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 pledges to help Japan rebuild; U.S. issues larger radiation zone
Even as Washington and Tokyo disagreed on the extent of the threat a damaged nuclear power plant poses, President Barack Obama told the Japanese prime minister Thursday that the United States will help Japan rebuild following last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami. The two leaders had a 30-minute phone call at 10:30 a.m. Thursday (9:30 p.m. ET Wednesday). During the phone call with Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Obama voiced sympathy for Japan's plight. "The president again conveyed his deep condolences at the tragic loss of life and the widespread suffering in northeastern Japan," a White House statement on the call said. "The president emphasized that the U.S. is determined to do everything possible to support Japan in overcoming the effects of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck on March 11."
CNN: Pelosi describes Japan tragedy as 'beyond biblical'
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday described the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan as "beyond biblical in terms of its proportion." The "humanitarian loss is so tremendous," Pelosi, D-California, told reporters on Capitol Hill, saying the United States is helping with humanitarian and technical assistance, but it's a "huge order." "We all feel quite inadequate in terms of the size of the tragedy, but completely committed to helping," Pelosi said. While Pelosi said she doesn't believe any radioactive material would "drift ashore" in this country, she noted that California and Hawaii would be in the "first line of receiving" any fallout and said the Federal Emergency Management Agency "needs to take inventory" of emergency supplies and figure out "how it gets directly to people."
CNN: President Obama, sounding more like a candidate
President Barack Obama channeled his "change" message of the 2008 election in a speech to the Democratic National Committee in Washington, asking the group of supporters "not to lose that spirit that animated us early on." "My hope is that the same spirit that helped change this country in 2008, that that spirit is still in each and every one of you," Obama said Wednesday night. But he acknowledged that some may become frustrated with the politics in the next election.
Roll Call: GOP Has New 2012 Target: Obama’s $1 Billion Campaign
He may have already shattered presidential fundraising records, but a question lingers over President Barack Obama’s budding 2012 re-election bid: Is there such a thing as too much money? A growing consensus has emerged that the Democratic president, who outraised Republican nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) $779 million to $400 million in 2008, could become the nation’s first politician to raise $1 billion in one cycle. But Republicans on the campaign trail and elsewhere are already working to ensure his road to 10 figures is marked with potential pitfalls. “The fact that the Democrats are bragging about wanting to spend $1 billion is causing our own donors to get excited and send us checks,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told Roll Call in an interview. “Spending a lot of money and winning don’t always go hand in hand. ... It’s possible that it could backfire.”
Politico: GOP begins rollback of Wall St. reform
House Republicans quietly took their first legislative step Wednesday at repealing Wall Street reform, exposing the difficulty of rolling back a major Barack Obama law that isn’t health care. When the GOP took over the House in January, leadership’s first — and very public — move was to bring a one-line health care repeal bill straight to the floor with the backing of their full caucus, from tea party freshmen to establishment veterans. That brash action stands in stark contrast to Wednesday’s sparsely-attended Financial Services subcommittee hearing, where the panel introduced the first five bills aimed at taking down key portions of the Dodd-Frank law enacted last summer. Republicans clearly want to strike at the heart of banking reform with legislation attacking new regulations on derivatives, credit rating agencies and private equity firms. But their piecemeal approach suggests they are trying to do so without appearing to favor Wall Street over Main Street.
CNN: 19 senators support Biden's efforts on Planned Parenthood
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, along with 18 other Democratic senators, penned a letter Wednesday in support of Vice President Joe Biden's effort to maintain government subsidies for Planned Parenthood in the final budget negotiations for the 2011 funding bill. The group said a Republican-led proposal to de-fund the organization would harm the economy. "This ideological agenda cloaked in a budget document isn't even good fiscal policy....As a matter of creating jobs and bolstering the economy, this rider would have the opposite effect: not only will health centers be forced to close but many uninsured women and their families also may go without care, become more ill, and be kept away from their jobs," the senators wrote.
CNN: House to vote on bill that would stop NPR funding
The House of Representatives has scheduled a vote Thursday on a bill that would bar federal funding for National Public Radio. The move to pull funds from the public broadcasting outlet comes after a conservative activist secretly taped an NPR executive criticizing Tea Party supporters and saying NPR would be better off without federal money. On Tuesday, the House voted to cut $50 million from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which helps support NPR. It's part of a larger bill to keep the government running for the next three weeks.
Wall Street Journal: Tax Plan Aims for 25% Cap
The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee wants to cut the top U.S. tax rate to 25% for individuals and corporations, and cut or eliminate many popular deductions. The odds of quick action appear slender. But the move, from Rep. Dave Camp (R., Mich.), is significant as a marker in what will likely be a multiyear debate over revamping the tax code. The plan also provides Republicans with a position to pitch in the 2012 election, a campaign that promises to focus heavily on the economy and jobs. Mr. Camp told The Wall Street Journal an overhaul of the unwieldy tax code is an essential element in stimulating both economic growth and job formation.
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Los Angeles Times: Small amounts of radiation headed for California, but no health risk seen
Small amounts of radioactive isotopes from the crippled Japanese nuclear power plant are being blown toward North America high in the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean and will reach California as soon as Friday, according to experts. A network of sensors in the U.S. and around the world is watching for the first signs of that fallout, though experts said they were confident that the amount of radiation would be well within safe limits. Operated by the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. network known as Radnet is a system of 100 radiation monitors that work 24 hours a day, spread across the country in places such as Anaheim, Bakersfield and Eureka. In addition, a network of 63 sensors is operated by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, an international agency allied with the United Nations.
USA Today: More Purple Hearts after Army clarifies 'concussion'
The Army will allow more battlefield concussions to be eligible for a Purple Heart, embracing the latest scientific findings that even brief periods of dizziness or headaches are evidence of the wound. The decision to expand the definition for concussions will mean thousands of Purple Heart medals going to soldiers denied them in the past. For decades, Army award regulations used the term "concussion" for the injury, but left it to doctors or battlefield commanders to decide whether a blow to the head during combat warranted the medal. Many held the view that "you've got to be bleeding to get (the medal)," says Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army vice chief of staff, who has pushed for the clarification on awarding a Purple Heart for concussion.
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CNN: Six days later, Japanese still confronting magnitude of quake crisis
Thousands of Japanese filled evacuation shelters or joined foreigners seeking a way out of the country Thursday in the aftermath of last week's devastating earthquake, tsunami and resulting nuclear crisis at stricken reactors. Cold, snowy weather in parts of the Asian nation further heightened the hardship of a nation facing what its leaders call its biggest disaster since World War II. Fears of possible nuclear catastrophe were evident. After rallying Wednesday, stocks in Japan fell early Thursday, with the Nikkei 225 index, the most prominent measure of stocks traded in Tokyo, down about 2% in early trading.
CNN: Japanese rush to cool off nuclear reactors from air, ground
Japanese forces used helicopters Thursday and planned to bring in water cannons, part of their urgent and reconfigured effort to avert a nuclear disaster at its quake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant. Officials from the government and the plant's owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company, said Thursday that cooling down the facility's No. 3 reactor was top priority. Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, in conjunction with Prime Minister Naoto Kan, said he decided early Thursday to address the crisis from the air and ground despite concerns about exposing workers to radiation.
CNN: U.S. working to move citizens from affected areas in Japan
The State Department announced late Wednesday that it has approved the departure of family members of U.S. government personnel from certain areas of Japan in the aftermath of the earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear power plant crisis. Charter flights will be made available to the approximately 600 people, according to Under Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy. "When we do a voluntary authorized departure, the State Department bears the expense of the transportation," Kennedy said. "There are still commercial seats available out of Tokyo," he said. "However, because we do not wish to consume large numbers of seats that others might need, we are making arrangements to bring a couple of chartered aircraft into Tokyo for both the official U.S. government family members who have chosen to leave and for any American citizens who might need assistance."
CNNMoney: Dollar hits all-time low against yen
The dollar hit an all-time low against a strengthening Japanese yen on Wednesday, as global uncertainty and the prospect of more cash flowing into Japan pushed its currency higher. The dollar fell as low as 76.54 against the yen in late trading Wednesday, dipping under the previous all-time low of 79.75 set in April 1995. Despite the nation's turmoil, the yen has long been a haven for risk-averse investors. Japanese corporations are also expected to repatriate vast amounts of capital. Those funds are currently tied up in foreign markets but will be needed to facilitate rebuilding.
CNN: Four New York Times journalists reported missing in Libya
Four journalists for The New York Times, including two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Shadid and MacArthur "genius grant" recipient Lynsey Addario, are missing in Libya, the newspaper said Wednesday on its website. Editors at the paper said they had last been in touch with the journalists Tuesday morning, U.S. Eastern time, according to the report. It said the newspaper received secondhand information that "members of its reporting team on the ground in the port city of Ajdabiya had been swept up by Libyan government forces."
CNN: Clinton calls intervention in Bahrain 'alarming'
The United States finds intervention in Bahrain by the Persian Gulf kingdom's neighbors "alarming" and wants all players in the region to keep "their own agenda" out of the struggle between the monarchy and anti-government demonstrators, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday. Washington has told the Bahraini monarchy that "there is no answer to the demands for political and economic reform though a security crackdown," Clinton told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
CNN: Analysts: Political impact uncertain after CIA contractor freed
Perhaps more important than the newest mystery surrounding CIA contractor Raymond Davis - who paid the purported seven-figure sum to the Pakistani victims' families who blessed his release from jail - will be the political reaction within Pakistan where the populace is already outraged over Davis' fatal shooting of two men there, analysts said Wednesday. The other potential impact of the "Raymond Davis Affair," as one analyst dubbed it, is whether it will damage diplomatic relations between the United States and Pakistan, in which Americans depend on Pakistan in fighting terror and the Pakistanis enjoy substantial U.S. aid. "There is the curious question of who made the payment. I suppose it's going to remain a mystery for a while," said Mark Quarterman, director of the Program on Crisis, Conflict, and Cooperation of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
CNN: Mexico confirms presence of U.S. drones
Mexico on Wednesday admitted that American unmanned drones operate over its territory, but denied that it constitutes a violation of its sovereignty. U.S. Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles have been used to collect intelligence and track drug traffickers, but only under Mexican supervision, according to a statement by the technical secretariat for the Mexican National Security Council. "Each of these actions is undertaken with full respect to the law," the statement says.
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CNNMoney: California insurer backs away from 59% hike
Nearly 200,000 Blue Shield of California customers can breathe a sigh of relief. The health insurer announced Wednesday it will forego a new round of rate hikes that would have brought the increase for some policyholders to as much as 59% in the past year. Blue Shield - which had already raised premiums twice since October - also said it will not increase rates for any individual or family plan member for the remainder of the year. Tom Epstein, spokesman for Blue Shield, said the company had seen some backlash in recent weeks. "It was becoming a major distraction," he said. "So we decided we would risk losing money in order to get the attention of the public back on what's really driving up health care costs, and that's rising medical costs. Health reform, we believe, will help manage those costs."
Wall Street Journal: FDIC's Tab For Failed U.S. Banks Nears $9 Billion
U.S. banking regulators have paid out nearly $9 billion to cover losses on loans and other assets at 165 failed institutions that were sold to stronger companies during the financial crisis. The payments were made under loss-sharing agreements struck by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. that shield buyers from much of the risk associated with loans inherited from failed banks. The deals, covering everything from empty Las Vegas shopping centers to nearly worthless mortgages in Florida, are a reminder of the price tag attached to many government programs launched near the worst of the crisis.
In Case You Missed It
The NRC says Japan's nuclear crisis is far worse than the Japanese government has said. Expert Jim Walsh comments.
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