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EARLYBIRD

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Bush nominates Petraeus to head Central Command, Senate to pass genetic discrimination ban, Iraqi oil revenues rising, no easy fix for airline crisis, Fed to cut rates again, video shows North Koreans in Syrian nuclear facility.

• "President Bush and King Abdullah of Jordan met privately for breakfast on Wednesday morning, as the White House tries to resuscitate the ailing Middle East peace talks before Mr. Bush leaves for Israel next month," the New York Times reports. "The Jordanian Embassy said afterward that the king told Mr. Bush that negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis 'should be based on clear grounds and fixed time frames.'"

• "Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq and the public face of the war effort there, became President Bush's nominee" Wednesday "to supervise U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia as head of Central Command, putting him in position to oversee American strategy in Iraq for years to come," the Washington Post reports. "Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, who worked closely with Petraeus as the No. 2 commander in Iraq until two months ago, was nominated to receive a fourth star and to take Petraeus's current job as the leader of Multi-National Force-Iraq."

 

• "After the announcement Wednesday that" Petraeus "will be nominated to head" Central Command "members of Congress and military analysts questioned whether the new role would tie him too closely to the war in Iraq," USA Today reports. "Lawmakers have counted on the head of Central Command to provide a counterbalance to Petraeus' troop requests for Iraq."

• "FBI Director Robert Mueller on Wednesday recalled warning the Justice Department and the Pentagon that some U.S. interrogation methods used against terrorists might be inappropriate, if not illegal," AP reports. "Mueller's comments came under pointed questioning by House Democrats demanding to know if the FBI tried to stop interrogations in 2002 that critics define as torture."

• "The CIA concluded that criminal, administrative or civil investigations stemming from harsh interrogation tactics were 'virtually inevitable,' leading the agency to seek legal support from the Justice Department, according to a CIA official's statement in court documents filed" Wednesday, the Washington Post reports.

 

• "Gen. Michael V. Hayden, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, announced Wednesday that he would retire from the Air Force this summer but continue running the agency as a civilian," the New York Times reports. "General Hayden’s decision to remain in the military after he took over the C.I.A. in 2006 was criticized by some lawmakers from both parties."

• "Atty. Gen. Michael B. Mukasey offered a stark assessment Wednesday of a rising threat from international organized crime, saying that a new breed of mobsters around the world was infiltrating strategic industries, providing logistical support to terrorists and becoming capable of 'creating havoc in our economic infrastructure,'" the Los Angeles Times reports.

• "More than half the Environmental Protection Agency scientists who responded to an independent survey made public" Wednesday "said that they had witnessed political interference in scientific decisions at the agency during the past five years," the Washington Post reports. "The claim comes from a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit advocacy group that sent questionnaires to 5,500 EPA scientists and obtained 1,586 responses."

• "The AFL-CIO Wednesday filed the first legal complaint with the Labor Department over the treatment of workers in Guatemala, alleging violations of the labor chapter of the Central America Free Trade Agreement, which Congress passed in 2005," CongressDailyAM reports. "Along with six Guatemalan unions, the group said their complaint lays out five separate cases where the Guatemalan government has failed to protect worker rights or stop violence against union officials."

 

• "The official in charge of the 2010 Census announced his retirement Wednesday, raising concerns that his departure may delay the decennial population count and result in less accurate data," USA Today reports. "Preston Jay Waite, 62, who started at the Census Bureau in 1971 and became the deputy director in 2007, said he is stepping down May 2, less than two years before the count mandated by the Constitution."

Congress: Senate To Pass Genetic Discrimination Ban

• "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is rapidly pulling together a carefully orchestrated plan for what looks to be the last Iraq war supplemental before November’s election: Let Democrats take separate, conscience-clearing votes on troop withdrawal timelines and economic stimulus proposals, then negotiate a deal with the Senate and the White House that would combine money for the war with some modest domestic spending," the Politico reports. "The complicated choreography -- sketched out by lawmakers and congressional aides involved in the ongoing discussions -- could involve a dance around a veto."

• "Capping 13 years of political wrangling, the Senate today is slated to pass landmark legislation that would prevent employers and health insurance companies from discriminating against people on the basis of genetic test results," the Washington Post reports.

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• "Republicans in the US Congress succeeded Wednesday in blocking a law aimed at overturning a Supreme Court decision that restricts women's ability to sue their employers for unequal pay," AP reports.

• "The rallying cry Wednesday was, 'Equal pay for women.' Next week, it likely will be 'Insurance companies play fair.' And in the next month it will probably be 'Gay rights,'" Roll Call (subscription) reports. "By design or happenstance, Senate Democrats have been rolling out a passel of 'red meat' legislation that appeals to the Democratic base in this pivotal election year."

• "The Congressional Hispanic Caucus publicly railed against its own Democratic majority on Wednesday, incensed over House leaders’ decision to advance several narrowly focused immigration bills -- including an enforcement-only measure backed by Republicans -- while a comprehensive reform bill remains dormant," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

• "Americans are in sticker-shock over grocery prices, while people in developing countries are rioting over food shortages. And across the heartland, American farmers are enjoying record incomes, but losing sleep over rising expenses and turbulence in the commodity futures markets," the New York Times reports. But "as Congress works toward final passage of the farm bill, it is poised to continue most of the existing farmer subsidy programs, including about $5.2 billion a year in so-called 'direct payments' that will be disbursed even as net farm income is projected to hit a historic high in 2008."

• "Congressional Democrats are backing away from healthcare reform promises made by their two presidential candidates, saying that even if their party controls the White House and Congress, sweeping change will be difficult," The Hill reports. "It is still seven months before Election Day, but already senior Democrats are maneuvering to lower public expectations on the key policy issue."

• "White House budget chief Jim Nussle" on Wednesday "said Republicans were partly to blame for the growing budget deficit and deserved to lose control of Congress in 2006 because they did not act aggressively to cut spending when they were in the majority. In a wide-ranging interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times, the former Iowa congressman and 2006 gubernatorial candidate also said that the softening economy is hurting corporate tax revenues and overall federal receipts that will likely lead to a higher federal budget deficit."

Iraq: Oil Revenues Could Reach $70 Billion

• "New data on Iraq oil revenues suggests that country's government will reap an even larger than expected windfall this year -- as much as $70 billion -- according to the special U.S. auditor for Iraq," AP reports. "The previously undisclosed information is likely to strengthen the hand of U.S. lawmakers complaining that Iraqis aren't footing enough of the bill for rebuilding their nation -- particularly in light of rising oil production and world prices."

• "U.S. officials said Wednesday that a military campaign in the stronghold of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has succeeded in nearly eliminating the deadly rocket and mortar attacks launched from the area," the Washington Post reports. "U.S. and Iraqi forces have been battling for weeks in the capital's Sadr City neighborhood against Shiite fighters tied to Sadr's Mahdi Army militia."

• "An Arab satellite news channel reported that a man suspected of being Izzat Ibrahim, who tops Iraq's most wanted list, was captured Wednesday by Iraqi soldiers in the northern part of the country," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Al Arabiya channel said the suspect was caught during a raid in the Hamrin mountains that straddle Salahuddin, Diyala and Tamim provinces and added that Iraqi officials were conducting DNA tests to confirm his identity."

• "U.S. authorities on Wednesday identified the body of Jonathon Cote, a private security contractor who was abducted 17 months ago in Iraq with four colleagues," the Washington Post reports. "Cote's body was the last to be recovered from one of the largest kidnappings of Americans since the Iraq war began in 2003."

• "It was the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine" in Samarra "that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war, bloodshed that has left tens of thousands dead and this ancient city in ruins," AP reports. "But reconstruction of the famed mosque amid the rubble filling this city is under way, once bitter Shiite and Sunni enemies jointly man checkpoints and locals hope tourists will return again to see the shrine and help save the economy."

Nation: No Easy Fix For Airline Crisis

• "Thirty years after deregulation, there’s no going back for U.S. air travel -- and no going straight forward either. As many as 794 million passengers are expected to fly this year -- more than a half-billion more than in 1978. But a record 29 percent of all flights in 2007 were delayed or canceled, and soaring oil prices could be the second shoe falling for Wall Street after the losses that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks," the Politico reports.

• "Federal prosecutors announced Wednesday that they will try for the third time to convict six men accused of plotting to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower and attack other buildings," the Washington Post reports. "'The United States has decided it's necessary to proceed, your honor, one more time to a jury,' prosecuting attorney Richard Gregorie told U.S. District Judge Joan A. Lenard at a hearing."

• "A prominent Illinois Republican Party leader may have tried to use his friendship with the former White House political aide Karl Rove to push for the ouster of the United States attorney in Chicago, a federal prosecutor said in court on Wednesday," the New York Times reports. "The accusation came in the trial of a Chicago-area political fund-raiser and businessman, Antoin Rezko, who is facing bribery charges as part of a wide-ranging corruption investigation that has been a source of embarrassment to both Democrats and Republicans in Illinois."

• "An Air Force training jet crashed at Columbus Air Force Base" in Mississippi "on Wednesday, killing both pilots aboard, base officials said," AP reports. "The base said in a news release that the T-38C Talon crashed about 12:30 p.m., and that the pilots' names were being withheld until relatives could be notified."

• "In a wide-ranging look at how children have fared in their first decade of life, a study to be released today offers a promising picture of American childhood: Sixth-graders feel safer at school. Reading and math scores are up for 9-year-olds. More preschoolers are vaccinated. Fewer are poisoned by lead," the Washington Post reports. "The analysis, which created a composite index of more than 25 key national indicators, reports an almost 10 percent boost in children's well-being from 1994 to 2006."

• " Youth boot camps and their referral services are using deceptive marketing practices when trying to convince parents of troubled kids to try the programs, a federal investigation has found," AP reports. "The programs -- also referred to as residential treatment facilities, behavior modification programs or therapeutic boarding schools -- have been under congressional investigation for about a year. It's estimated that at least 20,000 U.S. teens attend such facilities."

Economy: Fed To Cut Rates Once More

• "The Federal Reserve is likely to cut its short-term interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point next week -- but then may be ready for a breather," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "The Fed, meeting Tuesday and Wednesday, is likely to make what would be its seventh cut in eight months. The reason: Some officials see a case for more insurance against a deeper recession."

• "Investor fears over failures by big banks have receded sharply in recent weeks, pricing trends in the credit derivatives markets have revealed," the Financial Times reports. "Confidence has been bolstered by the flurry of unconventional moves by central banks to stabilise the financial system, coupled with new efforts by banks themselves to shore up their balance sheets."

• "The $558 billion restaurant industry is hitting rough times, squeezed by many of the same woes affecting other sectors of the economy: tightfisted consumers, scarce credit and surging commodity prices. Adding to the pressure is a big jump in the minimum wage starting this summer, which will boost wages by 12% in some states," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "That's sent the industry into its worst slump in decades."

• "Signs of a consumer slowdown abound in the United States, but Apple customers appear not to have noticed," the New York Times reports. "Buoyed by unusually strong Macintosh sales, the company grew notably faster than the rest of the computer market worldwide in the first three months of the year. Revenue increased 43 percent from the same period a year ago, the company reported. Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, characterized the quarter as the strongest in Apple’s history."

• "Starbucks, the coffee house chain, on Wednesday blamed a 'sharp weakening' in the consumer economy for an unexpected decline in its US sales, sending its shares plunging more than 10 per cent in after-hours trading," the Financial Times reports. "Howard Schultz, who returned to the role of chief executive in January, said 'the current economic environment is the weakest in our company’s history.'"

World: Video Shows N. Koreans At Syrian Nuke Site

• "Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants the Bush administration to press Israel to stop expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank -- a step he says is needed to make progress in Mideast peace talks. Those talks are bogged down five months after both sides pledged to reach a deal by January," AP reports. "In a meeting Wednesday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ahead of talks with President Bush" today, "Abbas said time was running out if that target laid out at the Annapolis Conference in November was to be met and that more pressure must be exerted on Israel to stop the expansion of West Bank settlements, according to the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat."

• "A letter that President Bush personally delivered to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon four years ago has emerged as a significant obstacle to the president's efforts to forge a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians during his last year in office," the Washington Post reports. "Ehud Olmert, the current Israeli prime minister, said this week that Bush's letter gave the Jewish state permission to expand the West Bank settlements that it hopes to retain in a final peace deal, even though Bush's peace plan officially calls for a freeze of Israeli settlements across Palestinian territories on the West Bank."

• "A video taken inside a secret Syrian facility last summer convinced the Israeli government and the Bush administration that North Korea was helping to construct a reactor similar to one that produces plutonium for North Korea's nuclear arsenal, according to senior U.S. officials who said it would be shared with lawmakers today," the Washington Post reports. "The officials said the video of the remote site, code-named Al Kibar by the Syrians, shows North Koreans inside. It played a pivotal role in Israel's decision to bomb the facility late at night last Sept. 6, a move that was publicly denounced by Damascus but not by Washington."

• "International arms inspectors have reached an agreement with Tehran to discuss alleged evidence of nuclear weapons experiments, officials said Wednesday, signaling a potential breakthrough in negotiations over Iran's controversial research program," the Los Angeles Times reports.

• "As Zimbabwe’s political impasse drags into its fourth week, talk of a power-sharing deal between the governing party and the opposition came to the fore Wednesday, though both sides indicated they were unprepared for the compromises that would be required," the New York Times reports. "An editorial in the state-run newspaper, often used as a mouthpiece for Zimbabwe’s longtime strongman, President Robert Mugabe, floated a proposal for a transitional unity government that would be led by Mr. Mugabe until new elections could be organized."

• "Doctors at a secret medical center set up in Harare say they have been inundated with patients suffering burns, beatings and wounds received during torture sessions by youth militia and aging veterans loyal to" Mugabe. "A doctor at the clinic who asked not to be named told The Washington Times that he and his staff were working 'impossible hours' to cope with admissions."

Campaigns: Hoosier State Invasion

Indiana becomes the next critical state for Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, and they are starting relatively even in state polling. Earlybird's Campaign News section has details.

Commentary: What Now?

Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section has commentary on where the Democratic Party goes from here.

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