CNN: Deaths, damage and cleanup in storm's wake
It was a winter weather tale as old as, well, modern time: car vs. the snow plow.
"There's our friend and our nemesis, the plow. Ugh," said David Bradley, whose car was buried Wednesday by a plow clearing streets in Toronto, Canada. Forty-minutes later, he was still trying to dig out his car from a fierce snowstorm that paralyzed parts of the United States and Canada, leaving hundreds of thousands with out power and stranding thousands more. Similar scenes were playing from Wisconsin to Michigan, from Kansas to Texas, as thousands began digging out from a storm that began last Sunday as a blizzard in the Great Plains. By Wednesday, it was a significant snowmaker over the Midwest and New England, causing headaches for some commuters.
CNN: Parents of transgender first-grader file discrimination complaint
A transgender rights group announced Wednesday that it has filed a discrimination complaint in Colorado on behalf of a first-grader who was born a boy but identifies as a girl. The filing stems from a decision announced last December by officials at Fountain-FortCarsonSchool District that Coy Mathis could no longer use the girls' bathroom at Eagleside Elementary.
CNN: Congressional leaders invited to W.H. on spending cuts deadline day
Congressional leaders have been invited to the White House on Friday–the day forced spending cuts are scheduled to start taking effect, two sources said Wednesday. But while President Barack Obama was on Capitol Hill Wednesday for a Rosa Parks statue unveiling, he met with congressional leaders for a brief, minute-long meeting. According to an Obama administration official, the president discussed the forced spending cuts and said that during their pending White House meeting on Friday they need to be "ready to talk solutions."
CNN: Obama: Spending cuts would be bad for business
President Barack Obama is taking his campaign against the forced federal spending cuts – set to take effect on Friday – before business leaders, telling them Wednesday evening that the cuts will be bad for their businesses and cause the economy to "tumble downward." "Whether that can be done in the next two days," Obama said, pausing mid-sentence, then continuing, "I haven't seen things done in two days here in Washington in quite some time." His skepticism comes as the final days before Friday's deadline pass with no sign of frenzied negotiations to broker a last-minute deal.
NYT: White House Counts on G.O.P. to Bend as Cuts’ Effects Are Felt
President Obama’s team concedes that the almost certain arrival of across-the-board budget cuts on Friday will not immediately produce the politically dramatic layoffs and airport delays that the administration has been warning about for days. But White House strategists say they believe that a constant drip of bad news will emerge in Congressional districts across the country in the weeks ahead, generating negative headlines and, they hope, putting Republicans on the defensive for their refusal to raise taxes.
CNN: Bob Woodward says he was threatened by White House
Veteran journalist Bob Woodward said Wednesday he was threatened by a senior Obama administration official following his reporting on the White House's handling of the forced federal spending cuts set to take effect on Friday. "They're not happy at all," he said on CNN's "The Situation Room," adding that an e-mail from a senior administration official – who he would not name – communicated a message which caused him great concern. "It was said very clearly, you will regret doing this," he said. … But a White House official who would not speak if named said late Wednesday, "Of course no threat was intended." The official said the email Woodward referenced "was sent to apologize for voices being raised in their previous conversation.
WATCH: VIDEO – Journalist Bob Woodward says President Obama's administration threatened him over his budget assessments.
ALSO SEE: Politico: Woodward at war
ALSO SEE: BuzzFeed: Economic Official Sperling Warned Woodward
CNN: Forced budget cuts lead to teacher layoffs in W. Virginia? Not quite.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan says a West Virginia school district is laying off teachers due to deep spending cuts across the federal government set to take effect on Friday. But officials from that region say it's not true. Duncan told reporters at the White House on Wednesday that the KanawhaCounty school system was already handing out pink slips in anticipation of the automatic cuts that, among other things, will impact the amount of federal money states get through September. …But Diane Young, the coordinator of the Head Start program for Kanawha County Public Schools, cautioned that Duncan's explanation does not get an "A" for accuracy.
CNN: Sources: Obama picks for ambassadorships include top donors
Major donors of President Barack Obama are leading candidates for ambassadorships, Democratic sources tell CNN. Marc Lasry, founder of Avenue Capital Group and a key Wall Street backer of Obama during the election, is the leading candidate for ambassador to France, according to two Democratic sources.
BuzzFeed: Obama Faces Deadline For Weighing In On Proposition 8 Case
The Obama administration faces a Thursday deadline on what might become its biggest legacy on gay rights; the question of if it will weigh in on the Supreme Court case challenging California's Proposition 8 marriage ban.
WATCH: VIDEO – Christine Romans on exclusive "Fortune" report that 60 companies will file briefs supporting same-sex marriage.
CNN: Countdown to Cuts: What's Congress doing?
We now have only two days left before $85 billion in widely disliked spending cuts start to take effect. So what's Congress doing Wednesday to deal with this self-inflicted crisis? …The Senate should vote this week on plans to replace cuts or mitigate their impact. But nobody expects those plans to go anywhere. Any plan put forward by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, or Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, will need at least 60 votes to win approval in the 100-member chamber. Neither leader is believed to be in a position to pull that off.
WATCH: VIDEO – Take a look at the $85 billion that's expected to be cut from the federal budget and how it effects the entire economy.
ALSO SEE: Reuters: Analysis: Cuts unlikely to deliver promised U.S. budget savings
National Review: In Closed-Door Meeting, Cantor Warned of ‘Civil War’
House majority leader Eric Cantor is increasingly frustrated with a group of House Republicans who are working against the leadership, and he’s not afraid of voicing his dismay. In a closed-door conference meeting on Wednesday, Cantor told one GOP member that if they blocked the Senate-passed Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) from coming to the floor, they’d cause “civil war” in the ranks. Cantor’s comment irked some Republican aides, who told National Review Online that such strong language is inappropriate.
CNNMoney: Senate confirms Jack Lew as Treasury Secretary
The Senate voted on Wednesday to confirm Jack Lew as U.S. Treasury secretary.
Lew, 57, most recently served as the White House chief-of-staff. As a former budget director for Presidents Obama and Bill Clinton, Lew has overseen budget talks in times of deficits and also surpluses. As the secretary of the Treasury, Lew will run U.S. domestic financial policy and is charged with collecting federal taxes and managing public debt, among other duties.
The Hill: House GOP leaders set to hand Senate Dems victory on VAWA
House Republican leaders are set to hand a victory to Senate Democrats on Thursday with the expected passage of a Senate-approved reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Republicans in the House had worked for months on their own version of the bill. But lawmakers and aides said Wednesday the leadership realized this week that, amid unified Democratic opposition, the GOP proposal was unlikely to gain the 217 votes needed to pass.
Politco: Mitt Romney ponies up max to Chris Christie
While some Republicans are still angry at Chris Christie for praising Barack Obama before the election, Mitt Romney isn’t among them. Romney, whose supporters and aides were furious that Christie complimented the president’s response to Hurricane Sandy, has given the maximum contribution possible, $3,800, to the New Jersey governor’s reelection bid, a source familiar with the donation said. Meanwhile, Eric Cantor, the House majority leader who pushed to get the Sandy aid bill to the floor for a vote after it was tabled by House Speaker John Boehner, has added his name to a Christie fundraiser in Virginia on Thursday night and hosted by Gov. Bob McDonnell, the source said.
CNN: A top GOP prospect in key Senate showdown says no to running
One of the two Republican congressmen considering a 2014 bid for an open U.S. Senate seat in Iowa says he is staying put in the House. Rep. Tom Latham announced Wednesday that he will not campaign for the seat of longtime Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, who late last month announced that he wouldn't run in 2014 for a sixth term in office.
CNN: Iran nuclear negotiator: Talks taking 'realistic' turn
World powers did not push Iran to halt enrichment at its nuclear plants during secretive talks Wednesday, the country's chief negotiator said. In an interview with CNN, Saeed Jalili said the six-nation bloc conducting the negotiations is taking more "realistic" steps, including "paying more attention to the rights of Iran."
ALSO SEE: NYT: Lawmakers Introduce Bipartisan Measure to Toughen Iranian Sanctions
CNN: Kerry set to announce more aid for Syrian opposition
Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to announce on Thursday an assistance package in the "tens of millions" of dollars for the Syrian opposition when he meets with them in Rome, according to two Obama administration officials. The plan will include aid for the armed opposition wing, according to the sources. President Barack Obama had not yet signed off on a package, but had a number of options on his desk regarding additional help for rebels fighting government forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
ALSO SEE: CNN: Rubio advocates for arming Syrian opposition
Reuters: Western governments to discuss military assistance to Syrian rebels: source
Western and Arab officials will meet representatives of the Syrian opposition in Istanbul next Monday to discuss military and humanitarian support for rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad, a European diplomatic source said on Thursday. "The meeting aims to work directly with opposition structures to increase the level of support," the source said, adding that both civilian and military representatives of the Syrian opposition would attend. The source spoke on the margins of a meeting in Rome between the Syrian National Coalition – the main civilian opposition group – and Western and Arab nations.
WSJ: Islamists Gain Momentum in Syria
Extremists intent on establishing an Islamist state in Syria have gained power within the rebel insurgency, while moderates have lost clout since moves by Washington late last year aimed at the opposite result, U.S. officials and rebel fighters say. Security officers gather in front of the aviation intelligence department in Damascus after an attack last year claimed by Jabhat al-Nusra. On the eve of the most recent gathering of the Friends of Syria international opposition support group in December, the Obama administration designated Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra a terrorist organization, and on the same day, officially endorsed the moderate face of the rebellion, the umbrella Syrian Opposition Coalition. Around the same time, the administration stepped back from the hotly debated idea of arming the rebels, partly out of concern the weapons would fall into extremists' hands.
CNN: Aide: Senate committee vote on Brennan to be held Tuesday
The Senate Intelligence Committee vote on the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director is expected to take place Tuesday, a congressional aide said.
The vote had been scheduled for Thursday. As President Barack Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser, Brennan was behind the use of drones to kill suspected terrorists, including American-born cleric Ansar al-Awlaki. He was killed by a missile strike in Yemen in 2011. At his confirmation hearing, Brennan defended the use of drone strikes but acknowledged there should be more public discussion about them.
NYT: North Koreans Blame U.S. for Fueling ‘Explosive Situation’
Brushing off widespread condemnation of its nuclear test earlier month, North Korea rebuked the United States on Wednesday for destabilizing the KoreanPeninsula and fueling an “explosive situation” by its persistent hostility toward Pyongyang. “The U.S. is to blame for the situation on the Korean Peninsula, which is inching close to an unpredictable phase now,” North Korea’s representative to the United Nations in Geneva, So Se Pyong, told the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, capping a week of fiery rhetoric from Pyongyang targeting Washington and Seoul.
USA Today: House says $1B wasted on veterans' medical e-records
The departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have wasted about $1 billion in a failed effort to streamline medical record-keeping, the chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee said in a hearing Wednesday. "I'm concerned we're taking a step back toward a model that has been tried and failed," said committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., at a hearing to examine the project.
AVIATION, REGULATION and JUSTICE:
CNN: Biden weighs in on voting rights case
Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday he couldn't believe he was reliving a civil rights battle, pointing to the Supreme Court's division over a provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. "I never thought we'd have to refight so many fights," Biden said at a reception for Black History Month at the Naval Observatory in Washington. The high court heard oral arguments Wednesday over challenges to Section 5, a part of the Voting Rights Act that gives the federal government open-ended oversight of states and localities, mostly in the South, with a history of voter discrimination.
WATCH: VIDEO: The Supreme Court heard an Alabama case that claims the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has outlived its usefulness.
CNN: Immigration detainee release under fire
At first, Miguel Hernandez thought it was a mistake, or worse, a joke. The 19-year-old had been pulled over for failure to use his blinker, but the fact that he is an undocumented immigrant landed him in a detention center in rural Georgia. Hernandez was certain that deportation proceedings would follow soon, and was mulling over it when a guard brought some news: he was being released. The package of forced budget cuts, known as sequestration, will mean $85 billion of government-wide cuts. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) decision to move detainees to less costly supervision options was met with backlash from Republicans who accuse the Obama administration of using scare tactics to win a political battle.
WATCH: VIDEO – ICE has released several hundred immigration detainees ahead of budget cuts that kick in on Friday. Jim Acosta reports.
Seattle Times: 787 faces extensive tests to return to air, FAA chief says
Federal Aviation Administration chief Michael Huerta said Wednesday that Boeing won’t get its 787 Dreamliners back into passenger service without extensive testing and recertification of its proposed fix for the jet’s lithium-ion battery problem. In testimony before a congressional subcommittee, Huerta said he expects a report from his technical staff next week that will offer an assessment of the fix Boeing formally proposed last Friday. But he said FAA approval for Boeing to develop its fix will only be the start.
CNN: Former guards accused of smuggling cell phones into Texas prison
How were inmates inside a Texas prison allegedly able to make cell phone calls, plot crimes and acquire drugs? With the help of 17 former corrections officers who once worked at the prison, according to a federal grand jury indictment unsealed this week. Now the former officers and 12 others have been arrested and charged with racketeering after a four-year investigation authorities dubbed Operation Prison Cell. The former guards are accused of involvement in a smuggling scheme that undermined the justice system, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson told reporters Wednesday.
FOX 32 News: Jackson Jr. therapeutic writing could become memoir: Source
FOX 32 News has confirmed that disgraced former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. will write a memoir, wanting to be remembered for more than just pleading guilty to corruption charges. Last week, Jackson Jr. and his wife agreed to plead guilty to federal charges growing out of what prosecutors said was a scheme to use $750,000 in campaign funds for lavish personal expenses. Jackson is writing the memoir to "clear up his legacy" and to tell his side of the story – of his history.
SEE ALSO: CNN: Former Rep. Jackson will continue to serve, father says
Chicago Tribune: In 2nd District Republican squeaker, ex-convict looks to be winner
Republican voters are suggesting the 2nd Congressional District replace one felon with another after picking ex-convict Paul McKinley as the candidate to run for the seat recently ceded by former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. While official results in the GOP special election will not be certified until next month, McKinley had a 23-vote lead over Eric Wallace, a multimedia company owner from Flossmoor, with all precincts reporting Wednesday. McKinley, a convicted felon who served nearly 20 years in state prison for burglaries, armed robberies and aggravated battery, declared victory.
Albany Times- Union: Cuomo considers gun law 'corrections'
With half the state's counties passing resolutions denouncing New York's new gun control law, top state officials are considering "technical corrections" to the measure to ensure that newly banned weapons can still be used in movies and TV shows filmed in New York. "We spend a lot of money bringing movie production here, post-production here, so obviously we would want to facilitate that," Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference. "I don't know that legally (a prop firearm) would even be classified as an assault weapon. ... But people want certainty, and there's no reason not to make a change like that to give people and an industry comfort."
San Jose Mercury News: Bill would help states copy California program to take guns from criminals
Other states would be urged to emulate California's system for seizing firearms from people who are no longer legally allowed to own them, under a bill unveiled Wednesday by two Bay Area House members. But California's program is predicated on registration of certain firearms - something most states don't do and are loath to consider. The bill by Rep. Mike Thompson and Rep. Jackie Speier would create a Justice Department grant program offering money to states to develop systems to ensure convicts and dangerously mentally ill people can't keep their guns, such as California's Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS) database.
LA Times: Lawmaker proposes misdemeanors for heroin, cocaine possession
Charging that the "war on drugs’’ has failed, state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) has introduced legislation that would allow prosecutors to file misdemeanor instead of felony charges in cases of simple possession of heroin, cocaine and other hard drugs. Leno was joined Wednesday by representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union of California and NAACP in announcing the legislation, which he predicted could save up to $200 million a year by avoiding having to keep offenders behind bars.
Des Moines Register: Iowa Senate advances Medicaid expansion, but no deal near with Branstad
A sharply divided Iowa Senate committee advanced a bill Wednesday to add thousands of low-income Iowans to the state-federal Medicaid health insurance program, but lawmakers appeared far from reaching a compromise with Gov. Terry Branstad on the issue.
Boston Herald: Some Dems tell Deval Patrick to take hike over $1.9B plan
Fearful of an Election Day reckoning, skittish Democrats say they aren’t buying Gov. Deval Patrick’s latest sales pitch for his proposed $1.9 billion tax hike: a new website that spells out the taxpayer largesse he’s promising for their districts. …Patrick rolled out the website yesterday, complete with 400 maps that purport to show how much new education and transportation revenue would flood into each of their Senate and House districts if lawmakers vote to approve the governor’s massive tax and fee hikes.
CNN: Benedict XVI enters last day as pope
When night falls Thursday over Vatican City, there will be no pope in residence.
After nearly eight tumultuous years at the head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, Benedict XVI has made the almost unprecedented decision to stand down. That resignation, which takes effect at 8 p.m. local time (2 p.m. ET), opens up the prospect of unforeseen opportunities and challenges for the Roman Catholic Church. As Benedict closes the door behind him, many are wondering whether a new pontiff will choose to lead the church in a different direction - and can lift it out of the mire of scandal that has bogged down this pope's time in office.
Der Speigel: Stalling for Time: Greek Reform Effort Slows to a Crawl
The troika mission has returned to Greece, but this time things are different. No front page headlines are warning about new painful demands made by Greece's international creditors, no government officials are pleading for unity in the three-party coalition in support of unpopular measures. And there is no overhanging fear of a long drawn-out process of evaluation, full of innuendos about a catastrophic default or euro-zone exit. For the moment, Europe is watching developments in Italy. Following the election debacle there, concerns have reawakened that the euro crisis might return.
CNN: Cambodia sees spike in bird flu deaths
In the last two months, eight people in Cambodia have died from bird flu, a rare but deadly disease causing concern among health authorities. Six of the victims have been children. The H5N1 virus, known to be highly contagious to poultry, typically resembles the flu when contracted by humans. But it kills more than half the people it infects, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SEE ALSO: CNN: Mexico slaughters 1.2 million chickens infected with bird flu
Bloomberg Businessweek: Water Buffalo, Donkey Join Horse Meat on the Menu
As if Europe’s horse meat problem weren’t enough, consumers in South Africa have just learned they may have been eating donkey burgers, goat sausage, and water buffalo lunch meat. South Africa’s health department said Wednesday it had opened an investigation after researchers at Stellenbosch University reported finding “species which were not declared on the product label” in 68 percent of meat products they tested.
Reuters: Elegant Damascus, besieged by both sides
In a city lived in for seven millennia, it may take more than two years of civil war to put a full stop to the genteel round of dinner parties and walks in the park for the affluent folk of downtown Damascus. But from out in the grim suburbs, rebels incensed at their prosperous neighbors' passivity lob in more bombs and President Bashar al-Assad's forces make their presence ever more heavily felt around his stronghold, disrupting comfortable old routines and setting fear gnawing at Damascenes' cocoon of civilization. Many feel trapped between an unloved authority in the form of the 43-year-old Assad dynasty and hungry revolutionaries at the gates, who resent the city's privileged lifestyle.
CNN: Seeking war crimes justice, Bangladesh protesters fight 'anti-Islam' label
Every day since early February, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have massed at an intersection in Bangladesh's bustling capital city. But unlike the Tahrir Square and Occupy Wall Street movements, they're not calling for the overthrow of the government or greater economic equality. The rallies, led by youths and fueled by social media, are demanding the death penalty for those who took part in war crimes during Bangladesh's bloody independence from Pakistan more than four decades ago. And in the fourth most populous Muslim country in the world, the peaceful movement is also trying to achieve something remarkable: a ban on extreme fundamentalist parties.
Reuters: Beijing Air Pollution Tops Hazardous Levels Days Before Congress
Beijing warned residents to stay indoors as air pollution exceeded hazardous levels five days before China’s national legislature begins its annual meeting, with thousands of delegates expected in the capital. Concentrations of PM2.5, fine air particles that pose the greatest health risk, rose to 469 micrograms per cubic meter at 10 a.m., near Tiananmen Square compared to an average of 275 in the past 24 hours, the Beijing government reported. The World Health Organization recommends 24-hour exposure to PM2.5 of no higher than 25. The level dropped to 163 at 12 p.m.
CNNMoney: Europe to cap bankers' bonuses
Europe is planning to cap bankers' bonuses in a bid to curb the kind of reckless risk taking that led to the financial crisis and huge tax-payer funded bailouts. The measure, which could take affect as early as January 2014, will limit bonuses to the level of annual salary, or twice salary given the approval of a majority of shareholders. The cap will apply globally to European Union banks, and to international banks operating within the EU.
CNNMoney: It's official: Kuroda nominated to BoJ's top spot
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe picked Haruhiko Kuroda Thursday to lead the Bank of Japan, a nomination that will buttress Abe's efforts to loosen monetary policy at the central bank. Kuroda, the current president of the Asian Development Bank, has years of experience in international finance and monetary prescriptions that largely mirror those of Abe.
WSJ: Gas Boom Projected to Grow for Decades
U.S. natural-gas production will accelerate over the next three decades, new research indicates, providing the strongest evidence yet that the energy boom remaking America will last for a generation. The most exhaustive study to date of a key natural-gas field in Texas, combined with related research under way elsewhere, shows that U.S. shale-rock formations will provide a growing source of moderately priced natural gas through 2040, and decline only slowly after that. A report on the Texas field, to be released Thursday, was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
WSJ: Scrutiny of Heinz Trades Intensifies
The probe of potential insider trading ahead of this month's $23 billion buyout of H.J. Heinz Co. has widened, as regulators and criminal investigators scrutinize what they see as suspicious purchases of stock in the ketchup maker, according to people familiar with the inquiries. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a Wall Street self-regulator, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are reviewing numerous trades in Heinz stock shortly before the buyout announcement sent the share price soaring Feb. 14, the people said.
CNN: Shell halts Arctic drill plans for 2013
Royal Dutch Shell says it will "pause" its closely watched project to drill for oil off the Alaskan coast this year, instead spending 2013 preparing for future exploration. The company began work in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in the remote Arctic this summer. The project caused widespread concern among environmentalists and suffered some high-profile snags, including the grounding of a drill barge that was being towed back to the Lower 48. "Alaska remains an area with high potential for Shell over the long term, and the company is committed to drill there again in the future," a corporate statement issued Wednesday afternoon declared. But Shell said it would take time off this year "to prepare equipment and plans for a resumption of activity at a later stage."