White House: Cuba Tops The List At Summit
• "After backing Mexico's ongoing battle against drug cartels, President Barack Obama is heading to a Western Hemisphere summit with a sudden spotlight on Cuba," AP reports. "The president was to fly" today "to the island of Trinidad for the 34-nation Summit of the Americas, a gathering to which Cuba, as the region's only non-democracy, is not invited. Venezuela President Hugo Chavez... vowed to torpedo a final summit communique in protest of the country's exclusion."
• "Obama said his administration had gone as far as it would for now in easing U.S. policy toward Cuba, and that he would wait for reciprocal gestures from Havana before taking further action," the Wall Street Journal reports. Despite lifting "restrictions on family travel and remittances" and moving "to open telecommunications links... the president declined to lift restrictions on travel by other Americans or to call for a lifting of the half-century-old U.S. embargo."
• "Obama has assured" CIA "operatives that they will not be prosecuted for their rough interrogation tactics" used in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, AP reports. "At the same time, Obama's attorney general offered the operatives legal help if anyone else takes them to court over the harsh interrogation methods that were approved by the Bush administration."
Congress: Top Democrats Say They'll Investigate New NSA Wiretapping Claims
• "Leading Congressional Democrats on Thursday dove back into the debate over the nation's domestic wiretapping program in the wake of allegations that the National Security Agency overstepped its authority to conduct surveillance of American citizens, including at least one Member of Congress," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Lawmakers on Thursday announced their intention to review allegations that NSA's surveillance activities have gone beyond what Congress intended."
• "Senators will start next week with nominations before moving on to financial issues while the House will bring up a water research and development bill to capitalize on Earth Day," CongressDailyPM (subscription) reports.
• "Senate Democrats are negotiating with a handful of the nation's largest banks and some credit unions to limit a controversial bill allowing judges to write down the value of home mortgages," The Hill reports. "After passing the House in March, the bill has stalled in the Senate, leading to weeks of negotiations that have so far failed to produce a compromise."
National Security: U.S. Pledges $1 Billion In Aid To Pakistan
• "Despite stark disagreements about benchmarks for an aid package proposed by President Obama, the U.S. pledged a billion dollars to Pakistan at an international donors conference in Tokyo" today -- "a 'down payment' for billions more to be sought in Congress," The Hill reports. Envoy Richard Holbrooke "announced behind closed doors the development and stabilization pledge, which will be spread over two years."
• "The only Iraq war insurgent to be prosecuted in a U.S. court was sentenced Thursday to 25 years in prison, but how much time he'll serve will be up to the Netherlands," AP reports. "Wesam al-Delaema is a 36-year-old Dutch citizen born in Iraq who returned to his hometown of Fallujah in October 2003 after the U.S. invasion. He videotaped himself showing off roadside bombs buried in the sand and praying to Allah that they would kill American troops passing by."
• "China has unveiled plans for a big overhaul and expansion of its navy, in an unusually bold confirmation that its naval ambitions have started to reach far beyond its own shores," the Financial Times (subscription) reports. Adm. Wu Shengli said China "would accelerate efforts to develop a new generation of warships, submarines, fighter aircraft and high-precision long-range missiles to counter the rise in non-conventional threats."
Economy: Citigroup Posts First Profit Since 2007
• "Citigroup Inc. posted its first profit in 18 months amid surging results from operations that include its investment-banking business, as the company continued to build its loan-loss reserves and said it cut 13,000 jobs so far this year," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "The company said its proposed preferred-stock conversion wouldn't be launched until the government finishes its industry stress tests."
• "General Electric Co.'s first-quarter profit fell 35 percent, less than analysts estimated, as a credit crunch and recession undermined the company's finance, health-care and NBC Universal units," Bloomberg News reports. "Profit from continuing operations declined to $2.83 billion, or 26 cents a share, from $4.35 billion, or 43 cents, a year earlier, the Fairfield, Connecticut-based company said in a statement today."
• "Six months after Washington rescued Wall Street, exasperated banks insist they want to leave the lifeboat. Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of J.P. Morgan Chase, said" Thursday "that he regrets accepting $25 billion in federal aid," but J.P Morgan "plans to continue using a separate federal aid program through which it has borrowed more than $40 billion," the Washington Post reports.
Politics: Car Czar Faces Allegations Of Ties To Pension Deal
• "The man leading the Obama administration's efforts to restructure the auto industry has been described in Securities and Exchange Commission documents as having arranged for his investment firm to pay more than $1 million to obtain New York State pension business," the New York Times reports. "Although he is not named in the documents, a person with knowledge of the inquiry said the investment executive is Steven Rattner, co-founder of the Quadrangle Group, the prominent private equity firm."
• "Although his lead narrowed Wednesday afternoon, Democrat Scott Murphy holds a 167-vote advantage over Republican Jim Tedisco in New York's 20th District race," CongressDailyPM (subscription) reports.
• "It seems strange to say that Eliot Spitzer is back, since he was hardly gone," Politico reports. "The hard-charging former New York governor resigned in disgrace just over a year ago.... But these days Spitzer is back in the public eye -- and not for his escapades as Client 9. He's become a columnist for Slate and a commentator in the media, weighing in on the economic crisis and" American International Group.
World: Russia Ends Operations In Chechnya
• "Russia on Thursday declared an end to its counter-terrorism operation in largely pacified Chechnya, lifting security restrictions that remained from a decade-old war that leveled towns and led to the death and disappearance of untold tens of thousands," the Los Angeles Times reports. "The announcement bolsters Moscow's strategy for normalizing life in the restive republic by transferring control to ironfisted Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, a onetime rebel fighter who has switched allegiance to the Kremlin."
• "A court in Sweden has jailed four men behind The Pirate Bay (TPB), the world's most high-profile file-sharing website, in a landmark case. Frederik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Carl Lundstrom and Peter Sunde were found guilty of breaking copyright law and were sentenced to a year in jail," BBC News reports.
• "Villagers in eastern Afghanistan wailed in grief and scrambled through rubble" today "to recover the bodies of dozens of people feared killed by a 5.5 magnitude earthquake. Residents of the village of Mir Gadkhel said they thought dozens had been killed there. A Reuters cameraman also counted about 10 dead bodies in another nearby village, Sar Kot."
Transportation: Obama Details High-Speed Rail Plan
• "Obama touted his plan for developing high-speed railways Thursday, detailing how $13 billion in federal money would act as a 'down payment' on creating speedier passenger train service," the Los Angeles Times reports.
• "Chrysler LLC will likely get a new chief executive and board of directors appointed by Italy's Fiat SpA and the U. S. government, if Chrysler and Fiat follow through on their plans to form an alliance, Chrysler's current CEO told employees in a letter," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "Chrysler Chief Executive Officer Bob Nardelli said a new board of directors will be appointed by the federal government and Fiat once a deal is completed."
Energy & Environment: U.S., Mexico Agree On Climate Change Plan
• "The United States and Mexico agreed on Thursday on a new partnership to fight climate change and promote environmentally-friendly forms of energy production, they said in a joint statement," Reuters reports. "Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon, meeting in Mexico City, agreed to broaden political and technical cooperation on those issues by forming a 'US-Mexico Bilateral Framework on Clean Energy and Climate Change,' the statement released by the White House said."
• It will be "difficult" for "Democratic leaders to persuade sufficient numbers of their party colleagues to support cap-and-trade legislation, an effort that will get into full swing after the Easter recess," National Journal (subscription) reports. "Republicans are not expected to provide much backing, quite a difference from the bipartisanship that accompanied what was arguably Congress's most recent great environmental undertaking, amending the Clean Air Act in 1990."
• "For at least 3,000 years, a drumbeat of potent droughts, far longer and more severe than any experienced recently, have seared a belt of sub-Saharan Africa that is now home to tens of millions of the world's poorest people," the New York Times reports about a new study by climate researchers. "The scientists warned that more such mega-droughts are inevitable, although there is no way to predict when the next one could unfold."
Lobbying & Advocacy: PMA Closure Hits Three Lawmakers' Wallets
• "Three senior House Democrats revealed sharp declines in donations for the first quarter of 2009 after the shuttering of" lobbying firm PMA Group, the Washington Post reports. "Reps. John P. Murtha (Pa.), Peter J. Visclosky (Ind.) and James P. Moran Jr. (Va.) have taken in 58 percent less in combined campaign contributions this year compared with the first quarter of 2007, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission."
• "Four years ago, the House of Labor came tumbling down as quarreling union presidents decided that they and their members could live without the unity that their movement had found in the AFL-CIO," National Journal (subscription) reports. "Today several of those leaders are reconsidering that decision and trying to put themselves back together again."
• "When a group of Jewish liberals formed a lobbying and fundraising group called J Street a year ago, they had modest hopes of raising $50,000 for a handful of congressional candidates," the Washington Post reports. "Instead, the group's political arm ended up funneling nearly $600,000 to several dozen Democrats and a handful of Republicans in 2008, making it Washington's leading pro-Israel PAC, according to Federal Election Commission expenditure records."
Technology: NSA Makes Case For Running Cybersecurity
• "The National Security Agency has been campaigning to lead the government's rapidly growing cybersecurity programs, raising privacy and civil liberties concerns among some officials who fear that the move could give the spy agency too much control over government computer networks," the New York Times reports.
• "The vast majority of e-mail is spam and an unknown percentage of that is meant to defraud," Reuters reports. "The scale of electronic fraud means that that the criminals can make huge profits even if only a small percentage of people are duped."
• "As consumers have shifted their music listening habits to the Internet, iPods, and satellite radio, and large corporations have bought up stations, the free airplay argument may no longer hold," National Journal (subscription) reports.
Health Care: Web Ads Lead To Confusion, Drug Companies Say
• "When the Food and Drug Administration sent letters to 14 major pharmaceutical companies late last month... the companies' search advertisements -- the short text ads that run beside Google results -- had to start including risk information about each drug or else be rewritten or removed," the New York Times reports. "Now, as the companies change their search ads to comply with the letters, industry executives say the solution is worse than the problem: their ads are even more confusing and misleading now, they say."
• "With huge losses from food-poisoning recalls and little oversight from the" FDA, "some sectors of the food industry are cobbling together their own form of regulation in an attempt to reassure consumers," the New York Times reports. "They are paying other government agencies to do what the" FDA "rarely does: muck through fields and pore over records to make sure food is handled properly."
Commentary: Questioning The Embargo
• Foreshadowing the Summit of the Americas this weekend, two commentators in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section raise concerns about the administration's decision to not lift the embargo on Cuba entirely.