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EARLYBIRD

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Obama travels to Mexico, and officials say NSA is overstepping its limits on surveillance. Plus: Consumer prices drop for the first time in 54 years.

White House: Obama To Meet With Calderón

President Obama's diplomatic mission to Mexico "is meant to show solidarity with a neighbor -- and to prove that the U.S. is serious about halting the deadly flow of drugs and weapons," AP reports. "During his stop in Mexico City" today, "Obama will emphasize cross-border cooperation and probably put a focus on clean energy, but the economic crisis and the bloody drug trade have set the tone."

• On the eve of today's meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderón, Obama imposed "financial sanctions against three of the most violent Mexican drug cartels and" threatened "to prosecute Americans who do business with them," the Washington Post reports.

 

• "As candidate Barack Obama crisscrossed the country last year breaking campaign fundraising records, he was also taking in plenty of cash himself: almost $2.7 million, chiefly through blockbuster sales of his two books," Politico reports. "The $2.7 million figure comes from the tax return Obama and his wife, Michelle, signed on Sunday. The White House released the return Wednesday afternoon.... It shows the Obamas paid about $855,323 in taxes, or about 32 percent of their income."

National Security: NSA Intercepts Exceed Legal Limits, Officials Say

• "The National Security Agency intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year, government officials said in recent interviews," the New York Times reports.

• "The Obama administration is expected to release some operational details of a Central Intelligence Agency interrogation program and its legal rationale, while seeking to keep secret the names of detainees and the way techniques were applied to particular prisoners, two officials familiar with the matter said Wednesday," the Wall Street Journal reports. "An announcement is expected" today "on the release of memorandums in which Department of Justice lawyers gave legal guidance on CIA interrogations."

 

• "U.N. nuclear experts left North Korea today after the communist regime ordered their expulsion amid an escalating standoff over its recent rocket launch," AP reports. "Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency left the main site in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, after removing all seals and switching off surveillance cameras, IAEA spokesman Marc Vidricaire said in a statement."

Politics: Minnesota Senate Recount Has Cost $12 Million

• "DFLer Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman have spent roughly $12 million combined since the November election to pay for the recount and ensuing trial in their protracted" Minnesota Senate race, the Star Tribune reports. "Federal election reports filed Wednesday show that each campaign has put about $6 million into the legal fight."

• "The Campaign Legal Center, a government ethics watchdog, is asking the Justice Department to suspend the attorneys who lead its public integrity section in order to prevent the legal fallout from their mishandling of the trial of former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) from interfering with other public corruption cases," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

• "Since the conclusion of the presidential election, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin [R] has largely avoided the political fundraising circuit. Nevertheless, she's emerged as an almost unparalleled fundraising force, with both foes and fans minting money off the mere mention of her name," Politico reports.

 

Congress: Many Republicans Who Opposed Stimulus Now Seek A Share

• "As federal agencies open the floodgates to dispense economic stimulus aid across the country, many of the Republican lawmakers who led the charge to block the spending are trying to direct the flow to maximize the Recovery Act's impact in their states," CongressDailyPM (subscription) reports. "Others have touted the release of federal dollars to support popular hometown projects."

• "The new independent ethics panel created to help the House police itself has started 10 reviews of lawmaker misconduct, but hasn't gotten to the point of deciding whether to refer any matters to the House ethics committee," The Hill reports. "The information was contained in the first quarterly report of the Office of Congressional Ethics, issued Wednesday."

• "When Congress returns from recess Monday, Democratic leaders will push for conference committee approval of the FY10 budget resolution, with votes on final passage to follow in both chambers," CongressDailyPM (subscription) reports. "The House will then turn to an $83.4 billion supplemental spending bill to cover military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan." House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., "also hopes to bring up the D.C. voting rights bill again."

Economy: Consumer Prices Decline For The First Time In 54 Years

• "Consumer prices in March posted their first annual decline in 54 years, underscoring widespread weakness in the economy as businesses try to win back customers with rock-bottom prices," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The consumer price index, the broadest measure of product and service costs across the U.S., fell 0.4% in March compared with a year earlier."

• "JPMorgan Chase & Co., the second-largest U.S. bank by assets, reported profit for the first quarter that beat analysts' estimates on record investment-banking revenue," Bloomberg News reports. "Earnings fell 10 percent to $2.14 billion, or 40 cents a share, compared with $2.37 billion, or 68 cents, a year earlier, the New York-based bank said today in a statement."

• "As the Obama administration works to complete its stress tests for gauging the health of major banks, it could confront another problem: how to pay for shoring up any weaknesses the tests reveal," the Washington Post reports. "The administration would be hard-pressed to ask Congress for more rescue funds to plug the holes. Anger on Capitol Hill is high."

World: China Steps Up Influence In Latin America

• "As Washington tries to rebuild its strained relationships in Latin America, China is stepping in vigorously, offering countries across the region large amounts of money while they struggle with sharply slowing economies, a plunge in commodity prices and restricted access to credit," the New York Times reports. "China's trade with Latin America has grown quickly this decade, making it the region's second largest trading partner after the United States."

• "With Maoist insurgents stepping up attacks, Indians began voting in a month-long general election" today "with signs an unstable coalition may emerge in the middle of an economic slowdown," Reuters reports.

• "About 300 Afghan women, facing an angry throng three times larger than their own, walked the streets of the capital on Wednesday to demand that Parliament repeal a new law that introduces a range of Taliban-like restrictions on women, and permits, among other things, marital rape," the New York Times reports. "With the Afghan police keeping the mob at bay, the women walked two miles to Parliament, where they delivered a petition calling for the law's repeal."

Technology: Most Lawmakers Not Transparent On Web

• "Only four senators and six House members post their daily schedules on their official Web sites, but 22 senators and 58 representatives use Twitter to update constituents on their activities, according to the OpenCongress Web site," Federal Computer Week reports. "Many lawmakers say they don't post their schedules because of security concerns, but Sunlight Foundation spokeswoman Gabriela Schneider said they can easily address those concerns by posting schedules a day late."

• "Bills intended to help secure U.S. computer networks, the power grid and other critical infrastructure are expected in the coming weeks, a high-tech watchdog group said" Wednesday, CongressDailyPM (subscription) reports. "While Senate Commerce Chairman John (Jay) Rockefeller," D-W.Va., "and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, were first out of the gate with legislation this month, multiple committees share jurisdiction over the issue and are expected to offer ideas on how to improve the nation's cybersecurity."

• "Two researchers at the National Defense University plan to release a paper that concludes the Defense Department must adopt a comprehensive strategy for using social media to improve national security," Nextgov reports.

Lobbying: Telecom Industry Warns It May Pass On Broadband Funding

• "The telecommunications and cable industries have a warning for federal regulators preparing to distribute $7.2 billion in economic stimulus grants and loans to promote wider access to high-speed Internet service: Don't take our participation for granted," CongressDailyPM (subscription) reports.

• "Despite a last-minute change of venue and an at-times torrential downpour, activists used a tax day 'tea party' to register their displeasure with President Obama's spending policies just steps from the White House," The Hill reports. "The message those who did brave the weather were sending, said conservative activist Grover Norquist, turned out to be more sophisticated than anything he said he has seen in decades of anti-tax activism."

Energy & Environment: Interior Offers Help For California Water Delivery

• "As part of the federal stimulus plan, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar offered California $260 million on Wednesday to patch the Central Valley's decrepit water-delivery system and protect its threatened fish," the New York Times reports.

• "Obama's effort to remake federal energy and environmental policy will undergo some rigorous tests in the coming weeks -- and so will his environmental-policy czar, Carol Browner," the Wall Street Journal reports. "During her first three months on the job, Ms. Browner has proven to be a less controlling or controversial figure than her critics might have imagined."

• "The SunZia transmission line that would link sun and wind power from central New Mexico with cities in Arizona is just the sort of energy project an environmentalist could love -- or hate," the Washington Post reports. "And it is just the sort of line the Interior Department has been tasked with promoting -- or guarding against."

Health Care: Reform Planning Is Ramping Up, DeParle Says

• "The White House health reform czar said" Wednesday "she meets almost daily with congressional staffers, and sometimes lawmakers, to draft legislation that will provide universal healthcare coverage and overhaul how care is delivered and paid for," CongressDailyPM (subscription) reports. "Nancy-Ann DeParle said... key staffers are spending the recess drawing up specifications for legislation as well as crafting language consistent with the blueprint laid out by President Obama during his campaign."

Transportation: States Jockey For $8 Billion In Rail Funds

• "The Obama administration" today "will outline how it plans to spend $8 billion in stimulus funds on high-speed passenger-rail service, a new federal commitment that has rail advocates and states jockeying for a piece of the pie," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Midwestern states want funding for a plan that would place Chicago at the center of a network of high-speed rail service that extends to St. Louis, Detroit and Madison, Wis. Advocates in the Northeast want money to upgrade Amtrak's Acela service between Washington and Boston."

Commentary: The Obama Doctrine

• How is the president shaping his foreign policy, and what will conservatives think of it? One commentator has some thoughts In Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section.

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