil pipeline in the works from Alberta to the Gulf
In the coming weeks, the Obama administration will decide if it wants to significantly increase the amount of oil the country imports from Canada's controversial Alberta oil sands. The State Department is set to issue what could be a final ruling to allow a massive new pipeline expansion from central Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. A decision is expected early in the new year. Known as Keystone, the project is an expansion of an existing pipeline that now terminates in Oklahoma. Stretching over 1,600 miles - twice the length of the Trans-Alaska system - the new pipeline would be one of the biggest in the country.
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