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: 'The hopes of a nation are here tonight'
In between consoling those touched by Saturday's Arizona shooting and warning the nation against politicizing the tragedy, President Barack Obama delivered some good news in his address at a Tucson memorial event on Wednesday. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona has opened her eyes for the first time since being shot four days ago. "There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts," Obama said. "But know this: The hopes of a nation are here tonight."
CNN: Boehner: Bipartisan prayer service can be 'source of solace'
Congress has responded to the Saturday shootings of 19 people, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, with a "collective embrace" rather than a "torrent of accusations," House Speaker John Boehner said at a bipartisan congressional prayer service Wednesday. "Our nation mourns for the victims. It yearns for peace. And it thirsts for answers," the Ohio representative said in his welcome statement at the service, according to a transcript of his remarks. The service, held for members of Congress, their spouses and some staffers, was not open to the public.
CNN: Members of Congress urged to report threats, coordinate security
Top law enforcement officials on Capitol Hill told House members Wednesday they are reviewing security measures but are not recommending any major changes to how they protect members in Washington or in their districts around the country. During closed door briefings, the House's top security official, Sergeant at Arms Bill Livingood, repeated directives he made on a bipartisan conference call Sunday night after Saturday's shooting of Arizona Democrat Rep. Gabby Giffords in Tucson, members and aides said afterwards. He reminded members to provide updated contact information and to designate a contact in each office to coordinate security needs with the Capitol Police and local law enforcement. If members or their offices receive any kind of threat, Livingood told them to report it to a special division of the Capitol Police already established to assess and respond to possible security issues.
CNN: Jim and Sarah Brady sound optimistic on Giffords
Nearly 30 years after he was shot in the head during the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, former White House Press Secretary Jim Brady knows what U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is going through. "Been there. Know that," Jim Brady said. "Sounds like she's got a great support group that's right there with her and that means a lot," he said. Brady and his wife, Sarah, are keeping a close eye on Giffords' progress, noting the congresswoman's remarkable recovery so far. Jim Brady also showed signs of rapid improvement in the days after he was wounded.
CNN: Palin criticized for using 'blood libel'
The Anti-Defamation League, an organization that combats anti-Semitism, says Sarah Palin should have used a different phrase than "blood libel" to characterize attempts to link her discourse to the Arizona shootings, the latest in a series of criticisms leveled at the former Alaska governor Wednesday over her use of the controversial term. "We wish that Palin had not invoked the phrase "blood-libel" in reference to the actions of journalists and pundits in placing blame for the shooting in Tucson on others," said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman in a statement. "While the term 'blood-libel' has become part of the English parlance to refer to someone being falsely accused, we wish that Palin had used another phrase, instead of one so fraught with pain in Jewish history."
CNN: Congressman happy rifle part engraved with "You Lie" no longer being sold
The Republican congressman who gained notoriety for shouting "You Lie" at President Obama is happy that a gun seller has stopped selling a part for a semi-automatic rifle that was engraved with his infamous words. +This comes amid the debate over whether provocative political rhetoric inflames violence. The issue is getting fresh scrutiny in the aftermath of the deadly Arizona shootings that left six dead and 13 wounded, including Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, wrote a letter to the head of the Palmetto State Armory thanking him for discontinuing the sale of the rifle part. The company is based in the state capital of Columbia.
Roll Call: Republican Redistricting Efforts Bankrupt for 2011?
Republicans are in danger of entering the next stage of redistricting at a significant financial disadvantage thanks to a cash-strapped Republican National Committee and a high-profile outside group that never got off the ground. In 2009, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and GOP lobbyist Charlie Black were part of a group that started Making America’s Promise Secure. The 501(c)(4) was supposed to handle the analytical and legal legs of the redistricting tripod for the GOP. Traditionally, the RNC centralized the Republican redistricting effort using soft money donations. But the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 banned soft money and left Republicans scrambling to reconfigure their redistricting strategy. MAPS was supposed to fill the vacuum, corral the GOP’s top redistricting talent and bear the financial burden since the group is not subject to federal contribution limits. But with states on the cusp of drawing new Congressional lines, MAPS is nowhere to be found.
CNNMoney: AIG to fully repay U.S. government
American International Group, which received a massive bailout in 2008, said Wednesday that it expects to complete a recapitalization by the end of the week that will allow it to fully pay back the government. Following through on a plan announced last year, AIG (AIG, Fortune 500) will convert outstanding preferred shares acquired by the Treasury into common stock. When the transaction is complete, the Treasury will own approximately 92% of AIG's common shares. The company said Wednesday that it expects Treasury will sell its shares of common stock over time, repaying the debt.
Detroit News: Congressional report critical of auto bailout
A report released in Washington on Wednesday questions the government's handling of its $85 billion auto bailout, claiming taxpayers lost $600 million when the Treasury sold its interest in Chrysler Financial. The Congressional Oversight Panel, charged with monitoring the $700 billion bailout fund for banks and the auto sector, said the Treasury Department may not have been vigilant enough in watching over its investment. The Treasury sold its interest in Chrysler Financial in May, allowing Cerberus Capital Management LP to sell the bulk of the company and its loan portfolio in December to Toronto-Dominion Bank, in a $6.1 billion deal. "Treasury's hasty unwinding of its position in Chrysler Financial, in which taxpayer returns appear to have been sacrificed in favor of an unnecessarily accelerated exit, (was) further compounded by apparently questionable due diligence," the report said. The report estimated Treasury lost $600 million in its early sale of its Chrysler Financial.
CNN: Senator wants changed seating for State of the Union
Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall released a letter Wednesday proposing that members of both political parties sit next to each other at this year's State of the Union address instead of the normal seating which is divided along party lines. "As the nation watches, Democrats and Republicans should reflect the interspersed character of America itself," Udall wrote. "Perhaps, by sitting with each other for one night, we will begin to rekindle that common spark that brought us here from 50 different states and widely diverging backgrounds to serve the public good."
CNN: Barbour meets with South Carolina politicos
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour braved some frigid weather Wednesday to appear at South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's historic inauguration, but he also managed to take care of some political business on the side as he prepares for a possible presidential bid in 2012. After Haley's swearing-in, Barbour convened something of a meet-and-greet with a handful of Republican legislators at the Palmetto Club in downtown Columbia, multiple GOP sources informed CNN. Among those planning to attend the closed-door meeting: David Wilkins, a former U.S. Ambassador and South Carolina House Speaker who remains a power broker in state GOP politics. Wilkins was also the chief of Haley's transition team.
CNN: Santorum heads back to South Carolina
Fresh off his eighth trip to New Hampshire as a likely presidential contender, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is adding a few South Carolina stops to his itinerary. An aide to Santorum told CNN that the dark horse candidate will keynote the Aiken County GOP lunch next Monday. CNN previously reported that Santorum is participating in Saturday's "Stand up for Life" march in Columbia, which will culminate in a rally on the steps of the South Carolina state house.
Baltimore Sun: O'Malley to seek bill boosting offshore wind power
Hoping to spur development of wind energy projects off Maryland's coast, Gov. Martin O'Malley is planning to introduce legislation that would require power companies in the state to buy electricity from turbines placed in the Atlantic Ocean, a spokesman said Wednesday. Details of the governor's bill are being worked out, spokesman Shaun Adamec said, but the O'Malley administration expects to propose legislation that would require utilities to sign contracts to buy significant amounts of power from offshore wind projects. The aim, he said, is "to essentially make the projects more attractive to investors and to give the industry the shot in the arm it needs."
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Washington Post: 2010 ties 2005 as warmest year on record, researchers say
Last year has tied 2005 as the warmest year on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies announced Wednesday. That conclusion, drawn from analyses of global surface temperatures, means that the decade that just ended included nine of the 10 hottest years on record. Derek Arndt, who heads the climate monitoring branch at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., said the new data should be viewed in the context of the record retreat of snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere at the end of the melt season and a near-record retreat of Arctic sea ice.
USA Today: USDA calls for dramatic change in school lunches
Hold the french fries and salt. The government is calling for dramatic changes in school meals, including limiting french fries, sodium and calories and offering students more fruits and vegetables. The proposed rule, being released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will raise the nutrition standards for meals for the first time in 15 years. This is the "first major improvement" in the standards that "we've seen in a generation, and it reflects the seriousness of the issue of obesity," says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
CNN: New England digs out after snowstorm
Much of New England appeared to be quickly recovering from snowstorms that have pummeled the region and snarled air traffic across the northeast. Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said the city's snow emergency and parking ban will be lifted at 9 a.m. Thursday, but public schools will be closed as crews continue clearing roads. He urged citizens to use public transportation. Amtrak, which had suspended rail service between New York City and points north was to resume Thursday.
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CNN: Explosions in Iraq kill 2
At least two people were killed and 14 others wounded when three roadside bombs exploded in three different neighborhoods in Baghdad on Thursday morning, an official with Iraq's interior ministry said. The attacks came the same day the U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived on an unannounced visit. Biden arrived in Iraq early Thursday to meet with top Iraqi government officials. "I'm here to help the Iraqis celebrate the progress they made. They formed a government. And that's a good thing. They have a long way to go," Biden said.
CNN: U.S. gaining in Afghanistan, but hard road ahead, military chief says
America's top military officer painted an upbeat picture Wednesday of progress in Afghanistan. But the Joint Chiefs chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, cautioned that recent successes are fragile and future advances will be costly. "The enemy is being pushed out of population centers. He's being denied sanctuary. And he's losing leaders by the score," Mullen said Wednesday. But he told reporters that the U.S. and allies must press ahead and redouble their efforts. The United States added 30,000 troops in 2010.
Financial Times: World moves closer to food price shock
The world has moved a step closer to a food price shock after the US government surprised traders by cutting stock forecasts for key crops, sending corn and soyabean prices to their highest level in 30 months. The price jump comes after the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation warned last week that the world could see repetition of the 2008 food crisis if prices rose further. The trend is becoming a major concern in developing countries. While officials are drawing comfort from stable rice prices, key for feeding Asia, they warn that a sustained period of high prices, especially in grains such as wheat, would hit poorer countries. Food price hikes have already led to riots in Algeria and Mozambique.
BBC: Italy judges to rule on controversial immunity law
Italy's Constitutional Court is due to give a ruling on whether the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, can be tried on corruption and fraud charges. Judges have to decide if legislation giving him temporary immunity from prosecution breaches the principle that all citizens are equal before the law. Mr Berlusconi is a defendant in two trials, but they have in effect been suspended because of the law. He has denied any wrongdoing and said he is indifferent to Thursday's ruling.
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Financial Times; Growth hopes push oil within reach of $100
Oil has risen to within reach of $100 a barrel for the first time since the 2008 price spike amid mounting optimism that global economic growth will boost demand.
But the sharp rise has also heightened concerns about the impact of soaring commodity prices on the global economy, particularly in emerging countries, as it comes on top of high costs for agricultural commodities and metals. The oil surge also comes on the back of supply disruptions such as this week’s outage in a pipeline in Alaska and strong investor inflows in commodities.
In Case You Missed It
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand recounts witnessing Rep. Giffords opening her eyes for the first time in her hospital bed.
President Obama says though nothing can fill the hole in the hearts of Arizonans, the nation's hopes are with them.
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