He’s on a collision course with Congress. The president called today for an end to the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration and proposed a federal budget that soars $74 billion above the spending caps. While both parties dislike the sequester, the GOP hates Obama’s tax-and-spend solution even more. Today’s salvo is the first in series of looming budget battles that includes homeland security funding and a debt-ceiling showdown. But there’s real hope for consensus around middle-class tax credits, trade authorizations and the debt ceiling.
The Presidential Daily Brief
You wouldn’t even know it. And that’s the problem for ACLU and others concerned with government surveillance. Recently released documents show that the Drug Enforcement Administration hatched a plan to track cars via their license plates, including monitoring people who attended gun shows in 2009. The DEA called it “a suggestion.” Libertarians and the left call it “chilling,” and say it raises questions about just how far the government will go to monitor citizens in the information age — and how much we don’t know.
They’re getting ready to rumble. With nine Democrats crossing party lines, the GOP-controlled Senate passed a bipartisan bill to build the $8 billion Keystone XL oil pipeline. The move sets the stage for a showdown with President Obama, who has threatened to veto any approval of the project. Today’s 62-36 vote suggests that Republicans don’t have enough support to overcome Obama’s veto pen. But the GOP wants to force the president into a tough spot: Veto a project that could create 42,000 new jobs or appease environmentalists who fiercely oppose the pipeline.
Are the longtime enemies heading back to the battlefield? Lebanon-based Shia fighters killed two Israeli soldiers yesterday — a tit for tat response to a deadly Israeli drone strike last week. Israel, in turn, slammed southern Lebanon with air and ground assaults, signaling the sharpest escalation since 2006. Some fear it’ll lead to war, with Israel threatening to make militants “pay the full price.” But experts suspect Israel will stick to piecemeal retaliation, rather than risk the bloodshed of an all-out conflict.
It was a routine utility call turned deadly. A gas truck leak ignited and flattened part of a maternity ward in Mexico City, killing at least one woman and a child. The injured included 66 women and children who were hit with flying glass, twisted metal and other debris. Three people are in custody for their roles in the gas truck explosion. The accident underscores the capital city’s lack of infrastructure where many areas without gas mains must rely on truck deliveries.
Stay away from others. That’s the message from health officials as the U.S. measles outbreak looks set to explode. So far, 95 cases of the highly contagious viral infection have been confirmed across six states, from California — where the outbreak likely began at Disneyland — all the way to Michigan. And 1,000 Arizonans have recently been exposed. Officials say the outbreak is at a “critical juncture,” and recommend that unvaccinated people who’ve been exposed should stay home for at least three weeks.
They’re being patient. Federal Reserve officials signaled yesterday that they will keep the benchmark rate unchanged until at least June. While the central bank offered a decidedly upbeat economic report, it also observed signs of low inflation, declining global growth prospects and instability in international markets. Many investors took the mixed message to mean that the Fed will wait even longer than mid-year to act. Follow the greenback: As it gets stronger, the case for rate hikes diminishes.
Jordan might release an Iraqi terrorist for its pilot’s freedom, but that’s not the deal ISIS is offering. A new audio message from Japanese hostage Kenji Goto says that if Amman doesn’t free Sajida al-Rishawi by sunset today, Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh will die. Jordan’s involvement in the anti-ISIS campaign is already a sore point domestically, and this adds fuel to the fire. But releasing a convicted terrorist sets a dangerous precedent, and there’s no promise that either ISIS hostage would be freed.
Texas rep. to staff: Ask Muslim visitors to pledge allegiance. (Washington Post)
Three American military contractors killed in shooting at Kabul’s airport. (NYT)
China clamps down on Web access, sparking outrage. (NYT)
Malaysian Airline flight MH370 officially deemed an accident. (BBC)
Sydney cafe siege inquest gets under way. (SMH)
U.S. Supreme Court stays Okla. executions, awaits drug protocol. (NYT)
Police find suitcase filled with body parts near Twitter HQ. (USA Today)
Argentine prosecutor Nisman reportedly ‘feared guards.’ (BBC)
You won’t find proof of the American economic recovery at the dinner table. In 2014, several years after the Great Recession, there were still 16 million children — roughly one out of five under the age of 18 — who relied on food stamp assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Census Bureau data released yesterday shows food stamp dependence at its highest since the 2008 downturn. Republicans tried slashing benefits in 2013 and are expected to review SNAP spending again this year.
Want to know where homes will boast venti-sized values in the years to come? Just look for the familiar green-and-white logo. According to data crunched by Zillow, the chain doesn’t just follow the gentrified masses, it can actually predict — or even fuel — rising home prices on its own. Between 1997 and 2014, on average, U.S. homes within a quarter mile of a Starbucks gained 96 percent in value, whereas properties farther away appreciated just 65 percent. That’s a latte bang for your buck.
Prehistoric romps began in caves, of course. Scientists say a 55,000-year-old skull retrieved in northern Israel’s Manot Cave sheds light on the pivotal moment in human history when our ancestors left Africa to colonize other parts of the world. The bone fossil is the first direct evidence that Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, our closest extinct relative, inhabited the same area at the same time. Our attraction to the tall, dark and hairy species gave rise to the genetic makeup of most modern humans.
One in three black households are watching it, but they’re not alone. Since its surprisingly strong debut, Fox’s hip-hop drama about a rapper-turned-music-mogul has rocketed up the charts to No. 1 among viewers under 50. Equally important, the Wednesday night soap starring Terrence Howard, of Hustle & Flow fame, features a predominately non-white cast, demonstrating that the primetime power of black viewers is here to stay.
They marched straight through their opponents. Top-ranked Novak Djokovic handled Canadian Milos Raonic in three sets yesterday, keeping the 27-year-old Serb’s chase for an eighth major title alive. Next comes reigning champ, Stan Wawrinka, in the semis. On the women’s side, Maria Sharapova dismissed her opponent, fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova, in straight sets, booking her 10th career major final. To win, though, she must overcome the powerful serve and ground strokes of Serena Williams in the women’s final.