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: U.S. navigates carefully between supporting Mubarak, democratic ideals
Egypt's roiling political unrest is causing the United States to fine-tune a foreign policy equation that for 30 years has valued strategic partnership with President Hosni Mubarak over democratic ideals, experts said Monday. The widespread street demonstrations demanding Mubarak's ouster have so far drawn a measured U.S. response that advocates step-by-step reforms for pro-democracy changes while maintaining stability. Even hawkish conservatives generally opposed to Obama administration policies have backed the U.S. response, citing the overarching need to prevent an unpredictable power vacuum if Mubarak were to be quickly forced out of power. But one of Egypt's leading opposition figures, Mohamed ElBaradei, warned Monday that the United States needs to "let go" of its longtime ally.
CNN: Top GOP senator criticizes Obama on Egypt
A top Senate Republican leader accused the Obama administration Monday of failing to promote democracy around the world with the same vigor of President George W. Bush, possibly leaving Egyptian protestors wondering if the U.S. really stands with them. "We might be in a better position if we had more closely followed President Bush's prescription for support of greater democracy in all parts of the world," Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, said as he stepped off the Senate floor Monday. "If we had maintained that position and had that reputation in the world….then our calls today for restraint would have more credibility because the people of Egypt would know our heart was with their desire for greater representation."
CNN: Key House Republican: Now not time to withhold Egypt funding
A House Republican with significant influence over funding for Egypt tells CNN she does not believe the United States should threaten to withhold financial aid to that country right now. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, the chairwoman of the House subcommittee in charge of foreign aid, said Monday it would not be in America's interest to use any of the $1.5 billion in assistance as a stick to try to force Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to put democratic reforms in place. "Things are changing as we speak and the most important thing for the us is to do whatever we can do to help towards stability in Egypt," Granger told CNN in a telephone interview from her Texas congressional district. "Egypt has been an ally and a friend."
CNN: Egypt becomes 2012 fodder
Potential 2012 GOP presidential candidates are slowly wading into the uprising in Egypt, all concerned about the ripple effects throughout the world. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty went the furthest, calling for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down. "I think his time is going to come to an end. It should come to an end," Pawlenty said Monday according to The Des Moines Register. "But as that vacuum gets filled, we want to do all we can to make sure it gets filled by institutions and people and leaders that share our principles, and values of freedom and democracy and human rights."
New York Times: Pakistani Nuclear Arms Pose Challenge to U.S. Policy
New American intelligence assessments have concluded that Pakistan has steadily expanded its nuclear arsenal since President Obama came to office, and that it is building the capability to surge ahead in the production of nuclear-weapons material, putting it on a path to overtake Britain as the world’s fifth largest nuclear weapons power. For the Obama administration, the assessment poses a direct challenge to a central element of the president’s national security strategy, the reduction of nuclear stockpiles around the world. Pakistan’s determination to add considerably to its arsenal — mostly to deter India — has also become yet another irritant in its often testy relationship with Washington, particularly as Pakistan seeks to block Mr. Obama’s renewed efforts to negotiate a global treaty that would ban the production of new nuclear material.
CNN: Federal judge tosses out sweeping health care reform act
A federal judge in Florida has tossed out the sweeping health care reform law championed by President Barack Obama, setting up what is likely to be a contentious Supreme Court challenge over the legislation in coming months. Monday's sweeping ruling came in the most closely watched of the two dozen separate challenges to the law. Florida along with 25 states had filed a lawsuit last spring, seeking to dismiss a law critics had labeled "Obamacare." U.S. District Judge Robert Vinson declared unconstitutional the key provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act - the so-called "individual mandate" requiring most Americans to buy health insurance by 2014 or face penalties. Vinson also declared unconstitutional the section of the act that withholds Medicare funds from states that refuse to participate.
CNN: Huntsman to step down
U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman submitted a hand-delivered letter of resignation to President Obama Monday, effective April 30th, according to two senior administration officials. The news comes amid speculation that the former Utah governor will run for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. At the White House briefing Monday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration expected the ambassador to leave his post in the first part of 2011.
CNN: 2012 contenders invited to New Hampshire for conservative summit
Americans for Prosperity has invited a slate of potential Republican presidential candidates – including Sarah Palin and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint – to the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire for an April summit on the topics of jobs and spending. The forum is part of a larger evening sponsored by the conservative group to honor Ovide LaMontagne as their "Conservative of the Year." LaMontagne, a Manchester attorney and veteran of Granite State Republican politics, narrowly lost his bid to capture the GOP Senate nomination to Kelly Ayotte last year.
USA Today: Chairman: Republican Party is $23M in debt
The new chairman of the Republican National Committee is being candid about the GOP's financial troubles, issuing a statement that the party is $23 million in debt - more than what a new campaign finance report says. Reince Priebus, the RNC chairman, says the party has $15 million in outstanding loans and owes $8 million to vendors. The GOP's year-end report to the Federal Election Commission, filed in Washington today, shows $21 million in red ink. "We have our work cut out for us, but I am confident we will succeed in turning around the RNC through hard work, transparency and honesty with our hardworking grassroots activists and donors," Priebus said.
Politico: DCCC $19 million in debt
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee heads into the 2012 campaign cycle $19 million in debt, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission released Monday. The committee reported that it raised $1.6 million between Nov. 23 and Dec. 31, leaving it with $805,000 cash on hand. The National Republican Congressional Committee is $10.5 million in debt. The House GOP campaign arm reported that it raised just short of $1.9 million and has $2.5 million on hand. The NRCC paid off $1.5 million of its remaining debt.
CNNMoney: California Gov. Jerry Brown pushes tax hikes
Californians should decide whether they want to pay $12 billion more in taxes to help plug the state's massive budget shortfall, said Gov. Jerry Brown Monday. In his State of the State address, Brown urged legislators to put his plan to extend income and sales tax hikes on the ballot in a special election in June. If they don't, the governor said the state will see even harsher spending cuts than the $12.5 billion he is proposing. "At this moment of extreme difficulty, it behooves us to turn to the people and get a clear mandate on how we should proceed - either to extend the taxes, as I fervently believe, or to cut deeply into the programs from which, under federal law, we can still extract the sums required," said Brown.
Wall Street Journal: Taxes Boost State Coffers
State tax revenue grew at the fastest rate in nearly five years during the fourth quarter, as the steadily improving economy and higher taxes in some states propelled strong growth in income- and sales-tax collections. But most states still face budget cuts this year, as collections remain below pre-recession peaks and states are no longer able to fall back on stimulus funds from the federal government to fill budget gaps. State tax collections increased 6.9% in 41 states that have reported their revenue, according to a report to be released Tuesday by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government at the State University of New York.
Austin-American Statesman: Medicaid diagnosis: We're billions short
The chief of the state's Health and Human Services Commission, Tom Suehs, will tell members of the Senate Finance Committee today that the Medicaid estimates they've been looking at are a little bit off by several billion dollars. The senators have been looking at a base budget that does not take into account the cost of adding 250,000 people who are expected to join the rolls of Medicaid. The additions to the program, which pays for health care for the state's poorest residents, come from typical growth in the number of eligible people and are not the result of federal health care reform. The higher price tag is due to medical costs rising through inflation, more people using the program and more services being provided, said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the state's Health and Human Services Commission.
Chicago Sun Times: Gov. Quinn signs civil union bill into law
Gov. Quinn on Monday signed a bill legalizing civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. “Here we are in 2011 on the eve of Abraham Lincoln’s 202nd birthday and I think this is very special,” Quinn said as 20 politicians joined him on stage and hundreds of supporters packed a hall in the Chicago Cultural Center. “We believe in civil rights and we believe in civil unions.” With the move, Illinois joins five other states and the District of Columbia in establishing statewide laws to provide the equivalent of state-level spousal rights to same sex couples.
CNN: Bush daughter supports gay marriage
Former President George W. Bush's daughter Barbara is appearing in a new web video in support of gay marriage. The 20-second spot released Monday is sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization that works to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. "I'm Barbara Bush and I'm a New Yorker for marriage equality," Bush says. "New York is about fairness and equality and everyone should have the right to marry the person that they love. Join us."
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CNN: Lawyer: Woman called 'Jihad Jane' to plead guilty
Colleen LaRose, the woman who authorities say called herself "Jihad Jane" on YouTube, has changed her mind about fighting government charges that she was plotting to wage violent jihad overseas. She planned to plead guilty at a hearing Tuesday. LaRose's lawyer, Mark Wilson, said Friday "she is going to plead guilty" at a change-of-plea hearing in a Philadelphia federal court. LaRose was indicted in 2009 on four counts, including conspiring to support terrorists and kill someone overseas. She was allegedly part of a plot to murder Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who outraged some by depicting the prophet Mohammed with the body of a dog in 2007.
CNN: Massive winter system spans 2,000 miles, threatens Midwest cities
Several major Midwest metropolitan areas are bracing for a massive winter storm system that threatened to dump a foot or more of snow and bring potentially debilitating winds. Political and emergency personnel leaders in Oklahoma City, St. Louis and Chicago, among other locales, vowed they were prepared to weather the storm. The leaders of several states, many of which have already had a difficult winter, also commandeered their forces even as they urged people to stay home. "Folks should batten down the hatches and hold on," Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said. "The most likely place to get hurt is out on the road."
CNN: Study puts spotlight on red-light cameras
The national debate over red-light cameras is heating up again as a new analysis from a traffic safety group argues that the controversial devices saved 159 lives in 14 cities during a five-year period. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says red-light cameras reduced the rate of fatal red-light running by 24% from 2004 to 2008. Had the cameras been installed in all U.S. cities with populations above 200,000, 815 deaths would have been prevented, says the Insurance Institute, a group funded by auto insurers that aims to reduce deaths, injuries and property damage caused by crashes on the nation's roads. "The cities that have the courage to use red-light cameras despite the political backlash are saving lives," IIHS President Adrian Lund says.
Washington Post: Tech firms' probe of Arlington Cemetery blames paper records, lack of oversight
Antiquated paper record-keeping and lack of oversight led to the mishandling of dozens of remains at the nation's most important military burial ground, according to a three-month review of Arlington National Cemetery's operations by a consortium of technology companies. "The current reliance on paper-only records, combined with technical obsolescence and undocumented handling and oversight procedures, has contributed to [the cemetery's] inability to fully account for remains," according to a report issued Monday by the Northern Virginia Technology Council. "The confusion that results from poor records management leads to loss of public trust." To regain that trust, the cemetery must digitize its records, improve its scheduling system and establish a rigorous chain of custody for remains as they move from funeral homes to burial, the report said.
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CNN: As Mubarak cuts communications, major demonstrations expected
Egypt braced for a "march of millions" in anti-government protests Tuesday as embattled President Hosni Mubarak tried to throw up literal and figurative roadblocks in the way of demonstrators calling for his ouster. Major demonstrations are planned for Cairo, Alexandria and other cities, the latest in a series of rallies that began a week ago. Protesters have defied orders for a curfew, and the country's powerful military announced Monday that it would not open fire on peaceful demonstrators. A leading opposition figure told CNN that the United States needs to be ready to "let go of Mubarak," a longtime ally.
CNN: Long a stable bulwark, military now a bellwether of Egypt's future
As military and security veterans take top roles in President Hosni Mubarak's new government, it's unclear in the tumult whether their allegiance ultimately sides with the embattled Mubarak or with demonstrators demanding a regime change, experts said Monday. The military's prominence in the new cabinet starts at the top: Egypt's former air force chief and aviation minister, Ahmed Shafiq, is the new prime minister. He was appointed by Mubarak, who also rose to power through the air force, with Shafiq even under his command in the 1970s, analysts said. The air force is regarded as the most privileged branch of the armed forces, with extensive perks. Mubarak's intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, is now the vice president, a post that Mubarak had left vacant the past 30 years.
Washington Post: Kabul Bank employees flee to Pakistan amid investigation into lending, officials say
The acting chief financial officer and other Pakistani employees of Kabul Bank have fled Afghanistan amid an investigation into the scope of the bank's reckless lending and allegations that its shareholders paid large bribes to many senior Afghan officials, according to Afghan officials and others familiar with the issue. The executive, Rana Tayyab Tahir, and his colleagues in the finance department of Afghanistan's largest and most sophisticated bank fled to Pakistan on Jan. 14, a move some said was made out of fear for their lives and possible arrest in Afghanistan.
BBC: North Korea has more secret nuclear sites – UN report
UN experts believe North Korea has at least one hidden nuclear site, according to leaks of a UN report. The report relies on evidence from US scientist Siegfried Hecker who visited a secret site in November last year. He told the UN's panel of experts that the centrifuges he saw probably came from other hidden facilities, say reports quoting unnamed diplomats. The panel's report, which has not yet been published, was handed to the Security Council last week.
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CNN: BP reports annual loss after Gulf spill
Oil giant BP suffered an annual loss for 2010 because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it announced Tuesday. It reported a loss of $4.9 billion, but that includes $40.9 billion set aside pre-tax in charges related to the spill. It will also start paying dividends to shareholders again, it announced. Dividends were suspended in June 2010 amid a torrent of bad publicity about the undersea gusher. "2010 will rightly be remembered for the tragic accident and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and it is clear that as a result BP is a company in transition," said chief executive Bob Dudley, who took over after the spill.
New York Times: Gas Drilling Technique Is Labeled Violation
Oil and gas service companies injected tens of millions of gallons of diesel fuel into onshore wells in more than a dozen states from 2005 to 2009, Congressional investigators have charged. Those injections appear to have violated the Safe Water Drinking Act, the investigators said in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday. The diesel fuel was used by drillers as part of a contentious process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves the high-pressure injection of a mixture of water, sand and chemical additives — including diesel fuel — into rock formations deep underground. The process, which has opened up vast new deposits of natural gas to drilling, creates and props open fissures in the rock to ease the release of oil and gas. But concerns have been growing over the potential for fracking chemicals — particularly those found in diesel fuel — to contaminate underground sources of drinking water.
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