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EARLYBIRD

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Cook County commissioner wins race for Emanuel's House seat, while gay rights supporters see momentum. Plus: Somali pirates hijack U.S.-flagged ship.

Politics: Democrat Quigley To Fill Emanuel's House Seat

• "Democratic Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley claimed victory" Tuesday night in the Illinois "5th District race to replace Rahm Emanuel in Congress," the Chicago Tribune reports. "With 94 percent of the Chicago and suburban Cook precincts reporting totals, Quigley was ahead with 70 percent of the vote over Republican Rosanna Pulido and Green Party candidate Matt Reichel."

• "It seemed like the beginning of the end to Al Franken's [D] lawyers, while attorneys for Norm Coleman [R] saw it as the end of the beginning," the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. "Not long after a decisive majority of once-rejected absentee ballots were counted and broke for Franken on Tuesday, attorneys on both sides were already jawing over the merits of an appeal in the 10-week-old U.S. Senate recount trial."

 

• "An angry federal judge set aside the conviction of former Sen. Ted Stevens on Tuesday, and will pursue criminal contempt charges against the Stevens prosecution team, accusing Department of Justice prosecutors of deliberate and repeated misconduct in their handling of the corruption case," Politico reports.

• "Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., will make his first political appearance in Iowa this spring, a move that will stoke speculation about his political future, given the state's reputation as a launching pad for national politicians," CongressDailyPM (subscription) reports. "American Future Fund, a 501(c)(4), signed Ensign to speak June 1 as part of a new lecture series featuring conservative leaders."

Gay Rights: Vermont, D.C. Council Recognize Gay Marriage

• "Gay-rights groups say that momentum from back-to-back victories on same-sex marriage in Vermont and Iowa could spill into other states, particularly since at least nine other legislatures are considering measures this year to allow marriage between gay couples," the New York Times reports. "The Vermont Legislature on Tuesday overrode Gov. Jim Douglas's [R] veto of a bill allowing gay couples to marry, mustering one more vote than needed to preserve the measure."

 

• "The D.C. Council unanimously voted" Tuesday "to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere, joining a growing number of states to loosen restrictions on the unions," the Washington Post reports. "The vote in the District was preliminary. Lawmakers expect a final one May 5. The District already allows domestic partnerships, and its decision was the first step in a looming battle for the city's gay marriage bill."

• "The White House is allocating tickets for the upcoming Easter Egg Roll to gay and lesbian parents as part of the Obama administration's outreach," AP reports. "For many, being included in the annual tradition... renews hope that they will have more support in their quest for equal rights in matters such as marriage and adoption than under the previous administration."

National Security: Somali Pirates Seize U.S. Cargo Ship

• "Somali pirates" today "hijacked a U.S.-flagged cargo ship with 21 crewmembers aboard, a diplomat and a U.S. Navy spokesman said," AP reports. "The Kenya-based diplomat identified the vessel as the 17,000-ton Maersk Alabama and said all the crewmembers are American. "

• "Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Baghdad, which has been rocked by a spate of recent bombings, to urge the leaders of Iraq's feuding sectarian factions to find 'political solutions' to their disputes," the Wall Street Journal reports. "His daylong trip came at a pivotal moment for the U.S.-led war effort, which will begin winding down later this year. Some U.S. officials in Baghdad and Washington worry that a series of unresolved political disputes... could spark violence as Iraq's competing factions work to secure their positions ahead of the American withdrawal."

 

• "A stolen small plane that led federal authorities on a chase from Canada to Missouri may show it's relatively easy to commandeer a private aircraft -- but the incident does not indicate a major hole in aviation security, experts and pilots' groups say," USA Today reports.

White House: Military Budget Cuts Expected To Survive Congress

• "Congress has little chance of" preventing Obama's "sweeping changes to the military budget," The Hill reports. "Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have stirred a hornet's nest in targeting six major programs for the chopping block. But congressional and defense-industry sources said it will be difficult to oppose the popular Obama, who will argue his proposed cuts will benefit soldiers fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and better use limited resources during a recession."

• "Obama-wannabes, many of them young and heady former campaign workers," are "flocking to the District's creative-class encampments... prowling progressive Wiki pages and joining Google groups in the hunt for an Obama job," the Washington Post reports. "Their collective purgatory highlights the unintended consequences of Obama's influential calls for service. He has cultivated a yen for public service among this generation, but government jobs are limited, and the tight economy is squeezing nonprofit and charitable organizations and their donors."

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World: Moldovan Riot Tamed

• "Moldovan riot police regained control of the president's office and Parliament early" today "after they were ransacked by protesters who claimed parliamentary elections were rigged," AP reports. "President Vladimir Voronin" today "accused neighboring Romania of being behind the protests and declared its ambassador to Moldova, Filip Teodorescu, persona non grata, Russian language news agency Newsmoldova reported."

• In Bangkok today, "tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated... outside the home of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's top adviser, accusing him of orchestrating the 2006 coup that toppled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra," AP reports. "All dressed in red, the massive crowd" of reportedly more than 40,000 "clapped and cheered as protest leaders called for the resignation of Prem Tinsulanonda, an 88-year-old privy councilor who police said was holed up in his home."

• "Italy prepared" today "to begin burying some of the 250 people killed in medieval towns flattened by a quake, while rescuers hampered by aftershocks hunted for people buried alive by rubble," Reuters reports. "A mass state funeral for the victims and national day of mourning is expected to be held Friday, Italian officials said, although the first private service was due" today.

Congress: Oversight Panel Suggests New Path For Financial Recovery

• "A congressional panel overseeing the U.S. financial rescue suggested that getting rid of top executives and liquidating problem banks may be a better way to solve the economic crisis," Bloomberg News reports. "The Congressional Oversight Panel, in a report released" Tuesday, "also said the Treasury may be relying on too rosy an economic scenario to guide its $700 billion bailout, and declared that the success of the program after six months is 'mixed.'"

• "Scores of House members are hiding their earmark requests in obscure corners of their official websites -- sticking to the letter of their new rule while shunning its spirit," The Hill reports.

• "Key members of the Congressional Black Caucus are calling for an end to U.S. prohibition on travel to Cuba, just hours after a meeting with former Cuban president Fidel Castro in Havana," Politico reports. CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee, D-Calif., "and others heaped praise on Castro, calling him warm and receptive during their discussion. But the lawmakers disputed Castro's later statement that members of the congressional delegation said American society is still racist."

Economy: More Bids, Lower Price Tags On Construction

• "Construction firms are so eager for work in the sagging economy that project bids are coming in much lower than expected, allowing state and local governments to stretch their federal stimulus dollars further," the Washington Post reports.

• "The campaign to clamp down on executive pay is getting an assist from an unusual source: the head of Wall Street's most powerful investment bank," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., said Tuesday that the financial industry needed a 'renewal of common sense' and pay standards to 'discourage selfish behavior, including excessive risk-taking.'"

• "Executives of the country's largest companies expect sales to keep dropping and unemployment figures to keep rising over the next six months, according to results of a Business Roundtable survey released" Tuesday, CongressDailyPM (subscription) reports. "The quarterly CEO Economic Outlook Survey, conducted from March 16 to March 27, found that 67 percent of CEOs expect their sales to fall during the next six months, while 24 percent expected them to increase and 9 percent expect no change."

Technology: Lawmakers Hidings Earmark Requests On Web Sites

• Gates' toughest choice in his Defense budget overhaul "was the decision to gut Future Combat Systems, the Army's $200 billion effort to design a fleet of next-generation tanks and troop carriers," Wired reports. "For nearly a decade, the Army has worked on a set of lightly armored, deeply networked combat vehicles to speed U.S. soldiers into battle. It's the service's signature effort to upgrade its forces for the wars of tomorrow. But ultimately, Gates says, the Army made the wrong call about how it could wage war in the future."

• "Securing the Defense Department's networks from attacks will require wide ranging changes to military culture, conduct and capabilities, said Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, commander of the Strategic Command," Federal Computer Week reports. "The users of the networks 'are making it too easy for our adversaries' to exploit weaknesses, he said before a conference on cybersecurity sponsored by Armed Forces Communications Electronics Association International."

Lobbying: 'Card Check' Battle Moves Online

• "The potentially lucrative aftershocks of" Gates' "call for a broad overhaul in military spending quickly spilled onto K Street on Tuesday, where lobbyists mobilized to respond to the slew of cuts made to some of Congress' most favored programs," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

• "Online search engine ads are the new battleground for business associations and labor unions in the fight over a heavily lobbied labor bill," The Hill reports. "The groups have purchased ads for and against the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) on Google to target members of Congress and the public."

• "Labor groups are showing a willingness to accept changes in the Employee Free Choice Act in the wake of opposition from senators considered key to passing the bill," CongressDailyPM (subscription) reports. "'A bill is introduced and then Congress works through the process of committees, amendments, and debates and 99 out of 100 times the final bill is different from when it started,' said Eddie Vale, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO. 'We are confident that major labor law reform is going to pass in 2009.'"

Health Care: Domestic HIV Campaign Launched

• "Federal health officials are launching a national campaign to slow the spread of HIV domestically, as they seek to place new emphasis on an epidemic that continues to rage at home as well as overseas," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The campaign is driven in part by revised statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention several months ago that showed the annual rate of HIV infection in the U.S. to be far higher than previously thought."

• "An FDA official who until recently headed the agency's enforcement arm said today the nation's food safety system is in crisis," CongressDailyPM (subscription) reports. "'While I recognize the serious problems in the domestic food safety inspection system, I believe that the single biggest challenge facing us is the global market for food,' Margaret Glavin, former associate commissioner for regulatory affairs at FDA, told food industry representatives."

• "Former President George W. Bush's international AIDS-fighting campaign has reduced by 10 percent the mortality rates in 15 targeted countries, primarily in Africa, and has saved 1.1 million lives, according to a study that for the first time quantified the successes of his program," the Washington Times reports.

Energy & Environment: Energy Secretary Backs Clean Coal

• "Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the U.S. should invest in technology to reduce the carbon produced by burning coal, but he said it will take at least eight years to be sure such systems work," the Wall Street Journal reports.

• "The Obama administration wants to reduce oil consumption, increase renewable energy supplies and cut carbon dioxide emissions in the most ambitious transformation of energy policy in a generation," the New York Times reports. "But the world's oil giants are not convinced that it will work."

Commentary: Choosing Sides

• A new survey finding Obama the most polarizing president in recent times triggers reaction in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section.

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