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. Muslim groups slam radicalization hearings
Leading American Muslims on Wednesday strongly criticized this week's planned congressional hearing into the alleged radicalization of members of their community, calling it an unfair attack on loyal citizens and a dangerous break from the traditional U.S. embrace of tolerance and pluralism. Rep. Peter King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has said Thursday's hearing is necessary to explore the extent to which al Qaeda is trying to influence and indoctrinate U.S. Muslims, among other things. But his plans have created an uproar, with critics accusing Republican leaders of bigotry and comparing the hearings to Sen. Joseph McCarthy's allegations of Communist infiltration in the early years of the Cold War.
CNN: Experts, Muslims worry about fallout from hearing on radicalization
Rep. Peter King's goal is to thwart Muslim radicalization, but some people fear his hearings could have exactly the opposite effect. Some counterterrorism experts believe shining a harsh spotlight on the Muslim community could play into the jihadist narrative that the West is at war with Islam and encourage more people to participate in terrorist activity. Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says King is unfair if he blames the entire Muslim community for the actions of a few. "I think his approach is going to radicalize young people," says Awad. King - a New York Republican - says he is holding the hearings because the Muslim community has not cooperated sufficiently with law enforcement.
CNN: Wisconsin Senate passes union limits despite Democratic walkout
Wisconsin's Republican-led state Senate passed Gov. Scott Walker's proposed restrictions on collective bargaining for public employees Wednesday, getting around a Democratic walkout by stripping financial provisions from the bill. "Tonight, the Senate will be passing the items in the Budget Repair Bill that we can with the 19 members who actually do show up and do their jobs," Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, the chamber's Republican majority leader, said in a statement announcing the move. The Senate's 14 Democrats had fled to Illinois to prevent the chamber from attaining a quorum and passing the collective bargaining measures, which they have called an unnecessary attack on the rights of public employees. Republicans were able to move ahead by voting only on the nonfinancial aspects of Walker's proposed bill, which requires fewer members for a quorum.
New York Times: Christie’s Talk Is Blunt, but Not Always Straight
New Jersey’s public-sector unions routinely pressure the State Legislature to give them what they fail to win in contract talks. Most government workers pay nothing for health insurance. Concessions by school employees would have prevented any cuts in school programs last year. Statements like those are at the core of Gov. Chris Christie’s campaign to cut state spending by getting tougher on unions. They are not, however, accurate. In fact, on the occasions when the Legislature granted the unions new benefits, it was for pensions, which were not subject to collective bargaining — and it has not happened in eight years. In reality, state employees have paid 1.5 percent of their salaries toward health insurance since 2007, in addition to co-payments and deductibles, and since last spring, many local government workers, including teachers, do as well. The few dozen school districts where employees agreed to concessions last year still saw layoffs and cuts in academic programs.
CNN: Senate votes down competing spending bills
The Senate voted down two competing Democratic and Republican spending bills Wednesday, following a plan designed by congressional leaders and the White House to prove that neither bill has enough support to become law. Already anticipating the failed votes in the Senate, House Republican leaders are drafting another short term spending bill to keep the government running as the House and Senate and White House continue to negotiate spending cuts for the rest of the year. Congressional leaders hoped the votes Wednesday would show lawmakers in both parties more compromises are required.
CNNMoney: Muni bond issuance at 11-year low
Always wanted to own a little piece of your local incinerator? Well you might be out of luck. Municipal bond issuance is on track to log its lowest quarter in more than a decade, according to Thomson Reuters. Only $32.5 billion in muni bonds have been issued this year, as of Tuesday. That's down from $61.1 billion over the same time period last year. And the number is on track to fall far below the $132.8 billion level registered in the fourth quarter of 2010. The drop in issuance comes amidst a sustained muni bonds sell off, as worried retail investors flee the market and the media continues to churn out stories about state and local governments struggling with severe budget shortfalls.
CNN: Obama nominates Middle East adviser to be ambassador to Israel
With civil war and unrest unfolding across portions of the Middle East and North Africa, President Barack Obama is seeking to fill an important diplomatic post in the region by nominating Dan Shapiro to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel. The nomination of Shapiro, currently senior director for the Middle East and North Africa on the National Security Council, was announced Wednesday by the White House. Shapiro was a key adviser on the Middle East to Obama's presidential campaign. He also played a big role in Obama's outreach to the U.S. Jewish community during the campaign.
CNN: Senate panel to probe counterfeit military parts problem
The risk of counterfeit electronics being used in military equipment has prompted a congressional investigation, the top senators on the Senate Armed Services Committee announced Wednesday. "The presence of counterfeit electronic parts in the Defense Department's supply chain is a growing problem that government and industry share a common interest in solving," committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, the ranking member, said in a statement.
CNN: Napolitano: Border agents not ordered to use 'less-than-lethal' force
Four Border Patrol officers who confronted armed immigrants in the Arizona desert last December were not under orders to use "less-than-lethal" force, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said, countering critics who say an ill-advised shooting policy contributed to one of the agent's death. But Napolitano declined to say whether two of the four agents were armed only with non-lethal "bean bag" guns, saying the incident is still being investigated.
CNN: Duncan: 'No Child Left Behind' creates failure for U.S. schools
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday his department estimates that four out of five schools in the United States will not make their "No Child Left Behind" benchmarks by the law's target year of 2014 - and when the test scores are counted for the current school year, numbers could show that U.S. schools are already at that failure rate. He blamed that failure rate on the law itself, not on schools. "This law has created dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed. We should get out of the business of labeling schools as failures and create a new law that is fair and flexible, and focused on the schools and students most at risk," Duncan told the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
CNN: The riches of the freshman class
The old adage of the Senate being a millionaires club still holds true among freshmen lawmakers in both chambers of Congress, according to a new study. A Center for Responsive Politics analysis found 60 percent of Senate freshmen and more than 40 percent of House freshmen are millionaires. For newly elected members of the Senate, the median estimated wealth is $3.96 million. For House freshmen, it's $570,418. Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut tops the list with an average estimated wealth of $94.87 million. Republican Tennessee Rep. Diane Lynn Black came in second with $49.4 million followed by Republican North Dakota Rep. Rick Berg with $39.2 million and Republican Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold with $35.8 million.3
CNN: Boehner spent taxpayer money on etiquette school
As Speaker of the House, John Boehner regularly hosts foreign leaders visiting Washington, presides over joint meetings of the House and Senate, and gives out Congressional commendations. So, as he prepared to take over the post last year, he enrolled an aide in a class at a private school outside Washington, D.C. to learn proper etiquette. According to public records listing payments by Boehner's office, and first reported by the publication Roll Call, the then Republican Leader spent $5,800 last December in tuition for his aide to attend a five day course this spring given by the Protocol School of Washington.
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CNN: Arizona shooting suspect arraigned on additional charges
A federal judge Wednesday entered "not guilty" pleas on behalf of Jared Lee Loughner, the Arizona man accused of fatally shooting six people and wounding 13 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Judge Larry Burns also scheduled a May 25 competency hearing for Loughner, and attorneys on both sides will be allowed to hire their own experts to evaluate Loughner's competency to stand trial. Prosecutors sought the competency hearing, saying that Loughner had believed the FBI was bugging him, had extreme animosity toward the government, and was even hearing voices. Loughner's public defenders didn't want such a hearing, saying it would be premature and could interfere with their ability to develop a relationship with Loughner.
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CNN: Rebel leader calls for 'immediate action' on no-fly zone
The head of the interim government in eastern Libya pleaded Wednesday for the international community to move quickly to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, declaring that any delay would result in more casualties. "It has to be immediate action," Mustafa Abdul-Jalil told CNN in an exclusive interview in this eastern opposition stronghold. "The longer the situation carries on, the more blood is shed. That's the message that we want to send to the international community. They have to live up to their responsibility with regards to this."
McClatchyDC: U.N.: U.S.-led forces killed fewer Afghan civilians last year
The number of civilians killed by U.S.-led forces and their Afghan allies dropped 26 percent last year, the United Nations reported Wednesday. But total civilian deaths rose 15 percent, the U.N. said, fed by a 28 percent increase in Taliban-caused deaths, including a doubling of assassinations of government workers and pro-government tribal leaders in what the U.N. called "the most alarming trend in 2010." The U.N. called for "urgent" action from both sides to do more to protect civilian lives. Overall, 2,777 civilians were killed in 2010, the U.N. said in its annual report on civilians caught up in Afghanistan's war. Of those, 440 died because of actions by the U.S.-led international forces or Afghan security forces — 16 percent of the total.
CNN: Dalai Lama ready to give up political power
The Dalai Lama announced Thursday his plan to retire as political head of the Tibetan exile movement, according to his website. "Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power," the exiled spiritual leader said in a statement. "Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect." The Dalai Lama remains the head of state for now, according to Tempa Tshering, his representative in India, and will remain the group's spiritual leader.
CNN: U.S. allocates $12.6 million for Ivory Coast's displaced
The U.S. government will provide $12.6 million in emergency funds to help people displaced as a result of Ivory Coast's political unrest and violence, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday. The money will be channeled through the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration to international and non-governmental organizations helping refugees and others displaced during recent political unrest and violence in the country, the State Department said in a statement. More than 75,000 refugees have fled Ivory Coast, most of them to Liberia, and hundreds of thousands more are displaced within the country, the statement said.
Washington Post: Ice sheets melting faster than earlier estimates
The vast ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are melting faster than previously estimated and that melting is accelerating, according to a new report that verifies 18 years of melting via two independent techniques. Left unchecked, the extra water dumped into the oceans could push average global sea level six inches higher by 2050, the report finds. That would mark the ice sheets – defined as expanses of deep, long-term ice larger than 20,000 square miles – as the largest contributors to sea level rise, outstripping melting from Earth's other frozen reservoirs, namely mountain glaciers.
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CNN: Report: U.S. needs immigration boost of high-skilled workers
Highly-skilled foreign-born workers contribute more to the economy than they take away and unless the American government enacts immigration reform, the U.S. "risks falling behing in the global race for talent," according to a report released Wednesday. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas on Wednesday released its 2010 annual report. Attached to the report was an essay authored by two economists who argue that that reform is needed to boost the legal immigration of highly-educated workers to the U.S. "The disproportionate focus on illegal immigration is missing the picture that the legal system of immigration is broken as well," Federal Reserve senior economist Pia Orrenius told CNN. "The cost of ignoring problems with the legal immigration of high-skilled workers in some respects is higher than the costs of illegal immigration."
CNNMoney: In surprise, China reports trade gap
In an unexpected development, China on Thursday reported a $7.3 billion trade deficit in February as imports soared and exports rose only slightly. Government officials attributed the cooling exports to Chinese New Year, when the country's manufacturing output slowed dramatically. Economists had expected China to report a trade surplus in February, albeit a smaller one. The monthly deficit was the country's first since March 2010. Imports last month totaled $104 billion or 19.4% higher on an annual basis, and exports were $96.7 billion or 2.4% higher, according to China's General Administration of Customs.
CNNMoney: Who's buying homes? The rich
The rich are different from you and me: They're buying real estate. After four straight years of declines, sales of million-dollar homes and condos rose last year in all 20 major metro areas, according to DataQuick Information Systems. On average, these cities saw an 18.6% jump in high-end home sales. San Jose, Calif., had the biggest market for million-dollar homes, with a 27.4% spike in sales last year; Phoenix saw the smallest increase at just 0.4%. Meanwhile, sales outside of this price point actually fell 2.8%. "It hasn't been a good six months for all people, but it was a good six months for rich people," said Glenn Kelman, CEO of Seattle-based real estate brokerage Redfin. "When Wall Street goes up, rich people buy homes."
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