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: White House defends Libya response
The Obama administration strongly defended its handling of the Libyan crisis Thursday, drawing a clear line between military and political objectives while dismissing criticism that it has failed to adequately consult with members of Congress. "We are not engaged in militarily-driven regime change," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters. Instead, the administration is engaged in "time-limited, scope-limited" action with other countries to protect civilians from forces loyal to strongman Moammar Gadhafi. American forces will be transitioning to a "support and assist" role in the international coalition within a matter of days, he promised. U.S. ground troops will not be sent into Libya, he stressed.
Politico: Clinton, Gates to brief Congress
As the White House works to assuage congressional anger over U.S. entry into armed conflict in Libya, four top national security officials will give a classified briefing to lawmakers on the war next Wednesday afternoon. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are all expected to speak on the topic of “U.S. Policies and Military Operations in Libya,” according to an invitation circulated to House members.
CNNMoney: Bernanke to meet the press
Tight-lipped Ben Bernanke is coming further out of his shell. The Federal Reserve Chairman will start holding press briefings four times a year, the central bank announced Thursday afternoon. "The introduction of regular press briefings is intended to further enhance the clarity and timeliness of the Federal Reserve's monetary policy communication," the Fed said in an official statement. Under Bernanke's leadership, the Fed has taken baby steps in opening up to the media since the financial crisis. Bernanke appeared on 60 Minutes twice in the last two years, and wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post in November.
CNN: Rand Paul for president?
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said he will "think about" running for president in 2012 if his father, Republican Texas Rep. Ron Paul, decides not to launch a bid. "The only decision that I've made is that I won't run against my father," Paul said Thursday speaking to the Louisville, Kentucky Rotary Club. "If he does not run, I have not ruled it out and I will think about it." The Tea Party favorite's travel to early presidential nominating states has raised questions about the freshman senator's political intentions. Paul, who is scheduled to make trips to Iowa and New Hampshire in the coming weeks, said he's traveling to promote Tea Party stances and his book, "The Tea Party Goes to Washington."
CNNMoney: Texas budget could cost 600,000 jobs
Texas could see more than 600,000 jobs disappear if lawmakers adopt the $83.8 billion budget that will go before the state House late next week, according to a state agency. Harsh spending cuts in the budget could cost more than 263,500 private sector jobs and 343,000 government positions over the next two years, according to estimates released Wednesday by the Legislative Budget Board, a bipartisan committee. This projection, which is based on mathematical calculations, runs counter to the pro-job push underway by Gov. Rick Perry and Republican lawmakers. The budget slashes spending by nearly $23 billion, or 12.3%. The drop reflects the loss of federal stimulus money, but it also includes a $4.5 billion cut in state spending. Education, social service agencies and public health providers would see major funding decreases.
New York Times: Short on Funds, but Long on Pink Slips
To solve a looming pension crisis and budget gap, city officials here said, they needed to take drastic action. And everyone agrees on one thing: they did. Nearly half of this city’s workers were told late last week that, come September, they would probably be out of a job. Nearly every city department will be eliminated. More than a dozen tasks will be outsourced, including graffiti removal, firefighting, building maintenance and street cleaning. Unlike the drama that played out over the last two months in Madison, Wis., the battle over public workers in this bustling suburb and upscale shopping mecca in the heart of Orange County is happening at lightning speed.
Time: Haley Barbour Flew State Plane To Deliver Cost Cutting Message To CPAC, Fox News
On Feb. 11, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, his wife and three aides flew in a luxury jet to Washington for a weekend of politicking, including an appearance on Fox News Sunday and a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference. “Our problem is not that we tax too little,” Barbour told the gathering. “It's that we spend too much.” The potential presidential contender may have another problem: Mississippi taxpayers paid the tab for Barbour's first-class travel. State documents obtained by TIME show that Mississippi shelled out $7,020 to shuttle Barbour and his entourage to and from D.C. on its Cessna Citation, a cost that Barbour says is justified by state work he did in D.C. over the same weekend.
CNN: Giffords doing 'remarkably well,' astronaut husband says
The commander of the upcoming space shuttle mission began a prelaunch news conference Thursday by addressing the condition of his wife, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Astronaut Mark Kelly said Giffords, who was shot in the head January 8, is doing "remarkably well." "She's improving every day, and in the realm of brain injuries," he said, "that is very significant and pretty rare." Kelly, who will command the Shuttle Endeavour on an April mission to the international space station, said he hopes Giffords will be able to attend Endeavour's liftoff and he thinks there is a "pretty good chance" that will happen.
CNN: Colorado Senate passes civil unions bill
The Colorado Senate on Thursday approved a civil unions bill that would allow same-sex couples the right to inherit property, apply for family leave and share medical decisions. The bill, approved 23-12, now goes to the House. In Colorado, only a man and woman can marry. The bill would allow two unmarried adults, regardless of gender, to enter into a civil union. Senate Bill 172 is intended to allowed eligible citizens "to obtain the benefits, protections, and responsibilities afforded by Colorado law to spouses with the principles of equality under law and religious freedom embodied in both the United States Constitution and the constitution of this state," its sponsors said.
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CNN: NTSB: Air traffic controller fell asleep, leaving planes on their own
The air traffic controller suspended for failing to respond to two planes heading into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport has told investigators that he had fallen asleep, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The controller, a 20-year veteran, "indicated that he had fallen asleep for a period of time while on duty," according to a statement released Thursday by the safety board. "He had been working his fourth consecutive overnight shift (10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.)." "Human fatigue issues are one of the areas being investigated," the statement read. Federal Aviation Administration chief Randy Babbitt said earlier Thursday that the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the incident and that the air traffic controller has been suspended from all operational duties.
Boston Globe: More opt for low-cost coverage
The number of Massachusetts residents enrolled in high-deductible health insurance plans nearly doubled last year as employers and consumers looked for lower-cost options amid soaring medical prices. A report out today says people in these plans indeed spent significantly less on their medical care, compared with families with more traditional coverage, but they also cut back on preventive health care, such as cancer screenings and childhood vaccinations. Surprisingly, they did so even though most of the plans allowed people to get preventive care without paying an up-front deductible.
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CNN: Explosions heard on outskirts of Tripoli
Warplanes roared through the skies over the Libyan capital early Friday, dropping bombs on the outskirts of Tripoli, where military bases are located. Anti-aircraft fire quickly punctuated the darkness, then fell silent again. The latest military action came a day after NATO members agreed to take over enforcement of the no-fly zone over Libya, but stopped short of interpreting that mandate as a license to attack government troops who may be threatening unarmed civilians. "What we have decided today is that NATO will enforce the no-fly zone," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told CNN's Wolf Blitzer from the organization's headquarters in Brussels.
CNN: Over 10,000 dead, thousands missing in Japan quake and tsunami
The number of people confirmed dead in Japan rose past 10,000 on Friday - two weeks after one of the strongest earthquakes on record sent a tsunami plowing over the eastern shore. At least 10,035 people were killed and 17,443 are missing, the Japan National Police Agency said in its latest tally. The numbers are expected to go up as rescuers comb through miles of coastline piled high with rubble. As the nations faces massive reconstruction, signs of recovery are visible in some areas devastated by the disaster.
CNN: Official: Workers touched water with radiation 10,000 times normal
The water three men were exposed to while working at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant had 10,000 times the amount of radiation typical for that locale, an official with the Japan nuclear and industrial safety agency said Friday. The high levels indicate the nuclear fuel inside the No. 3 reactor "is damaged," the official said. The incident raised questions about radiation control measures at the plant as 536 people - including government authorities and firefighters continued working there Friday, according to an official with the plant's owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co.
CNN: U.S. military families return from Japan
A charter flight carrying family members of U.S. military service members serving in Japan landed Thursday on U.S. soil in Denver. The flight contained 144 people who voluntarily left Japan in the wake of the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami and ongoing concerns about the crippled Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant. Weary from a 14-hour journey, the families and 18 pets filed into a hangar converted into a welcome center. Representatives from all four branches of the military and Red Cross volunteers were on hand to give them food and water and help get them to their final destinations around the country.
CNN: Dozens killed in Myanmar earthquake
The death toll from a powerful earthquake that hit Myanmar has gone up to 65, state media reported Friday. At least 111 people were injured by the powerful quake, Myanmar Radio reported. The 6.8-magnitude earthquake hit Myanmar on Thursday near its borders with China, Thailand and Laos, the U.S. Geological Survey said. It was a relatively shallow quake, which can be very destructive.
CNN: As unrest spreads, Syrian government promises to respond
Tensions boiled in a volatile Syrian community Thursday as thousands turned up for the funerals of people killed in unrest. Meanwhile, Syria's government blamed the instability on outsiders and announced plans to study popular demands, including the lifting of the country's decades-old emergency law. Syria is the latest in a string of Arabic-speaking nations beset with discontent over economic and human rights issues. Syrian discontent centers on Daraa, a southern city in the impoverished country's agricultural region, where violence has been escalating between security forces and anti-government protesters since late last week. Wissam Tarif, executive director of the human rights organization Insan, said at least 34 people have been killed in Daraa in the past two days. Other activists believe many more have been killed.
BBC: Yemen security forces brace for mass protest
Security forces in Yemen's capital Sanaa are gathering in force ahead of what anti-government protesters say will be their biggest rally yet. The protesters are demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled since 1978. The protests have been marked by increasing violence, with some 50 people shot dead last Friday in Sanaa. Mr Saleh has offered to step down within a year but the opposition insists he must go immediately. They also want constitutional changes, the resignation of the government and the dissolution of the internal security services.
Wall Street Journal: Bahrain's Foreign Police Add to Tensions
Bahrain's ruling family is moving to shore up its security forces with more recruits from Pakistan, in a move that risks further stoking nationalist and sectarian tensions in the Persian Gulf state. The Al Khalifa family, Sunni Muslims who rule over a Shiite-majority population, have long relied on recruits from Sunni-majority countries such as Pakistan, Jordan and Yemen to fill the ranks of their police forces. As antigovernment protests have flared in Bahrain, culminating in a violent crackdown last week, the monarchy has turned again to Pakistan military-linked foundations to find recruits for its security forces.
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CNNMoney: Postal Service: 7,500 workers, $20,000 buyouts
The Postal Service is offering a $20,000 buyout to thousands of veteran workers as part of its bid to eliminate 7,500 administrative jobs, the agency announced Thursday. The struggling agency also announced plans to shutter seven district offices. The seven offices that are closing are Columbus, South East Michigan, Northern Illinois, South East New England, South Georgia, Big Sky and Albuquerque. There are 421 jobs spread across the seven offices, a postal service spokeswoman said. Eligible administrative employees will be offered the buyout package - letter carriers and other union workers are not eligible.
McClatchyDC: Five-day mail service wouldn't save much money after all
The decision whether to cut back U.S. mail delivery to five from six days a week was complicated Thursday by a report that suggested the U.S. Postal Service had overstated the savings to be gained by the change. The U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission on Thursday said it found only $1.7 billion in savings, compared to the Postal Service's estimate of $3.1 billion. The commission also warned that the Postal Service had underestimated by as much as $386 million annually the loss of revenue that could come by dropping Saturday delivery. The Postal Service, which anticipates operating at a $238 billion cumulative loss over the next decade, said last year it would pursue a five-day delivery schedule as soon as this year to cut costs. Congress currently mandates six-day delivery and would have to approve any changes.
New York Times: G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether
General Electric, the nation’s largest corporation, had a very good year in 2010. The company reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States. Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion. That may be hard to fathom for the millions of American business owners and households now preparing their own returns, but low taxes are nothing new for G.E. The company has been cutting the percentage of its American profits paid to the Internal Revenue Service for years, resulting in a far lower rate than at most multinational companies.
In Case You Missed It
NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen tells CNN's Wolf Blitzer about the NATO agreement on command in Libya.
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