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DOJ letters cloud torture debate, Iraqi reconstruction projects left unfinished, foreign-worker shortage threatens U.S. businesses, Continental ends merger talks with United, Karzai escapes assassination attempt.

• "President Bush went out with a patriotic flair Saturday at his last White House Correspondents' Dinner, closing his remarks by directing the U.S. Marine Band in a medley of marches," USA Today reports.

• "Air travelers who can prove they don't belong on terrorist watch lists could be spared extra scrutiny under a new program that addresses the public's biggest complaint about aviation safety, the nation's Homeland Security chief said. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told USA Today that the program will be announced today and is aimed at the tens of thousands of travelers who are pulled aside for questions at airports because their names match those on government watch lists."


• "Despite a presidential order designed to clarify the limits on interrogation practices, new Justice Department letters to Congress appear to muddy the public understanding of what is and isn't legal when intelligence officials question terrorism suspects," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports.

• "A Bush administration proposal to require that all states use the same formula to calculate high school graduation rates is winning applause from education experts who say it will shed light on the nation's dropout problem," the Washington Post reports. "The proposed regulation is among several the administration introduced last week. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said she is using regulatory power to tweak the No Child Left Behind law because efforts in Congress to overhaul it have stalled."

• "The top White House terrorism expert thinks some gains are being made in the worldwide public relations battle against al-Qaeda, as the administration and its overseas allies press efforts to show that Osama bin Laden's network is killing Muslim civilians rather than defending its interests," the Washington Post reports. "'More and more Muslim and Arab populations -- [including] clerics and scholars -- are questioning the value of al-Qaeda's program,' Juan Carlos Zarate, deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism, said Wednesday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy."


• "Justice Antonin Scalia on Sunday characterized himself as a social conservative and 'a law-and-order guy' whose views do not impact his interpretation of the Constitution," AP reports. "In an interview on CBS' "60 Minutes," Scalia addressed issues from abortion to flag-burning."

Congress: Dems Crafting Massive Iraq Spending Bill

• "As Congress reaches the middle point of what is likely to be its longest work period this year, both chambers are looking to finish the long-overdue farm bill conference and continue working toward a budget resolution as the appropriations season begins to loom," CongressDailyAM reports. "In addition to those big-ticket items, Senate Majority Leader" Harry Reid, D-Nev., "today will bring to the floor a plan to modernize the nation’s air traffic control system after the Commerce and Finance panels announced a long-awaited deal Friday."

• "A senior Republican congressman assailed the Bush administration Sunday for the timing and nature of its charges that North Korea helped Syria build a secret nuclear weapons facility," the Los Angeles Times reports. "'The administration has handled this very badly' and 'has a credibility problem,' Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said on CNN's 'Late Edition.' The allegations come as negotiations continue between the United States and other countries and North Korea over the dismantling of the Pyongyang government's nuclear program."

• "House Democratic leaders are putting together the largest Iraq war spending bill yet, a measure that is expected to fund the war through the end of the Bush presidency and for nearly six months into the next president's term," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. "The bill, which could be unveiled as early as this week, signals that Democrats are resigned to the fact they can't change course in Iraq in the final months of President Bush's term. Instead, the party is pinning its hopes of ending the war on winning the White House in November."


• "House and Senate Republicans aim to build on last week’s sudden outburst in bicameral messaging on gas prices and the Colombia free-trade agreement as a way to remain in the public view at least through November," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Their intent: to score political points against Democrats despite being in the minority and having to compete with the marquee White House race."

• "If Congress has learned anything from years past, it is that there are a few simple ingredients needed to stall a budget resolution: a swing vote from Maine, a faction of House Members making seemingly unattainable demands, a fight over arcane budget rules and, of course, a highly charged election year," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "That’s the situation Democrats find themselves in now as they seek to cobble together a bicameral budget blueprint that will allow them to protect their high-priority legislation as well as set the stage for the spending battles to come with the White House."

• "House members have voted on a limited number of significant bills during the first four months of 2008, a frustrating situation that Democratic leaders and rank-and-file sources said reflects the nature of election year legislating and the ongoing problem the majority faces in fashioning an agenda that effectively backs their message to voters," CongressDailyAM reports.

• Meanwhile, "the slow pace of work in the Senate might complicate the re-election efforts of some senators because there will not be many accomplishments to brag about back home," CongressDailyAM also reports.

Iraq: Reconstruction Projects Left Unfinished

• "When Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno began his second tour of duty in Iraq late in 2006 as the war's No. 2 commander, he was handed a battle plan that he and his staff quickly determined was out of touch with reality -- a set of precise timetables for handing over whole provinces to Iraqi security forces, regardless of their readiness.... So Odierno made a fateful move: He challenged his boss, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., to change the strategy. It was an opening salvo in the behind-the-scenes battle over what became known as the 'surge,'" the Los Angeles Times reports. "And Odierno's challenge, though initially spurned, goes a long way toward explaining why he was nominated last week to succeed Army Gen. David H. Petraeus as the overall commander in Iraq."

• "Millions of dollars of lucrative Iraq reconstruction contracts were never finished because of excessive delays, poor performance or other factors, including failed projects that are being falsely described by the U.S. government as complete, federal investigators say," AP reports. "The audit released Sunday by Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, provides the latest snapshot of an uneven reconstruction effort that has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $100 billion."

• "The latest episode in the struggle between the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr and the Iraqi government unfolded Sunday on the streets of Sadr City, where members of Parliament demonstrated peacefully while clashes occurred a few blocks away," the New York Times reports.

• "Shelling rocked the Green Zone as a sandstorm blanketed Baghdad on Sunday, days after U.S. commanders said they had nearly eliminated deadly rocket and mortar attacks on the heavily fortified government zone through a security crackdown in the eastern slum of Sadr City," the Washington Post reports.

• "American and Iraqi troops killed 38 militants in the fiercest clashes with militants in weeks in Baghdad, including 22 who attacked a military checkpoint in a Shiite militia stronghold, the U.S. military said" today, AP reports.

• "After a weekend of closed-door negotiations in Helsinki, a group of rival members of Iraq's parliament and tribal leaders are set to announce today that they will gather in Baghdad for the first time for a further round of talks that they hope will lay the foundation for peace in their troubled country," the Boston Globe reports.

• "The fortunes of Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have received an unexpected boost from his initially botched offensive against militias in Basra, which has turned into a standoff between al-Maliki and the Shiite Mahdi Army militia," the Chicago Tribune reports. "The showdown is recalibrating the political balance in Iraq in ways that could help break the deadlock that has stalled progress on key measures including a new oil law and the broader issue of national reconciliation."

• "A community in Ohio today welcomed one of its own sons. 'Welcome home, Staff Sgt. Matt Maupin, mission accomplished. We are so very proud of you,' said retired Lt. Gen. James Campbell, representing the Army," ABC News reports. "It was a tremendous outpouring of support for a fallen soldier, whose remains were discovered in Iraq last month, after his capture four years ago."

Nation: Firms Brace For Foreign-Worker Shortage

• "Employers around the country who thrive on seasonal business are preparing to lose thousands of foreign workers they've hired in past summers to work in restaurants, hotels, landscaping and other industries," AP reports. "New visa controls are cutting the number of temporary foreign workers eligible to return to the country, so employers are scouring job fairs for replacements, lobbying Congress for help and bracing for staff shortages they say will make business tough."

• "Across the country... lawyers who represent suspects in terrorism-related investigations complain that their ability to do their jobs is being hindered by the suspicion that the government is listening in, using the eavesdropping authority it obtained -- or granted itself -- after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks," the New York Times reports. "The Justice Department does not deny that the government has monitored phone calls and e-mail exchanges between lawyers and their clients as part of its terrorism investigations in the United States and overseas."

• "The New York-based Innocence Project has tallied 215 wrongful convictions in the United States that have been reversed on the basis of DNA evidence," the Washington Post reports. "Many of those former prisoners are seeking redress from the governments that mistakenly jailed them -- but they are kept waiting, whether because of the slow pace of bureaucracy or a lack of procedures or political will to handle their cases."

• "The board of the American Civil Liberties Union on Sunday voted overwhelmingly to take over the management and operations of its South Carolina affiliate, a first in the organization’s history," the New York Times reports. "'South Carolina as a state has a tremendous amount of civil liberties challenges, and our goal is to make sure there is a strong and viable affiliate to deal with those issues,' said Robert B. Remar, vice president of the A.C.L.U. and a lawyer in Atlanta."

• "The provost of West Virginia University said Sunday he was resigning after being criticized for his handling of a master's degree that was improperly awarded to the governor's daughter," AP reports. "In a memo sent Sunday to the deans who report to him, Provost Gerald Lang said an independent report on the controversy convinced him to step down after 32 years of involvement with the Morgantown university."

• "A 400-acre wildfire raging through dry brush and shrubs in Southern California was about 30 percent contained by Sunday afternoon, an official said," CNN reports. " 'Winds are very favorable right now, they're very light, humidity was up today at about 20 percent,' said Marc Peebles, of the Southern California Incident Management team, which has assumed control of fighting the blaze in Sierra Madre's mountains.... Authorities ordered about 1,000 people to flee their homes Sunday, and Peebles said all Sierra Madre schools would be closed" today.

Economy: Continental Ends Merger Talks With United

• "Continental Airlines said Sunday that it had abandoned merger talks with United Airlines and was planning to remain an independent carrier, a blow to lengthy efforts by United to find a merger partner," the New York Times reports. "Continental’s decision, announced by the airline Sunday afternoon, will change the complex game of musical chairs that the airline industry is playing after the merger announcement last week by Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines."

• "For the past three decades, finance has claimed a growing share of the U.S. stock market, profits and the overall economy. But the role of finance -- the businesses of borrowing, lending, investing and all the middlemen in between -- may be ebbing, a shift that would redefine the U.S. economy," the Wall Street Journal reports.

• "The troubled housing market has already weakened major financial institutions, and additional vulnerabilities can be found in the fine print and between the lines of their financial reports," the Washington Post reports. "Crucial figures, such as the size of reserves that Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and major lenders are holding to cover expected losses, are often based on subjective estimates and choices of accounting methods. The current environment has made those predictions even more difficult."

• "The mortgage industry, facing the prospect of tougher regulations for its central role in the housing crisis, has begun an intensive campaign to fight back," the New York Times reports. "As the Federal Reserve completes work on rules to root out abuses by lenders, its plan has run into a buzz saw of criticism from bankers, mortgage brokers and other parts of the housing industry. One common industry criticism is that at a time of tight credit, tighter rules could make many mortgages more expensive by creating more paperwork and potentially exposing lenders to more lawsuits."

• "Across Wall Street, the turmoil that for months racked bond and stock markets now shows signs of fading, a signal, albeit tentative, that the worst of the credit crisis might be passing," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "The past two weeks have brought dramatic reversals in a range of markets, including several where investors had been seeking safety. If sustained, the change in sentiment could mark an important early step in what is likely to be a long healing process for financial markets and the economy."

• "Mars, the makers of M&M’s, was near a deal last night to acquire the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, the chewing gum concern, for more than $22 billion, people involved in the talks said," the Financial Times reports. "The transaction would create a confectionery behemoth and could pressure rivals into a cascade of other mergers. The Mars-Wm. Wrigley Jr. deal has an unusually famous financier: Warren Buffett."

• "Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer is weighing a fight to oust Yahoo! Inc.'s board and pave the way for a takeover, after the Internet company let his deadline pass without agreeing to a deal," Bloomberg News reports. "Ballmer gave Yahoo an ultimatum to accept a $44.6 billion bid by last weekend. Now he is left to decide whether to walk away or begin the company's first hostile takeover battle."

World: Karzai Escapes Assassination Attempt

• "Guerrillas firing rockets and automatic rifles attacked the Afghan president at a ceremony in the capital Sunday, missing their target but killing three people and wounding eight," the Washington Post reports. "The Taliban asserted responsibility for the assault, which sent President Hamid Karzai and foreign ambassadors scurrying for cover, underscoring the fragile grip of Karzai's U.S.-backed government."

• "Evidence of widespread retribution against people who supported Zimbabwe’s opposition party in last month’s election has begun to stream out despite the government’s efforts to restrict press access to the worst of the violence," the New York Times reports. "As Zimbabweans brace this week for the results of the March 29 presidential election to be released, this growing body of evidence -- in the form of witness accounts, photographs and other documentation, some compiled by an American diplomatic field team -- has raised serious questions about whether a free and fair vote is possible if, as expected, a runoff is scheduled."

• "On Sunday, following one of the bloodiest days in Tijuana's history, authorities held no news conferences. The death toll in the gangland-style shootings early Saturday between rival drug traffickers increased to 15 from 13, after two men died of their injuries. But not even the names of the dead were released," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Instead, speculation, rumor and scattered news leaks filled the information vacuum after yet another battle in Mexico's drug wars."

• "A strike by oil refinery workers in Scotland entered a second day" today, "keeping shut a pipeline that carries 40 percent of Britain's crude production and forcing increased fuel imports from Europe," the Washington Post reports. "Workers at Ineos Group Holdings' Grangemouth refinery began a two-day walkout Sunday in a protest over pensions."

• "A speeding express train derailed and crashed into an oncoming regional train early" today "in eastern China, throwing a dozen carriages down an embankment and killing 66 people, authorities said," the Washington Post reports. "Nearly 250 people from both trains were injured, including four French nationals who were hospitalized with broken bones, the official New China News Agency reported, citing the Shandong provincial government. No foreigners were reported among the dead."

• "Thousands of young Chinese who assembled to defend their country’s troubled Olympic torch relay pushed through police lines" in Seoul, South Korea, "Sunday, some of them hurling rocks, bottled water and plastic and steel pipes at protesters who were demanding better treatment for North Korean refugees in China," the New York Times reports. "Two North Korean defectors living in South Korea poured paint thinner on themselves and tried to set themselves on fire to protest what they condemned as Beijing’s inhumane crackdown on North Korean refugees, but the police stopped them, according to witnesses and officials."

• "Bolivia's leftist government has established dozens of outposts in the high Andes region of Peru, which Peruvian officials fear have become centers of revolutionary training that threaten to revive Marxist-inspired insurgencies that terrorized the nation for decades," the Washington Times reports. "Hernan Fuentes, the governor of Peru's Puno province, openly supports the centers, claiming they are part of an anti-poverty effort to channel aid for local humanitarian projects."

Campaigns: The Blue-Collar Vote

Heading into the Indiana primary, Barack Obama is recasting his message of change to appeal to economic concerns, while Hillary Rodham Clinton is downplaying her Ivy League education and wealth. Earlybird's Campaign News section has details.

Commentary: The Talking Cure

Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section has opinion on how to broker peace between Israel and its neighbors.

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