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: Cantor defends Peter King
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Tuesday defended Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King for holding a series of hearings on the "radicalization" of the American Muslim community and that community's response to it. The number two House GOP leader pointed to the 2009 attack at Fort Hood by a Muslim American soldier on fellow U.S. soldiers, and maintained that King's committee's job is to deal with potential threats to U.S. security. "We have got demonstrable occurrences in this country that show we've got a risk of the spread of radical Islam," Cantor said. "That's not within the security interests of the United States and its citizens –something we really want to work with folks to see if we can stop."
New York Times: For Lawmaker Examining Terror, a Pro-I.R.A. Past
For Representative Peter T. King, as he seizes the national spotlight this week with a hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims, it is the most awkward of résumé entries. Long before he became an outspoken voice in Congress about the threat from terrorism, he was a fervent supporter of a terrorist group, the Irish Republican Army. “We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry,” Mr. King told a pro-I.R.A. rally on Long Island, where he was serving as Nassau County comptroller, in 1982. Three years later he declared, “If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the I.R.A. for it.”
CNN: Senate GOP shoring up votes for deep spending cuts
Senate Republican leaders Tuesday put pressure on GOP moderates balking at voting for a budget-slashing bill passed by House Republicans. Democrats had planned to vote Tuesday on the House bill – which would cut government spending by $61 billion-as well as a competing, scaled-down, measure proposed by Democrats but Senate leaders indicated late Tuesday the vote would likely slide until Wednesday. Democrats blamed Republican leaders for deliberately stalling action on the dueling spending bills so they could work to prevent politically damaging GOP defections from the House Republican bill. Democrats said sagging GOP support is proof that the cuts in the bill are too deep.
CNNMoney: National debt: 'Time for gridlock is over'
As lawmakers continued to butt heads over how much spending should be cut over the next seven months, a few senators on Tuesday were trying to keep the focus where they think it belongs - the next several decades. "The time for gridlock is over. We do not have time to go around the bush and around the bush and around the bush to debate the specifics of our perfect solutions," said Republican Sen. Mike Crapo. Crapo was speaking on Capitol Hill at the launch of the Moment of Truth project, created to help build momentum for a bipartisan plan to reduce the debt. He is part of a small group of senators - three Democrats and three Republicans known as the "Gang of 6" - trying to craft legislation to that end.
CNN: Obama defends education spending plans
President Barack Obama insisted Tuesday that education spending needs to be spared from the growing drive for fiscal austerity, telling an audience of students and teachers in Massachusetts that cutbacks would ultimately prove self-defeating. "We need to come up with a budget that forces government to live within its means," Obama said. But we "cannot cut back on job-creating investments like education." The president stressed the need for blending public education reform - including greater accountability - and higher spending.
CNN: Democratic Reps. protest Obama budget cuts
Hours before President Obama was to fly to Boston to push his administration's education initiative, two congressmen from the president's own party held a press conference to protest the administration's proposed budget cuts to a program to help the poor afford heating oil. Massachusetts congressmen Jim McGovern and Michael Capuano joined former Democratic congressman Joe Kennedy to criticize the administration's attempts to cut in half the $5.1 billion budget to fund LIHEAP, the low income energy assistance program. McGovern said that while he has been a firm supporter of Obama, this was not a protest against the president but instead against the cuts.
CNN: E-mails: Wisconsin governor offers concessions on budget bill
An e-mail exchange released by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's office on Tuesday has revealed a series of potential Republican concessions to a three-week standoff over a budget bill that would restrict the collective bargaining rights of most public workers. The e-mails show a discussion between Walker's deputy chief of staff, Eric Schutt, and Democratic state Sens. Tim Cullen and Bob Jauch in a correspondence that reveals offers and counter-offers between two sides who have remained at an impasse since mid-February.
Chicago Tribune: Quinn expected to sign death penalty ban
Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign historic legislation abolishing the death penalty in Illinois on Wednesday, according to the House sponsor and sources familiar with the governor's plans. The Democratic governor on Tuesday quietly invited death penalty opponents to a private bill-signing ceremony scheduled for late Wednesday morning in his Springfield office. Quinn's office confirmed that the governor has an event at the Capitol on Wednesday to announce his decision on the death penalty measure. "They point-blank told me they were signing the bill (Wednesday)," sponsoring Rep. Karen Yarbrough told the Tribune.
CNN: Gibbs pulls out of DNC contention as Kaine inches closer to Senate bid
Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is taking himself out of the running for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, telling CNN in an exclusive interview that if DNC chief Tim Kaine steps down to run for the U.S. Senate he will not be a candidate for the post. "I had an opportunity to do that when my name got floated six months ago," Gibbs told CNN in a telephone interview. "I am not going to run the DNC." The decision by Gibbs comes as top Democratic officials privately say Kaine is now expected to announce, likely by the end of the week, that he will indeed run for the Senate and vacate his party post though officials stressed a final decision has not been made.
CNN: Lawmakers, grieving parents push federal standards for teen licenses
Flanked by parents whose children were killed in automobile accidents, congressional lawmakers Tuesday again launched a campaign for federal licensing standards for teenage drivers. Holding a poster-sized photograph of his daughter Michelle - a fatality at the age of 15 - a sobbing Ray Sanderbeck of Medina, Ohio, told a news conference, "Today I hold her in my arms and ask you to support the STANDUP act." STANDUP is the acronym for the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection act, and it would raise state licensing requirements to a consistent level nationwide. State governments would implement the requirements the way they see fit, including possible exceptions for farm kids in rural areas.
Boston Globe: Drug czar, speaking at Harvard, faints
The director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, R. Gil Kerlikowske, also known as the "Drug Czar," collapsed this afternoon while speaking to law students at Harvard, officials said. Shortly before 2 p.m, Kerlikowske was speaking to students about US drug policy when he fell ill and fainted, said Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesman for the drug control office. After being treated by emergency medical personnel at the scene, Kerlikowske was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was evaluated and released, Lemaitre said. Later Tuesday, at Logan International Airport on his way back to Washington, D.C., Kerlikowske fainted again at about 6 p.m. and was taken back to MGH for further evaluation.
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CNN: Officials: Lack of oxygen likely cause of fish kill in California
A southern California fish kill that authorities identified as "millions" of sardines is not the result of any environmental foul play but rather is the product of natural forces, officials said Tuesday. Floating fish were so pervasive in King Harbor Marina in Redondo Beach, California, that some moored boats seemed surrounded not by water but by the lifeless aquatic animals a foot deep. "All evidence points to oxygen deprivation as cause of death," California Department of Fish and Game spokesman Andrew Hughan told CNN.
Washington Post: Report reveals steep increase in war amputations last fall
The majority of American soldiers undergoing amputation for war wounds last fall lost more than one limb, according to data presented Tuesday to the Defense Health Board, a committee of experts that advises the Defense Department on medical matters. Military officials had previously released data showing that amputations, and especially multiple-limb losses, increased last year. The information presented to the 20-member board is the first evidence that the steepest increase occurred over the last four months of the year. In September 2010, about two-thirds of all war-theater amputation operations involved a single limb (usually a leg) and one-third two or more limbs. The split was roughly 50-50 in October and November. In December, only one-quarter of amputation surgery involved only one limb; three-quarters involved the loss of two or more limbs.
CNNMoney: Madoff trustee ready to distribute $2.6B to victims
The court-appointed trustee charged with recovering assets stolen by Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff is ready to distribute $2.6 billion worth of recovered funds to the victims. This will be the first time that Madoff's victims will receive recovered funds. Together on a press call Tuesday, trustee Irving Picard and chief counsel David Sheehan said that they will make a request to federal bankruptcy court at the end of March to free up a portion of the $10 billion in assets that the trustee has recovered so far. "We will make a distribution as soon as we can after the hearing [at the end of March] and assuming the court approves it," said Sheehan.
USA Today: Smart meters raise suspicions about accuracy
Coast to coast, from Maine to Marin County, Calif., the number of homes being outfitted with smart meters that keep a close eye on homeowner electricity use is on the rise. And so is the number of folks who think smart meters are a dumb idea. Some complain about the meters' accuracy. Some worry about potential burglars watching when they turn off the lights. Others center on fears the radio waves from the meters could trigger ringing ears, headaches, nausea, sleeplessness and worse. There's no medical evidence for the concern, but people still worry. "I'm old enough to remember running behind the DDT trucks as a child (which sprayed the insecticide as a gas cloud to kill mosquitoes), and everyone told us those were safe," says South Portland, Maine, Mayor Rosemarie De Angelis. She had her home's freshly installed smart electricity meter removed last fall. "It feels the same way now when people say smart meters are no problem."
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CNN: Defiant Gadhafi calls for countrymen to defend Libya
In the face of relentless international pressure and a mounting death toll, a defiant Moammar Gadhafi stuck to his assertion that youths misled and drugged by al Qaeda were to blame for the spiraling civil war in Libya. "For them, everybody's their enemy," Gadhafi said in a speech aired on Libyan state television Wednesday. "They know nothing other than killing." The speech was pre-recorded Tuesday when Gadhafi addressed a youth group of tribal supporters, urging them to defend Libya from those who envy its standard of living. "They want to take your petrol," he said. "This is what America, this is what the French, those colonialists, want."
CNN: Libya's helicopter forces are greatest threat, U.S. Marine chief says
Libya's helicopter forces are its greatest threat, the head of the Marine Corps said Tuesday. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, asked Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos about Libya's air capabilities during a committee hearing held to discuss the Navy's portion of the 2012 Defense budget request. "I think it's modest," Amos responded. "I think probably their greatest threat are their helicopter-type forces." Helicopters would be more difficult to target if the international community set up a no-fly zone. Such a zone would typically be enforced by fighter jets whose speed and altitude make it difficult to target helicopters, which move low and slow.
CNN: Rumsfeld doesn't support sending U.S. troops into Libya
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday he would not support sending U.S. troops into war-torn Libya, pointing out what he calls a key difference between leader Moammar Gadhafi and Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Unlike Hussein, Gadhafi chose not to continuously provoke the international community, Rumsfeld told CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight." "After he saw what happened to Saddam Hussein, he (Gadhafi) did not want to be Saddam Hussein," said Rumsfeld. "He gave up his nuclear program."
New York Times: Petraeus Sees Military Progress in Afghanistan
Besides well-reported advances in southern provinces, American and NATO forces have also been able to halt or reverse Taliban gains around the capital, Kabul, and even in the north and west of the country, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Afghanistan, said Tuesday. The general made his case for an improving overall picture in Afghanistan in an interview, offering a preview of what is likely to be his argument next week when he testifies before Congress for the first time since he took over command of coalition forces in Afghanistan eight months ago.
Washington Post: Should last remaining known smallpox virus die?
More than three decades after smallpox was eradicated, an international struggle has reemerged with new intensity about whether to destroy the only known specimens of the virus that causes one of humanity's worst scourges. Some public health authorities, infectious-disease specialists and national security experts say the time has come to autoclave hundreds of vials of the pathogen held in two high-security government labs in the United States and Russia. …But the U.S. and Russian governments, which have repeatedly delayed incinerating the samples, are fighting for another stay of execution. Scientists need the living virus, they say, to make a better vaccine and finish developing the first treatments in case the deadly microbe is unleashed again – by accident, by a bioterrorist or by re-creating it from the computerized records of its DNA sequences.
CNN: 41 sought in Italian crime syndicate crackdown
Authorities have in custody 34 people and are seeking the arrest of seven more as part of another major crackdown on the 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate, a prosecutor said Tuesday. The operation, dubbed "Crime 2," follows a similar one in July 2010, appropriately named "The Crime." "Crime 2" seeks to apprehend 41 people in Italy, Germany, Canada and Australia on charges ranging from homicide and illegal weapons possession to drug smuggling and money laundering. Officials sought to arrest between 200 and 300 people during the 2010 operation.
ABC News: Pirates Again Target Maersk Alabama
The Maersk Alabama was targeted again by suspected Somali pirates today, a U.S. official told ABC News. This is at least the third time pirates have targeted the Alabama, including the famous attack involving Capt. Richard Philips in the spring of 2009. The official said that four suspected pirates approached the ship in a skiff, and a hook ladder could be seen in the boat. When the skiff came within half a nautical mile, the ship's captain authorized warning shots to be fired.
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CNNMoney: Stocks surge as banks lead gains, oil drops
U.S. stocks closed broadly higher Tuesday, led by a strong performance in the financial sector. Easing oil prices lent further support. Crude prices retreated following reports that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is working to step down and exit the country safely. The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) advanced 124 points, or 1%, to close at 12,214; the S&P 500 (SPX) added 11.7 points, or 0.9%, to 1,321.80; and the Nasdaq Composite (COMP) gained 20 points, or 0.7%, to 2,766.
Wall Street Journal: Europe Blinks on Bank Test
European officials are poised to let regulators in individual countries use their own definitions of a key gauge of banks' health in coming "stress tests," threatening to undermine efforts to buttress faith in the Continent's ailing financial system. The new European Banking Authority, which is running the tests on 88 of Europe's biggest banks, has told regulators and bankers that the exams are likely to rely on each country's definition of an important capital ratio known as Tier 1, according to people familiar with the matter. If the plan goes through, some skeptical bankers and regulators worry, it could undermine the effort to end the European financial crisis.
CNNMoney: 'I'm sorry for what happened'
BP CEO Bob Dudley, addressing the largest oil industry gathering since the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico last spring, apologized for the blowout and questioned the industry's ongoing response to drilling safety and the unrest in the Middle East. Noting that the Middle East and North Africa produce nearly 30 million barrels of oil a day, a third of the world's supply, Dudley suggested a more collaborative approach to the crisis. "My question is whether we should be reacting in a more coordinated way as an industry," said Dudley, speaking before thousands of industry professionals at IHS CERA's annual energy conference. But Dudley kicked off his speech with an apology. "Since that accident, this is the first chance I have had to address such a large gathering of industry colleagues and the first thing I want to say is that I am sorry for what happened."
Baltimore Sun: More foreclosure irregularities alleged in Maryland
Prosecutors have launched an investigation into a complaint that more than 1,000 deeds for homes foreclosed upon in Maryland were improperly executed — the latest development suggesting widespread problems in the way foreclosures have been handled in the state. The complaint, filed last week by a paralegal formerly employed by the Shapiro & Burson law firm, lays out allegations that attorneys who were supposed to be signing deeds and key foreclosure paperwork for Maryland properties instead instructed others to falsify their signatures on the documents.
In Case You Missed It
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says it was a mistake to call the Afghanistan war a "War on Terror."
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