CNN: Plastic bits in sausage leads to massive recall
Packaged meat company Smithfield Packing Company is recalling some 38,000 pounds of pork sausage because it may contain small pieces of plastic, likely from gloves, the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service announced Thursday. The sausages were sold in 11 states and the District of Columbia. The recalled products are 1-pound packages of Gwaltney mild pork sausage roll with a use-by date of March 12, 2013. Cases containing those sausages with a case code of 78533109741 are also being recalled.
Reuters: U.S. Gulf Coast oil spillers about to face day in court
Nearly three years after a deepwater well rupture killed 11 men, sank a rig and spewed 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, BP and the other companies involved are scheduled to face their judge in court. The trial over the worst U.S. offshore oil spill is set to start Monday in New Orleans before a federal judge and without a jury. Few expect the case, seen lasting several months, will be decided by the judge. An eleventh-hour settlement this weekend is a possibility, but legal experts expect a resolution, at least with the U.S. Department of Justice, in the coming months.
CNN: FBI battling 'rash of sexting' among its employees
It sounds like the plot of a bad movie: bugging your boss' office. Sending naked photos around to co-workers. Sexting in the office. Paying for sex in a massage parlor. But it all happened in the federal agency whose motto is "fidelity, bravery, integrity" - the FBI. These lurid details are outlined in confidential internal disciplinary reports obtained by CNN that were issued to FBI employees as a way to deter misconduct. The FBI hopes these quarterly reports will stem what its assistant director called a "rash of sexting cases" involving employees who are using their government-issued devices to send lurid texts and nude photos.
NYT: Buying a Gun? States Consider Insurance Rule
Both sides in a nation sharply divided over guns seem to agree on at least one thing: a bigger role for the insurance industry in a heavily armed society. But just what that role should be, and whether insurers will choose to accept it, are much in dispute. Lawmakers in at least half a dozen states, including California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania, have proposed legislation this year that would require gun owners to buy liability insurance — much as car owners are required to buy auto insurance. Doing so would give a financial incentive for safe behavior, they hope, as people with less dangerous weapons or safety locks could qualify for lower rates.
USA Today: Mass shootings toll exceeds 900 in past seven years
More than 900 people died in mass shootings during the past seven years, and a majority of them were killed by people they knew, according to a USA TODAY analysis of gun-related slayings. The 934 deaths account for less than 1% of all gun-related homicides, and nearly half involve a suspect slaying his or her family members, the detailed examination shows. USA TODAY combed through FBI records and news accounts to identify 146 mass shootings since 2006 that matched the FBI definition of mass shooting, where four or more people were killed.
CBS: Nevada legalizes online gambling
Gov. Brian Sandoval signed legislation Thursday legalizing online gambling in Nevada, capping a dizzying day at the Legislature as lawmakers passed the bill through the Assembly and Senate as an emergency measure. Nevada wanted to beat New Jersey, its East Coast casino rival, to the online gambling punch. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie previously vetoed an online wagering bill but has indicated he may sign an amended version next week. The measure makes Nevada the first state in the country to approve interstate online gaming, notes CBS Las Vegas affiliate KLAS-TV, adding that it was put on the fast track Thursday.
The Hill: N. Korea to dominate Obama's talks with Japanese leader
North Korea's recent nuclear test will be front and center when President Obama meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday, White House officials said. The two leaders will have two separate meetings, the National Security Council's senior director for Asia, Danny Russel, told reporters on a conference call. The first will center on “security and diplomatic issues,” followed by a working lunch dedicated to trade and the economy.
NYT: For Obama and Team, Calm, Not Crisis, in Latest Fiscal Battle
President Obama is just seven days away from the first significant test of his second term as deep spending cuts loom, yet inside the White House a clear sense of confidence stands in contrast to the air of crisis that surrounded previous fiscal showdowns with Republicans. The confrontation holds peril for both the president and Republicans. But for now, Mr. Obama believes he is acting from a greater position of strength, advisers say, pointing to several recent polls that show he holds an upper hand in the budget debate. Yet his standing would be at risk if the so-called sequester caused economic growth to collapse.
FOX News: Obama administration to provide emails on CIA’s Libya talking points to Senate panel
The Obama administration has agreed to provide emails pertaining to the controversial CIA talking points which critics say pushed an inaccurate picture of what happened during the terror attack last September in Benghazi, a congressional source tells Fox News. “We expect that will be done early next week,” the source said, adding the administration has agreed to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s request to review the emails.
CNN: Lawmakers say they'd take pay cut, but they can't
Pain from forced spending cuts is a week away and lawmakers are preparing their aides for the fallout that could hit them like other government workers. "We've actually budgeted with a 10% cut in mind," Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Illinois, told CNN last week. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Florida, reorganized his office in December. "We had to let people go then because we were anticipating at least a 16% cut," he said. But members of Congress, the very people who voted to put the automatic spending cuts in place, won't see any change to their annual salary of $174,000. Why? Because Congress can only change its pay by passing a law to do so.
Bloomberg: Republicans Join Democrats to Back Ending Donor Anonymity
As spending by outside groups financed by anonymous donors has escalated in election campaigns, some Republican lawmakers are rethinking opposition to legislation requiring organizations that run political advertisements to identify who’s paying for them. “I saw really for the first time how funding directed in a very anonymous way can so significantly influence an election,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, re-elected in 2010 as a write-in after losing the Republican primary to a Tea Party- backed opponent. Murkowski and Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, are drafting legislation to require disclosure of political donors. In the House, Republican Representative Walter Jones of North Carolina said he is talking with colleagues about a similar effort. Murkowski and Jones voted to thwart previous disclosure legislation.
CNN: Debate on spending cuts seeks blame, not solutions
Both sides agree that forced spending cuts set to take effect next week will harm the economy and national security. Both sides have plans for averting the worst impacts. So why are there no formal negotiations taking place with Congress on break this week as leaders from both parties accuse each other of intransigence? Once again, the answer is the Washington blame game. The same pattern of politically inspired brinksmanship that dominated President Barack Obama's first term is continuing in the early days of his second.
CNN: Poll: Majority of Americans want to delay forced spending cuts
A new survey shows that a majority of Americans want Congress to stop the looming forced spending cuts from going into effect next week. Fifty-four percent want Congress to delay the cuts, while 40% say the government should go ahead and allow the cuts to kick in, according to a Bloomberg News poll released Thursday.
WSJ: The GOP Splits Over Pressure to Slash Defense Budget
Republicans head into the next budget battle with President Barack Obama torn between two long-standing goals: Strengthening the military and cutting federal spending. The prospect of deep cuts in defense is troubling to many in the party, which has traditionally supported robust defense spending. But increasingly, that impulse is giving way to arguments from GOP lawmakers, many of them new to Congress, who say the most important goal is to rein in federal deficits. They believe that steep, across-the-board spending cuts due to hit on March 1, while an imperfect tool, are the only way to accomplish their goal.
CNN: Lack of access to Hagel archives another flashpoint
Official documents, correspondence and other papers from the period of time Chuck Hagel held his U.S. Senate seat are closed to public viewing by the archives entrusted to hold them. The lack of access has created yet another controversy around the embattled nominee to become the next defense secretary, raising questions among some about whether he might be hiding something in those files. The ruckus started earlier this week when a reporter from the conservative publication, the Weekly Standard, tried to access the documents but was rebuffed by administrators at the University of Nebraska, Omaha.
WaPo: Is Md. Gov. Martin O’Malley running for president or not?
Monica McCarthy was at Sen. Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry in September, a big Iowa Democratic shindig, and she remembers the featured speaker, the governor of Maryland, the handsome guy in blue jeans who gave her an autograph. …His name is Martin O’Malley, and he hasn’t said much about what he’ll do when his term as Maryland’s governor expires in two years, even as pundits and politicos have promoted him as a presidential contender in 2016.
Politico: Bill Clinton to fundraise for Terry McAuliffe
Bill Clinton’s first political event of the cycle appears to be in support of his longtime friend Terry McAuliffe’s Virginia gubernatorial bid: The former president is headlining a New York City fundraiser for the former DNC chairman, according to an invitation. The invitation for the March 13 event is from investment banker Marc Lasry, who’s been a major donor to both President Barack Obama and the Clintons, and Doug Band, who was Clinton’s longtime adviser. McAuliffe is facing Ken Cuccinelli, the state’s attorney general, with recent polls showing a tight race.
Roll Call: Thune Tells Second-Graders He Has No Plan for White House Run
Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune told some elementary school students Thursday that he does not plan to seek the presidency. “Do I plan on running for president?” Thune said. “I don’t. I enjoy the job I have. And being the president is a very, very hard job.” Thune made the comment during questioning from a room full of second-graders at Mark Twain Elementary in Sioux Falls in Thune’s home state of South Dakota. They were videotaped by KELO-TV, the local CBS affiliate. Thune previously passed on a 2012 run for the White House.
NYT: NATO Plan Tries to Avoid Sweeping Cuts in Afghan Troops
NATO defense ministers are seriously considering a new proposal to sustain Afghanistan’s security forces at 352,000 troops through 2018, senior alliance officials said Thursday. The expensive effort is viewed as a way to help guarantee the country’s stability — and, just as much, to illustrate continued foreign support after the NATO allies end their combat mission in Afghanistan next year. The fiscal package that NATO leaders endorsed last spring would have reduced the Afghan National Security Forces to fewer than 240,000 troops after December 2014, when the NATO mission expires. That reduction was based on planning work indicating that the larger current force level was too expensive for Afghanistan and the allies to keep up, and might not be required. Some specialists even argued that the foreign money pouring into Afghanistan to support so large a force was helping fuel rampant official corruption.
LA Times: U.S. drone strikes up sharply in Afghanistan
The U.S. military launched 506 strikes from unmanned aircraft in Afghanistan last year, according to Pentagon data, a 72% increase from 2011 and a sign that American commanders may begin to rely more heavily on remote-controlled air power to kill Taliban insurgents as they reduce the number of troops on the ground.
NYT: Case Ends Against Ex-Blackwater Officials
The federal government’s three-year prosecution of five former officials of Blackwater Worldwide virtually collapsed on Thursday after charges against three of the officials were dismissed and the other two agreed to plead guilty to reduced misdemeanor charges with no jail time. Judge Louise W. Flanagan of Federal District Court in North Carolina dismissed all charges against two of the officials, Andrew Howell, Blackwater’s former general counsel, and Ana Bundy, a former vice president; prosecutors agreed to drop charges against a third, Ronald Slezak, a former weapons manager. The two other officials, Gary Jackson, a former president of Blackwater, and William Matthews, a former executive vice president, agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge related to records keeping. They will each receive three years of probation and four months of home confinement, and pay fines of $5,000.
CNN: UK trial reveals new al Qaeda strategy to hit West
The trial of three Birmingham men convicted Thursday of plotting to launch a "catastrophic" suicide bombing attack in the United Kingdom revealed that al Qaeda has developed a new strategy to target the West. The new strategy involves a teacher-training approach in which a select few Western operatives are taught bombmaking and other aspects of terrorist tradecraft in the tribal areas of Pakistan and are then instructed to return back to the West to "spread the knowledge" to a larger body of Islamist extremists keen on launching attacks.
CNN: Iran installing advanced centrifuges ahead of talks
Iran has begun installing advanced new centrifuges at its main uranium enrichment site at Natanz that are capable of accelerating production of fuel for a nuclear weapon, a move that senior U.S. officials warned could jeopardize upcoming talks aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions. The disturbing revelation comes as the "P5 plus one" diplomatic bloc of countries is preparing to offer a package of incentives to Iran to close its underground facility at Fordow and ship out its stockpile of uranium already enriched to a high purity level of 20%.
WSJ: U.S. Prods Iran for One-on-One Meeting
The U.S. is moving to raise the stakes of international talks next week in Kazakhstan, seeking to hold a one-on-one meeting with Tehran in a bid to accelerate nuclear diplomacy ahead of Iran's presidential elections in June, according to American officials. U.S. diplomats are skeptical Tehran will accept their offer to meet in Almaty as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's ultimate arbiter on foreign relations, has come out strongly in recent weeks against any direct dialogue between Tehran and Washington.
LA Times: Brown may forge alliance with GOP governors on health plan
When Gov. Jerry Brown meets with the nation's other governors this weekend in Washington, D.C., he will find common ground with some unlikely counterparts on an unlikely issue: President Obama's healthcare plan. Among the governors now moving nearly as aggressively as Brown to implement the federal healthcare law are conservatives who have long fought to unravel it. They are finding that they cannot afford to pass up Obama's offer of billions of dollars in federal aid to cover expansion of their Medicaid programs for the poor. …They, like Brown, are struggling with healthcare systems overtaxed by large numbers of uninsured residents. At the annual Washington conference, the governors will have an opportunity to strategize on how to hold the Obama administration to its promise to pay for the initial Medicaid expansion.
Tampa Bay Times: Rick Scott's new ideology? 'Getting re-elected,' some say
Two years ago nobody would have dreamed that Rick Scott, the multimillionaire political outsider crusading against Obamacare, would end up heading into a re-election campaign looking like the sort of pragmatic, moderate Republican tea party activists loathe. But that's where Scott has awkwardly positioned himself — as another politician without clear convictions.
ALSO SEE: National Review: Jeb Bush Privately Told Florida Republicans to Oppose Medicaid Expansion
Miami Herald: Suspect in David Rivera campaign-finance scandal to be charged Friday with federal crimes
A former candidate under FBI investigation with former U.S. Rep David Rivera is scheduled to be charged Friday with federal crimes over his campaign finances, sources tell The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. The charges against Justin Lamar Sternad stem from an investigation by the newspapers, which first found discrepancies in his congressional campaign-finance reports last August. The FBI then began investigating Sternad, whose reports could have concealed as much as $100,000 in services and mailers, some of which attacked a Democratic rival of Rivera, who is a Republican.
New Jersey Star Ledger: N.J. Assembly passes package of gun bills despite Republicans' protest
The state Assembly wasted little time today approving 22 bills intended to curb gun violence despite protests from Republicans, who said Democrats put the legislation, some of it flawed, on too fast a track. The session was largely free of the drama provided by a rowdy crowd that jammed the Statehouse annex for last week’s hearing, but opponents vowed a fierce political battle ahead if the measures advanced any further.
Chicago Tribune: Retired general says National Guard could help curb Chicago violence
To reduce the homicides and shootings plaguing Chicago streets, elected officials should consider calling on the state and federal governments for help, even the National Guard if necessary, said a retired Army lieutenant general who spearheaded the military response after Hurricane Katrina. "Just like we do with any disaster. When the tornado comes, or the floods come, the federal government comes in to help," Russel L. Honore said Thursday at a news conference in Chicago.
HuffPo: Arkansas 12-Week Abortion Ban Advances In House
A Republican-controlled committee in the Arkansas House of Representatives approved a bill on Thursday that bans abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy if a fetal heartbeat is detected, with exceptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother and highly lethal fetal disorders. The law, if passed, would be the most extreme abortion restriction in the country. The House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee also approved a Senate-passed bill that bans abortions at 20 weeks after conception. Both bills defy the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, which prevents states from banning abortions before the fetus is viable - usually between 22 and 24 weeks of gestation.
Reuters: Russia accuses U.S. of double standards over Syria
Russia accused the United States on Friday of having double standards over the crisis in Syria, saying it had blocked a U.N. Security Council statement condemning a car bomb attack in Damascus. The car bomb killed 53 people on Thursday on a busy highway close to the Russian Embassy and offices of the ruling Baath Party in the Syrian capital. Russia has been a staunch ally of president Bashar al-Assad.
CNN: Egypt to hold parliamentary elections in April
Egypt will hold parliamentary elections in several stages beginning April 27, a member of President Mohamed Morsy's presidential team announced Thursday. Pakinam el-Sharkawy made the announcement on state television. These will be the first elections since Egypt's highest court dissolved the lower house of parliament last June, and it will be the first full parliament in Morsy's presidency. The upper house, the Shura Council, has continued to meet. The election process will take place in four stages: April 27-28, May 15-16 and June 2-3 and 19-20, according to the official decree released by the president's spokesman, Yassir Ali. Runoffs will be held one week after each stage. The House of Representatives, the lower house in Egypt's bicameral system, will hold its first session July 6, the decree said.
BBC: Mali: Islamist incursion in Gao 'repelled'
French and Malian forces have repelled Islamist fighters who seized a key building in Gao, the main city in northern Mali, officials say. French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said troops had finally driven out militants occupying the city hall. In further violence, al-Qaeda-linked rebels say they detonated a car bomb near a base housing French and Chadian troops in Kidal. At least one person is reported to have been killed. France intervened last month to help the Malian army oust Islamist militants who seized the north of Mali last year.
CNN: Chavez still faces respiratory problems as cancer treatment continues
President Hugo Chavez remains under treatment for "respiratory insufficiency" that arose after he underwent an operation, a government spokesman said Thursday on national television and radio. But Chavez's treatment for his underlying disease - cancer - "continues without presenting significant adverse effects so far," said information minister Ernesto Villegas.
LA Times: Anti-HIV drug effort in South Africa yields dramatic results
An intensive campaign to combat HIV/AIDS with costly antiretroviral drugs in rural South Africa has increased life expectancy by more than 11 years and significantly reduced the risk of infection for healthy individuals, according to new research. The two studies, published Thursday in the journal Science, come as wealthy Western nations are debating how best to stretch limited AIDS funding at a time of economic stress.
CNN: South Korea's president-elect faces tough challenges
South Korea's first female president Park Geun Hye will take office on Monday in the shadow of two giants - the first is the specter of a nuclear-armed North Korea and the second is the legacy of her father, former military dictator Park Chung Hee. The daughter of the assassinated strongman of South Korea, Park, 61, will be sworn into Seoul's presidential Blue House promising a conservative policy of "trustpolitik" with its volatile northern neighbor - a concept that emphasizes what she has called "mutually binding expectations" between the two sides.
Bloomberg Businessweek: Japan’s Popular Prime Minister Heads to Washington
As Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, prepares to meet with President Obama on Friday, the premier enjoys something rare for a Japanese leader: popularity. The country has endured a revolving door of hapless prime ministers since 2006, with the public quickly souring on each one while the government proved powerless to reverse Japan’s long economic slide. So far, Abe is bucking the trend.
Reuters: Special Report: The loneliness of the short distance pope
In Havana last March, when Pope Benedict sat down with Fidel Castro, the revolutionary leader jocularly asked his fellow octogenarian: "What does a pope do?" Benedict proceeded to tell Castro, who had stepped down as president in 2008 for health reasons and had to be helped to walk into the room, about his duties as leader of the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church. Little did Castro know that Benedict was himself contemplating retirement.
Investors Business Daily: Europe's Growth Crisis Persists As Debt Crisis Eases
The European debt crisis is a fading worry, and investor confidence is rebounding. But the region is still stuck in recession, and some of the biggest eurozone members threaten to become worse laggards. Results from Italy's election this weekend will underscore the ongoing challenge. The winner is expected to preside over a weak coalition with little support for additional reforms that would make the eurozone's No. 3 economy more competitive.
CNN: Bail decision expected for Oscar Pistorius
South African prosecutors pushed Friday to keep Oscar Pistorius behind bars, painting the double-amputee track star as a killer offering an improbable defense in the shooting death of his model girlfriend. The picture offered by the prosecution came during the fourth day of a bail hearing that has been remarkable for not only its length but its allegations of miscues by a lead police investigator who himself faces attempted murder charges. Prosecutors are trying to keep Pistorius jailed pending his trial on a charge of premeditated murder in the February 14 shooting death of Reeva Steenkamp, 29.
WSJ: Chief of Embattled Boeing Steers Clear of the Spotlight
The cutting-edge jetliners Boeing Co. BA +1.64% had bet its future on sat grounded, unsettling images of passengers on escape chutes splashed across TV, when Chief Executive Jim McNerney sent handwritten apologies to the chairmen of the airlines whose 787 Dreamliner batteries went up in smoke. Around the same time last month, he discreetly persuaded the CEOs of General Motors GM -2.18% and General Electric GE +0.17% to lend Boeing their best electrical experts, and quietly met with the head of the Federal Aviation Administration. With his storied company facing the biggest crisis of his eight-year tenure, Mr. McNerney is wagering that it is better to disappear behind the scenes to try to fix the problem than to be out front reassuring the public.
Financial Times: Brussels turns up pressure over Libor
Banks and broker-dealers ensnared in the Libor-rigging scandal are facing fresh pressure to settle with Europe’s top competition authority as it expands the scope of its probes.
The European Commission’s 18-month antitrust investigation, previously known to include yen and euro interbank rates, has been extended to include Swiss franc-denominated swaps and poses a significant regulatory threat to the financial institutions under scrutiny, according to people familiar with the probe.