POLITICAL HOT TOPICS: Tuesday, March 15, 2011
March 15th, 2011
04:44 AM ET
4 years ago

POLITICAL HOT TOPICS: Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The CNN Washington Bureau’s morning speed read of the top stories making news from around the country and the world.

WASHINGTON/POLITICAL
For the latest political news: www.CNNPolitics.com

CNN: Amid lawmakers' concerns, officials say U.S. nuclear plants are safe
Any plans to build a nuclear power plant in an area of the United States prone to earthquakes should be reconsidered in light of the damage to Japanese reactors by last week's earthquake and tsunami, Democratic Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts told CNN on Monday. "We just have to call a time out and examine whether or not those safety features necessary in the future are built into new nuclear power plants in our country," said Markey, who sits on the House committee overseeing nuclear power. In response, the chairman of the independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which regulates U.S. reactors, said the plants were built to withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters.

CNN: Nuclear energy lobbyists scramble on Capitol Hill
Lobbyists for the nuclear energy industry rushed to Capitol Hill Monday to try to reassure members of Congress and their aides who are deeply concerned about the nuclear crisis in Japan, and what it could mean for nuclear energy in the U.S. As he walked the halls of Congress going from meeting to meeting, Alex Flint, a top lobbyist for the Nuclear Energy Institute, told CNN that the industry's immediate goal was to give worried lawmakers as much information as possible. "We're trying to make sure people understand exactly what's occurring – understand the context under which they're going to be making decisions in the future about the way in which the Congress wants to treat nuclear energy," Flint told CNN.

CNN: Republicans oppose further short-term funding solutions
Republican opposition is growing over the continuing resolution that would fund the government for three additional weeks. Both parties agreed last week to move ahead with a three-week stopgap bill that would cut an additional $6 billion from current spending levels, avoiding a potential federal shutdown when the current continuing resolution expires Friday. The House will vote Tuesday on the new agreement, but some Republicans argue the cuts don't go far enough.

CNN: Senior Democrat Conyers criticizes Obama
Senior Democrat John Conyers of Michigan criticized Barack Obama Monday, hoping, Conyers said, to "make him a better president." Citing the troubled job market, rising energy costs, and turmoil in the Middle East, Conyers told reporters at the National Press Club: "We keep getting a longer and longer list of things he wanted to do, wished he could do more about, and is of course having a big problem." "The only thing that saves him, of course, is that there doesn't seem to be anybody to run against him next year," Conyers said.

CNN: Santorum hits Romney over health care
Potential 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum went after another possible candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, over Romney's support for the universal health care law in his state. In an interview Monday with the Boston Globe, the former Pennsylvania senator said the state law and current federal laws "tend to drive employers out of the private sector plans because they're expensive and more people end up on the government plan." "Ultimately, it's a failure," Santorum said.

Roll Call: Davis Seeks ‘Tea Party’ Line in N.Y.
Republican nominee Jane Corwin appears to be avoiding many of the pitfalls that produced the GOP’s last New York special election disaster, but Jack Davis could still make things interesting. Corwin formally captured the endorsements of the Conservative and Independence Parties in recent days, securing her place on the May 24 ballot on those two ballot lines in addition to the Republican line. But Davis, an independently wealthy businessman who failed to capture the GOP nomination over Corwin, has since hired a “petition signature-gathering firm” to help ensure he gets a spot on the special election ballot to succeed former Rep. Chris Lee (R). Further, Davis, a former Democrat, has taken advantage of New York’s quirky election laws and will likely get the “Tea Party” ballot line, a move that has angered the area’s largest tea party group, which hasn’t been particularly fond of Davis thus far.

CNN: Special election date announced in California
A special election has been called to fill the vacancy left by California Democratic Rep. Jane Harman. Dean Logan, the Registrar-Recorder and County Clerk for Los Angeles, said Monday a July 12 special election and May 17 primary will be held to fill the seat in California's 36th district. Harman left Congress last month to become president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington-based research institution.

CNN: Top Barbour aide resigns amid controversy
The press secretary for Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour resigned Monday after Politico reported that Dan Turner wrote internal e-mails poking fun at former Attorney General Janet Reno, and that he made insensitive jokes about the earthquake in Japan. "Gov. Haley Barbour has accepted Dan Turner's resignation as Press Secretary. Laura Hipp will now serve in that capacity," a statement for the potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate said. The e-mails, which were a compilation of the day's press clippings, historical notes, and apparent jokes, were circulated within and outside of Barbour's official government office and were obtained by Politico. One shows that last Friday, Turner purportedly wrote, "Otis Redding posthumously received a gold record for his single, (Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay. (Not a big hit in Japan right now.)"

NATIONAL
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Honolulu Star Advertiser: Tsunami damage estimate for Hawaii now tens of millions
The damage to government facilities, private businesses and residential property in Hawaii from Friday's tsunami is now estimated in the tens of millions — a figure that's expected to climb, Gov. Neil Abercrombie's spokeswoman said Monday. Spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said the figure is a rough estimate that is likely to increase after state Civil Defense crews return from Maui and Molokai. Previously, Civil Defense director Ed Teixeira conservatively put the initial damage estimate for state property at $3 million.

Wall Street Journal: Potassium Iodide Runs Low as Americans Seek It Out
Supplies of potassium iodide, a preventive against radiation poisoning of the thyroid gland, are running low at some manufacturers, as Americans seek protection amid fears that radiation from Japan could head to the U.S., according to the companies. One leading supplier, Anbex Inc., quickly sold out of its supply of more than 10,000 14-tablet packages on Saturday, said Alan Morris, president of the Williamsburg, Va., company. He said the closely held firm was getting about three orders a minute for $10 packages of its Iosat pills, up from as few as three a week normally.

CNN: Bus accident kills 2, injures 42 in New Jersey
Two people died and 42 others were taken to local hospitals Monday evening following a bus accident along the New Jersey Turnpike, near East Brunswick, state police said. The bus driver was killed when he was ejected through the front window, according to Sgt. Stephen Jones. A second person died at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Brunswick. Five others are in the hospital's trauma unit. The "driver for some reason lost control ... struck a guide rail and a concrete abutment," Jones said.

CNN: Scientists: powerful neurotoxin drove millions of fish to deaths
A powerful neurotoxin likely drove millions of sardines to their death last week in Redondo Beach, California's King Harbor, scientists said. David Caron, a University of Southern California professor of biological sciences, said his team took samples and found traces of a toxin that caused the fish to become disoriented and swim chaotically into the marina.

INTERNATIONAL
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CNN: Nuclear fears grow as death toll escalates in Japan
An escalating crisis at a nuclear power plant compounded the human devastation in Japan Tuesday. As the death toll from the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the resulting tsunami steadily ascended, residents waited with anxiety about radiation exposure. The confirmed number of dead reached 2,478 on Tuesday. The toll is expected to rise as rescuers reach more hard-hit areas. And nuclear concerns escalated from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, as Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Tuesday the risk of further releases of radioactive material remains "very high."

CNN: U.S. Navy aircraft carrier detects radiation
U.S. Navy personnel are taking precautionary measures after instruments aboard an aircraft carrier docked in Japan detected low levels of radioactivity from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the Navy said Tuesday. The USS George Washington was docked for maintenance in Yokosuka, about 175 miles (280 kilometers) from the plant, when instruments detected the radiation at 7 a.m. Tuesday (6 p.m. ET Monday), the Navy said in a statement. Personnel will limit outdoor activities and secure external ventilation systems there and at a nearby air facility in Atsugi.

CNNMoney: Earthquake aid totals $23 million – far less than Haiti
Individuals, companies and charities have been quick to rally in the aftermath of the massive earthquake that rocked Japan on Friday, but donations have been slow to come. Donations have reached nearly $23 million so far, according to an early tally by the American Red Cross and the Chronicle of Philanthropy, a newspaper covering nonprofit organizations. That number is far below the first four-day totals of other recent natural disasters. More than $150 million was raised toward relief within four days of the crisis in Haiti, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, donations exceeded $108 million during the crucial first four days.

CNN: Rebels appear to slow government forces' advance in Libya
Rebels appeared Monday to have slowed the eastward advance of Libyan government forces toward Benghazi at the town of al-Brega. But it was not clear late in the day who controlled al-Brega, which contains a large oil refinery and natural gas plant, said CNN's Ben Wedeman, reporting from Benghazi, which is about two hours away. Meanwhile, government planes carried out air raids 40 minutes from al-Brega, in the town of Ajdabiya.

CNN: U.S. providing $21 million in aid for Libyans
As the debate continues over whether the U.S. should involve itself directly in the upheaval in Libya, millions of dollars of American aid is arriving there already. Safety concerns mean U.S. disaster experts have been unable to enter Libya to see first-hand the dimensions of the humanitarian crisis, State Department officials said Monday, but U.S. partners are dispensing assistance. Most of that aid is moving to the eastern part of the country, controlled by rebels fighting Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

CNN: Foreign troops enter Bahrain as protests continue
Foreign troops arrived Monday in the strategically and financially important Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain after a month of citizen protests, the Bahraini government said. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain's giant neighbor to the west, appears to have provided at least some of the troops, who arrived under the banner of the Gulf Cooperation Council. In a statement, the government described the troops as "coalition forces" but did not say what countries were represented. Their mission was equally vague: "The GCC Peninsula Shield coalition forces arrived in the Kingdom of Bahrain today following recent events, to help protect the safety of citizens, residents and critical infrastructure," it said.

New York Times: U.S.-Saudi Tensions Intensify With Mideast Turmoil
Even before Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain on Monday to quell an uprising it fears might spill across its own borders, American officials were increasingly concerned that the kingdom’s stability could ultimately be threatened by regional unrest, succession politics and its resistance to reform. So far, oil-rich Saudi Arabia has successfully stifled public protests with a combination of billions of dollars in new jobs programs and an overwhelming police presence, backed by warnings last week from the foreign minister to “cut any finger that crosses into the kingdom.” Monday’s action, in which more than 2,000 Saudi-led troops from gulf states crossed the narrow causeway into Bahrain, demonstrated that the Saudis were willing to back their threats with firepower.

CNN: Five Somalis sentenced to life in piracy case
Five Somali men were sentenced Monday to life plus 80 years in prison for engaging in piracy and related offenses in last year's attack on a U.S. warship in the Indian Ocean, federal officials announced Monday. "Today marks the longest sentence ever given to a pirate in U.S. court, following the first time in over 190 years that an American jury has convicted a defendant of piracy," Neil H. MacBride, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement. "Today's sentences should send a clear message to those who attempt to engage in piracy: Armed attacks on U.S.-flagged vessels carry severe consequences in U.S. courts."

CNN: Aristide's lawyer dismisses State Department warning
A lawyer for former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide scoffed Monday at a U.S. government warning that his client's planned return to Haiti from South Africa could disrupt elections scheduled for Sunday. "The U.S. government has done everything they can to keep him halfway around the world," said Ira Kurzban, Aristide's longtime, Miami-based lawyer. "For them to issue this ridiculous statement that it was voluntary and that he voluntarily stayed in South Africa is pure fiction. He's been trying to come back for seven years."

BUSINESS
For the latest business news: www.CNNMoney.com

CNN: Nikkei plunges in quake aftermath
Japanese stocks plunged more than 14 percent at one point Tuesday afternoon before cutting losses slightly, as Japan grapples with a crisis at an earthquake-damaged nuclear power plant and the aftermath of last week's earthquake and tsunami. By early afternoon the Nikkei 225 index, the most prominent measure of Tokyo market stocks, had dropped 1,373 points, or 14.27 percent. That was on top of a 6.2% drop Monday, the first full trading day after the quake.

CNN: BoJ releases $265 billion to calm markets
The Bank of Japan on Monday made Y21,800 billion ($265 billion) available to financial institutions and doubled its asset-buying program to Y10,000 billion in a bid to stabilize markets following the country's worst ever earthquake disaster. In its largest ever one-day liquidity operation to calm markets, Japan's central bank said it would make Y15,000 billion available immediately and a further Y6,800 billion over the next two days in order to deal with an expected rise in demand for funds. The BoJ said its decision to double the asset-buying program was taken "with a view to pre-empting a deterioration in business sentiment and an increase in risk aversion in financial markets from adversely affecting economic activity".

CNN: U.S. stocks finish in the red as Japan remains in focus
U.S. stocks came off session lows but finished in the red Monday, after Japan's leading stock index plunged in reaction to last week's massive earthquake and tsunami. The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) closed down 51 points points, or 0.4%. Earlier in the session, it had lost as many at 147 points. The modest decline was led by a 2% slide in shares of General Electric (GE, Fortune 500), following news that the company designed all six of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan. S&P 500 (SPX) fell 8 points, or 0.6%, as shares of luxury retailers Coach (COH) and Tiffany & Co. (TIF) - which have been building their presence in Japan - slid more than 5%. Nuclear power plant operator Entergy (ETR, Fortune 500) was also a big loser, dropping 4.9%. Meanwhile, the tech-heavy Nasdaq (COMP) lost 15 points, or 0.5%.

In Case You Missed It

Anderson Cooper speaks to Jim Walsh and Dr. Sanjay Gupta about the latest nuclear health warnings issued in Japan.
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2011/03/15/exp.ac.japan.nuke.warning.cnn

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