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 targets youth, tech crowd at Facebook town hall
President Barack Obama wasn't just in the news Wednesday. He's also in your news feed. The White House held a "town hall" at Facebook's headquarters, where the president answered questions before a small audience about the economy and the federal deficit. The event was broadcast live, available to Facebook's more than 500 million users. Facebook representatives chose questions from among the queries submitted in advance by audience members and by people tuning in on the Web. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg moderated.
Politico: GOP escalates demands on debt limit
One day after being named to a presidential task force to negotiate deficit reduction, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor fired off a stark warning to Democrats that the GOP “will not grant their request for a debt limit increase” without major spending cuts or budget process reforms. The Virginia Republican’s missive is a clear escalation in the long-running Washington spending war, with no less than the full faith and credit of the United States hanging in the balance. In the most recent budget battle — over a six-month spending bill — Republican leaders carefully avoided threatening to shut down the government. Now, Cantor says he’s ready to plunge the nation into default if the GOP’s demands are not met. People close to Cantor say that he hopes to make clear that small concessions from Democrats, including President Barack Obama, will not be enough to deliver the GOP on a debt increase.
CNN: Boehner calls on Obama to explain 'pace' of Afghan withdrawal
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner wrapped up a two-day trip to Afghanistan Wednesday with a demand that President Barack Obama explain how the "pace and scope" of a planned U.S. troop withdrawal will not undermine the country's fragile security gains. The president has repeatedly said he is confident the United States can meet a self-imposed deadline to begin bringing U.S. troops back from Afghanistan in July without compromising Afghan security, though military commanders and government officials have raised concern about the readiness of Afghan security forces.
CNN: Judicial nominee logjam creates 'crisis' in some federal courts
In the words of Judge Roslyn Silver, the situation is "dire." From her chambers in Phoenix, Arizona, the chief judge of federal judicial District of Arizona warns a bulging criminal caseload is being exacerbated by three unfilled bench seats, which the Obama administration and the Senate have, until recently, shown little urgency to address. "We have a crisis, we have vacancies, and we would like to have them filled so that justice can be served," she told CNN in an exclusive television interview.
The Hill: Divided government hasn’t paid off for the influence industry
Divided government hasn’t been too great for K Street. On Wednesday, lobby firms began to disclose their first quarterly revenue for 2011 as required under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). Records show that most firms’ earnings either flat-lined or fell off when compared to 2010’s first quarter. One reason for the decline is Capitol Hill has not been the legislative factory it was when Democrats controlled both chambers. President Obama and the new Republican House have spent more time battling over the budget than crafting the kind of mammoth bills that have a big impact on industry.
Politico: George Pataki starts debt group, says he won't run president in 2012
George Pataki said no to a White House bid Wednesday night, opting instead to launch an advocacy group that will take up the cause of deficit reduction. The former New York governor said his new group, No American Debt, will put pressure on GOP presidential candidates to offer specific solutions to the country’s red-ink problem. "I'm not running for president," Pataki told Fox News host Sean Hannity. "I think this is an extraordinarily important issue. We are going to focus on this." Pataki did add a requisite “never say never.” That aside, his statement that he’s not running seemed to mark a quiet end to a low-key presidential flirtation that never amounted to much beyond the murmurs of some supporters.
CNN: Wisconsin candidate asks for recount and investigation into vote
A candidate for Wisconsin state Supreme Court justice has asked the Government Accountability Board to investigate possible violations of state election law by Waukesha County election officials. The campaign of JoAnne Kloppenburg filed a formal complaint Wednesday, asking for the appointment of a special investigator to conduct the inquiry specifically regarding Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus. "It has become clear there are potential violations of Wisconsin election law that warrant independent investigation," said Melissa Mulliken, the campaign manager for Kloppenburg for Justice, in a written statement.
CNN: Iowa's potential showdown: Vilsack vs. King?
In what could become one of the most heated battles of the next Congressional election, Christie Vilsack is exploring a run against conservative Rep. Steve King of Iowa. The Democratic wife of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Iowa's popular former governor, announced Wednesday that she will form an exploratory committee for a congressional seat in Iowa's newly drawn fourth district. Vilsack would be vying for the seat of incumbent Steve King, former U.S. Senator and Tea Party favorite, well-known for his conservative positions.
CNN: Obamas will attend space shuttle launch
The Obama family plans to attend the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour later this month. According to a senior administration official, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters Malia and Sasha will watch the launch in person on Friday, April 29th at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Endeavour, NASA's next-to-last shuttle launch, will be commanded by Mark Kelly, the husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head from the Jan. 8th shootings in Tucson, Arizona. Doctors expect Giffords to make the trip from her Houston hospital room to see her husband's launch.
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CNN: New terrorism alert system will offer specific warnings
A new terrorism warning system will provide the public with information on specific threats, replacing the color-coded alerts put in place after the September 11, 2001, attacks, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday. In announcing the new system at New York City's Grand Central Terminal, commonly known as Grand Central Station, Napolitano said a main goal was to provide better understanding of the nature of the specific threat, what people should do in reaction to it and how they could help security officials in responding.
CNN: Feds: Two air traffic controllers fired for sleeping on duty
The Federal Aviation Administration has fired two air traffic controllers, one of whom worked in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the other in Miami, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Wednesday. Both were fired for sleeping incidents, according to the Transportation Department. The firings followed a spate of incidents in which controllers in various cities were reported to be sleeping while on duty. The controllers fired Wednesday were not identified, but one such sleeping incident at the Miami Air Route Traffic Control Center was among the most recently reported, with the FAA suspending a unidentified controller there last Saturday.
CNN: Aborted landing of first lady's plane under investigation
Both the Federal Aviation Administration and the independent National Transportation Safety Board are investigating an aborted landing by a plane carrying first lady Michelle Obama because it was too close to a military plane ahead, officials announced Wednesday. Neither plane was in danger in the incident Monday at Andrews Air Force Base, according to both agencies. "We consider any incident like this a serious incident," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in confirming the FAA review. "It's under investigation, we will get to the bottom of what happened and how it happened, and obviously make sure it doesn't happen again." Later Wednesday, the FAA said in a statement it will now require supervisory oversight in monitoring flights transporting the vice president or first lady. Such supervision is currently required in monitoring flights carrying the president, the FAA said.
CNN: Texas burning 'from border to border'
Texas firefighters Wednesday battled blazes that have scorched more than a million acres and have been burning for more than a week, according to the Texas Forest Service. "We're actually seeing Texas burn from border to border. We've got it in west Texas, in east Texas, in north Texas, in south Texas - it's all over the state," Forest Service spokeswoman April Saginor told CNN Radio. "We've got one in the Dallas area that's four fires that have actually merged together." Saginor said firefighters from 34 states are now in Texas battling blazes that, over the past two weeks, have destroyed more than 170 homes.
CNN: Major League Baseball taking control of Dodgers
Major League Baseball on Wednesday said it was appointing a representative to oversee the operations of the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose financial struggles have been highlighted during a divorce battle between the team's husband-and-wife co-owners. "I have taken this action because of my deep concerns regarding the finances and operations of the Dodgers and to protect the best interests of the club, its great fans and all of Major League Baseball," MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said Wednesday. "My office will continue its thorough investigation into the operations and finances of the Dodgers and related entities during the period of Mr. (Frank) McCourt's ownership. I will announce the name of my representative in the next several days.”
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CNN: Two photographers killed in Libya
Oscar nominee Tim Hetherington and acclaimed photojournalist Chris Hondros died Wednesday while chronicling the gritty violence in the war-torn city of Misrata in Libya, their agencies said. Two other photojournalists were hurt in the incident, according to news reports. "The only thing we know is that he (Hetherington) was hit by an RPG with the other guys," said Cathy Saypol of Cathy Saypol Public Relations, Inc. An RPG is a rocket-propelled grenade. The journalists were walking in the front-line area at the end of Tripoli Street in the western edge of Misrata when the RPG exploded, according to a town resident who wanted to be identified only as "Mohammed" for safety reasons. The group was traveling with rebel fighters, he said.
CNN: Official: Stricter enforcement of nuclear evacuation zone to begin
Japan will on Friday begin enforcing an evacuation order on a 20-kilometer zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a top government official said. The restriction –in place since the early days of the nuclear disaster - has often been ignored. Many of the about 78,000 people who have homes in the evacuation zone have gone back in recent weeks to retrieve belongings, and check on farms and businesses. No one will be allowed within 3 kilometers of the crippled nuclear facility and entry within 20 kilometers of the plant will be highly regulated, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters Thursday.
CNN: Pakistani official disputes claim of ISI-insurgent 'relationship'
Responding to an allegation by the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that Pakistan's main intelligence agency has a "longstanding relationship" with a Taliban-allied insurgent group that targets U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a senior Pakistani intelligence official said: "We do have a relationship: that of an adversary." "We have made our resolve very clear that (the Haqqani Network) is an enemy we need to fight together," said the official, who did not want to be identified discussing intelligence matters. In an interview that aired Wednesday on Pakistan's Geo TV, Adm. Michael Mullen spoke forcefully about the Haqqani Network, which he said "very specifically facilitates and supports the Taliban who move in Afghanistan, and they're killing Americans."
CNN: Military to pursue first capital prosecution against terror suspect
Military prosecutors have recommended the death penalty for the accused mastermind of the deadly 2000 bombing of the destroyer USS Cole. The announcement Wednesday from the Defense Department is another signal the case against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri will be moving closer to trial before a military commission. As one of 16 "high-value" detainees, he has been held for years at the U.S. Navy's detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. If approved, this would be the first death penalty trial in the reconfigured military trial system.
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CNNMoney: Apple earnings nearly double
Apple detractors had a lot to moan about this quarter: iPad 2 sales worries, Japanese supply-chain concerns and the rise of Android. But in the end, Steve Jobs and company shut them down with blowout results. After the bell Wednesday, Apple posted earnings of $6.40 per share on revenue of $24.67 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected earnings of $5.37 on sales of $23.38 billion. Sales rose 83% from the same period a year ago, while profits nearly doubled. Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) shares rose 2.7% in after-hours trading.
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